The southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung might just host one of the art world’s newest wonders: the brand-new £260m Weiwuying or National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts. The world’s largest performing art centre, it opened its doors on October 13, 2018.

Designed to resemble the sweeping canopy of local banyan trees, the Weiwuying features four indoor performance venues and promises to increase the opportunities for culture in Taiwan. Inside there's an opera house, a theatre hall, a recital hall and a playhouse. There's also an outdoor theatre, built into the roof where the roof gently dips into the ground. The Weiwuying’s grounds are open to the public, so you’ll see dance classes going on, young people hanging out, and seniors relaxing in its cavernous, open ground floor.

culture in Taiwan - WeiwuyingThe new Weiwuying arts centre in Kaohsiung, Taiwan © Romix Image/Shutterstock

As impressive as the Weiwuying is, it’s just one of the latest in a series of impressive art centres and museums that have opened in recent years in southern Taiwan. These places are mainly in the cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan (25 miles apart, 30-60 minutes by regular train; 12 minutes by high-speed rail).

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Engaging art and history museums

As Taiwan’s oldest city with a history of over 400 years, Tainan brims with heritage, art and culture. The city is opening its new Tainan Art Museum, made up of two distinct buildings. Building 1 is a restored 1930s colonial police station, around which a modern extension has been built. This part is already open. A little further down the street, the museum’s Building 2 is a completely new building covered by an open pentagonal shell, scheduled to open in December 2018. Building 1 features artwork from local painters, while Building 2 will feature global contemporary art.

Tainan is also where you will find the National Museum of Taiwan History. Opened in 2011, the museum tells the story of the island’s turbulent development over the centuries including Dutch and Japanese colonialism, Qing Dynasty rule, and martial law through colourful, life-sized displays and exhibits. Outside, the museum is covered by a giant Cloud Wall, an array of 1,350 solar panels that helps power the building.

Taiwan’s most famous museum is the National Palace Museum (NPM), which is in the capital, Taipei. However, in 2016, a southern branch was opened in Chiayi County (17 minutes by high-speed rail from Tainan, 30 minutes from Kaohsiung). While the NPM showcases imperial Chinese treasures, the Southern Branch takes a different approach – combining Chinese treasures with Taiwanese and Asian artefacts.

culture in Taiwan - national palace museum southern outpostThe southern outpost of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi County, Taiwan © YingHui Liu/Shutterstock

Visitors can see Buddhist artefacts and statues from Japan, Thailand and India; centuries-old Buddhist scrolls, and textiles made by the indigenous people of Taiwan. Never mind that it’s a branch of the NPM, this is a world-class museum in itself.

Kaohsiung’s Museum of Fine Arts might be a bit old in comparison, having opened in 1994, but it features great paintings, contemporary art, and special exhibits by some of Taiwan’s best artists. One of the most impressive exhibits is a collection of oil paintings of Taiwan’s natural beauty.

Once you visit all these art and history museums, there is still more art to be enjoyed.

Arts and culture in Taiwan: cultural hubs

At Kaohsiung’s waterfront lies the Pier-2 Art Centre, the largest art district in the south. This area used to be a dockyard, but it has been revitalised into an extensive cultural hub. Pier-2 is home to art galleries, museums and outdoor contemporary art, as well as boutiques selling everything from handmade clothing to stationery, all housed in former warehouses. The northernmost zone features a large park where art exhibits made out of twisted steel lie among unused railway lines.

Culture in Taiwan - Pier 2A robot sculpture at Pier 2 in Kaohsiung © YuiZeE/Shutterstock

Tainan’s Blueprint Culture and Creative Park is a former prison dormitory turned art centre that has amusing murals, quirky outdoor figures, art galleries and shops. Opened at the end of 2015, Blueprint’s main attraction is an old house painted in blue which uses white lines to create a 3D visual experience. As with Pier-2, Blueprint is an example of the laudable Taiwanese habit of converting unused historical buildings into art and cultural space.

Art hits the streets – and the subway stations

For Kaohsiung’s best street murals, head back to the Weiwuying, where you'll find an unassuming neighbourhood just north of the Weiwuying subway station. Many of the low-rise apartment buildings have been painted over with resplendent murals, some covering the entire front facade.

culture in Taiwan - neighbourhood muralsMurals cover the apartment buildings near Weiwuying subway station © Hilton Yip

Finally, plan some time to see the subway stations in Kaohsiung, especially Formosa Boulevard station. It’s been called one of the world’s most beautiful subway stations – and for good reason. Its underground concourse features the Dome of Light, a spectacular ceiling artwork of cosmic figures made up of 4,500 glass panels designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.

When you visit Taiwan, give the south a try. While Taipei might be great for urban exploration and nightlife; the central might feature spectacular mountains; and the east coast might boast the country’s best scenery, the south is where art, history, and culture combine.

Inspired to explore Taiwan's cultural highlights? Try our new Rough Guides tailor-made travel service and enjoy a custom trip designed just for you by a vetted local expert. 

Header image: Formosa Boulevard subway station © Chenallen/Shutterstock

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