Recognized as one of the top museums in the world along with the Louvre Museum in Paris, the British Museum in London, and so on, the Taiwan National Palace Museum is definitely one of the “must-see” places in Taipei, especially for those who have interests in history. You probably have heard of this name before, and yes, the National Palace Museum has one of the largest collections of Chinese artwork in the world, from China’s prehistoric age all the way to the Qing Dynasty. This museum and its surroundings are popular sites to visit in Taipei, especially on holidays. In 2019, it was ranked among the top 10 most visited museums in the world. Now, although it is no longer in the top 10, it is still part of the top 20, and there is a lot to say about this famous museum, which will be talked about in this article.
- Taiwan National Palace Museum: Background
- Popular Exhibitions at the National Palace Museum
- Famous places in the museum area
- Zhishan Garden (至善園)
- Shilin Night Market: The place to eat the best street food in Taiwan
- Yuanshan: one of the city’s most diverse and appealing neighborhoods.
- How to get to Gugong Museum
- By Taipei MRT and buses
- By Taipei Sightseeing Bus (Blue Route)
- By the Taipei 101-National Palace Museum Shuttle Bus
- By Car, Scooter, or Taxi
- Interesting facts about the National Palace Museum
Taiwan National Palace Museum: Background
Also called Gugong Museum (from its Chinese name), the Taiwan National Palace Museum originated in Beijing, China, in 1925. You may ask why it is in Taiwan now. Well, let’s go back in history for a moment. During the Song Dynasty, emperors started to collect the finest paintings, bronzes, and precious artifacts from around the empire, which were originally stocked in Beijing’s Forbidden City and only accessible to the imperial family and some special guests.
Following the Japanese invasion in 1931, the artifacts have been constantly relocated to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Japanese Army. In the end, due to the Chinese civil war following the surrender of the Japanese army, in 1949, a big part of the museum was finally moved to Taiwan and handed over to the ROC. Now the known National Palace Museum has two branches: the main building in Taipei and the southern branch in Chiayi. Don’t you think it is fascinating how these valuable pieces remained intact despite being continuously moved?
The Gugong Museum is home to one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the world, with nearly 700,000 precious artifacts telling over 8,000 years of Chinese history. Every year, the museum attracts over 3 million visitors. To avoid huge crowds and for security reasons, the museum keeps the number of visitors that can enter the building at once below 2800. Adults must pay NT$160 for the ticket, while groups of 10 or more can pay NT$140 per person. Students with valid ID pay NT$80, and children and the handicapped get in for free
Gugong Museum: Southern Branch
As I mentioned earlier, the National Palace Museum has two buildings: one in the North, in Taipei, and another in the South, specifically in Chiayi. The Taipei Campus and the Southern Branch complement each other and have equal status. The Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum includes a museum building and a park with man-made lakes, which took 15 years to be built from initiation to implementation. It was finally open to the public at the end of 2015, so it is pretty recent.
The museum was inspired by traditional Chinese painting styles, and elements of Chinese, Indian, and Persian cultures are well-represented there, giving it the status of a world-class “Asian Art and Culture Museum.” The Southern Branch Museum has a large area that includes artificial wetlands, tropical gardens, a waterfront arena, two artificial lakes, and other recreational areas.
Popular Exhibitions at the National Palace Museum
The last time I went to the museum was at the end of 2021, and it was amazing. One fascinating fact about it is that they change the artifacts every three months, so you will never see the same exhibits (except for the really famous ones like the Jade Cabbage). When you arrive at the museum, you will first see a big gate at the main entrance, and there will be a lot of people taking pictures. The building has 4 floors, so it will take a big part of your day to explore them. Note that you can’t bring any water or a bag to the museum.
The most famous exhibits in the museum are the Jadeite Cabbage, the meat-shaped stone, Duke Mao’s bronze cauldron (Mao Gong Ding), and as an honorable mention, the Carved Olive-Stone boat.
The Jadeite Cabbage
The Jadeite Cabbage is a jadeite piece shaped like a cabbage head with a katydid and a locust hidden among the leaves. The katydid is a symbol of endless generations, while researchers have not found a reason for the locust to be on the cabbage since it is associated with famine. The Jadeite Cabbage is one of the museum’s most popular jade carvings. The leaves are semi-translucent which is the result of a masterful combination of various natural jade colors to recreate the color variations of a real cabbage.
It was said to be a gift for Consort Jin. Now some researchers say that it may have been just a piece of decoration in Yonghe Palace. It could belong to any consort or dame who has lived there. I have to say it took at least 15 minutes of my time to contemplate this masterpiece, which is significantly ancient and rare.
The meat-shaped stone
Frequently displayed alongside the Jadeite Cabbage, this meat-shaped stone is said to have been a tribute to Emperor Kangxi from a Mongolian tribe. It was carved from carnelian, whose texture is strikingly similar to that of meat. You can see the fat, the lean meat, the skin of the pork, and even the capillary pores on the skin. The creator used a piece of jasper and other components such as bamboo, wood, etc. to make this look-alike pork cooked in soy sauce.
In 2014, the meat-shaped stone and the Jadeite Cabbage were taken to Japan, specifically Tokyo. They attracted over 21,000 people per day, just to tell you how curious people usually are to see these wonders.
Duke Mao’s bronze cauldron
The third treasure of the National Palace Museum is the famous Duke Mao’s bronze cauldron, you may also hear people calling it Mao Gong ding. The name comes from Duke Gong Yin of Mao, who gave the bronze cauldron to the king at that time. The interior surface of the cauldron is covered in an inscription of 500 characters (the longest such inscription known today). In the inscription, the Duke of Mao expressed his gratitude to the King and presented him with the cauldron as a symbol of his gratitude for future generations.
The Carved Olive-stone Boat
This is a miniature boat made of olive stone. Fascinating right? The exceptionally well-equipped piece features a covered deck and movable windows. The interior is furnished with chairs, dishes on a table, and eight figures depicting characters from the famous Sung Dynasty literary figure Su Tung-p’o. The top of the boat has a tightly bound sail and rope, while at the bottom is written the “Latter Ode to the Red Cliff” by Su Tung-p’o. The more than 300 characters are dense and detailed.
The National Palace Museum also has online exhibits that you can access through their website. If you can’t be there physically, you can also observe online. However, I strongly believe it is better to see these masterpieces physically.
Famous places in the museum area
The National Palace Museum’s surroundings have some nice sites to visit, and while you are there, it is always the best occasion to enjoy some time in the area.
Zhishan Garden (至善園)
The Zhishan Garden is a large traditional Chinese-style garden, reflecting the styles of the Song and Ming dynasties, and designed to evoke the feelings of a beautiful poem. In the garden, you can find beautiful attractions such as the Pine Wind Pavilion, Dragon Pond, West Bridge Pavilion, Brush Washing Pond, and others. The entrance is free if you have the ticket for the museum, or else you need to pay NT$ 20. If you are curious about how famous scholars lived in ancient times or if you just love nature, this garden is the place to be.
Brush Washing Pond 洗筆池
The pond got its name from the Chang Chi of the Easter Han Dynasty. It is said that he washed his brushes in the pond, which turned the water black. When you look at the pond’s water, you will suddenly feel completely refreshed.
West Bridge Pavilion 碧橋西水榭
The Pavilion is built by the water, and a six-arc bridge connects it to the opposite shore, which creates a lovely hideaway.
The Winding Canal 流觴曲水
Sharing drinks by passing cups over winding waters was a very famous activity frequently done by ancient scholars. In the Winding Canal area, you get to do the same thing and take a moment to listen to the beautiful melody of the flowing river and find some peace of mind.
Pine Wind Pavilion 松風閣
The Pine Wind Pavilion is the best place to play some board games, take a nap, or enjoy the beautiful garden. The Pavilion’s pillars are carved with dragons and phoenixes. From there, you can see all of the lovely water landscape of the garden.
Zhishan Garden is definitely the place for a good walk while you’re enjoying the architecture and nature.
Shilin Night Market: The place to eat the best street food in Taiwan
After visiting the museum and spending some time in the Zhishan Garden, you should definitely head to the famous Shilin Night Market. Well-known by many foreigners for its delicious food, the Shilin Night Market is divided into two sections. One of the sections is a building where stalls are spread over four floors. Shilin Night Market is known as one of the largest night markets in Taipei, and there, almost everything is cheaper than at other places.
Compared to some other night markets, tourists usually go to Shilin to enjoy delicious food. The food court is located at the B1 level, and the ground floor is where you will find all souvenirs, clothing, and accessory shops. Shilin night market has a variety of food, and, believe me, you will probably have difficulties choosing, so I would suggest you go to the restaurants with the longest lines (the longer the line, the better the food). 😂 That is what I learned during my time here in Taiwan. When you go there, remember to try some of these foods: chicken katsu (炸雞排), lemon aiyu jelly (檸檬愛玉), Oyster omelet (蚵仔煎), Small Sausage in Large Sausage (大腸包小腸). You can always try other foods depending on your taste. Each dish shouldn’t exceed NT$40 or $50.
The night market usually closes at 2 AM, and the best time to go is on the weekends.
PS: Be ready to walk as it is going to be packed. Also, be sure to try their cold dessert shops in “Lover’s Lane.”
Yuanshan: one of the city’s most diverse and appealing neighborhoods.
The Yuanshan area offers a diverse mix of sights, sounds, and flavors and is now one of the most interesting parts of Taipei. It is 2 MRT stations away from Shilin, and it will only take you around 5 minutes to get there. Yuanshan is known for being home to many temples, such as Taipei Confucius Temple and Baoan Temple. If that’s your cup of tea, after leaving the museum, you can go there to visit.
Taipei Expo Park (MAJI Square)
Officially opened in 2013, MAJI Square is located close to the Yuanshan MRT Station and only a 5-minute walk from the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (Taiwan’s main museum for modern art). This place has, over time, become a magnet for young people as well as adults. It has an exotic ambiance, and you will love it there. There are six areas included in the MAJI Square: Maji Food & Deli, Street Food Fair, Creative Bazaar, Exotic Cuisine Extravaganza, Specialty Shop Walkway, The Three Lions Pub, and The Triangle Nightclub.
In MAJI’s food court, you can find everything, from western cuisines like Mexican food to typical Taiwanese food. The park is perfect for a picnic with the kids. In the evening, there are live performances outside or you can go to the Triangle nightclub and enjoy your time. Expats usually organize activities there on the weekends, in which I sometimes take part. There is a new bar called Tiki Bar that has been attracting a lot of people recently. Feel free to check it out while you are there. MAJI Square is definitely a great place for laid-back drinks and casual encounters.
How to get to Gugong Museum
There are many ways of transportation to get to the museum, among them Taipei MRT, Taipei buses, YouBike and you can even rent a car to go there.
By Taipei MRT and buses
Depending on which part of Taipei or New Taipei you are coming from, there are different stations where you can get off, but the most popular one is Shilin Station on the RED Line. Once you arrive at Shilin MRT Station, leave from exit 1 and take a bus that goes to the Gugong Museum. There are several bus options, and the ride will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes depending on traffic. You can also take the BROWN line and get off at Jiannan Rd Station or Dazhi Station to take a transfer bus.
If you are a bike lover, you can take a YouBike and ride to the museum, following your map. There are two YouBike stations next to the museum with plenty of spots.
By Taipei Sightseeing Bus (Blue Route)
You can take the Taipei Sightseeing Bus Blue Route to the National Palace Museum stop. Just go to Taipei Main Station and take the bus there. It will take you directly to the National Palace Museum. Taipei Sightseeing Buses provide audio tours in Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, and Thai, and you will have free WIFI. You can book your ticket online or on-site depending on your preference. The bus departs from the M4 exit of Taipei Main Station every 40 minutes, so make sure you are on time if you think 40 minutes is too long to wait for it. 😂
By the Taipei 101-National Palace Museum Shuttle Bus
Another option you have is the Taipei 101-National Palace Museum Shuttle bus. This bus travels from Taipei 101 to the National Palace Museum, so you have a chance to visit both in one day. The bus station is located at exit 4 of the Taipei 101/World Trade Center Station, and the ride is about 30 minutes. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip KKDay Express shuttle bus ticket in advance on their website.
By Car, Scooter, or Taxi
If you have a car or a scooter, you can also drive to the museum. From Taipei, it is usually recommended to drive via the Ziqiang Tunnel in Neihu or Dazhi Bridge. It goes directly to the museum. There is free scooter parking to the right of the entrance and paid car parking across the street. You can also call a taxi from your place if you want to make it simple 😂as long as you are willing to pay the price.
Interesting facts about the National Palace Museum
The following are some interesting facts about the National Palace Museum.
- The National Palace Museum and the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, Beijing are not the same museum. However, these two were a single museum before they split into two as a result of the Chinese Civil War.
- The National Palace Museum has the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the whole world.
- The regular change of the 60,000 exhibit pieces is done once every three months which shows that it would take you 12 years to see everything in the museum.
- The museum is home to a 100 years old jadeite cabbage, a layered stone shaped like a piece of stewed pork, and Duke Mao’s bronze cauldron. Together, they are known as the museum’s “Three Treasures.”
- The National Palace Museum’s collection illustrates more than 8,000 years of Chinese art.
- The maximum number of people that can visit the museum at once is 2,800 to avoid huge crowds and for security reasons.
- The museum has a post office on the basement floor and it is special because it is the only one in Taiwan that is open every day throughout the year.
My favorite artifacts at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum are the ancient Chinese calligraphic paintings and the old-looking sculptures. Feel free to let me know yours in the comment section.