On Ketagalan Boulevard stands the imposing redbrick Presidential Building (總統府; zǒngtǒngfŭ), its 60m tower for years the highest point in the city. The president and vice-president still work here and security is understandably tight: the entrance is at the back of the building at Boai and Baoqing roads, where you must show some form of photo ID (passport preferably). English-speaking guides are provided free of charge – it’s not possible to tour the place without one and many exhibits have Chinese-only captions.
Constructed between 1912 and 1919 by the Japanese to mimic British imperial architecture, the building served as the office of Japanese governor-generals until 1945, assuming the function of Taiwan’s presidential office from 1949. The first-floor rooms are arranged around two inner gardens that form the Chinese character for “sun” (日) when viewed from above (also the first character for “Japan”). Here you’ll find an informative exhibit on all nineteen Japanese governor-generals, including the fourth governor, the Kodama Gentaro – the Taiwanese used to say “his spit is law,” a fairly vivid indication that colonial rule wasn’t all green tea and sushi at the time. The building also contains exhibits on Taiwan’s five post-Japanese-era presidents, the history of the site itself, a basic history of the island and temporary art displays.
On eight or so Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year the building has an “open house”, which means you get to see some of the other areas (including the impressive Entrance Hall and Presidential Reception Room), wander around the first floor independently and take photographs (forbidden on weekdays).