Step foot in Ximending Taipei and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been teleported to Japan. That’s why people call Ximen, officially the “Ximending Youth Shopping District,” the Shinjuku of Taipei.
Rather, Ximen is a daytime and evening pedestrian shopping area with a high concentration of hip, funky, and outright weird things goin on. Besides the 25 things to do in Ximending in this Ximending guide, I’ll mention where to stay in Ximending at the end of the article! I consider Ximending to be one of the 50 places you can’t miss in Taiwan.
History of Ximending: Cool for Longer than Your Grandma
Ximending has been hip since the Japanese era in Taiwan, when it was built as a recreation area just outside the West Gate (西門 or Xi Men) of the Taipei Old City (the ‘ding’ at the end is a Japanese district designator). One of the oldest buildings in the area is Red House(see #13), which today is a center of local arts & crafts, and home to Taipei’s largest LGBT district.
As the first pedestrian zone in Taipei, Ximending grew into a theater district in the 1930s (see “Theater Street” #23), and the area was THE place to be in the 1950s. Later, Taipei City developed east rather than west and Ximen was shunned until the government reestablished it as a pedestrian area in 1999.
Some really cool buildings have been preserved in Ximending (see #9, 12, and 16), while some have been torn down and replaced with consumer monstrosities, like New World Pavilion (新世界館, photos here), which is now an enormous, multilevel H&M just to the left of the above picture.
The old truly blends with the new in Ximen, so I’ve tried to include some of both worlds in the below list! The following are no particular order:
25 Things to Do in Ximending
1. Get a Tattoo or Piercing on Ximending Tattoo Street
I’ve had a couple body parts pierced myself on Hanzhong Street Lane 50, otherwise known as “Ximen Tattoo Street.” The parlors here are all open fronted, so you can watch people getting inked a few feet off the street.
If you need a beverage to sip on while you gawk, there’s an iced tea shop on the same street specializing in rainbow colored teas (see #6 below).
2. Experience an Ancient Knife Massage and I Ching Reading
If getting pummeled by meat cleavers sounds like your cup of tea, then pop in to Light Project Ximending, where you can partake in this ancient form of healing.
Shopping in Ximending for cheap & trendy shoes, clothing, colored contacts, and other accessories is a favorite activity among Taipei youths.
But for a souvenir guaranteed to impress, go for a box of mouthwatering cock cakes. To find them, walk down the pedestrian road (Hanzhong Street) from Ximen MRT exit 6 and watch for the souvenir cookie and cake shops on the left.
4. Dine at a Cosplay Maid Café
When I was researching Taiwan’s subcultures for my book Taiwan in the Eyes of a Foreigner in 2010, I had my first (and only) “maid café” (女僕咖啡廳) experience in Taiwan at Index Café, which seems to now be closed, though the sign is still there.
A cosplay café in Ximending is essentially a themed restaurant/café in which the waitresses are all dressed like dolled up maids. After your meal or drink, you get to take a polaroid shot with your waitress and she signs it (see mine above). When in Ximen…
A maid cosplay café in Ximen that still seems to be open today is Moe Hime Maid Café (萌姬女僕咖啡館), on the 6th floor of the building right outside exit 6.
5. Lose Your Money to a Claw Machine
Blindingly bright rooms full claw machines are spreading like a virus in Taipei, robbing patrons of their 10NT coins. There’s a trick to beating them, but I don’t know it.
There are probably dozens of these parlors in Ximen, so you won’t have to look far to find one.
6. Discover the Latest Bubble Tea (and other Drink) Trends
Not only did Taiwan invent bubble tea, but the nation is continually putting new twists on the sweet, creamy beverage that you can chew.
These days, the biggest trend seems to be for shops to boil the tapioca pearls in gooey black sugar syrup, then pour it around the insides of the cup so that it drips down as you sip, making for oh so photogenic shots. See more details in my guide to food and drinks in Ximending.
7. Check out the Mad Skills on Display at Graffiti Lane
Also called America Street (美國街), Kunming street lane 96, and perpendicular Wuchang street section 2 lane 120 are open air art galleries of legal street art.
The Taipei Youth Art Center takes proposals from local artists to property owners, and the government has even sponsored artwork and street dance competitions in the area. Strolling these streets, you can spot works by famous Taiwanese graffiti artists like Mr Ogay (image above) and internationally renowned artists like Alex face (second image above) from Thailand.
8. Eat Shit (Shaped Foods) at the Ximen Modern Toilet Restaurant
Probably the most famous of the weird things to do in Ximending, Modern Toilet is a toilet and poop themed restaurant that is so popular it has gone international. It’s a must-visit for people traveling with kids, and is hugely popular among Asian tourists. You can save money by booking these Modern Toilet vouchers online in advance.
The food is pretty average but the best part is that it comes in squat toilets, porcelain thrones, or urinals. The squat toilet shaved ice dessert is a ridiculous mess, so snap your photos fast before it starts melting all over the table.
9. Have Lunch in the Room where Chiang Kai-shek Gave His Inaugural Speech
Zhongshan Hall is an important historical building located just east of Ximending shopping district. The auditorium was larger than any in Japan when it was build during the Japanese colonial era in Taiwan.
At the elegant Zhongshan Fortress Restaurant (中山堂堡壘餐廳) on the second floor, you can have lunch, afternoon tea or dinner in the same room from which Chiang kai-shek gave his inauguaral speech.
10. Eat Weird Ass Ice Cream Flavors at Snow King (雪王)
On the road bordering Zhongshan Hall to the north, you’ll find Snow King, which has been serving unusual flavors of ice cream since 1947 (and looks like it).
Some of the weirder ones include pork floss, sesame oil chicken, Taiwan beer, wasabi, and kaoliang (the last one I can attest is truly disgusting).
Try the above if you dare, but the menu also features some truly delicious flavors, including honey, cinnamon, mulberry, and my personal favorite, basil.
11. Take in a Movie on the Ximending Movie Theater Street
Ximending’s reputation from the 1950s as a movie theater center lives on. The greater Ximen area supposedly has around 20 movie theaters, but the most well known are the collection of them on the ‘Ximending movie theater street’ (aka Ximen cinema street) which is on Wuchang street section 2, between Kunming and Kanding roads.
12. Go Skateboarding at Taipei Cinema Park
At the end of Movie Theater Street, you’ll find Taipei Cinema Park (臺北市電影主題公園), which is connected to Graffiti Lane (#7 above). While it lacks proper skate park topography, the large square is still a popular spot for local skaters.
If you forgot your board at home but feel inspired to join in, there are several skate shops in the area.
13. Peruse Local Arts & Crafts at Red House
Red House, built in 1908 as a market then later transformed to theater, is one of Taipei’s most iconic buildings. Today many go for the Ximen Red House Weekend Arts and Crafts market taking place just outside from 2 pm to 9:30 every Saturday and Sunday.
Showcasing local artists and a few interesting foreign ones (such as the sand art guy from Jordan who is usually there), the general theme is ‘tastefully cute.’
Inside of Red House, you’ll also find permanent stalls with similar designs for sale, pictured above. If you’re shopping in Ximending, this is a good place to find quality souvenirs. Red House is closed on Mondays.
14. Sip Cocktails at Red House LGBT Bar District or Hidden Movie Theater Speakeasy
Just behind Red House, you’ll find the city’s largest LGBT district, which is a welcome-all environment and Taipei’s best collection of outdoor bar patios.
Most bars are open from mid-afternoon to late night, and the vibe is laid back. Another cool option is Hankou 60, a hidden speakeasy in Ximen designed to look like a movie hidden theater. Some cocktails come hidden in a box of popcorn!
15. ‘Broaden Your Horizons’ at a Legit S&M Bar
If you’ve never been to an S&M bar, here’s your chance. Commander D S&M bar is located at the far end of Hanzhong street, a block north of the shopping district.
When I visited, the crowd was mostly male, and there was a dude hanging from chains from the basement bar’s ceiling. Also, don’t ask what goes on inside the darkroom.
Sorry, I didn’t get a picture : )
Address: No. 36, Kaifeng St, Sect. 2
16. Shop for Taiwan Military Surplus Clothing
Just outside Ximen MRT exit 2, you’ll find a mini-mall of army surplus shops. I can personally recommend the camouflage men’s boxers. They are comfortably loose and made of a breathable material that is perfect for Taiwan’s humid weather. Souvenir idea!
There is another similar shop heading south on Zhonghua Road towards the Taiwan Armed Forces Museum.
17. Go back in time to the Japanese Era
Across Zhonghua Road from the Armed Forces Museum, Nishi Honganji Square houses restored ruins of what was once a temple belonging to the Taiwanese Branch of Jodo Shinshu Honganji School.
A bell tower dominates the square, with foundations of other buildings at the back and restored buildings either side, one of which now houses a traditional teahouse.
18. Eat Sushi from a Conveyor Belt Choo Choo Train
Not only is the Ximen location of the chain Da Che Lun the first conveyor belt sushi shop in Taipei, but that conveyor belt is also a full-on choo choo train. Prices are a little steep relative to quality, but where else can you hand-pick your sushi from a moving train?
19. Slip into Tian Hou Temple, the Spiritual Heart of Ximen
Chengdu Road, leading from Ximen to the river, is lined with so many shops and stalls that you might not even notice the entrance to Tian Hou Temple, which is sandwiched between Ximen’s buildings.
The nearly 300-year-old temple is dedicated to Matsu, goddess of fishermen and the sea.
Address: No. 51, Chengdu Road
20. Sing Your Heart out at a KTV parlor
Ximending is as good a place as any in Taipei to try KTV (karaoke), the national pastime. Come with a group of friends, get a private room, and then sing to your heart’s content. Expect some but not many English choices. (For the absolute best English KTV choices in Taipei, seek out tiny EST, specializing in foreign languages, but not in Ximen).
21. Get Your Own Private Movie Theater at an MTV Parlor
If singing love ballads with friends is not your thing, then why not try the same thing except with a movie of your choice? I actually find this to be a decent (and cheap) escape from the heat if you’re out on a summer afternoon.
However, be warned that several Taiwanese people have told me that MTV rooms are the classic place for Taiwanese teens to lose their virginity. Perhaps wipe down the sofa before sitting…
Officially the “Baocheng Gate,” Ximen was the only one of Taipei’s five Old City gates to be demolished. A few years ago, the city put up a metallic, deconstructed/reconstructed installation on the spot where the two-tier pagoda gate once stood.
You’ll find it at Ximen MRT exit 4, impossible to miss at night when it’s lit up. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it looks good or not…
Party World KTV (see #20) is the large building in the background.
23. Get Your Cosplay Gear (or Next Halloween Costume) at Ximen Costume Street
Going south from Ximen MRT exit 1, Hanzhong Street is Taipei’s unofficial costume street, with about 10 shops renting out and selling every costume and accessory you could imagine. Some are so packed with supplies that you have to push your way through hanging costumes to access the labyrinth-like rows leading through. Most require an ID or deposit for rental.
24. Sample Taipei’s Best Craft Beer at Driftwood Ximending
An official taproom of Taihu brewery, one of Taiwan’s best craft breweries, Driftwood has a handsome wooden interior. Their little goblets of beer are on the pricey side, but worth every NT if you are a craft beer lover.
Find more options for craft beer in Ximen in my guide to drinking and eating in Ximen.
Address: No. 46, Kunming Street, Wanhua District
Open: 5 pm 11:30 Mon to Thurs, 5-1:30 Fri, 3-1:30 Sat, 3:30 to 11:30 Sun
25. Wander, Get Lost, and Watch the Crowds
While shopping in Ximending is what most people go for, I hope you can see that there’s a lot more to it than that. Ximen is without a doubt Taipei’s coolest neighborhood.
Since it attracts quite a variety of characters, it is a great place to just wander, sip a drink while watching the crowds go buy, and explore the streets and small lanes in the shopping area and nearby Wanhua district.
Well that sums up my little list of awesome and/or weird things to do in Ximending, Taipei. I’m always curious what you think and if I missed anything, so please let me know in the comments below!
Where to Stay in Ximending
There are just as many cool hotels in Ximending as there are things to do. Deciding where to stay in Ximending is not easy. The following recommendations are based on great locations and the most positive guest reviews. Note that there also many great Airbnbs in Taipei these days. Use my referral link to sign up for AirBnb and get NT1100 off your first stay!
Hostels in Ximending
Right on Ximen’s main pedestrian street, Ximen Wow Hostel (read reviews / see prices) is ideal if you want to be right in the middle of Ximen’s action. Its dorms and shared areas feature a sleek modern design.
A block further down the road, Next Taipei Hostel (read reviews / see prices) is another great choice that receives top reviews.
Ximen Corner Hostel (read reviews / see prices) is one of the cheapest choices, and they’ve got arcade style video games in the public room.
Boutique Hotels in Ximending
Inhouse Hotel (read reviews / see prices) features sleek design with colorful antique-style fridges in each room, located just around the corner from Ximen’s movie theater street.
Right on movie theater street, Amba Ximending (read reviews / see prices) is luxury meets cool, and is also an eco-friendly hotel.
Via Hotel (read reviews / see prices) is a down-to-earth and highly rated choice also right in the heart of Ximending, with large Japanese-style step-in bathtubs in some rooms.
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