Taiwan’s status as an up-and-coming backpacking hotspot means many travellers are only aware of capital city Taipei. They spend a few days there and leave the country without visiting anywhere else. This is a real shame, because the lesser-known Taiwan cities have just as much to offer.
You should definitely spend some time in Taipei (that’s why we’ve included it below), but we’ve also rounded up some more of our favourite cities in Taiwan you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
The capital city is probably where you’ll land first. Taipei manages to feel quintessentially Asian while having a personality all of its own. The densely populated city is a melee of skyscrapers, buzzing scooters, night markets, and much more. There’s always something happening in Taipei, no matter the time of day.
Despite its fiercely modern appearance and infrastructure, Taipei is a great place to engage with Taiwan’s proud culture and history. Get a taste for the country’s unrivalled street food scene by visiting Shilin night market, Taipei’s largest, and sampling the likes of pepper buns, soup dumplings, and bubble tea. You could eat here for a week and barely scratch the surface.
Exploring the old districts of Wanhua and Datong, home to Longshan Temple and Bao’an Temple respectively, offers a glimpse of Taipei’s modest but storied past, while the National Palace Museum has collected almost 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artworks and artefacts to offer a more thorough overview.
And, of course, you shouldn’t miss climbing Taipei 101, formerly the tallest building in the world, offering sweeping views across the entire city.
If you need a break from the frenetic city, Yangmingshan National Park to the north or Maokong and Wulai to the south offer the delights of Taiwan’s wilderness on Taipei’s doorstep.
The second-largest of Taiwan’s cities, found to the south of the island, is every bit as spectacular and modern as Taipei. Although Kaohsiung is the largest port in the country, it eschews its manufacturing reputation in favour of trendy cafes, pleasure beaches, and beautifully-tended parks (amid its fair share of skyscrapers).
You should split your time between urban attractions like Kaohsiung Dream Mall (it has a Ferris wheel!), Tuntex Sky Tower, and numerous night markets (because there’s no way you’ll be sick of the street food yet), and natural attractions like Shoushan (Monkey) mountain, where you might spot the rare Formosan rock macaque (found only in Taiwan), picturesque Love River, and Yushan National Park.
Make sure to leave plenty of time in your itinerary for Kaohsiung, undoubtedly the most underrated of Taiwan cities.
Small but beautifully formed, Chiayi in western Taiwan is a quieter city that offers a little respite from the metropolises on this list. Most visit for a day or two on their way to the unmissable Alishan National Scenic Area.
Spend a day wending through Chiayi Botanical Gardens to admire the varied native plant life and ornamental ponds home to koi, turtles, and frogs. In the evening, head to Wenhua Road night market to eat the local speciality of turkey rice: strips of meat soaked in savoury sauce and served on rice. Cheap and delicious!
Chiayi is a stellar example of the smaller cities in Taiwan. It’s also in easy reach of Alishan National Scenic Area, a huge nature preserve home to amazing mountain landscapes, waterfalls, traditional villages, and high altitude tea plantations. Put on your hiking boots, get there in time for sunrise, and enjoy some truly breathtaking views.
The oldest and former capital city of Taiwan also has the best reputation with locals. It’s here you can truly get to grips with Taiwanese culture at its most traditional, from visiting elegant temples and art sites to sampling even more delicious food. Tainan is fiercely proud of its heritage.
In fact, the city is so full of history that it’s almost impossible to see it all in a single visit. The most visited temple is the Taiwan Confucian Temple, built in 1665 and still observing regular Confucian ceremonies. Fort Provintia (also known as Chihkan Tower) is even older, built by the Dutch in 1653 during their colonisation of the island. The National Museum of Taiwan History helps make sense of it all.
We’ve mentioned it a lot already, but Tainan is possibly the best of Taiwan cities for food, offering a number of signature dishes famous across the country. Don’t leave without trying danzai noodles, a local speciality perfected over 130 years.
Don’t let Taichung’s industrial reputation put you off paying a visit – the second most populous of Taiwan’s cities was founded under Japanese rule and offers engrossing insight into that era of the country’s history.
Taichung is home to some of the best museums in the country, including the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Natural Science. Visit them alongside the National Taichung Theatre and the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra for a day of high culture.
If that’s a bit too rich for your budget, there are also numerous Japanese-style temples to visit, historic Taichung Park, and the Lin Family Gardens, a vast complex of traditional mansions, gardens, paintings, and more.
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