What To Do, Where To Go, and How to Get Around

It’s rare that visitors to Taiwan leave with anything negative to say about the country. Instead, they are usually heard saying they wish they’d had more time, or are already thinking about their return trip.

Taiwan is a subtropical island nation in East Asia that is so beautiful, it was formerly known as Formosa, or “Beautiful Island.” It is a safe and easy-to-navigate destination, with unbelievably welcoming people who are always eager to share its rich culture and scenic wonders with anyone willing to dive in. 

The Taiwan of today has something for everyone, but foodies and outdoor adventurers are especially drawn; the former to its legendary night markets and street food, and the latter to its towering mountains, bubbling hot springs, and expansive beaches.

Taiwan is so much more than a place to stop briefly en route to other parts of Asia. Come now and find out what the hype is all about! This travel blog to Taiwan will provide all the information you need to get you started in planning an unforgettable Taiwan itinerary.   

Alishan National Scenic Area is a must for nature lovers.

When to Visit Taiwan

Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Taiwan in terms of weather. In April and May, the weather is warm but not yet overbearingly hot. But beware that a mini monsoon called the Plum Rain usually affects Taipei in late May and southern Taiwan in early June. October and November are some of the driest of the year and have pleasantly warm weather.

Summer in Taiwan is oppressively hot and humid. On top of that, a handful of typhoons strike Taiwan every summer and can disrupt travel plans. They can strike anytime between June and October, but most commonly in August and September. Still, some people choose to visit in summer out of necessity or because they don’t mind the heat.

Winter is another time you may want to consider planning a trip to Taiwan. December is often still pleasant, not to mention the chance to see fireworks blasting from the sides of Taipei 101 on New Year’s Eve.

January to March can be chilly in Taipei, but perfect for hot springs and cherry blossom viewing. Meanwhile, the tropical south of Taiwan remains warm in winter.

You’ll probably want to skip the Lunar New Year holiday, when much of Taipei shuts down, and getting around the country can be difficult, as all the locals travel around to meet with their relatives.

taiwan tourism spots -- CKS Memorial in Taipei
The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

Top 10 Taiwan Tourist Spots

1. Taipei

In any Taiwan itinerary, trips begin and end in the capital city, Taipei. Unlike some metropolises, this is not the kind you want to escape from as soon as you arrive.

Even solo travel in Taipei can be enjoyable, with attractions like Taipei 101, Maokong Gondola, colorful temples, some of the best night markets and street food in Asia, hot springs, and countless day trip possibilities will make you want to linger.

Considering how easy it is to get around Taiwan, you may even want to base yourself in this city for your whole trip!    

2. Jiufen

Jiufen is the most popular day trip from Taipei. Head to this atmospheric former gold rush town to walk up its narrow staircases, drink tea while overlooking the Pacific Ocean far below, and sample local treats such as sweet potato and taro balls.

You also shouldn’t miss nearby Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park, where you can drink gold leaf coffee and marvel at Golden Waterfall.

3. Shifen Waterfall

Shifen is another extremely popular day trip from Taipei, and can be combined with a visit to Jiufen. Shifen Waterfall is the widest in all of Taiwan and quite a sight to behold.

You’ll also be tempted to write your wish on a sky lantern and set it off from the tracks at narrow Shifen Railway Station, but be aware that this popular practice is not environmentally friendly.

4. Taichung

The largest city in Central Taiwan, Taichung, is also brimming with intriguing attractions. The many quirky and appealing things to do in Taichung include Rainbow Village, Gaomei Wetlands, Totoro Bus Stop, Animation Lane, Chun Shui Tang (the supposed birthplace of pearl milk tea), and 921 Earthquake Museum. 

taiwan tourist spots -- taichung
The colorful Taichung Rainbow Village

5. Sun Moon Lake

Any Taiwan itinerary should include the country’s largest and most popular body of fresh water, pretty Sun Moon Lake. It draws masses of tourists to its sparkling shores, has temples and pagodas overlooking the lake, and offers aboriginal delicacies.

Hop on a bike, as the cycling route around the lake is considered one of the world’s most stunning.

6. Alishan

Two-thirds of Taiwan consists of high mountains, and Alishan is the most popular place to access them. Getting there is half the fun, as you get to ride the Alishan Forest Railway, an incredibly scenic uphill railway.

Arriving at Alishan National Scenic Area, you’ll be surrounded by ancient forests and fresh, misty air. Don’t miss the famed sunrises, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness a sea of clouds in the valleys below. Definitely include this in your Taiwan itinerary!

7. Tainan

Are you a history and culture buff? Your Taiwan itinerary should include Tainan, the former capital, to enjoy its ancient European forts and some of the country’s oldest temples. Locals also consider Tainan to be the food capital of Taiwan, so come with an empty stomach!

8. Kaohsiung

The southern port city of Taiwan is increasingly becoming a tourist hotspot thanks to its art-filled piers, new light rail system, adjacent islands (especially Qijin and Lambai Island), and Foguangshan, the country’s largest Buddhist monastery.

It is also the staging point for trips to Kenting National Park, the tropical beach resort occupying the southern tip of Taiwan.

9. Taitung

If you want a quieter adventure, head to Taitung County in the southeastern corner of Taiwan. There you’ll find yourself surrounded by rice paddies and a slower pace of life.

Ride a bicycle or hot air balloon for the best way to take it all in. For an island escape, hop on a ferry to Green Island, which features one of only three saltwater hot springs in the world and great scuba diving.

10. Taroko Gorge

Coming full circle to northeastern Taiwan, Taroko Gorge is one of the country’s most impressive natural attractions. The deep, dramatic gorge begs to be explored.

You’ll want to spend a whole day there, which should include at least one or two hikes, the breathtaking Eternal Spring Shrine, and the Tunnel of Nine Turns.

taiwanese vendor
A Taiwanese vendor

Sample Taiwan Itinerary for Two Weeks

In order to do a full circuit of the country, you’ll need at least two weeks. This Taiwan itinerary will allow you to see most (but not all) of the above top 10 sights.

In order to squeeze every single one of them in, three weeks would actually be ideal. If you only spend a week in Taiwan, you’ll probably want to stick mainly to the capital and Northern Taiwan.

Days 1-3: Arrive in Taipei and explore the city. Use day three to do a day trip from the city, such as Jiufen, Shifen Waterfall, Keelung Night Market, or Yehliu Geopark (with careful planning, you could fit all of these into one day).

Days 4-5: Journey to Hualien on the east coast and spend a whole day at exploring magnificent Taroko Gorge. Make sure to reserve your train tickets for this popular leg in advance.

Days 6-7: Base yourself in Chishang, Luye or Guanshan, three countryside towns in Taitung County, to explore the surrounding countryside by bike.

Days 8-9: Choose between Kaohsiung, with its wide range of attractions, or Tainan, with its historical delights.

Day 10: Ride the train to Chiayi then transfer to a bus or the Alishan Forest Railway (morning departures only) up to Alishan for the famed sunrise above a sea of clouds. Since you’ll be up so early, one night there will suffice.

Day 11-12: Catch the minibus (two departures per day only) plying the winding route between Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, then watch the sunset over Sun Moon Lake and further explore the next day.

Day 13: Spend a day in Taichung en route to Taipei in order to check out Rainbow Village, Gaomei Wetland for sunset, and finish off at Fengchia Night Market.

Day 14: Catch a direct bus, or HSR + shuttle bus, from Taichung to Taoyuan International Airport for your departing flight, avoiding the need to return to Taipei.

going around taiwan
The Taipei MRT

Getting Around Taiwan

Luckily Taiwan has an excellent transportation system, so getting around is really easy, but there are still some things you need to know.

To begin, when you arrive at Taoyuan International Airport, you’ll have multiple choices for getting into Taipei. The most convenient is the new Airport MRT line, which takes 35-50 minutes and costs TWD160. Load money onto an EasyCard to swipe into the station, as you’ll be using the card throughout your trip.

Buses are also available for a slightly lower price, taking up to an hour, while a taxi from the airport to anywhere in Taipei will cost TWD1000-1500.

In Taipei, you’ll ride the MRT almost everywhere you go. Make sure to use an EasyCard, available from the kiosks in every station, to get a discount. You can return it to get the TWD100 deposit back at the end of your trip.

You can also swipe your EasyCard on short, non-reserved bus and train rides around the country, and for public transportation in other major cities like Taichung and Kaohsiung.  

For traveling between cities on your route around Taiwan, the TRA (regular train) is the best option. It’s important to reserve your seats online, at any train station, or at 7-Eleven (maximum two weeks in advance) as seats frequently sell out, especially on holidays and weekends.

The HSR (High Speed Rail) also runs from Taipei down the highly developed west coast to Kaohsiung (Zuoying Station). It cuts travel times in half, but tickets cost around double.

Also note that in several cities, the HSR station is located outside of the city center, which can be inconvenient. You get a discount for booking in advance (up to one month), but if you don’t mind paying full price, you can always buy non-reserved tickets, even at the last minute. The comparatively wild and undeveloped east coast doesn’t have an HSR line.

taipei-tianhou-temple
The Tianhou Temple in Taipei

Other Things to Know about Visiting Taiwan

English is not as widely spoken in Taiwan as in some other parts of Asia (such as the Philippines or most of Southeast Asia), but you may find that it is more spoken than in Japan, and at a similar level to South Korea.

In other words, most people can speak at least a little English, especially younger people and in big cities.

A translation app, plus having your desired destination/hotel name printed out or highlighted on a phone screen to show to taxi drivers can be very useful, as local names can be really tough to pronounce properly.

Mandarin is standard across Taiwan, although “Formosan Languages” (which includes the Taiwanese dialect of Chinese as well as Hakka and aboriginal languages) are also official recognized.

Generally, people in Taipei and big cities speak Mandarin, while the elderly and those in the countryside and south of Taiwan use Taiwanese.

People in Taiwan tend to be very polite, and it’s in your best interest to follow suit. This includes being quiet on public transportation, giving up your seat to the needy on the MRT, standing on the right side on escalators, avoiding putting your feet on the seat, always wearing shoes and a shirt, and never raising your voice.

Tourist scams are rare in Taiwan, and taxi drivers are extremely unlikely to try to rip you off. Tipping is not widely practiced in Taiwan and can even be considered offensive.

Street food is safe to eat, cheap, and incredibly delicious in Taiwan. Finding garbage cans on the street can be tough, though. If you need the toilet, head to any MRT station or McDonald’s. Taiwan has a higher concentration of convenience stores than any other country, and they sell a surprising range of goods. 

Last but not least, be prepared to stand out a little in Taiwan. The Taiwanese are incredibly hospitable, and this can take the form of regularly hearing “Hello!” and “Welcome to Taiwan!”, personal questions from strangers, little gifts, and more.

For visitors with kids, be aware that people may try to photograph or even touch your kids, but they are only curious and mean no harm.

Well, hopefully you’ve found all the information you needed to begin planning your Taiwan itinerary! Please comment below if you have any questions or feedback, and enjoy your trip!  

Text and photos by Nick Kembel.

Nick Kembel
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