Taipei is the kind of city people love to leave. Not because there’s anything wrong with Taipei itself—but because its location and transport network make it a perfect base for day trips around northern Taiwan. From atmospheric Old Streets tucked away in the mountainous interior, to the dramatic rock formations that characterise the east coast, there’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do within a few hours’ drive or less of Taipei city.
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Located less than an hour from downtown, Keelung is one of Taipei’s less-popular day trips. I didn’t come across much information on Keelung when I was researching for our trip—and honestly, Keelung wasn’t even on our list of places to check out. That was until we pulled up Google Maps one day and landed on a point of interest we just couldn’t pass up (more on that later).
A compact, walk-able city with a few cool attractions (including what I think is the most atmospheric food market in the greater Taipei area), Keelung is really more of a half-day trip. I would recommend setting aside 2 to 3 hours for a visit. When you’re done, you can transit directly to other popular day trip locations (including Shifen and Jiufen) from Keelung City without having to double back through Taipei, which is great if you’re on a tight schedule.
The Keelung Maritime Plaza area where buses from Taipei dispense of their passengers doesn’t create the best first impression—but don’t be dissuaded. Stick with it, and you will be rewarded.
As I mentioned, Keelung is a little bit off the tourist trail. As a result, it was much quieter than any other place we visited in northern Taiwan. The only time we found ourselves completely alone at a tourist spot was in Keelung. If you’re like me and you need a break from the crowds every now and then, Keelung is a nice place to spend an afternoon.
Located 30km from Taipei City, Keelung is close to the northernmost tip of Taiwan. A port city, it has a long and complicated history thanks to its strategically located deep-water harbour.
Originally inhabited by the Ketagalan aboriginals, a Spanish expedition arrived in Keelung in the 17th century, marking Taiwan’s first contact with the West. A fort, San Salvador de Quelung, was established. When Spanish Formosa (as Taiwan was then called) started to dissolve, the Dutch took over control of Keelung and its harbour, using it as an outpost on the Dutch East India Company’s transcontinental trading route. Later in its history, Keelung was passed between the Chinese and Japanese while simultaneously fending off invasions from the British and the French. In the 1960s, coal mining took off and Keelung flourished again.
The Keelung of today is a quiet city of around 300,000 people. It doesn’t see many tourists compared to popular day trips in the area, notably Jiufen and Shifen, which are both relatively close by. Tourists who do visit Keelung City come to see the harbour and the city’s cultural institutions and museums.
Getting to Keelung from Taipei
The easiest way to get to Keelung from Taipei City is by public bus. Buses leave regularly and the journey takes about 45 minutes. When you arrive in Keelung, you’ll be dropped off right on the waterfront. From there, it’s easy to access the city’s main attractions by foot. For bus times and routes, check Google Maps.
From Keelung, you can take a direct bus to Ruifang train station (for Pingxi or Shifen) or a bus to Jiufen. Intercity buses leave from Keelung’s Maritime Plaza area, close to the train station. There is a tourist information office in the ground floor of the train station—staff are very helpful, so just ask there if you’re unsure which bus to take.
Things to do in Keelung
Admittedly there’s not a whole lot to do in Keelung—but what we did do, we really enjoyed. Here are a few of our favourite sights and activities.
Keelung Zhongzheng (Chung Cheng) Park
Not long after we arrived in Keelung we climbed up a set of stairs on a whim. After navigating some dead ends and blocked paths, we eventually ended up high above the city inside Keelung Zhongzheng Park. It was still fairly early in the morning and there wasn’t another person in sight.
The park is made up of colourful temples, shrines, pavilions and courts set in the side of Dashawan Mountain. A 22-meter statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, is the park’s focal point—but somehow we missed it. Instead, we took our time wandering around the magnificent Zhuputan Temple. On close inspection the exterior of the temple isn’t in the best nick—but I really love the red and yellow colour palette and some of the design details. Apparently there’s a folk costume museum inside, but unfortunately the temple was closed for repairs on the day we visited.
Every year, Zhongzheng Park plays host to one of Taiwan’s most popular festivals, the Mid-Summer Ghost Festival. Part Buddhist, part Taoist, Zhongyuan Pudu as it’s often called is one of the country’s 12 official religious festivities. Its history dates back more than 160 years. In 1851, the first festival was organised as a way to ease tensions between rival immigrant clans in the Keelung area. Designed to unite the community and bring peace to Keelung, the festival now attracts thousands of visitors to the city every July for a huge lantern procession.
The park is open 24/7, but I recommend visiting in the early morning for the best views and to beat the heat (there are a lot of stairs to climb). More information and directions here.
Khoo Tsu-song Old Mansion (Qingyu Hall)
If I see ‘Abandoned house’ on Google Maps, there’s no way I’m not going to check it out. That’s how Khoo Tsu-song Old Mansion was tagged—and it certainly lives up to its moniker. Build in 1931, Qingyu Hall bares the name of its most famous resident, Khoo Tsu-song—a well-connected intellectual who oversaw administration of Keelung City during its Japanese occupation.
It would have been a grand home in its day. The location is quite a statement—high on a hillside with panoramic views over the rest of the city from each of the windows. The house’s red brick walls are reminiscent of the forts and official buildings in another Taiwanese port city we visited, Tamsui. The maker’s mark (‘TR’ or Taiwan Renga—the main brick producer during Taiwan’s Japanese era) on some of the bricks at Khoo Tsu-song Old Mansion are the same as at Bo-Pi-Liao Historical Block in Taipei. You can also spot decorative tiles on the highest of the house’s architraves and beautiful detailing on the window frames. The round windows at the entrance are particularly pretty, carved to look like bamboo-shoots. The house has been totally consumed by nature. There are a few banyan trees growing inside the main upstairs room, their roots fanned out over the walls and floors. Exquisite Gigantea leaves are splayed across the front of the home. The top level is missing its roof and the rooms are full of debris—but it’s still possible to explore inside.
In 2001, Khoo Tsu-song Old Mansion was recognised as a historical building—although no visible efforts have been made to restore or protect it (apart from the installation of an information plaque on the bottom level). In 2014, the Keelung Youth Front organisation began the process of cleaning up the house to encourage more visitors. We ran into one other visitor at the house, a tourist from Taipei. He told us he’d been speaking to locals on the way up the hill and that they were very surprised to see him. ‘No tourists come here,’ they apparently told him. I can’t imagine why.
Getting to Khoo Tsu-song Old Mansion is half the fun. We got seriously lost in the labyrinth of staircases and alleyways that lead up the hill to the house. Walking among the apartments, colourful balconies and yards was a great insight into life in Keelung City. If you’re into urbexing, there are other abandoned buildings and concrete landmarks you can visit in Keelung.
Khoo Tsu-song Old Mansion is located above Keelung Night Market. More information and directions here.
Keelung Miaokou Night Market
We experienced our fair share of food markets in Taipei. Miaokou Night Market in Keelung City was definitely my favourite of the bunch. Not necessarily for the food (it’s heavily focused on seafood, which is not my thing)—but more for the atmosphere. The layout of Miaokou is slightly different to other markets in Taipei. The main passageway is lined with tables and little sit-down restaurants so you can observe food preparation and people eating, which is great for photos.
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We found the market open during the day—we’re still not completely sure why, but I figure it had something to do with Lunar New Year. By 10am, it was absolutely packed with families.
There are all kinds of water-dwelling creatures on offer at Miaokou, each fried up to perfection ( I assume). I didn’t have a single bite to eat—yet it was still my favourite market experience in Taiwan.
After a few laps of the market, we were ready to leave Keelung. We jumped on a bus bound for Ruifang and soon found ourselves fighting through a scrum of tourists at Shifen, a wildly popular day trip location by comparison. I’m glad we started the day in Keelung City and got to experience an alternative, much quieter side of northern Taiwan.
Keelung Miaokou Night Market is open nightly from 5pm. More information and directions here.
Have you been to Keelung? What is your favourite day trip from Taipei?
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