“The man who seeks to educate himself must first read and then travel in order to correct what he has learned.” - Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)
Like many destinations in Asia, Taiwan is an island with a subtropical and tropical climate, a blend of tradition and modernity, and attracts millions of tourists every year. Whether you’re doing language immersion or a short trip, Taiwan offers a lot for those who want to enjoy nature, head off the beaten path, or explore big cities. Taiwan isn’t the world’s most popular tourist destination and it only attracted 11 million visitors in 2018. In this article, as part of our Taiwana travel guide series, we’re looking at what you have to see in Taiwan.
Taipei, the Capital of Taiwan
There’s so much to see in Taiwan that it’s difficult to make such a short list. However, every single list should have the Taiwanese capital city on it! There are many sides to Taipei and tradition is woven into the modern aspects of the city.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
Served by the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall metro station on the green and red lines of the Taipei Metro (MRT), this memorial spans 25 hectares in homage to the first Kuomintang President of the People's Republic of China who reigned from 1950 to 1975. This majestic and historic monument has a recognisable entry that opens onto the Liberty Square, then you have to climb 89 steps (representing the age of the Chiang Kai-Shek when he died) to reach the bronze statue of the man himself. If you want to know more about the history of Taiwan and Chiang Kai-shek, the man who led the counterrevolutionary and nationalist civil war against the communist power of Beijing, you have to visit this site. It’s an icon of independence and nationalism against the Communist Party of China and its repeated attempts to unify Taiwan with mainland China. The roof was designed with a style reminiscent of the roof of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Find out more about why you should visit Taiwan.
The Buddhist temples represent Chinese culture and tradition. There are plenty of temples and Lungshan Temple is one of the highlights. This is one of the most important temples in Taiwan and was built between 1919 and 1924 on the site of a former temple from 1738.
The Taipei 101 Tower
Previously the world’s tallest tower, the Taipei 101 is 509-metres tall and can be seen from almost anywhere in Taipei. It’s a symbol of technological development and Asian tradition. The tower was built between 1999 and 2004 and includes shops, offices, and observation decks on the 88th, 89th, and 91st floors. You’ll be treated to incredible views of the city, the surrounding mountains, the South China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean.
Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain)
After enjoying some of the local cuisine, dumplings, xiaolongbao, soup, noodles, etc., and exploring the museums and the parks, it’s time to head to Xiangshan, the Elephant Mountain, in the southeast of Taipei. A short walk will take you to an incredible view of the city, with the Taipei 101 tower against a backdrop of tropical vegetation. Go there at sunset to get the most recognisable picture of Taipei. You should be aware that Xiangshan can get very busy on Saturday afternoons.
Taiwanese Night Markets
You can’t visit Taiwan and the capital city without eating in one of the famous night markets.
Every evening, in every neighbourhood, a street comes alive as the night markets become a centre of life, eating, and conversation.
Tourists rub shoulders with the local Taiwanese population. It’s a good opportunity to use that Chinese you’ve been learning! The Raohe, Shilin, and Liaoning night markets are some of the best. You can learn Mandarin London here.
The City of Tainan
Tainan literally means “Taiwan south”. Unsurprisingly, you can find it in the south of Taiwan. It was founded by the Dutch in 1602 as a trading post when the island was under their control. It was the capital of Taiwan under the Qing Dynasty until 1887. It’s the capital of religion (for Buddhists), cuisine, history and culture. Tainan is home to many Taoist and Buddhist temples, some dating back to the 17th century. It’s a veritable open-air museum.
The City of Jiufen
This old mining town developed thanks to gold mines in the 1890s and the 1970s. The City of Jiufen is now a picturesque tourist town built into the side of the hills and is very popular. You can get there from Taipei by train (to Ruifang), then take the bus. You’ll probably want to go early to avoid the crowds. Visit the old town whose maze-like roads twist and turn at every opportunity. There are also souvenir shops, small restaurants, and tea stalls on Jishan Street and Shuqi Road. You can then head up Teapot Mountain, one of the best places to walk in Taiwan. This is an easy walk with many nice views of the ocean from the summit.
Take the train to Hualien to enjoy the tropical vegetation and the Taroko Gorge. It’d be a shame to miss such a wonderful natural sight. The gorge, which is located in Taroko National Park, offers sublime views and a number of hikes for all abilities. You can enjoy the Shakadang Trail or Swallow Grotto in less than an hour if you’re not very experienced. You can also enjoy the Qingshui Cliff that descends into the turquoise ocean. On the Shakadang Trail, for example, you’ll follow the path carved by the clear and turquoise waters. The Yanzikou Trail leads you across the bridge over the river and along to the Eternal Spring Shrine, a coloured shrine in the side of the hills where you can enjoy views of the mountains and fall. Find out more about accommodation in Taiwan.
Sun Moon Lake
To the southeast of Taichung, in Nantou County, is one of Taiwan’s unmissable destinations, Sun Moon Lake, a lake that was said to be formed when the sun and the moon surrounded the mountains. While the shape of the lake resembles neither the sun nor the moon, it really doesn’t matter because it’s just so beautiful. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most popular tourist destinations. However, you can still find a quiet spot. You can do a tour of the lake on a bike, hike in the surrounding mountains, or learn more about the indigenous Austronesian culture of Taiwan. Find out more about the best time to visit Taiwan.
Kenting National Park
Kenting National Park is a must if it’s raining in the north and you need some sunshine. Looking for beautiful sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and places to walk? Kenting National Park isn’t just for hikers or those who want to spend the day eating and drinking in Hengchun Old Town. You can also visit the Eluanbi Lighthouse, see the Formosan rock macaques, or walk through a mini canyon full of little caves. In terms of beaches, you can also enjoy deserted beaches. Don’t miss Baisha Beach, either. While this beach is rarely deserted, it is one of Taiwan’s most popular. There’s also little risk of typhoons or monsoons in Kenting National Park. If you'd like to learn some Chinese before you visit Taiwan, you could consider enlisting the help of one of the many talented tutors on Superprof! The tutors on the site offer three types of private tutorials to help you learn some of the language: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Face-to-face tutorials are taught with one student and one tutor and tend to be the most cost-effective type of tutorial since every minute in the lesson is spent focusing on you as the student. Additionally, the tutor will also be spending time outside of the lessons finding resources and planning the time they'll spend with you. Online tutorials are similar to the face-to-face tutorials but take place either on a call or via webcam. Since the tutor won't have the travel costs to worry about and can fit more students into their schedule as a result, these are usually cheaper than face-to-face tutorials. Finally, group tutorials are classes with one teacher or tutor and multiple students. However, with group tutorials, you and a group of friends (perhaps the people you'll be travelling to Taiwan with) can get in touch with a private tutor to plan lessons that you'll all attend together. These tend to be the cheapest per student per hour. Each different type of tutorial has its pros and cons and it's really up to you and your budget to decide how much you'll need to learn, how you want to learn, and what your budget is!
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