Top things to do in Taiwan – The wonderful country of Taiwan, often slept on by the rest of the world, is exploding with markets waiting to be explored, mountains waiting to be hiked, gorges waiting to be trekked, and sunrises just itching to be appreciated. Its neighbours South Korea and Japan may be more well known to the world, but people are starting to realize that there’s much more to Taiwan than meets the eye, and judging by the increased number of foreigner visitors to Taiwan year on year, it won’t be long before it joins the big guns as one of the most popular countries to visit in Asia.
Taiwan is a country where you would visit once, expecting to be able to knock all activities out of the ball park and be done with it once and for all, but once you immerse yourself in its culture, nature, and cityscape, you’ll be amazed at how much of a punch it packs.
And before to start our list of the 9 things to do in Taiwan, let’s watch this short video to get a feel of the beautiful island:
Below, we’ve covered some of the best activities to do whilst you’re in Taiwan. If you have time, consider the fact that to get from Taipei City up north all the way down to Kaohsiung City down south only takes 1.5-2 hours, meaning with some proper itinerary planning and even just a moderate budget, you’d be able to traverse to the most spectacular points in the country in one go (but of course, we expect that you’ll always be back for more!)
Top Things To Do In Taiwan #1 – Explore Taroko Gorge (Hualien)
Taroko Gorge has become somewhat of a symbol of the incredibly beautiful landscapes in Taiwan. It’s the most popular activity in Taiwan by far, and really sets the standard for the rest of the country.
Taroko Gorge is basically a 19km-long canyon, filled with enormous marble cliffs, lush vegetation, and dramatic natural viewpoints. There are multiple hikes that can be completed at various points along the gorge itself, whilst cycling is also an option to explore the canyon on the ground level.
There are many tours that cover the main points of attraction of Taroko Gorge within one day, including a walk along the gorgeous Shakadang Trail, a stop at the Taroko Gorge entrance gate, and a visit to the Eternal Spring Shrine to name a few. You can always do a self-tour, however, having a tour guide to point out some of the more obscure points of interest and getting to relax in between traveling to each spot is definitely a bonus when going with a guided tour. Either way, make sure Swallow Grotto is on the list, because this is probably where you’ll get the most spectacular views of the gorge.
More info here: Hualien Taiwan.
If you love hiking, make sure you check out this guide about the best hikes in Taiwan.
Top things To Do In Taiwan #2 – Hike the Incredible Zhuilu Old Trail (Hualien)
One unique way to experience Taroko Gorge would be to hire a guide to complete the Zhuilu Old Trail that takes you to the top of a mountain range where you will be traversing along the side of a cliff, with no barriers between you and the thousand-foot drop to the bottom. Do not fear though, because as much as it doesn’t sound like it, it’s completely safe as long as you follow the instructions of your guide (more info here: Hualien Taiwan).
If you’re an outdoor person, this is an activity you’ll definitely enjoy. The beginning of the hike allows you to cross a river that offers a great views of the gorge (always a great omen!), and from then on, it’s hike uphill until the end.
Whilst you will get many differing perspectives on the difficulty level of the trail from past participants, quite honestly, we believe it’s quite a strenuous hike. The guide will most likely allow a few minute’s rest after every 10-minutes or so of climbing because you’ll be constantly pushing yourself upwards during the first part of the hike. At the half-way point, there is a massive flat platform area to rest up and take a long, cold drink.
Once you get to the top, the views are exquisite, to say the least. You will see mountain ranges in the distance encompassing Taroko Gorge, mist floating across the tops on certain days, and magnificent marble cliffs and canyons below. The path that winds around the mountain is roughly 500m, and is less than one metre wide. Most people should be able to freely walk the path, but there is a rope that is attached to the side of the cliff for you to hang onto if you need. The landing area at the end is a great way to regain some energy by sitting down and munching on the lunch that you packed before heading back down.
Activity #3 – Visit JiuFen Old Street (Jiufen village)
The internationally acclaimed ‘Spirited Away’ movie by Hayao Mizayaki was, in fact, inspired by the small streets of Jiufen Old Street, a charming mountainside town that’s brimming with culture, history, and great food.
One could argue that the international spotlight hit Jiufen when ‘Spirited Away’ was released, however, the main attraction of this village has always been the food. Once you enter into the main entrance of the alley, you will be absolutely assaulted with the delicious smells of fish balls, beef noodle soup, ice cream, cakes, fried chicken, pancakes, taro ball desserts – the works. The walkway area is slightly narrow, which helps when you’re ambling along trying to take in everything before deciding on what to eat.
We’re warning you now: everything is visually appealing, and almost all stores will be bustling with people, so you’re just going to have to go with your gut feeling and duck into any store you’re interested in to sample their food.
Once you’re finished with the food, head on outside to for some gorgeous views of the magnificent red lanterns strung across the tops of shops and footpaths. At night, the entire area lights up and is quite a sight!
Top Things To Do in Taiwan #4 – Visit Alishan for Spectacular Views (Chiayi)
Across Taiwan, there is probably no other place more famous than Alishan for awesome views of nature. Whilst it’s known for its incredible vantage point to view the sunrise, during the day, the same spot will still yield incredible images of the mountain ranges which make up Alishan.
The sunrise viewing at Alishan has become somewhat of a main tourist activity when visiting the west coast of Taiwan, so on any given day, you will most likely encounter hoards of tourists there. This may or may not be a deal-breaker for some people, but it hardly deters from the beauty of the sunrise.
If waking up at 3-4am is not your cup of tea, then heading to the Alishan viewing spot is still worth it during the day. After the sunrise, around 7:00am, the place usually completely clears out and the nearby food stalls close up, so you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself for a few hours to just breath in the incredibly fresh mountain air and take in the looming beauty in front of you.
More travel tips about Alishan are available here: Chiayi Taiwan.
Top Things To Do In Taiwan #5 – Drink Bubble Tea
You haven’t had bubble tea until you’ve had it in Taiwan. As the recognized birthplace of the phenomenally popular drink that’s taken the world by storm years ago and hasn’t slowed down since, tasting it from where it began its roots is just another way you can forge an even deeper connection with what some consider their religion.
If you make it to Taichung, you’ll even get to experience the apparent original-original bubble tea place called Chun Shui Tang, located in the city, which doubles up as a restaurant as well. They even have a sign on the floor outside signifying their belief that they were the first one’s to ever produce a cup of bubble tea.
Regardless of where you have it, just know that you’ll probably be having it a lot. Every corner you turn in the major cities, there will be a small stand or a cozy shop selling this popular drink. Some big chains include Presotea and Yi Fang Fruit Tea, but don’t discount the smaller street carts, because they’re probably just as good. We recommend anything with lemon and honey, but you can’t go wrong with the original pearl milk tea (or, one of our personal favourites, the taro milk tea!).
Activity #6 – Explore the Tea Plantations Along the Eryanping Trail (Chiayi)
One of the lesser known things to do in Taiwan is visiting the serene tea plantations in the farmlands of most regions. More specifically, we recommend you slot in some time to do the Eryanping Trail, located just an hour away from the Alishan National Scenic Area, near Chiayi city.
The Eryanping Trail is still a rather hidden away from the public eye, but it’s got all the features of a wonderful hike that’s enjoyable for people of all ages, so we’re going to start believing it will gain traction within the next few years. The beginning of the trail is a rather steep but wide set of stairs, which even out when you reach the tea plantations at the top.
There are pagodas along the way for you to rest your feet and take in the views, which are considered the check points of the trails. The first pagoda of the Eryanping trail overlooks the tea plantation, and there’s nothing quite like resting your feet and catching your breath in front of an entire field of tea leaves in (almost) complete silence.
Top Things To Do In Taiwan #7 – Eat Hot Star Fried Chicken
Ever heard of Hot Star? This super famous fried chicken chain store from Taipei has expanded to all corners of the earth, blessing people with enormous over-sized fried schnitzel-like chicken that can be both a snack and a meal.
Like bubble tea, it’s taken the world by storm, and nowhere does it better than Taipei, its birthplace. You can find Hot Star in Taipei City. Just look out for the massively long lines of youths and follow your nose’s scent to the delicious freshly fried chicken and you’ll be munching away in no time. Also on the hot list at Hot Star is the chicken piece nibbles, which comes served with fried basil leaves that just makes it.
Whilst we’re always inclined to say “get one each guys, YOLO!”, these pieces of chicken are actually VERY big. You can probably get away with one between two (plus the chicken piece nibbles of course), to leave room for other delicacies.
We’re raving on and on about Hot Star Chicken, but really, if you’re not in Taipei, then you won’t have access to it, however, at almost all the night markets that you go to, you will come across food stalls that specialize in fried chicken. The spices and preparation method is different from many place around the world, so you’ll still get an experience out of it!
Top Things To Do In Taiwan #8 – Visit the Various Night Markets and Eat Everything
What can we say, night markets are the bread and butter of almost all major cities in Taiwan, as well as many of the smaller yet equally as dynamic regions. Locals and tourists mingle and rub shoulders during the entire 5-8 hours that the markets are opened almost every night, making it a viable place for families to set up shop and earn their wages there, and visitors to go to for a one-stop-shop destination for all their food cravings and adventures.
Some of the most popular ones across the country include the Shilin Market right in the middle of Taipei City, Keelung Night Market along the north coast of Taiwan, which specializes in fresh seafood dishes, the massive Fengjia Night Market in Taichung, the incredibly busy Ruifeng Night Market in Kaohsiung, and the Dongdamen Night Market in Hualien that’s a mix of traditional and contemporary Taiwanese delights.
There are but small droplets in the ocean of food markets that are available throughout Taiwan, so wherever you may be visiting in the country, there is bound to be a market near you. Tourists who are simply after some authentic dishes from Taiwan might start the night off with the ‘sausage in a sausage’ dish, which is sold almost everywhere and consists of a thin Taiwanese pork sausage encased in a larger Taiwanese sticky rice sauce; they might try some of the freshly made oyster pancakes and proceed to wash it down with a cup of bubble tea; head to one of stalls displaying hundreds of skewers of food, grab a basket and a pair of tongs and select away, and once you’re done, hand it over to the owner and they’ll prepare it for you on the spot. Food enthusiasts and those with a thirst for the unknown might go for something more unique, like century egg congee or pig’s blood rice cakes, and for the incredibly brave? Well, the stinky tofu has been known to completely turn off people’s appetites, but hey, to each their own!
Whatever your preference is, these markets will surely be able to satisfy.
Activity #9 – Enter the Dragon and Exit the Tiger for Good Luck (Kaohsiung)
There are some that are inclined to appreciate the intricacies of architecture and interiors, whilst others see the beauty in natural landmarks and landscapes all around them – in Kaohsiung, the Dragon and Tiger Pagoda is a harmonious mix of both.
Built in 1976, the pagoda now stands as one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Kaohsiung, probably in most part due to its sheer beauty, and in other parts due to its ease of accessibility, convenient location to other attractions, and many viewpoints to admire both the pagoda as well as the scenery around it.
In Chinese culture, dragons represent power, strength, and good luck, whilst the tiger is considered ‘the king of all animals’, and is associated with wealth, bravery, and prowess. At this pagoda, it is advised to enter through the dragon’s mouth, and exit from the tiger’s mouth. By doing this, you will be able to get rid of all of your bad luck, and increase the amount of good luck in your life. Along the way, take some time to study the detailing of the artwork inside the tunnels. As this is quite a popular activity, we recommend either heading there nice and early, or to arrive around sunset, as the middle of the day draws the thickest crowds, so not only will you not be able to get good pictures, but it is somewhat difficult to appreciate the scenery with all the noise you will hear.
Guys, don’t sleep on Taiwan. In this day and age, when we know that their tourism team is working on ramping up the visitors to their wonderful country, we urge you to step off the beaten path just once for this place that’s often in the shadows of all that Asia has to offer. We’ve only highlighted what we believe is the 9 best things do to in Taiwan, and yet we know that we’ve barely scratched the surface of all the exciting, unforgettable, affordable, and unique experiences that you’ll only be able to get there. Knowing just how much the country has to offer, it won’t be surprising if you’re the one to discover the next best thing!