Considering Taipei is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and can get very hot in the summer months—especially between May and October—you wouldn’t expect it to be a great place for running. However, the number of parks and green spaces, plus the riverside roads closed to traffic, more than compensate. Just remember to pick your time—it’ll be a lot cooler and the streets less crowded if you choose the early morning or late evening for a jog.
ROUTE 1: CIRCULAR ZHONGSHAN (EASY; 5KM)
This short but sweet run from Aloft Taipei Zhongshan is a good way to see the neighborhood—and its coffee shops, restaurants, basement galleries and temples—and takes you past parks, museums and the Keelung River. From the hotel, head north on Shuangcheng Street, passing a great sushi restaurant on your right, followed by Shuangcheng Street Night Market, where you’ll find all sorts of local dishes such as braised pork shanks (and feet!). Though it’s called a night market, it gets busy from lunchtime onwards, but keep running and you’ll soon escape the crowds.
Continue to the end of the road and enter Zhongshanmeishu Park—the actual entrance is a bit to the left—where your run will be relatively peaceful and green. Once inside the park, pass the big auditorium on your right, where you’ll more than likely see people practicing break dancing, juggling and tai chi. Head for the impressive modern white building, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and, keeping it on your right, continue to the river.
Here it gets a bit messy: you have to go down the stairs, cross the road at the pedestrian crossing and go up the stairs on the opposite side to reach the river. But from here you’ll catch a refreshing breeze from the water. Run along the riverbank and take the first right into Xinsheng Park. You might want to stop for a quick sip of water at the fountain in the public toilets here, next to the temple. I love this park in the evening: everything is beautifully lit in changing colors, like a dramatic play with the trees as the glamorous protagonists.
Depending on your energy levels, do a lap or two until you’re ready to make your way to the exit on Minzu East Road, leading to Xinsheng Elevated Road, the big elevated highway. Parallel to the highway is Xinsheng North Road, which is the street you want to take. Access it via the stairs after crossing the big road (watch out!) and taking a left. Xinsheng North Road is quiet, and has some interesting venues to explore another time, such as the FreeS Art Space, a great little basement gallery.
You’re on the home stretch now, and can take any appealing-looking streets back south (right) to connect with Shuangcheng Street and Aloft Taipei Zhongshan. This area is laid out as a grid, so you can’t go wrong, as long as you don’t go further than Minquan East Road.
If you’re up for it, I’d recommend you take Lane 56, Section 3, Xinsheng North Road, which becomes Lane 19, Shuangcheng Street—here you’ll find VT Artsalon, another cool basement gallery. This street takes you back to Shuangcheng Street, where you might want to treat yourself to one of the delicious fresh juices sold at the market—the pineapple juice with cactus leaves is divine.
ROUTE 2—TAMSUI RIVER, ZHUWEI TO TAMSUI (INTERMEDIATE; 6KM)
My favorite running route in Taipei is along the Tamsui River, with its mangrove forests bordering the banks and fish leaping out of the water. This run is also perfect if you need some fresh air—it’s almost completely free of cars and scooters, it’s super green and you hear the most amazing bird songs along the way (unless you’ve got some house music pumping through your headphones, that is). I usually start from Zhuwei station and end in Tamsui, which is the oldest part of town.
From Aloft Taipei Zhongshan, take the MRT red line to Zhuwei. Take Exit 2 and pass the community gardens where you might see elderly men hanging out, fixing their bikes or playing with street dogs, and where you hear the occasional auntie singing karaoke through the open window of a nearby house. When you encounter the little stream (called Plum Tree Creek), turn left on the path that takes you to the river, where you then take a right.
From here you can’t go wrong—it’s just a matter of following the river. Just be sure to take the smaller path on the right when coming down the hill. As yes, there is a hill. It’s a pretty manageable one though, not too steep and nothing to worry about. Follow this path until you get to the busy road, which is where the old town of Tamsui starts.
Take a left, making sure you connect back with the river, and keep it to your left. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, check out the delicacies at the street stalls here. I usually go for a skewer of fried quail eggs—they’re a light bite and not too heavy on the stomach as you run.
From here it can get busy, especially on weekends, and the running can be a bit stop-start but it’s a treat for the eyes and the nose: food stalls with grilled octopus, the famous Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji, a delicious stew with a sauce made from a cup each of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil) and, of course, all kinds of bubble and milk teas.
Keep on running with the river on your left, passing the hipster lounge bar where they play nonstop bossa nova and the lovely bronze sculpture of a girl sitting with cats on a bench until you reach Lane 25, Zhongzheng Road. You can’t miss it as this is the end of the road.
Use the long pier for some stretching and cooling down, until the worst panting is over and you can reward yourself with a well-deserved drink. There are two great options here: either go to the little artsy cafe L’année dernière à Marienbad, named after the French existentialist (and rather incomprehensible) film and where they make heavenly (iced) rose lattes, or climb the small stairs at the cafe next door and take in Taipei’s most astonishing sunsets—if you’re lucky.
ROUTE 3—TAMSUI RIVER RUN, GUANDU NATURE PARK TO TAMSUI (DIFFICULT; 10-20KM)
To make the Tamsui River run a tad more challenging, you can start your run from Guandu Nature Park, the wetland area north of Taipei that’s a stopover point for migrating birds. Guandu station is also on the red line, so no transfers are needed from Aloft Taipei Zhongshan. However, I’d recommend getting a taxi from the station to the park, which is just a five-minute ride (bring some small change too, as entry to the park is NT$60).
You’ll feel far removed from hectic city life at this pristine nature reserve, with water buffalo roaming freely and all sorts of interesting sculptures made from natural materials dotted around. After a big lap around the reserve, exit on Zhixing Road, keep going straight at the roundabout and take a right at the end of the road.
After passing the impressive Guandu Temple, you’ll connect with the river. With your back to the temple, take a right on the river path that takes you all the way to Zhuwei. From there, follow the instructions for the intermediate Tamsui River run. If you’re training for a half marathon, running back to Guandu the way you came—and making it a 20km jog—never gets boring with all the great river views.
Taipei has water fountains all over the city, and you’ll almost always find one in an MRT station. Just bring a refillable water bottle.
For a post-run treat, take a taxi or the MRT (red line) to Beitou, which is not far from Guandu or Tamsui, for a soak in the natural hot springs. The springs are high in sulphur and make your skin feel like that of a newborn baby.
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Photos: Shutterstock and Yasmine Ostendorf