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February 1, 2012

How can I visit the National Palace Museum on my own ?

View National Palace Museum in my larger map.  

Most cruise tours will offer you a very quick visit to the National Palace Museum in a large group for an hour or so, before it's "back on the bus" time to quickly check off the next highlight of Taipei.

The museum now attracts more than four million visitors a year, making it the 7th most visited museum in the world. After the four year reconstruction and closure between 2003-2006 it now needs to urgently increase capacity.

The building is open from 08:30-18:30 hours, on Friday and Saturday until 21:00. Admission is NT$ 250 for the day - let the staff know if you'd like to get back in after taking a lunch break. In most cases you'll reach your culture saturation point after 2-3 hours.

Taking the cruise tour is a convenient way - at least you can say you've been there ! But you can also do this trip by Kuokuang public bus 1801 for NT$ 53 (one way) on your own from Keelung, get out of the bubble, and at your own pace spend more time at the floors and rooms you like.

At times you'd think you are already (or again) in mainland China when other groups rush in. Which means long lines in your group for the 'must see' and hyped items like the "Jadeite Cabbage" and "Meat Shaped Stone" - when there is a lot more to see.

If you're going on your own and have signed up online in advance for the one hour free English tour at 1000 and 1500 you'll have expert advice. But even better: for NT$ 100 you can rent an English/Japanese/Korean language audio-guide. Simply press the number of the items of interest in front of you.

After all, there are only some 3000 artifacts on display out of a total collection of 695.000 items to keep you coming back for years.

With help from a local like me you can take this trip by bus to within a ten minute walk from the museum and back, and I'll weave through the crowds.

Check my maps and the pictures for the details, route and stops - it takes about 60-75 minutes to get to Shilin this way. After driving on the highway for 20 minutes you'll reach the Neihu district and the stops then take you past quite a number of schools and hospitals. 

Don't worry, just get off the bus after passing through the long tunnel, so once inside - push the stop button. If you did tell the driver you're going to 'Gu-gong', he'll be happy and proud to let you know: Taiwanese are very friendly and helpful.

Since so many of you asked me and like to have a bit of cruise adventure, here is my step by step guide (July 2013) plus some commentary:

1. Once you're in the very basic (ok then: our shabby) bus station, buy a NT$ 53 ticket at the one and only Kuo-Kuang bus ticket counter. You could ask for a separate return ticket, or on the return trip just throw the same amount into the cash box of the bus, say 'Keelung' and the driver will hand you a stub, which you hand back to him when getting off the bus in Keelung. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

2. Go to bus stop lucky number 8 outside, past the station's exit 1. Officially the stop is still called the "Chinese Culture and Movie Center" on the line identified as going to the National College of Nursing. That's before bus route numbers were finally introduced only a few years ago, and we and you all often got lost. Except in the early morning rush hour before 0800, the bus departs every half hour on the hour on the dot.

Just to let you know about your destination: the Center has been closed for years to make way for expensive apartments. Anyway, this is where the return stop to Keelung is located: further down and across the road from where you got off the bus.

Once you get off the bus after 60 minutes and 8 optional stops, turn right and walk in the opposite direction you just came from. After less than 10 minutes you'll see these huge apartment blocks across the road. It is a very expensive residence complex, including the apartment of former president Lee Teng Hui.

Would you believe that back in 1965 when the original museum opened it was the only building in this area ? now even finding parking space is difficult.

Just keep following the sidewalk, and at the bus stop (check out bus Red 30 and others back to Shilin Metro station on the red line at NT$ 15) you can orient yourself looking at the map below.

I would suggest to walk up to the museum through the oft forgotten Chinese style Chishan garden, especially on a hot day. The free entrance is on the right hand side of the steps and five imperial arches gate. Save that obvious return route for walking down and out of the air-conditioned museum.

If you have the time, do also visit the Indigenous Museum across the road. Most of the time it offers you free entry - to see the real Taiwan. After all, what you will see in the big NPM is 22% of the collection which reached Taiwan by 1949 from the Palace Museum in Beijing and archives in mainland China. Most of it has less to do with this island.

So pass this gate and the inevitable Falung Gong displays in front of it.

This is the Chishan garden exit gate at the side of the museum steps, just go up the steps and inside.

Now you've certainly earned a coffee or cool drink and snack at the first floor restaurant, before buying your ticket. You'll have to check any big camera, bags or backpacks at the counter for free safekeeping. No water bottles can be brought inside - like most museums.

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