Got extra time in Taiwan’s capital city? Explore the rest of this fascinating East Asian country by tackling some of the best day trips from Taipei.
On the surface, the capital of Taiwan isn’t so different than other cities in East Asia. And even with all the exciting night markets and engaging Taipei attractions to check out, it won’t be long before you crave something different. The true magic of Taipei, however, lies not just in the city streets but in the places around it.
Even if you decide to stay in Taipei during most of your first trip to Taiwan, you’ll come to appreciate more of the country than you thought possible. Simply hop on a bus or a train for a short jaunt outside of the city, and you can explore many of the country’s highlights.
Still unsure of whether sticking around Taipei is worth it? Let me convince you with this complete guide to the top-rated Taipei side trips!
Top-rated Taipei side trips
Only have one extra day in Taipei? Set your sights on Jiufen, one of the most popular side trips from Taipei. Jiufen is an old mountainous gold mining town in Northern Taiwan turned tourism tour-de-force. The town has ancient roots in the early Qing Dynasty, but it wasn’t until the Japanese rolled in to profit from newly-discovered gold that the town really powered forward.
After WWII, Jiufen fell into hard times as gold mining dwindled. Come the 1970s, it was practically a ghost town. Jiufen remained that way until about 20 years ago, when Taiwanese film director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness brought the mining town into the limelight.
Jiufen quickly capitalized on its burst of fame, and soon it swarmed with tourists, enchanted by its atmospheric alleyways, old Chinese tea houses, and stunning ocean views.
The tourism boom continues to this day. Finding space within Jiufen’s narrow winding streets is no easy task. It is, however, entirely worth the trouble.
To get into the town centre, the easiest approach is via Jiufen Old Street (Jishan Street). You’ll find the entrance next to the 7-11 on the main highway to Keelung.
Along and around Jiufen Old Street, you’ll never tire of the delicious selection of Taiwanese street food. Keep on the lookout for local specialties like hot and cold taro balls, sticky rice cake, and steamed taro cakes.
The simplest route to Jiufen is by bus from a stop just outside Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station. Take Exit 1 and look for bus 1062 (Keelung) to Jinguashi. You can also take the train to Ruifang, crossing the street for the Keelung Transit bus to Jiufen (15 minutes). Alternatively, hop on the train to Keelung and grab bus 788 from Keelung Bus Station.
Combining Jiufen with towns along the Pingxi Branch Railway is another great way to make the most of your time. Check out this guide to travelling from Shifen to Jiufen to get an idea of how to do this route using public transportation.
Often combined with a day trip to Jiufen and Keelung, Jinguashi is another vestige of Japanese occupation in Northern Taiwan. Compared to its neighbour Jiufen, Jinguashi is less crowded and more sombre.
The town is infamously known as the former home of Kinkaseki, one of the grimmest Japanese POW camps in Taiwan. And reminders of this dark period of Taiwanese history seem to pop up everywhere in this small town.
There are two Jinguashi attractions worth checking out: Jinguashi Gold Museum and Benshan Fifth Tunnel, both located in Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park. (If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to pop a Xanax before traipsing through Benshan Fifth Tunnel.)
For a more subdued experience, wandering into Taiwan’s past in Jinguashi’s quiet old alleyways, lined with lanterns and winding through the hills, is a pleasant escape from the town’s darker moments. And if you catch yourself in Jinguashi in the early morning (as I did), you may feel as if you are the only tourist sauntering through the streets!
Follow the directions from Taipei to Jiufen. Jinguashi is the next town over, adding less than 10 minutes to the bus journey.
Next to Jiufen and Jinguashi, Pingxi should be a high priority for day-trippers. The claim to fame for this historic little town is the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, one of the biggest festivals of its kind in Taiwan.
Pingxi Old Street is at the heart of any visit to the town. Along it, you’ll find a multitude of souvenir shops and, of course, numerous stops to chow down on some Taiwanese food. Follow your nose to one of the sausage stalls (the more crowded, the better) to grab a delicious lunchtime snack.
Even when the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival isn’t rockin’, releasing lanterns is a popular activity in Pingxi. If you’re visiting as evening breaks, find yourself a lantern at one of the tourist shops and join in the fun!
From Taipei Main Station, grab any northbound train to Ruifang Station. Transfer at Ruifang to the Pingxi Branch Line. The trip from Ruifang to Pingxi Station is about 39 minutes. To ride the line, you’ll need to buy a one-day Pingxi Branch Rail Line pass (NT$54). You should be able to find it at most train stations in Northern Taiwan, including Taipei and Ruifang.
Xiaozi Shan Hiking Trail
If you’re looking to please your adventurous side, test out your hiking boots on the Xiaozi Shan Hiking Trail. It’s hardly the world’s easiest hike, but breathing in the epic scenery will be enough to keep you fully engaged!
The Xiaozi Shan Hiking Trail is easily accessible from Pingxi, with the entrance sitting only a couple hundred metres from Pingxi Station. Unfortunately, from here, it only gets tougher.
Clambering through the Xiaozi Shan Hiking Trail is a strenuous affair requiring a decent level of physical fitness and a penchant for heights. The trail consists of steep stairs carved into the hillsides and aluminum ladders to claw your way up the peaks. It might turn your stomach, but if nothing else, it will be a hike you’ll never forget.
From Pingxi Station, you can find the trailhead by walking across Pingxi Bridge, turning left, and crossing the Jilong River. The trail starts to your left.
Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail
If you only have time for one hike along the Pingxi Branch Rail Line, consider hopping on Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail. It’s a pleasant alternative to the gravity-defying walks around Pingxi and worthwhile for experiencing some of the area’s most contagious scenery.
Many hikers only follow the trail past the first three waterfalls: Hegu Falls, Motian Falls, and Pipa Dong Falls. All three are majestic and worth checking out.
Continuing on from Pipa Dong Falls to Dahua Station is also an option, adding about 4km to the trek. Some travellers choose to walk all the way to Shifen, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it involves illegally—and dangerously—walking through a railway tunnel. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Like Pingxi, Sandiaoling is accessible on the Pingxi Branch Rail Line. From Ruifang Station, Sandiaoling Station is the second station on the branch line. Exit here.
To get to the trail from Sandiaoling Station, follow the tracks south, using the tunnel at the railway fork to cross under. Follow the train tracks for a couple minutes until you see the former elementary school. The well-posted trailhead will be to the right.
The most popular destination along the historic Pingxi Branch Rail Line, Shifen, gives off a similar small-town vibe as Pingxi. And while both towns are appealing and worth a visit, Shifen’s rail-side charms will grab your attention more forcefully out of the gate.
Wandering around Shifen starts at Shifen Old Street, an atmospheric collection of shops and restaurants wrapped around an active train track. (No, you’re right. It’s not much of a street at all!)
While the old alleyways, restaurants, and shops of Shifen are a nice escape, the biggest treat for travellers might be Shifen Waterfall, about a 20-minute walk from town. At 20m high and 40m wide, Shifen Waterfall is Taiwan’s widest waterfall. Despite the short trek to get there, don’t expect to have the views all to yourself. It’s an über-popular place with Taiwanese city dwellers!
Follow the directions above for Sandiaoling, but continue on to Shifen Station, two stations past Sandiaoling Station. Your one-day Pingxi Branch Rail Line pass is valid for travel to Shifen.
Almost anywhere you travel in Taiwan, Chinese culture overshadows aboriginal Taiwanese culture. Not so in Wulai, where most of the residents belong to the Atayal Tribe, an aboriginal group with Austronesian roots. It’s the closest aboriginal village to Taipei, so if you’re interested in having a glimpse of Taiwan before Chinese settlement, Wulai’s it.
Discovering Atayal culture isn’t the only reason visitors pop into Wulai. The area is perhaps even more famous for its hot springs and natural attractions. In Wulai, you can hike through dense jungles alongside rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls. Ride the Wulai Scenic Train to the base of Wulai Falls, an 80m-high waterfall plunging into the river.
The village itself isn’t much to behold. That’s not to say it’s not worthwhile to wander around. Wulai Old Street is different than most other old streets in Taiwan. Souvenir shops and food stalls here reflect the Atayal culture. Instead of kitschy mass-produced souvenirs, you’ll find original aboriginal handcrafts.
The food on Wulai Old Street is also tinged with aboriginal influences. Don’t miss tasting the wild boar sausages and steamed sticky rice cake with peanuts!
Hop on the Taipei MRT and travel to Xindian MRT Station. Outside the station near the tourist information centre, there will be a bus stop. Snag a ride on bus 849 (departing every 10-15 minutes) and get off at the final stop.
If you’re looking to soak your troubles away, Beitou may be an even wiser choice than Wulai for your first Taiwanese hot springs experience. The reason is simply convenience: Beitou is about as easy as Taipei day trips get.
Of all the sights in Beitou, the most intriguing is Geothermal Valley. This weird little slice of Taiwanese nature earned itself the moniker Hell Valley for the endless steam that rises from the jade waters. As its nickname hints, you’ll need to look elsewhere if you want to take a soak. The waters here are near boiling point and a tad more acidic than would be recommended.
You didn’t just come here to look, did you? With some cash in hand, you could grab that first Taiwanese hot springs experience by splurging on one of the many private spas that dot the river. For the otherwise frugal among us, file into line at Millennium Hot Spring, the most popular public hot springs in Beitou.
This is a quick and easy one. Hop onto the Taipei MRT and head north on the Red Line to Beitou MRT Station. Switch platforms to the Xinbeitou Branch Line, moving along one more stop to Xinbeitou MRT Station. The total trip from Taipei Main Station should take no more than 45 minutes total.
Listing Tamsui as a side excursion from Taipei may be a little misleading. It probably won’t take a full day to see what you want to see here. Nonetheless, if you’ve got a few hours to spare, it’s worth slinking up to Tamsui to escape Taipei, even if you’re unable to escape the crowds.
Walking along the Tamsui River on the town’s famous Tamsui Old Street is how you’ll probably want to start your journey. This riverside road is famous among local visitors and families for its carnival-like atmosphere and tasty Taiwanese treats. Be sure to get your hands on the local Tamsui specialty, a-gei, a concoction of glass noodles, and fried tofu.
If you’re travelling as a couple, hopping on the ferry from the end of Tamsui Old Street to Fisherman’s Wharf is a practically required detour. Lover’s Bridge, a famous landmark for young couples, draws huge crowds to soak in the sunset. Timing your visit to Fisherman’s Wharf around this time isn’t a bad idea, as it’s a great place to grab a quick Taiwanese seafood snack.
From Taipei Main Station, you’ll need to head north on the Taipei MRT Red Line. Tamsui Station is the terminus of the line, about 40 minutes away from the city centre.
Yangmingshan National Park
Hikers rejoice! Yangmingshan National Park must surely be one of the world’s easiest escapes into nature from a city. Within about an hour, you can slip from the hustle of Taiwan’s capital into the peaceful mountain air of Yangmingshan.
Unlike testing your vertical limits in Pingxi, hiking in Yangmingshan National Park is not overly difficult. The popularity and proximity to Taipei mean that Yangmingshan’s hiking trails are clean and well-maintained, even if slippery at times!
As a day trip from Taipei, the most accessible hike is from the Visitor Centre to the peak of Qixing Mountain, about a 2.5km walk. The peak is about halfway to Xiaoyoukeng, where you can marvel at fumaroles puffing sulphur into the air. From Xiaoyoukeng, you can either continue to walk back to the visitor centre or grab a bus back to Taipei City.
The quickest route is to take the MRT to Jiantan Station. Head outside and grab bus R5, leaving every 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can hop on bus 260 outside of Taipei Main Station for a more direct but longer route to Yangmingshan National Park.
Taroko National Park
If you’ve only got time for one longer day trip from Taipei, choosing Taroko National Park is never a bad idea. This breathtaking slice of nature, located about 150 kilometres from the city, is one of Taiwan’s most famous tourist attractions—and with good reason.
For hiking in Taiwan, it doesn’t get much better than Taroko National Park. The park is home to its namesake Taroko Gorge, a spectacular geological wonder formed by the mighty waters of the Liwu River.
As you hike through Taroko Gorge, you’ll not only become enthralled by the sheer marble cliffs rising around but get face-to-face with some of Taiwan’s most interesting plant & animal life as well as compelling attractions such as the Eternal Spring Shrine, a picturesque shrine accompanied by a waterfall that’s the most popular place to visit in Taroko National Park.
Via public transportation from Taipei, it can be a very long day to get to Taroko National Park. From the main train station, it’s a two-hour ride to Xincheng Station. From here, you can catch a bus to the park entrance.
Far easier is to book a tour that’ll handle the logistics for you. The 11-hour Day Trip to Taroko and Hualien from Taipei is a good option.
In search of one of the oddest places near Taipei? Get your weird on at the spectacular Yehliu Geopark. Set along the northern coast of Taiwan, Yehliu Geological Park features some of the world’s most bizarre limestone rock formations carved by the forces of nature.
During your visit to Yehliu Geopark, keep your eyes peeled for the ecological park’s most famous formation, the “Queen’s Head.” Besides the park itself, nearby Yehliu Ocean World is a superb stop for families and travellers of all ages, featuring acrobatic performances from sea mammals as well as a 100-metre-long under-ocean tunnel where you can witness the majesty of the sea.
The most hassle-free of getting to Yehliu Geopark is by bus. Buses from Taipei West Bus Station (beside the main train station) depart regularly for the park (NT$96). The journey to the park entrance is around 90 minutes.
Sun Moon Lake
While I can’t promise that your visit to Sun Moon Lake will be quiet, I can assure you that aside from the thick crowds of tourists, this isn’t a Taipei day trip you’ll want to miss. Located in Nantou County, close to Taichung City, Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan and one of the country’s most famous (and crowded) travel destinations.
Even with its bad rap for over-aggressive tourism, there’s no doubt that Sun Moon Lake forms one of Taiwan’s most stunning backdrops. The image of the surrounding Central Mountain Range foothills reflecting into the lake’s crystalline waters is a scene you won’t soon forget.
There’s plenty to do on a day trip to Sun Moon Lake, from checking out temples like Wenwu Temple and visiting lakeside aboriginal villages like Ita Thao.
If you’re crunched for time, one of the best ways to experience the lake is to book yourself a ticket for the Sun Moon Lake Hop-on Hop-off Boat. Even better is to hook yourself up with a Sun Moon Lake Ropeway Combo Ticket that includes unlimited boat rides, a bike rental, and a ride on the lake’s famous ropeway that’ll hook you up with the region’s most spectacular views.
From Taipei, the easiest way to Sun Moon Lake is by bus. From the main bus station, the journey will be about 3 to 3.5 hours and cost $NT470. An even more convenient option is to book yourself onto a Sun Moon Lake 1-Day Leisure Tour from Taipei and let a professional tour guide handle the logistics for you.
Even if Yilan County isn’t one of the most popular day trips from Taipei, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most surprising. Located less than an hour and a half from Taipei City, Yilan County throws its weight around as both a natural and cultural destination. The area is famous for both its aboriginal cultures and sweeping landscapes that include everything from rolling hills to primeval forests to jagged seascapes.
While Yilan City has a handful of its own historical charms, most travellers will find the county’s less-obvious attractions even more compelling. If you’ve got Taiwanese food on the brain, don’t miss the region’s Luodong Night Market, one of the most famous night markets in Taiwan found in its namesake town.
Other points of interest & things to do in Yilan County to look out for include relaxing Jiaoxi Hot Springs, whale-watching at Guishan Island, and the thousand-year-old trees at the Qilan Sacred Trees Garden.
Yilan County is easily accessible from Taipei City via train. The fast Tze-Chiang trains offer the quickest journey time to Yilan City at around 1h20m. Although a new road tunnel has cut down the drive time between Yilan and Taipei, buses can still take over 2 hours.
Got a penchant for Chinese tea? Then you simply need to throw a day trip to Pinglin into your Taipei travel plans. This rural area, located southeast of the city centre, is a great way to experience Taiwan’s tea culture while escaping the buzz of Taipei for more serene surroundings.
Pinglin District is most famous for the Pinglin Tea Museum, a museum dedicated to Chinese tea culture—and the largest of its kind in the entire world! The museum features a number of exhibitions uncovering the entire history & culture of Chinese tea, from tea-growing to tea-making and everything between.
Besides exploring Pinglin Tea Museum and the town’s Old Street, Pinglin District is a popular area for cyclists. The 2-kilometre-long Jingualiao Bike Path snaking around the Jingualiao River presents some of the most pristine natural scenery in the region. Pinglin is also a fantastic base for launching a side trip to Shiding Thousand Island Lake, a stunning swath of Taiwanese nature lying just 11 kilometres to the east.
On the Taipei MRT, take the Xindian MRT Line to the Xindian stop at the end of the line. From the bus stop outside the station, catch bus 923 to Pinglin. The buses depart hourly on weekdays and twice an hour on the weekend.
If you’re trying to leave behind the big city vibe, Keelung might not be the outing you’d hoped for. But it is one of the quickest and easiest Taipei side trips. Don’t discount it just yet!
It’s hard to describe Keelung as a “must-see” destination in Taiwan. Most visitors simply sneak a peak at Keelung on their way back from Jiufen and Jinguashi, timing their visit with the opening of Miaokou Night Market.
Some powers-that-be named Miaokou Night Market one of the two best night markets in Taiwan for food. And. knowing Taiwan’s affliction with street food, that means something! If you happen to slip into Miaokou Night Market, look for the thick crab soup near the main entrance. It’s might be one of the best dishes you’ll try in Taiwan!
Besides Miaokou Night Market, Zhongzheng Park is an amusing little distraction from an otherwise subdued Keelung. Climb up to the park for incredible views over the city and a dash of whimsical statues that can’t help but put a smile on your face.
From Taipei Main Station, there are plenty of local trains bound for Keelung all day long. The trip is less than an hour and costs NT$41.
Where to stay in Taipei: The best hotels for day-trippers
Pumped to tackle these side trips? Among the best places to stay in Taipei for day-trippers are Zhongzheng and Ximending, two areas set in a prime location for exploring the outskirts of the city.
- Roaders Hotel: A wholly-unique modern hotel near Ximending taking its design cues from the Great American Road Trip.
- Via Hotel Taipei Station: A simple 3-star hotel with superbly clean modern rooms located just minutes from Taipei Main Station.
- Cosmos Hotel Taipei: A lovely 4-star mid-range hotel boasting elegant rooms in a location close to both Taipei Main Station and Ximending that can’t be beat.
- PALAIS de Chine Hotel: One of the best Taipei luxury hotels, this 5-star gem loads up on class & sophistication—inside and out.
- Tastebuds in an uproar? Devour the evening delights of Miaokou Night Market in Keelung or the famous riverside treats of Tamsui Old Street in Tamsui for a taste extravaganza you won’t soon forget.
- Looking for a little chillin’ and illin’? Head up to Beitou and soak in the area’s famous hot springs to unwind from the throes of Taiwanese city life.
- Craving some unbridled nature? Lace up your hiking shoes and hit up the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, Xiaozi Shan Hiking Trail, or Yangmingshan National Park for a dash of fresh air.
Wait, there’s still more! I’ll be adding to this list in the future. For now, here are a few more quick ideas:
- Yehliu Geopark
- Sun Moon Lake
- Yilan County
- Houtou Cat Village
- Taroko Gorge & Tarako National Park