where should I travel to when visiting Taiwan?Taiwan is a small island with a lot to offer. where in Taiwan you should plan to visit - and likewise, what to see and do while there - will of course depend on your own personal preferences and how much time you have. today I'm going to lay out some of my favorites and a few highly recommended places that you should consider adding to your itinerary.
Taipeithis city of nearly 3 million [over 7 million in the metro area] is the country's capital and pretty much an unavoidable stop when visiting Taiwan. not that you would want to avoid Taipei - in fact, I would recommend basing your Taiwan travels from here. while there is plenty to see in the city itself, Taipei also connects you to the high speed rail for west coast access and TRA for the east coast.
Taipei is a modern city with an amazing public transit system, but also ancient temples and green mountains. I've already written a list of 101 things to do in Taipei. while that's more than enough to keep you busy, I thought that pointing out a few favorites would be helpful.
guidebook classicsI like to think of these as "the big five" attractions in Taipei. they are on every to-see list and while definitely crowded and perhaps a bit overrated, still worthwhile if you have the time.
Taipei 101 + observatory: city views and high-end shopping in [formerly] the world's tallest building // Taipei 101 MRT stop
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall: an impressively sized monument to Taiwan's leader, surrounded by manicured gardens and the National Theatre // CKS Memorial hall MRT stop
Longshan Temple: one of the busiest and most famous temples in Taiwan // Longshan Temple MRT
Shilin Night Market: a sprawling and crowded street food lover's dream // Jiantan MRT
National Palace Museum: arguably the world's greatest collection of Chinese art and antiquities // Jiantan MRT stop + cab or bus
Taipei templesGuandu Temple: a massive complex on the Tamsui river, complete with a cave-like tunnel full of Buddhas // Guandu MRT stop
Songshan Ciyou: one of the oldest and most fantastically ornate in Taipei // Songshan MRT stop
Confucious Temple: dedicated to the famous scholar, with tours and info // Yuanshan MRT stop
Dalongdong Baoan Temple: UNESCO award-winning for historical preservation // Yuanshan MRT stop
hikes in TaipeiSeven Star Mountain: the highest peak in northern Taiwan with stunning 360 views of the ocean coast and the city // Yangmingshan National Park by bus
Jiantan Trail: explore temples and shrines while taking in views of downtown // Jiantan MRT stop
Elephant Mountain: a short climb up steep steps offers the city's best view of Taipei 101 // Xiangshan MRT stop
Battleship Rock: climb up and down in less than an hour, or continue over to Beitou on the Junjian Yan trail // Shipai MRT stop
notable neighborhoods, etcXimending: hip shops and colorful street art abound // Ximen MRT stop
Huashan 1914 Creative Park: old winery complex turned photographer's dream - filled with cute shops, cafes, and exposed brick // Zhongxiao Xinsheng MRT stop
Beitou: an old Japanese resort town known for hot springs and geothermal activity // Beitou MRT stop
Raohe Night Market: a great [less crowded] alternative to Shilin // Songshan MRT stop
day trips from Taipeiyou can easily spend a full or half day exploring the areas outside of the city. these destinations below [as well as many others] can be reached by bus, MRT, or TRA trains.
Juifen: the famously picturesque model town for the Spirited Away movie - red lanterns galore
Maokong: ride a gondola up to tea plantations in the mountains overlooking the city
Wulai: an aboriginal town featuring natural hot springs and a stunning waterfall
Houtong: an old mining town recently famous for its abundance of stray cats
Yehliu Geopark: crazy rock formations to explore on the northern coast of Taiwan
and now, for the rest of the island...
Hsinchuit's not really known as a tourist destination, but having lived there for three years I just can't not mention Hsinchu. exploring this city and the surrounding mountainous county is best done with your own set of wheels. there are temples downtown [Jhulian and the City God's] as well as an ancient gate and moat, but one of my favorite odd places is the Pu Tian Temple and Guqifeng statue garden. this temple is surrounded by statue-filled gardens of a surprising nature: Buddhas of every shape and size, old shoes, zebras, sphinxes, and even a replica of the statue of liberty.
further east towards the mountains you can find the small towns of Emei and Beipu - worth a visit for the temples and the cold spring. past Beipu you will encounter mountain peaks covered in hiking trails and temples both: Wu Zhi Shan [Five Finger Mountain] and Shitou Shan [Lion's Head Mountain] being the most popular. for those not planning to rent a car or scooter, there is a tourist bus that runs to Lion's Head from the Hsinchu High Speed Rail station. this would make for a long [but doable] day trip from Taipei.
Taroko Gorgethere's a reason why Taroko National Park is Taiwan's biggest tourism draw. this gorge carved from marble, with stunning blue waters flowing between green mountains, is stunning year-round. take a hike up the Baiyang Waterfall Trail, stroll through the swallow grotto, and explore the Xiangde Temple. you can lodge in the nearby city of Hualien [also known for beaches] or choose from a handful of accommodations out in the gorge. getting out into the park involves booking a tour bus, private taxi for the day, or renting your own wheels.
Alishanthough it isn't the highest peak in Taiwan, it may be the most famous. Alishan National Scenic Area is a mountain resort town dating back to the Japanese occupation when it used to part of a logging system. you can hike trails here or ride the antique forest train - but the major draw is the sunrise view. wake up early to travel by local train or hike up to Chushan, [or ride the minibus to Tatajia] and if the weather is right you'll be rewarded with a view of the sun breaking over a sea of clouds. to get out to Alishan you can take a bus which departs twice daily from from the Chaiyi high speed rail, or have more bus time options at the regular Chaiyi train station. the famous Alishan Railway was damaged a few years back and has been under repairs - the best info I could find states that a train from Chaiyi will only go as far as Fenchihu.
Kentingthis town on the southernmost tip of Taiwan is known for it's beaches and nightlife. my advice: skip the crowded South Bay and Kenting Beach and head to the quietly gorgeous Little Bay. if you aren't up for swimming, surfing, or snorkeling - go explore Kenting National Park's hiking, hot springs, and lighthouse instead. you won't go hungry here: the night market spans the entire length of downtown. I also highly recommend Piccolo Polpo for an incredible meal, and On the Table for crazy but delightful cocktails.
Sun Moon LakeSun Moon Lake is a scenic area tucked into the mountains in central/west Taiwan. many go to escape the summer heat, snap iconic photos of the blue water while on a boat tour, for hiking and biking, to ride the cable car or visit the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village [which is actually somewhat of an amusement park.] there are a handful of lodging options available though cuisine options are limited. if you are traveling along the west coast, you can catch a bus from the high speed rail station in Taichung.
East Taiwan, Taitung, Lanyu and Green Islandthe east coast of Taiwan is less developed than the west, and driving down to Taitung on highway 11 offers stunning views of cliffs dropping into blue seas on one side, with lush jungle and mountains on the other. or you might take highway 9, making a detour to hike the Walami Trail or explore the high mountains of Yushan National Park. exploring these areas is best done with your own transportation - whether that's a car, scooter, or bicycle is up to you.
Taitung itself isn't a big draw for tourists, but it is the largest city in southeast Taiwan. from there you can access gorgeous beaches, hot springs, and hiking up and down the coast. or hop a ferry [or plane] to Green Island or Lanyu / Orchid Island - both known for coral reefs, volcanic rock formations, and some interesting recent history. these islands are paradise for scuba, snorkeling, and seafood lovers. Green Island boasts one of the world's three saltwater hot springs, while Lanyu is home to the Yami tribe. though the scenery is stunning, the islands are a bit remote. many travelers opt for the beaches of Kenting instead.
suggested Taiwan itinerariesthis is the essential question: how much time do you have? if you only have a few days to spend, I would recommend basing your adventures in Taipei. the city offers easy transportation and an endless variety of temples, museums and food. and bonus: you can still access mountains, waterfalls, and tea plantations with less than an hour's travel from downtown.
if you have a week, you could start in Taipei and take a few day trips to the surrounding areas while exploring downtown. a trip along the east coast to Taroko [one or two nights] would be lovely break from the city bustle. or you can opt to take the high speed rail to Kaohsiung and head to Kenting, perhaps stopping for a night at Alishan or Sun Moon Lake along the way.
with two weeks or more, you could easily tackle a round-the-island trip. you might choose to add in stops at Kaohsiung or Taichung - I haven't covered these cities here but they still offer plenty to see. you could relax with a few days on Green Island [or any other of the dozen smaller islands surrounding Taiwan.] or you could simply take time to try crossing off everything on this Taipei bucketlist.
this post is the third in a series of tips for visiting Taiwan. for more information, please see:
part 1: a guide on what to pack
part 2: a guide on how to travel
part 3: a guide on where to go + what to see [this post]
part 4: a guide on what to expect