Few structures in Taiwan are as instantly recognizable as Taipei’s Grand Hotel. Set on a hill on the northern bank of the Keelung River, the Grand seems less a hotel and more an imperial sentinel keeping eternal vigil over the metropolis to the south. Among the world’s tallest classical Chinese structures, the hotel’s 285-foot red columns hold high a curvaceous burnt umber, temple-style roof topped by carved dragons. This classical Chinese motif continues inside the hotel, with dragons, lions, plum flowers, and other symbols of Imperial China woven throughout. Guestrooms are stately, though more functional than plush. All are decked out in imperial gold and red, and each offers carved teakwood chairs alongside other furnishings reminiscent of bygone dynasties. South-facing rooms all have balconies with city views so visitors can enjoy quiet meditations while looking out over the meandering river separating Taipei’s quieter north side from the more frenetic south.
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The Grand Hotel’s location in the Shilin District places it rather close to several places considered Taipei must-visits. Ten minutes by taxi from the hotel sits the National Palace Museum, containing perhaps the largest collection of Chinese art and artifacts on the planet. Within walking distance is the famous Shilin night market, which offers all manner of Taiwanese street food from sunset into the wee hours. Less celebrated—but no less worthy—facets of the neighborhood are the quiet temples and alleyways dating back to the 1800s to the northwest of the night market, and the lovely mountain park with meandering paths directly to the north of the hotel.
Need to Know
Rooms: 487 rooms. From $230. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Just as one wouldn't (or shouldn’t) order anything but Tex-Mex while touring the American Southwest, it would be strange to consider anything but traditional Chinese food while staying at Taipei’s most traditionally Chinese hotel. Even with these parameters, plenty of options exist at the Grand. The Golden Dragon, bedecked in imperial red and gold, serves Cantonese cuisine like steamed dumplings, fragrant soups, and a variety of dim sum dishes in a banquet atmosphere, one offering an astounding view. More intimate is the attic floor’s Yuan Yuan, with small tables made of lacquered wood on which the cuisine of northern China—wheat noodles, fried dumplings, and a variety of meat and vegetable dishes more hearty than their southern Chinese counterparts—is served for both lunch and dinner. Least traditional in cuisine is Grand Garden, which serves buffet breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, all incorporating Western and Chinese dishes. Spa and gym details: The Grand has two gyms, both possessing the usual array of stationary bikes and Nautilus gear; one is on the tenth floor, the other in the attached club building. The club also has a pool and sauna, but the sauna requires an additional payment of NT$420—about $14—per use.
Who’s it for: Any visitor to Taiwan seeking a piece of living history, the experience of ancient Chinese ambience (maybe with a sighting of General Chiang Kai-shek’s ghost), or an appropriate base from which to visit the nearby National Palace Museum. Our favorite rooms: Lacking outward-facing windows, the cheapest rooms of the Grand are somewhat dark. More costly, but ultimately a better deal, are the eighth-floor Prestige Rooms, which have comfortable beds, classical Ching dynasty furnishings, and beautiful views of the city and mountains beyond. Local secret: Rumors of underground tunnels leading from the hotel into the residence of former dictator Chiang Kai-shek have existed since the Grand Hotel first opened. These rumors were proven partially truein 1995 after a safety commission discovered two secret 180-meter air-raid tunnels leading—not to the Generalissimo’s private residence, as thought—but into nearby parks. Though the tunnels are technically speaking closed, hotel officials regularly offer tours of them to press and public.