With millennia of indigenous history followed by encounters with Chinese, Europeans and Japanese, Taiwan has always been a cultural crossroads.
This vibrant island democracy holds many fascinating stories, and perhaps the museums in the capital, Taipei, tell them best. Visit their galleries on a rainy day (or any other day except Monday) for insight into tribal communities, Hakka heritage, and the contentious relationship between Taiwan and China.
These are the best museums in Taipei.
The National Museum of History offers impressive historical insights
Founded in 1908 by Japanese colonists, the National Taiwan Museum is Taiwan’s oldest museum. It is located on the edge of 2-28 Peace Memorial Park in central Taipei. Explore the park and its many pagodas before the day gets too hot, and find memorials to the “February 28 Incident” at the site where Taiwanese civilians protested police brutality sanctioned by the Chinese nationalist government (the Kuomintang). protested in 1947.
In the museum’s galleries, visitors can explore Taiwan’s cultural and natural history — including stuffed models of native animals and dinosaur bones — before crossing the street and gaining free access to the centuries-old bank vault in the Land Bank Exhibition Hall.
International art lovers will love the Taipei Fine Arts Museum
The Fine Arts Museum, one of Taipei’s top art galleries, is a good choice for a day trip. The museum is a frequent stop for international touring exhibitions on fashion, design and art. TFAM also showcases local artists and hosts the Taipei Biennial in its modern architectural space. Entry is normally NTD30 but free on Saturday nights. (Discover more ways to see more for less in the capital with our travel guide to Taipei on a budget.)
See the splendor of Chinese art at the National Palace Museum
If you only visit one museum in Taipei, make it this one. The National Palace Museum has a permanent collection of 700,000 Chinese works of art and artifacts – the largest and probably the finest in the world – spanning 8,000 years of Chinese history, magnificently displayed over four enormous floors. Prepare for a visual feast of pottery, ancient calligraphy, jade and bronze vessels that once belonged to Chinese emperors.
The museum’s grand entrance does justice to the historical importance of its contents, with a wide walkway lined with manicured shrubs and fountains, and surrounded by a Chinese palace-style complex.
Learn about alternative histories at the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines
Just down the street from the National Palace Museum, the Formosan Indigenous Shung Ye Museum offers an alternative view of Taiwan’s history, worlds apart from the glittering wealth of former Chinese emperors. Instead, you’ll find various exhibitions of Taiwan’s indigenous cultures here, focusing on the island’s ethnology and the diverse customs and lifestyles of its various tribes.
Experience the wonders of the universe at the Taipei Astronomical Museum
Unleash your space kid at the Taipei Astronomical Museum and explore the many wonders of the universe through a range of educational exhibits and interactive features, including an equatorial telescope, stellar dome, and ecliptic sundials.
Walk through a forest of European-Japanese architecture at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum
Replicating the bathhouses of Shizuokaken Idouyama in Japan, the Beitou Hot Spring Museum is an unexpected find in the foothills of the Yangmingshan Mountains in northern Taipei (accessible via a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT Station).
Built in 1913 on the valley’s natural hot springs, this complex blends Eastern and Western architectural styles and served as a public bathhouse for the Japanese colonialists. Swap shoes for slippers to walk on the tatami floor, and get a closer look at the arched hallways and tiled walls of the old bathing area while perusing historical exhibits.
Rest for a while in the pavilion overlooking Beitou Park. Alternatively, head down the street for a more immersive experience at Beitou’s public hot springs, baths that are still active today.
Take a peaceful stroll past jade artifacts at the National Museum of History
Nestled amidst the bird-song-filled haven of the Botanical Gardens, the National Museum of History stands out among the trees with its Ming-style architecture—all red columns and sloping turquoise roofs—and backs onto a serene lotus pond. Step inside to discover textiles, handicrafts, and jade jewelry spanning six Chinese dynasties, and then take time to roam the garden.
The Guandu Temple offers lively lessons in religious practices
Guandu Temple could be called a living museum. The oldest temple in northern Taiwan is dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu and tells various stories through carvings inlaid on the walls, pillars and dragon sculptures.
Guandu dates from the mid-17th century and was expanded during the Qing Dynasty. Today, Guandu is a multi-denominational temple administered by an association of indigenous peoples from Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan.
Experience the latest and greatest at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Another of Taipei’s best galleries is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), which hosts an eclectic program of modern international exhibitions in a Japanese colonial building just north of Taipei Central Station.
Sample some kitsch at the Miniature Museum of Taiwan
On the smallest scale of all, the Miniature Museum of Taiwan showcases a couple’s unique collection of global attractions in miniature. Exhibits include a tiny Buckingham Palace, Tudor Castle and Roman ruins alongside fantastical scenes from famous fairy tales such as Pinocchio and Jack and the Beanstalk. All a bit silly – and totally charming.