Taiwan is a beautiful country filled with beautiful national parks, white-sand beaches, and lots of history. But surprisingly, you’ll find very few foreign tourists here. It can also be really difficult to find information about things to see and do in Taiwan as it tends to be off the typical tourist track.
So we’ve made a list of all the top things to do in the country, organized by region, to help you plan your trip to the spectacularly beautiful island of Taiwan!
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Tawan Travel Basics
Getting Around the Country
Taiwan has an incredibly efficient public transportation system that allows you to easily get pretty much anywhere you need to go. The Taiwan High-Speed Rail runs along the west coast from Taipei to Kaohsiung and turns a 5-hour trip into just 1.5 hours. Be sure to book your ticket in advance for any long-distance trips to ensure that you get a reserved seat.
Taiwan also has Uber and surprisingly honest taxi drivers. And since the taxi drivers almost always put you on the meter, you can expect to pay approximately the same whether you take a taxi or an Uber. But most taxi drivers don’t speak English so we found it easier to use Uber to bypass any communication issues.
Currency in Taiwan
The currency of Taiwan is known as the “New Taiwan Dollar“ and is shortened to NTD or NT$. At the time of writing the exchange rate was about NT$31.35 to $1 USD. So if something costs NT$100, that’s just over $3 USD.
Languages Used in Taiwan
The primary languages spoken in Taiwan are Taiwanese Mandarin, Mandarin Chinese, and Standard Mandarin. And most of the signs around the country use Chinese characters. And we found that very few people actually spoke English. You may have some trouble ordering at restaurants or getting around without Google Translate.
The Top 26 Sights in Taiwan
Highlights of Northern Taiwan
1. Visit the Buddhist Temples of Taipei
In Western Taipei, near the Tamsui River, are several beautiful Buddhist Temples that you won’t want to miss during your trip to Taiwan! Lungshan Temple (also spelled Longshan) is the most popular and crowded of the three temples that are within walking distance.
The nearby Qingshui Temple is a small but beautiful temple where you’ll find far fewer visitors. And if you want a peaceful experience and beautiful views, then head to Bangka Qingshan Temple. Here you can climb up several flights of stairs to a small balcony at the top which overlooks the neighborhood.
2. Check out the View from the Taipei 101
The Taipei 101 is the most iconic building in Taipei and a must-visit during your trip to Taiwan! Built to resemble a bamboo stalk, it was officially the tallest building in the world from its opening in 2004 until 2010 when Dubai surpassed it. And the elevator, which takes only 37 seconds to get from the 5th to the 89th floor, was the world’s fastest from 2004 until 2015. It’s quite exhilarating, but expect your ears to pop!
There is an indoor observation deck on the 89th floor where you can get spectacular views of the city from the floor-to-ceiling windows. You can also climb to the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor that is occasionally open, weather permitting.
One of the sights that you shouldn’t miss during a trip to the Taipei 101 is the large steel pendulum at the center of the building, suspended between the 87th and 92nd floors. The pendulum serves as a damper against strong wind gusts or earthquakes. The largest sway ever recorded by the damper was 39 inches and occurred in 2015, during Typhoon Soudelor.
You’ll want to book your online ticket to Taipei 101 in advance and select a specific time that you plan on visiting. Once you arrive you’ll pick up your physical ticket on the 5th floor and then wait in the long queue for a green screen photo and the elevator. If you get hungry, there are several small carts around the observation deck as well as overpriced restaurants on the lower floors.
3. Eat at the Taipei’s Night Markets
Taiwan is famous for its bustling night markets where you can score a great deal on clothes, shoes, and other odds and ends. But the best thing to do in Taiwan’s night markets is to sample the delectable cuisine! You’ll find everything from the country’s famous stinky tofu, to steam buns, skewers, bubble tea, mango snow ice, and everything in-between. Bring cash and a hearty appetite!
Tonghua Night Market is very local so don’t expect to see many foreigners here. It can also be rather difficult to figure out what food to order as the food options are confusing and not very appealing.
Our favorite was Raohe Street Night Market as the food scene there was quite a bit more enticing than at Tonghua. And although it seemed a bit more touristy, we found prices to be totally reasonable. If you’re looking for clothing or souvenirs, this is a great place to get them as well.
4. Explore the Ximending District
This up-and-coming neighborhood is particularly popular with the young and hip Taiwanese locals. The walking street is full of trendy boutiques, bubble tea shops, and claw machines packed with stuffed toys. You’ll love wandering around Ximending, checking out the shops and people watching all afternoon. There are a few specific spots that you must check out while exploring Ximending:
- Snow King Ice Cream – where you can order strange and enticing ice cream flavors like “basil”, “Taiwanese beer”, and “pork floss”. But choose carefully because they don’t allow you to sample before you buy.
- Modern Toilet Restaurant – the menu at this quirky restaurant is poo-themed so it’s perfect if you’re looking for a hilarious dining experience. The food isn’t outstanding but the portions are big and prices are moderate.
- American Street – check out the unique Taiwanese street art both on American Street and in the small park just off the street. It’s a popular spot for photoshoots so you may have to wait your turn.
Where to Stay in Ximending
If you want to stay in the heart of the hippest area of Taipei, then Tango Inn Taipei Ximen is the place to stay! Most of the hotels in the Ximen area are busy hostels but the Tango Inn is peaceful, cozy, and modern. You’ll love heading back to your room after exploring Ximen to relax in your ultra lush bed with loads of amenities right at your fingertips.
5. Win a Claw Machine Prize
You’ll see toy claw machines all over the streets of Taiwan and in the night markets. The cost is generally 10 TWD (~$.30 USD) to try to win one of the various prizes. But keep in mind that they are quite tricky so your chances of actually winning are slim. But it’s fun to give it a try regardless!
6. Drink Bubble Tea
Bubble tea (also known as bubble milk tea and boba tea) is a drink that is popular all over the world but actually originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. So you absolutely must drink it here! Plus there are bubble tea shops on pretty much every corner of Taipei so you’ll have countless options to choose from.
The drink is made up of a tea of your choosing, milk, and sugar (some shops allow you to customize the amount of sugar added). Flavored tapioca balls and ice are added to complete this tasty treat.
Xing Fu Tang in the Ximen District is arguably the most popular place to get brown sugar milk tea as there is always a long line. But our personal favorite bubble milk tea spot was Chachago as the bubbles were better adn the tea was a bit sweeter. Plus we didn’t have to wait in line!
7. Try Stinky Tofu
Stinky Tofu is a popular snack in Taiwan and is exactly as it sounds. Very very stinky fermented tofu. You’ll mainly find this in the night markets or at roadside food stalls, but not in restaurants as it is generally eaten as a snack. It is usually served deep-fried, grilled, or in a soup. It’s easy to spot the stinky tofu stands when browsing the night markets, just follow the smell of dirty feet and garbage!
Legend has it that stinky tofu was created on accident during the Qing Dynasty when Wang Zhihe had an abundance of unsold tofu. He put it into a jar and when he opened it several days later he found that the color was greenish and it had a horrible odor, but was surprisingly delicious!
We tried deep-fried stinky tofu fries drizzled with chili sauce at the Raohe Street Night Market and found that it tastes pretty much exactly as it smells. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll fall in love with stinky tofu but you can’t visit Taiwan without trying it at least once!
8. Climb to the top of Elephant Mountain
Elephant Mountain (aka Xiangshan Hiking Trail) is arguably the best place in Taipei to watch the sunset. It’s a relatively short hike and should only take about 20 minutes to reach the top, although it is quite steep. You’ll be ascending stairs all the way up so be sure to bring a bottle of water and take plenty of breaks along the way.
But once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the city of Taipei. Sunset is the best time to visit not only because of the views, but also because you can escape the intense afternoon heat.
Elephant Mountain is also relatively easy to access from anywhere in the city. Take the red-line train to Xiangshan Station and then follow Google Maps the .8 miles to the start of the trail. The hike is quite popular with tourists so expect to share your epic views with a few others.
9. Visit the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (or CKS Memorial Hall) is set at the center of a beautiful, peaceful park with ponds filled with coy fish, walking paths, and trees to provide shade in the heat of the day. A grand gate sits at the entrance to the park with the National Theater and National Concert Hall to the left and right of the CKS Memorial Hall straight ahead.
The memorial hall was built in honor of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China who died in 1975. He is a controversial figure and his popularity in Taiwan is divided along political lines due to his involvement in thousands of innocent deaths as well as his dictator-style of ruling.
The CKS Memorial Hall is a large, white building that is shaped like an octagon as the number 8 is generally associated with fortune and wealth. There are two sets of 89 steps that lead to the entrance of the hall, representing his age at his death. And a large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek is the central focal point of the hall. There are also exhibitions on each side containing historical information.
10. Lounge in Beitou Hot Springs
Beitou Hot Spring (also known as Xinbeitou) is located just a 30-minute drive north of Taipei and is a popular place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Many people just visit for the day, but we would highly recommend spending at least one night at one of the many hot spring hotels that have large, relaxing bathtubs fed by hot spring water.
There are several things to do in the area besides lounging in your hotel tub. The Beitou Hot Spring Park has a hot spring creek that runs through the park and is a nice place to go for a stroll. And the Beitou Public Hot Spring (also called Millennium Hot Spring) is a public pool where you can relax for a small fee. While the entrance fee is nominal, just $40 NT/person, they have a very strict swimsuit policy and most board shorts don’t pass muster. So men are often required to purchase one for a steep $250 NT.
Where to Stay in Beitou Hot Spring
Hotel Royal Beitou is a beautiful hotel that provides the perfect getaway from the city. Guests can take advantage of their private ensuite hot tub, or the public bathing pool onsite. There is also a spa and a well-equipped gym. You’ll never want to get out of your bathrobe and check out of this amazing hotel!
11. Stroll Down the Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen is arguably the most popular day trip from Taipei, and also the most crowded spot in all of Taiwan. The covered old street is a narrow walkway filled with shops, food stalls, and tea shops. And hordes of tourists are slowly strolling along the street, stopping to sample the local fare.
If fighting your way through a small, crowded space doesn’t sound appealing to you, you’ll probably prefer to head straight for one of the popular tea shops with a great view. The prices aren’t outrageous and it’s the perfect place to watch sunset! Amei Tea House is the most famous one in Jiufen so get there early if you want a good view.
12. Launch a Sky Lantern in Shifen
Shifen is a small town located along the historic Pingxi train line. It has gained notoriety among tourists as it is a popular spot to paint paper lanterns with your wishes for the future before launching them into the sky.
The streets lining the tracks are filled with food and drink vendors and the tracks are filled with tourists releasing their colorful lanterns into the sky. And whenever the train rolls by everyone scurries off to the edges to let it pass before descending on the tracks once again.
It’s an entertaining place to eat some tasty deep-fried squid and watch the lanterns floating by. But before purchasing one for yourself, you should note that many of the lanterns don’t actually burn. They drop back down to the ground and create a bit of a litter problem in the neighboring areas. We opted not to contribute to the mess.
13. Visit the “Little Niagra of Taiwan”
Shifen Waterfall is located right outside the town of Shifen, and is lovingly referred to as the “Little Niagara of Taiwan” due to its half-circle shape. Of course, Shifen Waterfall is not nearly as large or as impressive as Niagra, but it is certainly the most scenic waterfall in the country.
It’s a short, 30-minute walk to the falls from the train station. And you won’t have to worry about packing water or snacks, plenty of vendors line the entrance to the observation area. The main viewing platform gets quite crowded, but if you continue along the path you’ll find several others that you’ll probably have all to yourself.
14. Hike the Pingxi Crags (Xiaozishan Trail)
The Pingxi Crags hike (called the Xiaozishan Trail on Google Maps) is one of the best hikes that is easily reachable from Taipei in a day.
Start with a trek up Mt. Xiaozi on the Xiaozishan Trail, which is a short but strenuous walk up a series of concrete steps. You’ll begin at the base of the staircase, right near the Pingxi Railway Station. There is a map there that outlines various trails and scenic spots in the area.
After climbing for a bit you’ll come to another map and a split in the trail. Here you’ll continue up the stairs to the right. And once you come to a landing, you’ll see several steep staircases with ropes on each side to help you stay balanced. Take the set of stairs to the left of the small yellow sign. It’s the most obvious choice as the other staircase on the right is unfinished at the top. And once you reach the next landing, both sets of stairs lead you to the mountain peak.
The final ascent to the peak is not for the faint-of-heart. A ladder leads you up the steepest section and there are drop-offs on either side of the small lookout at the top. But the views are incredible and you’ll have secure ropes to hang on to. From the top you can see stairs leading up to two other mountain peaks, Cimu Mountain and Putuo Mountain, in the distance. Both can also be climbed if you have the time and energy.
15. Trek the Sandiaoling Trail
The Sandiaoling Trail is a perfect place to enjoy Taiwan’s spectacular scenery while stretching your legs a bit. This flat, easy trail takes you past 3 lovely waterfalls – Hegu Waterfall, Motian Waterfall, and Pipa Cave Waterfall.
You’ll want to get off the Pingxi Line at the Sandiaoling Station and then follow Google Maps to the trailhead. You’ll follow the tracks for a bit before you see a sign that points you in the right direction. You’ll reach the first waterfall, Hegu, after about 3/4 of a mile. The waterfall is impressive but unfortunately, you have to enjoy it from a viewing platform. You can’t get very close to the falls.
From there you’ll cross a few picturesque suspension bridges before coming upon Motian and Pipa Cave Waterfalls. The entire hike is just 1.5 miles each way (although the walk from the train station is about 1/2 mile) and should take you around 3 hours to complete. Even if you don’t make it to all 3 falls, it’s worth doing a portion of the hike as the surrounding scenery is quite beautiful.
Highlights of Central Taiwan
16. Summit the Sixiu Mountains
The Sixiu Mountains are 4 peaks located in Sheipa National Park in Central Taiwan. You can summit all 4, with or without a guide, but you’ll need to secure a permit first. You’ll also need to book your huts quite far in advance, especially if you plan on hiking during the high season.
The bus drops at Hoya Resort and Hotel. From there you can take a tourist bus (NT$150 per person) that runs every hour and a half to get to other destinations in the park. Or you can try your luck at hitchhiking which is a very viable option as the park gets a lot of car traffic.
The most convenient place to stay is Wuling Villa (also called Wuling Lodge), as it is right at the trailhead of Taoshan Trail. They provide dinner and breakfast the next morning. You can rent camping gear at the Camping Service Center but it is 2 miles from the Taoshan Trailhead. They do not have stoves or anything for water purification and their tent selection is minimal so you may want to bring your own.
Most people hike the Sixiu Mountains in either 3 or 4 days, depending on physical ability. There are two huts (that double as campgrounds). If you hike to Xinda Hut you can leave your backpack there and then summit Chihyoushan and Pintianshan Mountains. The other hut, Taoshan Hut, is right below the summit of Taoshan. You can leave your backpack there to hike to both Taoshan and Kelayeshan Mountains. Evenings are chilly so bring a jacket and long pants.
The most popular route starts at the Taoshan Trailhead and takes the Chihyoushan Trail up to Xinda Hut. It’s a difficult, vertical climb that gains almost 5,000 feet in elevation. You’ll want to start early, around 4:30am, and then just relax when you get to the hut. There’s a rain tank where the water runs from the roof of the hut to the tank but you’ll need to boil or purify it before drinking. On day 2 you should wake up early, leave your bags at Xinda, and summit Pintianshan. Grab your pack on the way out to Chihyoushan and if you feel comfortable, just leave your bag at the trailhead to the summit.
From there, hike to the Taoshan Hut to stay the night. Wake up early again the next day, leave your backpack at the hut, and start by summiting Taoshan. From there you’ll do the long, grueling hike to Kelayeshan. Once finished, retrieve your backpack from the Taoshan Hut and take the Taoshan Trail back down the mountain. It’s a grueling but insanely beautiful trek!
17. Enjoy Sun Moon Lake
Located in the Yuchi Township in central Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in the country. The lake and surrounding countryside are incredibly beautiful which is why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Taiwan.
Most people choose to stay near Shuishe Pier as it has plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from. It is also a good place to rent a motorbike so you can cruise around the lake. During your trip to Sun Moon Lake you’ll most certainly want to take a boat trip across the lake, as well as check out the Wenwu Temple, the Ci En Pagoda, and take a ride on the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.
Where to Stay Near Sun Moon Lake
Shaoguang 188 is an absolutely stunning hotel located right near the Shuishe Visitors Center. Rooms have very sleek, modern decor and all the amenities you could wish for. The beds are incredibly comfortable and bathrooms have a unique, open-air layout. You’ll feel right at home at Shaoguang 188!
18. Visit the Rainbow Village
The Rainbow Village is a quirky, colorful little village in the Nantun District of Taichung. Huang Yung-Fu began painting these houses to keep them from being demolished, and it has since become an off-the-beaten-path tourist destination in central Taiwan. Bring your camera, you will want to take countless photos in the Rainbow Village!
Highlights of Southern Taiwan
19. Explore Kaohsiung City
Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second-largest city but somehow it feels much less crowded than Taipei. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days dining on delicious Taiwanese cuisine, exploring temples and pagodas, and generally enjoying the culture of the country. There are a few specific spots that you must check out while exploring Kaohsiung city:
- Liuhe Night Market – where you can get fresh, delicious seafood at the many enticing food stalls that line the streets.
- Gao Xiong Po Po Shaved Ice – for arguably the best snow ice in the country! Just make sure you order “snow” which is shaved milk ice, rather than regular ice.
- Love River – where you can stroll along the banks of this lovely, peaceful river while soaking in the sights.
Where to Stay in Kaohsiung
20. Reverse Your Luck at the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
Located on the Lotus Lake in Kaohsiung city, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are not to be missed during a trip to Southern Taiwan!
The twin, 7-story towers are approached by a zigzagging bridge. It is believed that visitors should enter the towers through the mouth of the dragon on the left, and then exit through the mouth of the tiger on the right for good luck. And you’ll see by the paintings on the walls that the luck of those being portrayed begins very badly near the dragon and gets progressively better as you reach the exit.
Of course, you should also climb the spiral stairs all the way to the top of at least one of the towers (the view is more or less the same from both) to get a beautiful view of the lake and the Kaohsiung skyline on the opposite bank!
And be sure to check out the many other temples sitting on the bank of Lotus Lake including the Spring and Summer Pavilions and Zuoying Yuandi Temple.
21. Admire the Dome of Light
The Dome of Light is tucked inside the busiest metro stop in Kaohsiung, on the B1 level of the Formosa Boulevard Station. But at nearly 100 feet in diameter, it’s pretty difficult to miss. And you shouldn’t miss it, because the Dome of Light is the largest work of glass art in the world!
The Dome of Light was designed by the Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata and in its 4,500 glass panels is the story of human life shown through water, earth, light, and fire. It is also meant to honor the birth of Taiwan’s democracy. If you’re lucky, your visit may correspond with one of the daily light shows that attract large crowds and lasts for about 5 minutes.
22. Check out the View from the 85 Sky Tower
The 85 Sky Tower in Kaohsiung is an 85-story, 1,140-foot skyscraper with an observation deck so it is the perfect place to check out the city from above. It was the tallest skyscraper in Taiwan until the Taipei 101 was completed in 2004.
While the 85 Sky Tower does have several bars and restaurants in the building, they are not located on the highest floors. The best way to get a view of the city is to head up to the observation deck on the 74th floor. Adults will pay NT$250 to access the observation deck.
23. Find Religion at the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum
The Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum is a massive complex located in Kaohsiung. When you walk through the main entrance you’ll be amazed by the number of restaurants and shops. No need to eat before you visit, there is a delicious upscale vegetarian restaurant on the first floor and a very modestly priced vegetarian buffet on the second floor.
Once you proceed through the doors and into the complex the first thing that will catch your eye is the huge Buddha statue located at the far end of the courtyard. There are buildings lining the walkways but you’ll want to head directly to the museum at the far end. Here you’ll find countless exhibits that will give you more insight into the Buddhism religion and history.
The complex was created to house a relic that is incredibly important to devout Buddhists – a tooth that once belonged to Buddha himself. Construction began in 2001 and it took 10 years to complete. If you want to explore the entire area, be sure to give yourself several hours and bring a sun umbrella.
24. Trek in the Kenting National Forest Recreation Area
Kenting National Park is a large area of land taking up the southernmost tip of Taiwan. Here you’ll find beautiful beaches, scenic hikes, and a bustling night market in the center of town. Once you arrive in the town of Kenting you’ll want to rent a motorbike from one of the many vendors that line the streets so that you can cruise around the park at your own pace.
We had a good experience renting motorbikes from Feng-Xiang Motorcycle Rental (No. 243 Kending Rd.) and were able to rent a scooter for 24 hours for $500 NT.
The U-Shaped road that connects the northern and southern ends of town is a popular place for motorbiking and also hiking. We found the caves hike to be quite lovely, and mostly shaded which allowed us to escape the intense afternoon heat.
You’ll park at the ticket office and then take one of the trails through the park. A few not-to-be-missed highlights of the area include the Seaview Tower and the Fairy Cave. You’ll enjoy getting a chance to see the beautiful nature of the area as you get off the motorbike and stretch your legs!
25. Lounge on the Beach
The town of Kenting has several lovely beaches, right nearby! Little Bay Beach is on the southern end of town and is a good place to go if you want to rent an umbrella and spend the day lounging. And South Bay Recreation Area is a large beach in the north with lots of bars and restaurants to keep you fed and hydrated. Both are popular with local and foreign tourists although very few Taiwanese people actually venture into the water.
And if you’re looking for some solitude, Kenting Beach is a long stretch of sandy beach with zero amenities. You won’t be able to rent an umbrella or buy a beer here, but you’ll probably have the entire beach all to yourself!
Be sure to check out the town of Kenting when the sun goes down. The main drag comes alive with vendors selling all types of delectable Taiwanese cuisine. Make sure you come hungry because you’ll want to eat everything in sight.
26. Check out the View From Longpan Park
Longpan Park is a small area located on the eastern side of the Kenting National Park peninsula. The views of the rugged coastline from here are superb and it’s a popular place to watch both sunrise and sunset in southern Taiwan.
We hope you have a wonderful trip to the beautiful island of Taiwan!
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