5 July 2020.
Taiwan is the kind of place that has a little something for every type of traveller.
The vast sea of mountains that unfold across the island’s interior creates a veritable playground for adventurers, while culture aficionados will delight in centuries of history that will sweep you back in time.
Foodies will discover a feast for the senses with everything from deliciously moreish street eats to Michelin-starred restaurants. Then there’s the surfers and the divers, the cyclists and beach-lovers, the photographers and petal peepers, who will all find plenty to love in this bite-sized isle adrift in the Pacific.
What’s more, aside from being one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited – the Portuguese were bang on when they labelled this place Ilha Formosa, beautiful island, as they sailed by – Taiwan is also so wonderfully easy to travel, where warm welcomes and unfailing kindness simply make it a joy to travel at every turn.
Ready to plan your trip? These are the best things to do in Taiwan.
Psst… For all my top practical travel tips for Taiwan, read this post.
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
1 | Fall In Love With Vibrant Taipei
Taipei provides a wonderful introduction for any first trip to Taiwan.
Sprawling across much of the island’s north, Taipei extends from the turquoise coast to the jungle-clad mountains. In between, tradition and innovation collide and strolling the vibrant city streets is as much a journey through its history as it is about experiencing the delights of its culture, new and old.
Don’t miss a dawn visit to Longshan Temple where worshippers flock for morning prayer and join in the ethereal chorus that echoes through the vast chambers as the city awakens slowly from slumber. Nearby, busy Dihua Street, the oldest in Taipei, fills with locals and tourists alike where you can find everything from Chinese herbs and fabric to freshly steamed dumplings and hand-packed bags of tea.
On the other side of town, the modern boulevards that surround the iconic Taipei 101 are forever bustling, playing host to high-end shops and Michelin starred restaurants, while trendy and always lively Ximenting delivers with all things alternative where street art, food and entertainment hold pride of place.
If that hasn’t got you excited, you’ll also find some fantastic day trip options – think hot springs, countless waterfalls, stunning city views, a dormant volcano and verdant jungle.
READ MORE | 4 Beautiful Hiking Trails Near Taipei
2 | Soak Away Your Worries at A Traditional Bathhouse
There’s no better antidote to a long haul flight, busy trip or heavy backpack than an afternoon relaxing in the deliciously muscle-melting waters of a natural hot spring and, thankfully, Taiwan has them in spades.
Rich in minerals, these natural hot springs are widely believed to offer health benefits which makes them particularly popular with the older generations and their wellness rituals that may unfold over several hours, but for younger folk, it’s just as popular a place of purely indulgent relaxation.
Close to Taipei, Beitou is an easy day trip with everything from enormous outdoor pools to luxe private spas. Further afield, you can enjoy the windswept seaside pools of Green Island, the remote natural springs nestled beyond the East Rift Valley or the many geothermal areas that lie within the mountains along west coast.
3 | Hike The Misty Peaks Of Yangminshan National Park
Yangmingshan National Park conceals a world of enchanting mossy forest trails fit for a storybook, alongside jungle-clad mountains and vast fields of silvery grassland that rustle in the breeze.
On a clear day, Yangmingshan’s highest peaks will reward you with staggering views across the entire northern tip of Taiwan, but even when it’s overcast, as is more often the case, you’ll be greeted by misty forests and rain-soaked leaves that perhaps make this place even more atmospheric.
Located just an hour from Taipei, Yangmingshan makes an excellent day trip for anyone craving a respite from the city and an escape to nature. You’ll also find something to suit every type of traveller with everything from accessible pathways and quiet picnic spots to steep mountain tracks that will keep you occupied all day long.
4 | Explore the Stunning East Rift Valley By Bike
Bound by dark forested peaks, the vibrant patchwork of Taiwan’s East Rift Valley is a simply spectacular sight.
Stretching on for some 180km between Hualien and Taitung, the East Rift Valley carves a wide tract between the towering Central and Coastal Mountain Ranges and is home to some of Taiwan’s most fertile land. A sprawling mosaic of buttercup yellow and lime green intersected by narrow laneways that twist and turn.
While this gorgeous region can easily be admired from the train, it’s best experienced on two wheels where you can weave between the sea of rice paddies, spindly palms and a lake carpeted in lilies.
READ MORE | Cycling Taiwan’s Spectacular East Rift Valley
5 | Street Eats And Lanterns At Jiufen’s Old Streets
Glowing beneath the light of a thousand red lanterns, Jiufen’s enchanting old streets make it one of Taiwan’s most beloved destinations.
Set on a steep slope overlooking the ocean and surrounded by some incredible mountains, this tiny former mining village has a simply superb setting. Yet funnily enough, this has little to do with why this place has been thrust into the spotlight.
Jiufen has long been speculated to be the inspiration behind Japanese animation film Spirited Away and while this rumour has been disputed, this has done nothing to deter keen visitors intent on soaking up every little bit of charm this place has to offer.
Truth or fiction aside, when darkness cloaks the hillside village and the vibrant thread of scarlet lanterns flicker to life, you’ll find Jiufen at its most magical. By night, be sure to explore the labyrinth of narrow laneways and cobbled staircases, sample the many local delicacies and stop for a tasting in a traditional tea house. By day, don your hiking boots and tackle one of the many fantastic mountain trails that await nearby.
6 | Climb Teapot Mountain, My Favourite Day Hike In Northern Taiwan
Rearing sharply behind Jiufen and Jinguashi, chiselled emerald peaks cascade into the ocean and set the scene for an epic day of exploration.
Teapot Mountain is the area’s most famous hiking trail, morphing from lush grassland into an imposing dome of rock that, from the right vantage point, resembles a teapot. Beyond, the trail snakes along a narrow ridgeline towards the vertical cliffs of Banpingshan.
At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal views overlooking the stark hump of Mt Keelung folded and furrowed like a crouched dragon, the gnarled bulge of the teapot and the countless peninsulas and bays that mark Taiwan’s stunning north coast.
It’s an adventurous hike with rocky tunnels to clamber through, vertigo-inducing cliff walls to scale and steep rock platforms to traverse, but it is without a doubt one of the absolute best day hikes in Taiwan.
7 | Gawk At The Astoundingly Beautiful Taroko Gorge
Veering away from Taiwan’s dramatic coastline, Taroko Gorge carves its way inland like a jagged tear in the earth; a wide forested canyon that gives way to striking vertical cliffs.
Like a tiny pocket of Eden, this place is ripe for exploration with thundering waterfalls, iridescent blue streams, astounding vistas, hidden caves and high mountain trails to test even the most intrepid explorers.
As one of the most popular things to do in Taiwan, don’t expect the have the place to yourself, but on a well-planned visit, it’s entirely possible to find moments of tranquillity away from the crowds.
8 | Dive The Pristine Soft Coral Reefs Of Green Island
Adrift off the east coast of Taiwan, visitors will need to tackle rough seas and strong winds to reach Green Island, but those who do will be rewarded with wild landscapes, stunning coastal drives and a pristine marine environment that begs to be explored.
Lush soft coral gardens, turtles aplenty, swarms of kaleidoscopic reef fish and abundant macro life, not to mention some of the best visibility you’ll find this side of Asia, make Green Island Taiwan’s best dive and snorkel destination.
Back on land, a bike or scooter will allow you to zip around the spectacular 18km coastline before ending the day at a hot spring overlooking the ocean.
Intrigued? You might also consider adding Orchid Island to your itinerary. Green Island’s more remote, less visited and, according to some, even more beautiful neighbour.
9 | Marvel At The Endless Panorama Of Peaks At Hehuanshan
Many high altitude areas in Taiwan require a hard-to-get permit but, thankfully, Hehuanshan is not one of them!
Here, amidst the sea of mountains that ripple across central Taiwan, you’ll find countless razor-sharp peaks, verdant farmlands, quaint mountain villages, vast green hillsides and a spectacular mountain road that meanders between it all.
Hiking is Hehuanshan’s biggest draw with six main trails ranging from a leisurely half-hour stroll to a challenging all-day expedition.
The fresh alpine air and lack of light pollution also make this spot equally as beautiful between dusk and dawn when the mountainous skyline is illuminated by a burnt sunset glow before ushering in a magnificent star-studded night sky. It’s a brilliant spectacle and without a doubt one of the best things to do in Taiwan.
READ MORE |
10 | Watch A Dreamy Sunrise At Sun Moon Lake
Fringed in mountains, the glimmering expanse of Sun Moon Lake is another heavy hitter on Taiwan’s tourist circuit.
Admittedly, it wasn’t my favourite stop in the country but watching the sunrise across the water was nothing short of dreamy.
I woke to find the inky silhouette of the mountains still cloaked in darkness. Slowly, a pastel glow bled across the sky before spilling over the peaks and illuminating the entire valley basin. Tiny boats began their slow journey across the water, birds fluttered about excitedly in search of their morning feed and locals emerged for an unhurried morning stroll.
Sitting lakeside in that blissful cocoon of silence that only the wee hours can bring was a moment I’ll not be forgetting for a long time to come.
Scattered around the lake, you’ll also find plenty to keep you occupied during your visit with glorious views, numerous temples, a few hiking trails and a decent street food scene.
READ MORE | Cycling Sun Moon Lake – Is It Worth It?
11 | Temples And Tree Houses In Tainan
As Taiwan’s oldest city, Tainan is famed for its excellent food, rich history and culture and laidback pace.
Given it was also the staging area for so many pivotal moments in Taiwan’s history, it also makes an ideal spot to add some important historical context to your trip. Thankfully, Tainan is one of just a handful of cities where you’ll find free walking tours available to help you do just that.
Learn about the indigenous communities that existed here for millennia before being colonised by the Dutch in the early 1600s and onwards to the shift between Chinese and Japanese rule. Visit some of the oldest and most revered temples in the city and learn about their traditions before passing by some of Tainan’s more modern attractions.
Next, head to the coastal outpost of Anping located just 5km from the city centre. Don’t miss the Anping Tree House, a former warehouse of Tait & Co. that has today been encased in the lithe limbs of a banyan tree in a beautiful display of nature reclaiming its place. Also worth a visit is nearby Fort Zeelandia, also known as Anping Fortress, which was built by the Dutch East India Trading Company and developed into a hub of trade between Europe and East Asia.
12 | Wander The Ancient Forests Of Alishan
Nestled deep in the mountains of central Taiwan, the enchanting ancient forests of Alishan await.
Wonderfully atmospheric walking trails are plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale, high alpine peaks offer up spectacular vistas and an unforgettable sunrise is in store for anyone willing to wake early enough to catch it. Perhaps most enchanting of all, however, are the enormous millennia-old cypress trees that creak and groan overhead as if in deep conversation and an unwavering mist remains as their constant companion.
Alishan is a place of immense beauty and, despite being one of the most popular places to visit in Taiwan, there’s still plenty of magic to be found here.
The National Forest Recreation Area is where many visitors focus their time and it is here where you’ll find the ancient trees, abandoned train tracks and numerous hiking trails to keep you occupied, but for those seeking a more offbeat experience, consider visiting Shizhao or Fenchihu as well. These two tiny mountain villages act as the gateway to the wide tracts of tea plantations, bamboo forests and mossy forest trails that are no less beautiful but are often overlooked.
Whichever you choose, Alishan is a place to wander slowly, breathe in the crisp mountain air and enjoy the serenity of village life in the mountains.
READ MORE |
13 | Hike As Many Trails As You Can Manage (Just Don’t Forget Your Permit)
For avid hikers and lovers of the outdoors, Taiwan is an absolute dream destination.
From dramatic emerald hills that cascade toward the sea, to dense bamboo forests that feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook, to high alpine peaks that reward you with unparalleled vistas, there’s really no better way to experience Taiwan than with a pair of dusty boots and the trail at your feet.
Now, while many of the island’s vast network of hiking trails are well-marked and easy to access, a number of the more challenging tracks do require you to have a permit.
Some are easy to secure just a few weeks in advance, whereas others involve a slightly complicated application process and need to be applied for months in advance.
If you’re a keen hiker hoping to head into the mountains, I’d highly, highly recommend locking your plans in early so that you can acquire the appropriate paperwork on time if needed. Otherwise, you’ll find countless spectacular and unrestricted day hikes on offer which are sure to keep you occupied.
14 | Laze On The Beaches Of Kenting National Park
A visit to Kenting National Park is often listed as one of the best things to do in Taiwan, and while I met plenty of travellers who enjoyed their time here, personally, I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about.
But that’s not to say it won’t be right for you.
Rimmed in wide sandy shores, Kenting is one of few places in Taiwan where you can hit the beach. Unfortunately, many are dominated by loud jet skis and banana boat rides with swimmers often relegated to a small cordoned-off area, but if it’s sun, sand and sea that you crave, you’ll still find plenty of space to sprawl out and relax here. Little Bay Beach, a small cove on the outskirts of town, was my favourite.
Kenting is also a decent place to go scuba diving and snorkelling or consider renting a scooter to explore Kenting National Park. Eluanbi Lighthouse marks the southernmost tip of the Taiwan, while stark rocky outcrops pepper the landscapes and offer up some curious sights.
READ MORE | How To Get To Kenting + Kenting National Park
15 | Don’t Miss The Night Markets For Street Food
Drop me in a chaotic night market with food stalls and bubble tea aplenty and I’ll be a very happy lady!
Come evening, Taiwan’s countless buzzing night markets are a riot for the senses, where funky aromas billow through narrow alleyways, curious scenes captivate the eye and tastebud-tingling street eats abound and so perfectly encapsulate the street food scene for which East Asia is so well-loved.
I had a lot of foodie firsts in Taiwan and, all these months later, there are so many delectable morsels that I’m still craving.
The ubiquitous scallion pancakes were always a winner – my favourite combo was egg with Thai basil and spicy sauce – while my first taste of brown sugar boba milk tea had me wondering how on Earth I’d made it nearly three decades without trying this deliciousness.
Also, dumplings! If you’re not eating dumplings in Taiwan, you’re not doing it right. Watching these delicious little parcels being expertly stuffed and folded is completely mesmerising, topped only by the fun of actually eating them. And while pork is the usual variety, vegetarians will also be well catered for.
16 | Surf The East Coast Near Taitung
The very first travel story I ever read about Taiwan was about it’s surfing culture along the east coast, and while I don’t actually surf, the promise of blissfully warm water, uncrowded waves and a ridiculous mountain backdrop sounded just a little bit like heaven.
Unless there’s a typhoon on the horizon, waves here are not particularly big – though if the Green Island ferry is anything to go by, they certainly can be! – but they are consistent and fun for anyone keen for a paddle during their trip.
Fanning out from Taitung, you’ll find a handful of dedicated surf villages and surf camps along the coast and a friendly local surf community.
17 | Go Petal Peeping For Cherry Blossoms
Spring is one of the best times to visit Taiwan, especially if you’re a fan of florals which blanket the mountainous landscapes.
Delicate and dreamy cherry blossoms are everyone’s favourite and can be found in places like the Alishan Mountains, Yangmingshan National Park, Sun Moon Lake, Wuling Farm, Cingjing and around Tianyuan Temple in New Taipei. Seasonal temperature will greatly affect their arrival time, but you can expect to see the blossoms as early as late February until around April at higher altitudes.
Arriving late summer, golden daylilies are another one to watch, blanketing the lush plateau of Liushishishan or Sixty Stone Mountain alongside the vast checkered plains of the East Rift Valley.
Getting To Taiwan
Given its compact size, Taiwan has whopping four international airports of which the main hub is Taoyuan International Airport located an hour from central Taipei, followed by Kaohsiung International Airport in the south. The remaining two – Taipei Songshan and Taichung – mainly deal with domestic and short regional flights within East Asia.
Both Taiwan Taoyuan and Kaohsiung airports are easily accessible from their respective cities via MRT or bus.
For shorter visits where you plan to travel down one side of the island, it may make sense to fly into the north and out of the south, or vice versa to save time.
Getting Around Taiwan
Transport in Taiwan is excellent with a wide network of long-distance local trains and buses, city buses and MRT lines, as well the super efficient High Speed Railway which travels along the west coast.
Every destination in this list can comfortably be reached by public transport, though some of the more remote mountain locations can prove slightly more challenging.
TOP TIP | Purchase an EasyCard as soon as you arrive in Taiwan. This handy top-up card can be used on public transport throughout Taiwan (on virtually everything except the High Speed Rail) and will save you having to purchase separate tickets for every journey or rummage around for exact change. You’ll also be rewarded with discount and transfer fares on a number of routes.
Scooter + Car Rental
All major tourist destinations in Taiwan are easily accessible by public transport or on a day tour, but having a car or scooter will allow you far more flexibility, especially if you’re on a tight schedule.
Like much of Asia, travelling by scooter is a popular option, particularly for day trips or short getaways. You’ll find scooter rental available in all major cities, often near the train or bus stations, though keep in mind that you may also require an International Driver’s Permit or motorbike license. Electric scooters, on the other hand, can generally be rented without any additional paperwork. Prices hover around $500 (€15) per day.
Few international car rental companies operate in Taiwan with small local agencies being far more common. To rent a car, you’ll need an IDP and you should expect daily rates to be relatively more expensive compared to somewhere like Europe.
Day Trips + Attractions
Short on time and keen to meet some fellow travellers? You’ll find plenty of excellent value day trips offered throughout Taiwan that include direct fuss-free transportation and often combine a number of nearby attractions so you really get that extra bang for your buck.
You’ll also find great deals online for a number of key Taiwan attractions including early bird offers, skip-the-line access or generous online-only discounts.
Taiwan is a fantastic place to travel solo, but if you’d rather forgo the hassle of organising your own trip, you’ll find no shortage of group tours on offer, focussing on everything from food and culture to hiking and cycling adventures.
Where To Stay In Taiwan
Budget travellers will be well catered for with no shortage of hostels in Taiwan. You’ll find a decent selection in every major city with places like Taipei and Hualien, in particular, having plenty of options. Dorm beds general start at around $350 (€10) per night, but can cost as much as double or triple this in more remote locations like the offshore islands or in the mountains.
Guesthouses + Homestays
For private rooms, locally run guesthouses and homestays present the best value and you’ll find plenty on offer across the country. Expect homely spaces, a warm welcome and affordable prices.
Outside of major cities, be sure to also search listings on Google Accommodation as many properties don’t appear on traditional booking platforms.
Airbnb is not strictly legal in Taiwan and while there are numerous properties listed, hosts may be subject to substantial fines.
Though I love Airbnb for certain situations, I wouldn’t recommend using it during your visit to Taiwan and would instead suggest seeking out a homestay or guesthouse which is actually authorised to operate and will provide the opportunity to experience local culture in an affordable way.
Hotels are common in all big cities with everything from simple business rooms though to lavish oriental palaces. For anyone who likes their creature comforts wide a side of luxury, hotels may be preferable to a homestay.