A laid-back alternative to Taiwan’s capital, the southern port city of Kaohsiung is brimming with underrated gems. Once dismissed as a dreary industrial hub, Taiwan’s third-biggest city has a booming creative scene where street art is actively encouraged. With its historic architecture and gorgeous coastal scenery, this metropolis is a feast for the eyes. Get stuck into street food, temples, and beaches with this guide to the best things to do in Kaohsiung, Taiwan!
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It’s hard to miss the Lotus Pond during your visit to Kaohsiung. This huge artificial lake is a tranquil spot in the heart of the Old City of Zuoying, getting its name from the beautiful lotus plants floating on the water. But the coolest thing about the Lotus Pond isn’t the lake itself, but the eclectic collection of temples surrounding it.
The twenty temples around the Lotus Pond are some of the quirkiest you’ll ever see. Start at the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, but make sure you do this in the right order! Both creatures have passageways through their mouths. Going into the dragon and out of the tiger reverses your bad luck. You’ll find more dragon action at the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, where Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, rides a giant one.
INSIDER TIP: The Lotus Pond sprawls over 100 acres! To see all the temples, we’d recommend taking a hop-on-hop-off bus instead of walking.
If you’re sick of regular public transport, the Love River is a fun way to get around the city. This large canal stretches 12 kilometers from the Renwu District to Kaohsiung Harbor, dividing Kaohsiung into two.
Love River is especially beautiful as the sun sets and the city slowly comes alive with colorful lights. To see much of Kaohsiung in one go, opt for a river cruise. Guides will point out top sights along the way, like Zhongzheng Bridge, Love Pier, and Zodiac Wharf.
Just want to relax on the water? Hail down a romantic gondola and drift away for a while. Or, if you’d rather stay on land, there’s a bike path stretching along the waterfront, connecting various city parks.
INSIDER TIP: Love River Waterfront Park has the biggest choice of boats and gondola departures for travelers and offers great views. Visit in the evening to catch its pretty water & light shows.
Liuhe Night Market
If you’re touring Taiwan, a night market will be on your bucket list. Liuhe Night Market is the oldest and largest night market in Kaohsiung, dating back to the 1940s. But its traditional delicacies, colorful lights, and pedestrian-friendly setting also make it one of the city’s most popular.
As the sun sets, this unassuming street is transformed into a kaleidoscope of color and flavor. With a great balance between tourists and locals, Liuhe Night Market is an ideal introduction to the local atmosphere.
Foodies will be in paradise as they graze through over 1,000 stalls selling seafood, steak, and noodle dishes. With everything from chicken kidneys to pork trotters, Liuhe Night Market is the perfect opportunity to dine outside of your comfort zone.
INSIDER TIP: Make sure you try papaya milk, one of Taiwan’s most famous drinks. It’s served here in abundance!
Old City of Zuoying
Delve into the city’s past in the Old City of Zuoying. It was built in 1684, standing during immense periods of turbulence. Today, it’s the oldest walled city left in the country, making it a must-visit during your Taiwan trip itinerary.
There’s loads to see in the Old City of Zuoying, including temples, the Lotus Pond, and traces of the old walls and gates. History and the modern world now exist side by side, with motorcycles weaving under the archways and temples perching in the middle of roundabouts.
The Center of Old Fongshan City History is a great place to start. It’ll give you an overview of the top sights with cool dioramas and modern AR technology.
INSIDER TIP: To get the most out of your visit to the Old City of Zuoying, there are many free walking tours to help you unpack its rich history and find the coolest spots.
Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts
Get your creative juices flowing at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts. With over 4,000 pieces in its collection, it’s one of the largest public art museums in the country. The museum is housed within stunning architecture, making it a visual delight inside and out.
Start in the towering sculpture hall before venturing into the various exhibition spaces. Get stuck into vibrant paintings, intricate collages, and innovative photography. With pieces by Taiwanese and international artists, you can view local experiences through an artistic lens and see how they fit in with the rest of the world.
Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts is located in the Neiweipi Cultural Park. Besides the museum, the park is also home to a sculpture park, an ecology park, and the beautiful scenery of the Neiweipi Wetland.
INSIDER TIP: Allow enough time to visit the sculpture garden, where bizarre shapes blend with nature and the Kaohsiung skyline.
Craving some beach vibes? Hop on the five-minute ferry to Cijin Island. This photogenic spot is packed with palm-lined sands, colorful art, and tasty seafood. It’s easy to walk or bike your way around, but to do it in style, rent a golf buggy and feel the wind in your hair.
For sun, sea, and sand, head straight to Cijin Beach. This trendy black sand shore feels a million miles from the city, with gorgeous views and fun tiki bars to keep you in the tropical mood.
Instagrammers will be lining up for selfies at the Rainbow Church, but there’s lots of other public art on the island, including at the Seashell Museum and Windmill Park. When you’ve worked up an appetite, stop by Old Street, where buzzing stalls and restaurants serve up the catch of the day.
INSIDER TIP: Stay at Cijin Beach until the evening to watch one of the best sunsets in Kaohsiung!
Perched on Mount Cihou, Cihou Fort was once a top military vantage point for the Qing Dynasty. The fort was built in 1720 but captured by the Imperial Japanese Army. You can still see damage left from a shell on the main gate.
It’s easy to see why Cihou Fort was such a coveted spot. From the top, you can gaze across Cijin Island, Kaohsiung Harbor, and the Taiwan Strait. Back then, it was the perfect way to spot enemies approaching, but today, it’s one of the finest viewpoints in the city.
Cihou Fort is right next to Kaohsiung Lighthouse, a beautiful 19th-century building with a bird’s eye view of the port. You’ll also find the Cijin Tunnel up here. Built during the Japanese occupation, it’s had a modern update with a colorful mural and light installation.
INSIDER TIP: Cihou Fort is a popular sunset spot, but come at sunrise to skip the crowds!
Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum
The incredible Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum is just 30 minutes outside the city. IF you’ve got more than 24 hours in Kaohsiung, this top attraction is well worth the detour. This huge Buddhist complex is home to a working monastery and world-class attractions.
The star of the show at Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum is the Big Buddha. At 108 metric tons, this bronze masterpiece is one of the largest Buddhas in the world. Leading up to the Big Buddha are eight different pagodas, all with their own teachings and practices. You can also head to the Jade Buddha Hall to see the precious Tooth Relic of the Buddha.
If you don’t know much about Buddhism, the main building will tell you everything you need to know. It’s full of exhibition spaces to help you explore the religion through art, design, and performance.
INSIDER TIP: For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can arrange to sleep overnight at the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum on a temple stay.
The Pier 2 Art Center
The Pier 2 Art Center is the coolest spot in Kaohsiung. These abandoned warehouses at Kaohsiung Port have a second life as a vibrant art center. As well as incredible art and theatre, there are lots of quirky shops, cafes, and bars to explore.
With crazy statues, light shows, and performance art, the Pier 2 Art Center is a creative’s wildest dream. There are awesome murals and street art at every turn, so knowing where to start is difficult! The P2 Warehouse is the main section, where you’ll find giant robots and angry dinosaurs.
But it’s not just the arty types who’ll have a great time. The Pier2 Art Center is home to the Hamasen Museum of Taiwan Railway and Takao Railway Museum. If you’re a history buff, train lover, or budding STEM major, this is a chance to delve into Taiwan’s epic railway history.
INSIDER TIP: Stop by Sunny Hills Kaohsiung Store for free tea and pineapple cake.
See the city in style from the Kaohsiung Eye. This 336-foot Ferris wheel sits on top of a huge shopping mall.
It takes around 15 minutes to do a full loop on the Kaohsiung Eye. From the top, you’ll have fabulous views of the city skyline, including the Sky 85 Tower and even the airport. At night, you don’t just get to see twinkling city lights. The whole wheel illuminates in a neon light show. Afterward, you can embrace your inner big kid and hang out on the rooftop amusement park.
Want to squeeze in some retail therapy on your trip? The Kaohsiung Eye is part of Dream Mall, the largest shopping mall in Taiwan. Inside, you’ll find top designer brands, as well as restaurants, play areas, and a cinema.
INSIDER TIP: Around the corner from the Kaohsiung Eye is The City of Time and Space. These 3D rooftop paintings are an awesome place to get your vacation photos.
Shoushan LOVE Lookout
Whether you’re in Kaohsiung with your special someone or want to check out more public artwork, the Shoushan LOVE Lookout is one of the cutest viewing platforms in the city. As the lookout is perched on the edge of Shoushan Mountain, the steep walk up is sure to break a sweat.
When you reach the top, you’re rewarded with dreamy views of the city, sea, and mountains. It’s a popular sunset spot and is especially beautiful once it gets dark and all the lights start to emerge.
But the most charming thing about the Shoushan LOVE Lookout is its adorable art installations. The most famous is the giant metal LOVE letters, the perfect place to pose to the backdrop of the city.
INSIDER TIP: The Shoushan LOVE Lookout provides easy access to the Shoushan National Natural Park, home to wild animals, limestone caves, and cool hikes.
Jhongsiao Night Market
Haven’t had your fix of Taiwanese markets yet? Head to the Jhongsiao Night Market. This small market has more of a local feeling, so it’s a fantastic place to people-watch and immerse yourself in city life. Head here in the morning to watch the fishmongers hard at work, in the afternoon to see the office workers grab their lunch, or late at night for a buzzing atmosphere.
Come with an empty belly, as you’re in for lots of tasty treats. You’ll try authentic Taiwanese food like eel noodles and deep-fried everything!
While there are lots of crazy dishes on offer, Jhongsiao Night Market also caters to visitors from nearby Buddhist temples. It’s a good option if you’re a vegetarian who feels like they’re missing out on the foodie fun.
INSIDER TIP: The Ding Wang Spicy Hot Pot was invented here, making it a must-try during your visit!
Xiaoliuqiu (Lambai Island)
If you’re looking for an even better Taiwanese island adventure within reach of Kaohsiung, venture off to Xiaoliuqiu (Lambai Island). Located a 40-minute ferry ride from the Donggang Ferry Terminal outside of Kaohsiung City, Lambai Island is a tropical paradise that’s a must-see destination in Southern Taiwan for travelers looking to escape the bustle of Taiwan’s cities.
Although Lambai Island is only 6.8 square kilometers, there’s a ton to see & do here. As one of Taiwan’s most popular coral islands, Xiaoliuqiu is home to diverse marine life, making it a perfect destination for scuba diving or snorkelling.
The island also showcases a handful of great hiking trails for travelers who’d prefer to keep their adventures on land. Whichever trail you choose, you’ll trek through lush jungles, stumbling upon hidden caves and superb sea views along the way.
INSIDER TIP: While many travelers visit Xiaoliuqiu on a day trip from Kaohsiung, spending a couple of days here will let you take in the laid-back island at a more relaxed pace.