When the Portuguese first laid eyes on Taiwan they felt compelled to dub it Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Island). I’d have to agree with them.
There’s hardly a place on earth with a better size-to-awesomeness ratio than Taiwan. But don’t let it’s tiny stature fool you. Taiwan is a heavy-hitter. And just about anything you’d expect on an epic East Asia trip can be had here at a price and ease worth bragging about.
The following ideas on what to do in Taiwan in 10 days or less are geared towards urban explorers with a few surprises for foodies and nature lovers. It swings around the entire perimeter of the island, covering much ground and helping you leave Taiwan with a well-rounded appreciation of the country and its people. Feel free to mix and match these ideas as you go to craft the perfect itinerary for your Taiwan trip.
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If I pushed you to start your Taiwan itinerary anywhere but Taipei, it would be purely a cry for attention. And while I scurry around clichés as much as possible, this one is unavoidable.
All sensible Taiwan itineraries start in Taipei with good reason: It’s super convenient. (And super awesome.)
Perhaps it’s crazy to love a city that so many travellers ignore or are indifferent to. But I’ll put my reputation on the line and give Taipei the thumbs up. (Yes, I’m that confident you’ll like it!)
While it might lack the dynamism of Tokyo or the cultural treasures of Kyoto, Taipei captures your heart with the secret that many wives and mothers long figured out: through the stomach. Taipei is easily one of the best foodie cities in Asia, possibly even in the world. And all at a deep discount.
Besides chowing down to your heart’s content at the bustling night markets, Taipei is one of the best cities to simply wander around without a plan. Whether its stumbling upon a stunning Taiwanese folk temple or following your nose to a hole-in-the-wall food stall that makes the best beef noodle soup you’ve ever tasted, you won’t be disappointed with spending time in Taipei.
What to Do in Taipei
With only 10 days in Taiwan, try to spend at least two or three of them in Taipei. If you do nothing else, try to fit in these few essential Taipei attractions:
Gorge yourself at a Taipei night market
Visiting Taipei without going to one (or several) night markets would be heretic. Choose Shilin Night Market if you’re looking for a massive, busy market with a wide variety of food. For something a little more traditional, seek out Raohe Street Night Market in Songshan.
See Also: When is the Best Time to Visit Taipei?
To get the most of your Taipei night market experience, why not try a guided tour? There’s a private guided food tour through Ningxia Night Market in Zhongzheng that will help you sort through all the Taiwanese delicacies at one of Taipei’s best night markets. The food tour is about 3 hours long, and includes hotel pick-up.
Eat at Din Tai Fung in Taipei 101
Expect a long wait to snatch a table at Din Tai Fung, Taipei’s most famous eating institution. Those who wait will be rewarded with silky-smooth dumplings, so good they might well make your heart skip a beat.
Scoot up to the Taipei 101 observatory
After grabbing a lunch at Din Tai Fung or in the Taipei 101 food court, prepare to bring on the nausea as you shoot up the world’s fastest elevator for some huge views of Taipei City.
The elevator at Taipei 101 zips you up to the 89th floor to take in the 360-degree panorama. On the way be sure to check out the massive damper, an absolute marvel of engineering brilliance that keeps Taipei 101 from falling down in typhoon-prone Taiwan. Alternatively, you can slink up to the 91st floor to breathe in Taipei at the outdoor observatory.
Skip the line and book your Taipei 101 observatory admission ticket on Viator by clicking here .
Hike the tea trails around Maokong Gondola
Feel worlds away from Taipei’s hustle while getting a little fresh air and exercise in the shadeless tea fields of Maokong. Maokong is conveniently located on the Taipei MRT (Taipei Zoo MRT Station). To get to the hiking trails, putter up the Maokong Gondola, breathing in incredible vistas of Taipei along the way.
Day trip to Jiufen and Jinguashi
Hop on a bus for quick ride to the mining towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi to suck in some fresh mountain air and enjoy epic views of the northern coast. It’s one of the quickest day trips from Taipei and worth the (small) effort.
See Also: 48 Hours in Taipei For Wanderers
Where to Stay in Taipei
Both Roaders Hotel and Hotel Relax III are within a short 5-7 minute walk of Taipei Main Station, and, are, of course, squeaky clean and comfortable. Just don’t leave booking to the last minute—both of these are highly popular and among the best hotels in Taipei!
Getting to Taipei
A handful of major international airlines, including Cathay Pacific, All Nippon Airways, and EVA Air, offer flights to Taipei from North America and Europe. I’ve flown all of these airlines over to Asia, and would recommend any of them. (Especially Cathay Pacific!)
To get the best deals on your long-haul flights to Taipei , book at least 60 days ahead.
Zipping two and a half hours south of Taipei, you’ll reach Taichung, Taiwan’s third biggest city. Taichung doesn’t get a whole lotta of love from travellers, but it’s worth popping in for a quick visit.
What to Do in Taichung
Even with only 1-2 days you should get a good feel for the city. Here’s a short list of popular things to do in Taichung:
Admire nature at Sun Moon Lake
If you can only fit in one activity in the Taichung area, it should be a day trip to Sun Moon Lake. It’s about a 90-minute trip each way. If you feel pressed for time, hop on a sightseeing boat tour. Or if you’ve got some energy to burn, rent a bike to tackle the 30km round-the-lake circuit. Weekends at Sun Moon Lake can get packed, as all of Taiwan seems keen on converging here.
Undertake a late-night Taiwanese food adventure at Fengjia Night Market
In choosing only one of the Taichung night markets, you’d do well to stick here. And with good reason: For food, Fengjia Night Market is one of the two best night markets in Taiwan (1). Seek out some famous Taiwanese fried chicken, deep-fried squid-on-a-stick, or deep-fried Oreos, washing it all down with what is possibly Taiwan’s tastiest bubble tea.
See Also: When is the Best Time to Visit Taiwan?
Revel in history at Taichung Folklore Park
Even if you won’t understand a thing (unless you can read Chinese), walking around Taichung Folklore Park is a pleasant escape within Taichung. The park provides a glimpse of Qing Dynasty-era Taiwan with its traditional architecture and artifacts. You’ll love the lotus pond and arch bridge, reminiscent of what you’d see in old Chinese cities like Lijiang and Suzhou.
Marvel at the story of Rainbow Village
I don’t want to overhype Rainbow Village (Caihongjuan Village in Chinese) for fear it might disappoint. It truly is small, but its story is remarkable. The Kuomintang built villages for its soldiers all over Taiwan. Mr. Huang, a war veteran himself, saw these villages slowly wiped away as his comrades passed on. He didn’t want his village to suffer the same fate. So, he painted.
Once discovered, his colourful murals gained instant attention, first around Taichung then in the whole of Taiwan. Thankfully, his plan worked, and his village was saved from demolition. Now, visitors from around the world drop in to see Mr. Huang’s legacy. Immerse yourself in this little colourful corner of Taiwan, and, if you’re lucky enough, get to see Mr. Huang, at 93 years old, continuing his work.
Where to Stay in Taichung
Taichung is, like Taipei, an enormous, sprawling city. If you had to sort through all the hotels in Taichung , it would be a nightmare!
One of the best areas for independent travellers to stay in Taichung is Xitun District, near the always colorful Fengjia Night Market. Take a look at the Beacon Hotel . At full price, it can be a little pricey. But with a little digging and flexibility you should be able to score yourself an excellent discount.
Getting to Taichung
From Taipei to Taichung, you’re looking at anywhere from approximately 2 hours to over 3 hours of travel time by regular train. The cheapest fares (and slowest trains) go as low as NT$241 while the faster trains will set you back NT$375. If you’re in a real rush, Taiwan HSR plies the route in just over an hour for NT$700.
Like Taipei to Taichung, Taichung to Tainan is a quick 2 to 2.5 hour trip south. The charms of Tainan may not immediately jump out at you, but with a little prodding it may just become one of your favourite Taiwanese cities.
What to Do in Tainan
As the old Taiwanese capital, there are plenty of things to do in Tainan for the cultural explorer. You can see quite a bit in even one day, but stay for two nights if you have the time. Here are a few ideas for your travel plans:
Get your Taiwanese food fix at Tainan Flower Night Market
It’s no Shilin Night Market or Fengjia Night Market, but in Tainan, Tainan Flower Night Market is the go-to venue for late-night street food. Surprisingly enough, unlike most night markets in Taiwan, Tainan Flower Night Market is only open three nights a week. If you want to visit, you’ll have to be in Tainan on a Thursday, Saturday, or Sunday night.
See Also: 24 Hours in Tokyo For Culture Lovers
A few delectable treats to seek out in Tainan Flower Night Market include oyster pancakes, Korean-style fried chicken, and everyone’s favourite, bubble tea.
Dabble in Dutch colonial legacy at Anping Fort
Many people aren’t aware that for 40 years in the 17th century, the Dutch ruled Taiwan as “Dutch Formosa.” One of their most prized possessions on the island was Fort Zeelandia, now known as Anping Fort.
Wandering around Anping Fort these days is an interesting look back to these, perhaps not so popular, times. The road leading up to the main gate, Anping Old Street, is a one of the better places in Tainan to grab a mid-day snack to fuel up for your day.
Marvel in ancient Chinese architecture and traditions at Taiwan Confucian Temple
There’s no shortage of temples in Tainan, but if you have to visit just one, Taiwan Confucian Temple is it. As the name implies, Taiwan Confucian Temple in Tainan is one of the most important centres of Confucian worship in all of Taiwan.
The fact that it’s been preserved since 1666, despite being destroyed numerous times by war and natural disasters, is a testament to its importance within Taiwan’s Confucian community. Within Taiwan Confucian Temple, you’ll find amazingly well-preserved artifacts that will help you better understand the impact Confucianism has had on the island.
Where to Stay in Tainan
For the price, you can’t do much better than the Yes Yellow Hostel in central Tainan. Don’t worry—the “Hostel” slapped on the end of its name isn’t quite accurate! Yellow Hostel is less a backpacker hangout than a lower-mid-range guesthouse with private rooms. It’s clean and central, pretty much the easiest path to finding the perfect place to stay in Tainan !
Getting to Tainan
From Taichung to Tainan, bargain for between 2 and 2.5 hours on the train. The quickest trains cost NT$363 while the slower ones can cost as little as NT$233 for anywhere from an extra 30 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes of travel time.
The HSR (high-speed) train zips between Taichung and Tainan in under an hour for NT$650. If you’re not on a tight budget, HSR is the way to go! Just keep in mind that the station is a little outside of town, so you’ll need to grab a taxi or take public transportation to get into Tainan centre.
The once bleak post-industrial Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second most populous city, has done much to shed its “grey” reputation and has become a worthy detour while travelling in Southern Taiwan.
What to Do in Kaohsiung
Given the size of the city, there’s naturally a large handful of things to do in Kaohsiung that travellers will dig. Give the city at least two days and you’ll have more than enough time to check out these:
Swing around the Lotus Pond
Most postcard photos of Kaohsiung feature this interesting little attraction in the northern part of the city. Lotus Pond has been kickin’ around since the Qing Dynasty, and is dotted with several buildings to prove it.
The most famous tourist attractions along the Lotus Pond are definitely the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas and the Spring and Autumn Pavillions. Even if you find them a little kitschy, the remarkable details are truly hard not to admire.
Eat your heart out at Liuhe Night Market
Some might argue that there are better Kaohsiung night markets. But Liuhe Night Market has one thing that many night markets in Taiwan lack: space. If you get claustrophobic easily, Liuhe Night Market might be the most elbow room you’ll find in any Taiwanese night market.
That’s not to say it doesn’t get busy.
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Aim to arrive shortly after 6pm if you want some breathing room. Considering Kaohsiung sits on the southern coast, it’s not surprising that Liuhe Night Market specializes in fresh seafood. The popular barbecued shrimp and fish soup are worth a try.
Evening gondola ride down the Love River
You don’t need to bring your significant other along to enjoy a night out on Love River. Not long ago, this river that runs north and south through Kaohsiung, was a complete wasteland. No one would have dreamed that it would soon become one of the major Kaohsiung tourist attractions. Although walking along the shore by day is worthwhile, in floating down the river at night you’ll truly get to admire the impressive Kaohsiung skyline.
Walk down the Great Path to Buddhahood at Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center
Much like Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong or The Great Buddha of Kamakura, the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center is a truly remarkable piece of religious architecture. You can’t help but be amazed walking down the Great Path to Buddhahood, lined by eight pagodas representing eight schools of Chinese Buddhism, faced by the largest Fo Guang Shan Buddha statue in the world. Best of all, it’s free.
Where to Stay to Kaohsiung
A good chunk of the most popular Kaohsiung hotels are peppered in the area south of the main train station and near Liuhe Night Market. The best value option is the TripGG Hostel . Besides dorms, TripGG Hostel has clean private rooms starting at under $50. Or, with a bit higher of a budget, treat yourself to the newly-renovated Hotel Lainn . If you book ahead, you can find room deals only slightly more expensive than budget hotels.
Getting to Kaohsiung
The train from Tainan to Kaohsiung is a quick one. Even with regular trains, you only need to carve less than an hour out of your day. Your wallet will only be NT$68 lighter.
For the high-speed trains, you’ll pay NT$130 and zoom between the two cities in less than 15 minutes. The only catch: the HSR train only takes you as far at Zuoying, a northern suburb of Kaohsiung. To get into Kaohsiung, you’ll need to hop on a train NT$15 to NT$23 for a 9- to 13-minute ride.
Mention to a Taiwanese person that you’re heading to Hualien, and you’re bound to get a little envy. In Eastern Taiwan, no destination is more popular among Taiwanese city dwellers hoping to escape their daily chaos.
What to Do in Hualien
The reason for its popularity among Taiwanese city folk isn’t surprising: Hualien’s one of the best slices of nature Taiwan has to offer. The most recommended things to do in Hualien all involve getting outdoors.
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While many travellers try to jam everything in a long Hualien day trip from Taipei, I’d recommend spending two or more days to allow yourself time for relaxation. As with many popular Taiwanese destinations, avoid weekends and holidays. Split up your time up with the following:
Wander through canyons in Taroko National Park
Among most lists of things to do in Taiwan, Taroko National Park sits somewhere near the top. Taroko Gorge, stretching 36km through Taroko National Park, is the highlight here. You’ll never tire of the area’s temples, canyons, rivers, and, especially, the hiking trails, offering some of the best hiking in Taiwan.
Relaxing at Liyu Lake
Spectacularly clear and surrounded by mountains, Liyu Lake is built for chillin’ out and admiring Taiwanese nature at its finest. A number of cycling and walking trails ring the lake, giving ample opportunity for leisurely trips along the shoreline. If you happen to be in Hualien in May, head over to Liyu Lake to take in its famous Dragon Boat Festival.
Finding Taiwanese food bliss at Rainbow Night Market
You might have noticed I can’t resist adding night markets at every point of the journey. It’s not just because I sport a massive appetite, but because I truly could never get enough of Taiwan’s night markets. Hualien’s answer to Shilin Night Market in Taipei is Rainbow Night Market.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as large or famous. The food offerings aren’t overly shocking for frequent visitors to Taiwanese night markets. Where Rainbow Night Market is unique is its family-friendly atmosphere, offering activities like video game arcades and small carnival-type games for kids.
Where to Stay in Hualien
As the East Coast of Taiwan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Taiwan, you’re spoiled with choice for hotels in Hualien . For convenience, I’d recommend plopping down in a city centre hotel like Be Sunny Bed and Breakfast . It’s a superb neighbourhood to sample local fare, and is located near a couple interesting Hualien tourist sites including East Gate Night Market.
Getting to Hualien
From Kaohsiung to Hualien, the regular Taiwan Railways trains take about 4.5 to over 5 hours. The fare is NT$705. Unless you really love epic train trips, avoid the Chu-Kuang Express and Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains that travel via Chaozhou. Not only are they significantly more expensive, but the ride can take up to 11 hours!