TAIPEI, the vibrant capital of Taiwan, distills the best of what Asian cities have to offer — great street food, crackling night life, arguably the world’s best collection of Chinese art, and hot springs and hiking trails reachable by public transport. With interest in mainland China surging, Taipei — one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Asia — offers a look at a different side of China, one that escaped the deprivations of early Communist rule and the Cultural Revolution. Here is a Chinese culture (some contend that it is uniquely Taiwanese) that practices bare-knuckled democracy and has preserved traditions thousands of years old in a way that was impossible to do on the mainland.

Friday

3 p.m.
1) ANCIENT WAYS

The National Palace Museum (221 Chih-shan Road, Section 2; 886-2-2881-2021; www.npm.gov.tw/en/home.htm) is considered by many to be the finest repository of Chinese art in the world; it houses artifacts dating back to the earliest days of Chinese civilization. The collection includes oracle bones, which have the first known written Chinese ideograms, as well as ritual bronze vessels, Ming Dynasty pottery and jade sculptured into the shapes of cabbage and fatty pork.

5 p.m.
2) TOP OF THE WORLD

But enough of ancient culture, at least for now. Immerse yourself in modern Taipei by going deep into the belly of the tallest building in the world, the 1,670-foot Taipei 101 (7 Xinyi Road, Section 5; www.taipei-101.com.tw/index_en.htm). The first five floors, with stores like Armani, Louis Vuitton and Sogo, should satisfy any shopping urge. Take a high-speed elevator to the indoor and outdoor observation decks, starting on the 89th floor, for unparalleled views of Taipei and its environs. In every direction lie city blocks and avenues winding among concrete-and-glass towers, with verdant hills rising in the distance. Wisps of cloud float past the windows. Beware of vertigo.

7 p.m.
3) OYSTERS IN THE SKY

Dinner is only a few floors away. Go down to the 85th floor of Taipei 101 to feast on traditional Taiwanese dishes at Shin Yeh (886-2-8101-0185). Try the deep-fried oysters and rolls stuffed with taro and shrimp. Set dinners start at about 1,600 Taiwan dollars per person ($50.40 at 31.75 Taiwan dollars to the U.S. dollar). Be sure to make reservations well in advance, ideally several weeks before arriving.

9 p.m.
4) MARTINIS WITH MOOD

Lounge bars have popped up all over Taipei. If you’re in a mood for dessert with your drink, try the bar in the consciously hip People Restaurant (191 Anhe Road, Section 2; 886-2-2735-2288). The attitude starts even before you enter: the double doors have no handles, nor do they open automatically. Figuring out how to get in is only part of the fun. Once inside, walk through the shadowy industrial rooms and take a seat at the bar or in the lounge, where cocktails are served in large glass globes. Next, saunter down the road to Rewine (137 Anhe Road, Section 1; 886-2-2325-6658), whose head bartender has won international awards for his unique cocktails.

Saturday

6 a.m.
5) CHANNELING INNER ENERGY

If you’re heading back to your hotel at dawn, or need some fresh air early in the morning, stop in at the largest public park in the city, Da An Park. It cannot compare to New York’s Central Park in size — the width and length each stretch only a few city blocks — but the smattering of tropical foliage, along with paths meandering across a level green field, endow the park with a serene air. You can watch Taipei’s dedicated tai chi practitioners going through their moves or perhaps an elderly woman doing a sword dance.

9 a.m.
6) STEAMY MORNING

After a quick breakfast at one of Taipei’s many corner bakeries, hop on the subway, called the MRT, to the New Beitou stop, about 40 minutes from downtown. The northern town of Beitou is renowned for its hot springs resorts, some modeled after those in Japan. Walk up the hill to take a soak at one of the newest of the spas, Villa 32 (32 Zhongshan Road; 886-2-6611-8888; www.villa32.com). It has all the atmosphere of a luxury spa in a uniquely Taiwanese setting, with outdoor pools of different temperatures shielded by wooden awnings and the shade of leafy trees. Rent a room for several hours or spend the morning with other bathers in the outdoor pools, separated by gender.

1 p.m.
7) READING TEA LEAVES

Taiwanese are discerning tea-drinkers, and going to teahouses is popular here. One local favorite is De Ye Cha Chi, near the Shandao Temple MRT station (3-1 Zhen Jiang Street; 886-2-2351-1002). Jars of tea leaves sit against a wall in the quiet dining room, and guests can brew their tea in traditional pots. Try Oriental Beauty, an oolong tea with a naturally sweet taste that was supposedly given its English-language name by the Queen of England after she had a sip. Prices vary, but a pot can cost less than 300 Taiwan dollars.

3 p.m.
8) PLACATING THE SPIRITS

To get answers to weighty life questions, or just to observe traditional Taiwanese religious practices, head to Longshan Temple, on Guangzhou Street in the venerable Wanhua neighborhood of western Taipei. Built in 1738, its main altar houses a statue of Guanyin, the goddess of compassion, but many other gods — some red-faced, others long-bearded — also have their own shrines and worshipers. In the courtyard, Taiwanese burn incense and cast red, crescent-shaped pieces of wood to divine their fortunes.

5 p.m.
9) CINEMA OBSCURA

If your energy is flagging about now, sit down for coffee at the Spot, the favorite art-house cinema of many a Taipei resident (18 Zhongshan North Road, Section 2; 886-2-2511-7786). The white villa that houses the screening rooms, restaurant and bar was once the official residence of the American ambassador. It is one of the most atmospheric buildings in Taipei, redolent of colonial life in the tropics, with lush grounds that shield the villa from the street.

7 p.m.
10) ALL WRAPPED UP

There’s no avoiding Din Tai Fung, a mandatory stop on Taiwan’s restaurant scene (194 Xinyi Road, Section 2; 886-2-2321-8928). This crowded, brightly lit restaurant, with chefs rolling and stuffing dumplings in the front, specializes in xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings. These are usually associated with Shanghainese cuisine, but the dumplings here are famous for skin that is much more delicate than those of their Shanghainese counterparts. Try the ones with pork, pork and crab meat or purely vegetables. Save room for taro dumplings as a first dessert. A full meal might cost 300 Taiwan dollars a person.

9 p.m.
11) SHAVED ICE

Head around the corner to Yongkang Street, a celebrated eating avenue, for your second dessert: a mound of shaved ice topped with fresh mango, strawberry or kiwi at Ice Monster (15 Yongkang Street). Then stroll along the Street, lined with traditional noodle shops, Japanese restaurants and sweet tofu dessert parlors.

10 p.m.
12) SMALL EATS

Taipei is as modern a city as any in Asia, but traditional night markets thrive in many neighborhoods. The biggest ones resemble beachside boardwalks, with cheek-by-jowl crowds, fun-fair games, knickknack stores selling everything from chopsticks to DVD’s and, of course, every kind of Taiwanese snack food. The liveliest markets are Raohe, by Ciyou Temple in the Songshan neighborhood; Shida, between the Guting and Taipower Building MRT stations; and Shilin, at the Jiantan MRT station.

Sunday

9 a.m.
13) INTO THE CLOUDS

Your last day? Take a bus or taxi over to Yangmingshan, the gently sloping dormant volcano that sits in a national park on Taipei’s northern edge. The rangers at the main visitor’s center can give you advice on the dozens of trails. If the weather is clear, consider walking up to Mount Cising, which at 3,674 feet is the highest summit in the greater Taipei basin. The wind-swept high meadows are covered in waves of silvergrass, and the views could well inspire you to start planning your return trip to Taipei.

The Basics

In mid-February, a quick Internet search showed that the cheapest round-trip flights from New York to Taipei for travel in early March cost $800 on Northwest Airlines (two stops) and $930 on United Airlines (one stop). You’ll pay about 1,200 Taiwan dollars ($31.80 at 31.75 Taiwan dollars to the U.S. dollar) to take a taxi from the international airport in Taipei to the city center. A shuttle bus to the main railway station, in the city center and a convenient place for subway connections, costs 120 Taiwan dollars.

Les Suites Taipei is an intimate boutique hotel that has two locations in the city (12 Ching Cheng Street; 886-2-8712-7688; and 135 Da An Road, Section 1; 886-2-8773-3799; www.suitetpe.com). Late last month, the weekend on-line rate for a double at the Da An location started at about $140 a night.

The Grand Hotel, at least architecturally, lives up to its name (1 Zhongshan North Road, Section 4; 886-2-2886-8888; www.grand-hotel.org). Built in Qing Dynasty style, it has been a centerpiece of Taipei’s luxury hotel scene for years, though the location north of the city center is somewhat inconvenient. Late last month, the weekend rate for a double started at 3,990 Taiwan dollars per night.

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