For many travellers, the list of places to visit in Taiwan rarely extends beyond Taipei. This is not shocking, of course, given the outsized importance of the capital as a travel destination and even among local Taiwanese.
As someone who used to live in Taipei, I definitely think you should devote plenty of time to the city. On the other hand, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to go beyond Taipei, whether you ride a high-speed train down the west coast to Tainan and Kaohsiung, or road trip down the east coast through Hualien and Taitung.
Over the next few paragraphs, you’ll find all the inspiration you need to plan your post-pandemic trip to Taiwan, no matter your travel interests or how long you plan to spend. I hope you’re ready to get started!
When Will Taiwan Reopen to Tourism?
Before I speak about places to visit in Taiwan, we need to address the white elephant in the room: Is Taiwan open to tourists and if not, when will it be? The bad news is that as of November 2021, Taiwan is closed to foreign tourists, and just about all foreigners. The worse news? Authorities have not set any concrete timetable for resuming tourist entries.
The good news, of course, is that Taiwan’s vaccination campaign continues to gather pace, with 60% of the country expected to reach fully-vaccinated status by the end of 2021. It’s likely (though not guaranteed) that borders could reopen in the late first or early second half of 2022. By this time, nearly all eligible Taiwanese will be vaccinated; more people will be vaccinated elsewhere in the world, too, which will ultimately slow the pandemic.
Taiwan Travel Bucket List | Top 10 Places to Visit
Taiwan’s cosmopolitan capital is also the closest city to the country’s main international airport, so it’s likely you’ll start your trip here. I usually recommend spending 2-3 days in the city center. Attractions include iconic Taipei 101 (formerly the world’s tallest building), lush Da’an Park, food filled ShilinNight Market, Ximending shopping street and ornate Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. After you’ve had your fill of exploring the city, you can day trips to the eclectic port city of Keelung, the former golden mining town of Jiufen or Wulai, a hub of aboriginal culture.
Another one of my favorite places to visit in Taiwan is Kaohsiung (pronounced “Gao-shong“), located on the southern tip of the island along its highly urbanised west coast. Taiwan’s second city, Kaohsiung is famous for its own super-tall building, the 85 Sky Tower, as well as the authentic Cijin Island historic district, the captivating Tiger and Dragon Pagodas and Rueifong Night Market. After you’ve enjoyed a night or two in Kaohsiung proper, take a day trip to Fo Guang Shan Monastery, which is just an hour from the city but feels an entire world away.
Kenting National Park
Occupying the southern tip of Taiwan and most of Pingtung County, Kenting National Park is a favorite weekend getaway of Taiwanese, particularly those who reside in Kaohsiung. Whether you drive along wild Fengchuisha on the park’s eastern flank, watch sunset from Eluanbi Lighthouse or simply catch some sun at Baishawan Beach, Kenting offers something for everyone. Kenting Town is also a lot of fun, particular for its night market and the seafood on offer there.
Taroko Gorge isn’t the only place to go hiking in Taiwan, but it’s probably one of my favorites. Top trails in Taroko include the Shakadang Trail, which straddles a jade valley filled with turquoise water and dramatic Zhuliu Old Trail. You can also walk or drive to the Shrine of the Eternal Springs, which is probably the most striking piece of architecture in the park. Once you finish at Taroko Gorge, make sure to spend at least a night in nearby Hualien, a small but charming city whose sidewalks are paved with Taroko Gorge marble.
Taitung (pronounced “Tai-dong“) is another one of the places to visit in Taiwan with great hiking—specifically, the trail that leads down to Lisong Hot Spring in the Great Rift Valley about an hour north of Taitung by car. Another one of my favorite spots near Taitung is Taimali, which for my money is probably the most beautiful beach in Taiwan, even if the water is too rough to swim. Taitung City itself is also a relaxed place to spend the night, even if there isn’t much going on here during the daytime.
Taiwan’s original capital, Tainan is known among Taiwanese as a foodie paradise. Whether at the sprawling Garden Night Market or in the dozens of restaurants right in the city, locals and visitors alike snack on classics like shrimp-topped Danzai noodles and crispy fried shrimp rolls. The city is also home to some impressive architecture (namely, the 17th-century Chihkan Town and the European-inspired Chimei Museum), as well as boat trips through the aptly-named Green Tunnel in Taijiang National Park.
Sun Moon Lake
As you’ve Googled how to plan a trip to Taiwan, you’ve almost certainly come across Sun Moon Lake, which is probably the most famous body of water in Taiwan. Although this jewel-toned lake is indeed beautiful, it’s merely the centrepiece of the destination, which also includes Wen Wu Temple, Ci’en Pagoda and the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Either before or after visiting Sun Moon Lake, consider stopping in the nearby city of Taichung (Tai-jhong) a huge metropolis that doesn’t get nearly enough love among foreigners as it deserves.
As with many of the places to visit in Taiwan on this list, Alishan is much more popular among local people than it is among international tourists. Still, whether hiking or taking a historical train through the pine forests of Alishan Mountain itself, or stopping en route at the dramatic tea plantations of Shizuo, this sky-high destination is a great place to cool off in the summer, or to really chill out in winter. Moreover, the nearby city of Chiayi (where the closest high-speed rail stop to Alishan is located) is an underrated place to spend a night or two.
Although it’s a popular weekend retreat for Taiwanese residents of Taipei, Yilan county is a place foreigners largely skip. This is a pity, since it’s so close to Taipei and offers such a diverse range of attractions. Nature lovers can hike amid the Chinese hemlock forests of Taipingshan or boat to Turtle Island, while culture lovers can explore Luodong Night Market, Jiaoxi hot springs town or eclectic Nanfang’ao Port. The Lanyang Museum in Toucheng, meanwhile, is one of Taiwan’s most interesting pieces of modern architecture.
I think of Kinmen Island (which is actually called “Jinmen” in Chinese) as Taiwan’s final frontier, because in many ways it is. In addition to being so close to the Chinese city of Xiamen that you can see it from famous Juguang Tower, Kinmen Island was heavily bombarded by Chinese power during the early struggles of the Taiwanese army against Communist forces on the mainland in the middle of last century. Another main highlight of a trip to Kinmen (which requires a domestic flight from Taipei) include the Fujian-style houses of Shuitou Village.
Other FAQ About Where to Go in Taiwan
Which part of Taiwan is best?
Travellers tend to be split on this issue. Nature-lovers prefer Taiwan’s lush East Coast Scenic Route, as well as the mountainous interior, highlights of which include Sun Moon Lake and Alishan mountain. For city slickers, the bustling capital of Taipei tends to reign supreme, although other large Taiwanese cities like Kaohsiung, Taichung and Tainan have their own special appeal.
Where can I go for 7 days in Taiwan?
With 7 days in Taiwan, you can pair 2-3 days in Taipei with a 4-5 night road trip down the East Coast Scenic Route. Alternatively, divide your week in Taiwan between Taipei and Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, Chiayi and/or Kaohsiung, and as many day trips for one or all as your heart desires.
How long does it take to drive around Taiwan?
Generally speaking, people only drive the scenic east coast of Taiwan; the futuristic high-speed rail line that runs up and down the west coast is more practical than a car. Although you could theoretically drive all 400 km of Taiwan’s East Coast in one day, most travellers take between 3-5 days to traverse the route, which runs roughly from Yilan county to Kenting National Park, passing through Hualien, Taitung and the Great Rift Valley between them en route.
The Bottom Line
I hope you feel informed and inspired by my list of the best places to visit in Taiwan. Some of you will spend at least two weeks in Taiwan, looping clockwise from Taipei down the scenic East Coast, before heading back up the urbanized west coast and into the country’s craggy center. Others will simply add a destination or two on to the time you plan to spend in Taipei, whether you spend a night or two in nearby Yilan, or ride the high-speed rail down to Tainan or Kaohsiung for a long day trip. No matter what shape your trip to Taiwan ends up taking, I hope the country remains near the top of your bucket list for post-pandemic travel.
About the Author – Robert Schrader in a writer and photographer who called Taiwan home for many years prior to and during the pandemic. Like you (after reading this post, if not before), he hopes to return to the island nation as soon as the drawbridges are down. Visit Taiwan Starts Here often to see when Taiwan is open again, and what to do when it is!