Jiufen Old Street: A Magical Day Trip from Taipei

Amei Tea House in Jiufen
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Jiufen is a picturesque city in northeast Taiwan, known for its winding, maze-like paths, tea houses, lanterns, and coastal setting. Jiufen Old Street alone is worth the trip to the area!

Jiufen is famous for supposedly serving as inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s acclaimed film Spirited Away. As one of my favorite movies, I knew I had to visit Jiufen on my trip to Taipei when I heard about this connection. However, this story isn’t true: Jiufen actually has nothing to do with Spirited Away.

Even so, Jiufen is still a gorgeous place to visit. The city also has a unique history and culture. It developed quickly in the late 1800s after the discovery of gold turned the town into a gold rush hot spot.

In addition, Jiufen has a distinctive style and architecture, which comes from being built by the Japanese during their colonization of Taiwan. Jiufen still retains some of these Japanese-style buildings, reflecting the area’s history.

Altogether, the narrow alleys, tea houses, and buildings of the Old Street and mountainous and coastal terrain give Jiufen a special, slightly magical ambience.

Located about 21 miles/35 kilometers east of Taipei, Jiufen is quite accessible. You can pretty easily reach the city by public transportation from Taipei; we took a bus to get there directly. So Jiufen makes for a great quick trip away from Taipei.

This post will go over some things to do on a day trip to Jiufen, with a focus on activities around Jiufen Old Street. However, you could easily extend your trip by a day or two if you’d like to enjoy Jiufen more slowly. Do note that these photos might not be the most up-to-date, as they were taken in 2016.

1. Explore Jiufen Old Street

Jiufen’s Old Street is the star attraction of the city and the main reason many tourists visit. The Old Street is composed of narrow alleyways and stairways meandering up the mountainside.

There are a variety of souvenir shops, food stalls, tea houses, and shops selling artisan wares along the walkways. Part of the joy of visiting Jiufen is exploring the paths of Old Street and discovering all the little shops and stalls.

Some of the shops around Old Street

Making the Old Street especially striking are the colored lanterns hanging across every walkway. As such, Jiufen gets more beautiful as it becomes dark and the lanterns light up the evening.

Many of the lanterns are a vibrant, dramatic red. So while Miyazaki has said inspiration for Spirited Away didn’t come from Jiufen, it’s easy to see some similarities between the two.

Lovely lanterns

While I only went to Jiufen as a day trip, I definitely think it’d be worth staying one night to fully experience the city all lit up at night.

2. Take in the mountains and coast

Jiufen is located up in the mountains, slightly inland from the northeast coast of Taiwan. Visiting the city provides breathtaking views of both the coast and nearby mountains.

Make sure that you look towards the sea as you climb the stairs of Old Street so you don’t miss out on the scenery!

Views like this are one of the advantages of visiting a mountainous seaside town!

Apparently you can catch some fantastic views of Jiufen if you hike up Keelung Mountain, which is about 1929 feet/588 meters tall. You might be able to fit going up the mountain into a day trip, but that will probably depend on how much time you have in town.

3. Visit A-Mei Tea House

The A-Mei Tea House is perhaps one of the most recognizable sights of all of Jiufen. With its Japanese-style architecture, greenery, lanterns and lights, this tea house is very beautiful.

Even if you don’t go inside, you should definitely make some time to admire this Jiufen icon; when people think of Jiufen, they often first think of A-Mei Tea House. Buildings like this are part of the reason Jiufen has a Spirited Away-like atmosphere.

A-Mei Tea House at night

One of the great things about this tea house is that they are open late. When other shops and restaurants have closed, you can enjoy some tea here, well into the evening.

[Click here to read about a quintessential Japanese tourist destination.]

4. Experience a tea ceremony

Besides A-Mei Tea House, Jiufen is also resplendent with other tea houses. All in all, they’re a great place to have a rest and absorb some culture.

As a tea lover, I had to experience a tea ceremony for myself. Honestly, I’m not sure which tea house we stopped at (it wasn’t A-Mei), but it was quite lovely.

As part of the tea ceremony, we were served tea (obviously) and some snacks. This was the setup:

Tea ceremony setup at a tea house along Jiufen Old Street

Tea, snacks, and implements

There are specific steps for the tea ceremony that you should follow. We were taught everything by the person who served us.

First, you pour hot water into the teapot, and from the teapot into the container (for us, that was the white mug-looking container with the sieve). From the container, you pour water into the cups. You dispose of this water into the tea bowl.

Then, you add the tea leaves to the teapot and wait for the tea to steep. Next, you pour the tea into your container, and then pour tea into the cups from the container. Finally, you enjoy your tea!

Shots of our tea ceremony

Our tea ceremony was a very enjoyable experience. It was great to get out of the rain that day, sit down for a bit, and drink something warm. I highly recommend partaking in one if you have the chance.

Bonus shots of the tea house itself

I’m sure some of multi-story tea houses offer great views of the city and coast on their verandas, so definitely consider taking your tea outside if the weather is good.

5. Stop by a temple

There are plenty of stupendous temples across Taiwan, and Jiufen is no exception. As we walked up to the beginning of Old Street, we passed by a beautiful, dragon-laden temple.

While we didn’t go into the temple (we had already seen many in Taipei), we were able to see some of the intricate details of the temple, even just walking by.

Look at how vibrant the dragons are, even in overcast weather!

If you haven’t visited many temples on your trip to Taiwan, it would certainly be worthwhile to stop a few minutes and admire the architecture and decorations of a temple or two in Jiufen.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure on the name of this particular temple (sorry!), though I can find many photos of its roof with the coast in the background.

Overall Thoughts

I loved visiting Jiufen. Walking up and down the narrow passageways of Old Street, looking at the buildings and lanterns as they lit up, and drinking tea, all on a rainy day, are some of my most vivid travel memories.

I wish we had been able to stay longer and see everything lit up more, but we had to leave by around dinner time to make the bus back to Taipei. It would also have been cool to hike up a nearby mountain to get a better view of the town and coast.

Jiufen is a destination best experienced slowly, taking the time to savor its tea and foods and to discover all of its nooks and crannies at your own pace.

My trip to Taipei was simply over a long weekend, but I was very glad we were able to fit the trip to Jiufen in. The mountains, coast, and slower pace of Jiufen provided a nice contrast to the busier Taipei.

If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan (or even a day trip from Taipei), you should definitely consider visiting Jiufen for the day or overnight.

Of course, there are many scenic spots and small towns across Taiwan, and Jiufen is one of the more popular destinations. Somewhere more off the beaten path might be more appealing for those wanting somewhere less crowded, but you could always visit Jiufen on a weekday.

Jiufen’s charming scenery, rich history, and proximity to Taipei make it a great travel pairing with Taipei for first-time visitors to Taiwan.

Bonus: Some Ghibli-inspired Photos

My stuffed Totoro made the trip to Jiufen.

Totoro and the A-Mei Tea House in Jiufen

Totoro and the A-Mei Tea House

There was an area in which people carved names, words, etc into the rock walls. Someone just so happened to carve the word “totoro” into the rock, presumably a Ghibli fan. It was a just a coincidence that I happened upon it.

A variety of things were carved into the rock

I’m not sure of the exact location of these name carvings, but I’m sure you could find them with a bit of exploration.

Like visiting places that blend cultures? Then Macau is the perfect destination for you!

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