Best things to do in Taiwan

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 29.12.2023

Taiwan remains largely undiscovered and seriously underrated by Western travellers, but those that make it here are in for a real treat. Modern Taiwan – an eclectic mix of Chinese, Western, Japanese and indigenous cultural influences. Keeping the diversity of this country in mind, we have compiled a list of the best things to do in Taiwan.

This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.

1. Sun Moon Lake

Hemmed in by lush tiers of mountains in the heart of Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is the island’s largest freshwater body. Its calm, emerald-green waters create one of the best things to do in Taiwan for enjoying mesmerizing landscapes. The lake’s name was inspired by its distinctive shape, with a rounded main section likened to the sun and a narrow western fringe compared to a crescent moon.

Encircling it all is a 33km road, dotted with fascinating temples and picturesque pavilions, each offering a unique perspective on the waters below, while the cable car provides a stupendous panorama of the whole lake. The lake is also the ancestral home of the Thao (pronounced “Shao”, meaning “people”), Taiwan’s smallest officially recognized aboriginal tribe.

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Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan © CHEN HSI FU/Shutterstock

2. Kinmen

Kinmen Island is shaped like a dumbbell, spanning only 3km from north to south at its centre. Most visitors make the main commercial hub of Jincheng their first base, but there are plenty of enticing homestays across the island. By renting a scooter, car or bicycle, you could probably take in most of the main attractions in four or five days: double that if you’re relying on public buses.

In 1995, much of the island became Taiwan’s sixth national park, the only one dedicated to the preservation of historic monuments and battlefield memorials. Many once important military sites have been decommissioned and are now open to the public. For the most part, Kinmen’s beaches remain underdeveloped, but there are some attractive stretches of sand in the south of the island.

Find more accommodation options to stay on Kinmen island


Sunset at Cih lake, Kinmen, Taiwan © Philos Chen/Shutterstock

3. Hot springs

With over 150 locations scattered all over the island, Taiwan has the world’s second-highest concentration of hot springs after Japan. Many were developed commercially during the Japanese occupation and offer the same quality, scenery and therapeutic effects at a fraction of the cost.

Several of the most famous springs are piped directly into hotel rooms and spa pools, where you can sample the waters via public baths or private tubs. Also, there are still places, usually in the mountains, where springs gush naturally from rocks or rivers and can be experienced for free.

Looking for a compact Taiwan itinerary? Look no further. In just under a week, this tailor-made trip to the Essentials of Taiwan allows you to explore Taipei and nearby national parks. Expect waterfalls, panoramic walking trails and thermal springs, all while enjoying the amazing food scene, a blend of Chinese & Japanese cuisines.


Lisong hot springs, Taiwan © totogo1015/Shutterstock

4. Kenting National Park

Straddling Taiwan’s southern tip and bounded by the sea on three sides, Kenting National Park attracts millions of visitors each year, lured by its warm tropical climate and magnificent beaches. The park covers most of the Hengchun peninsula, which sits at the confluence of fault lines and tectonic plates.

As a result, the peninsula has been pushed, pulled and twisted into a complex network of low-lying mountains, grassy meadows, steep cliffs, sand dunes and elaborate coral formations. Despite its remarkably varied natural scenery, most Taiwanese tourists cling to the amusement park atmosphere of the main tourist area around Kenting Town and nearby Nanwan, leaving the rest of the park relatively quiet.


Kenting beach, Taiwan © Shutterstock

5. Taroko National Park

Framed by sheer ocean cliffs and majestic inland mountain peaks, Taroko National Park is Taiwan’s most diverse national park and one of the island’s top tourist destinations. Visiting the narrow Taroko Gorge is one of the best things to do in Taiwan for good reason: stretching some 20km, with marble walls that soar several hundred metres above the Liwu River, the canyon offers some of Taiwan’s most awe-inspiring scenery.

To appreciate the national park you need to get hiking. Alongside the road through the canyon are several easy trails, providing superb vantage points for some of the most spectacular features and giving a greater sense of scale. Though the gorge is Taroko’s claim to fame, it is only a small part of the park, which contains some of Taiwan’s most challenging mountain climbs, including Qilai Ridge and the revered Nanhushan.

Taiwan was formerly known as Ilha Formosa - a "beautiful island" and it's easy to see why: lush rivers, tropical forest, and imposing sea cliffs, this tailor-made adventure in Taiwan focuses on Taiwan's nature. Start in cosmopolitan Taipei before heading to Taroko National Park, coastal Hualien and finally Sun Moon Lake.


Taroko, Taiwan © Watchara Tawongsa/Shutterstock

6. Lugang

One of Taiwan’s oldest port towns, Lugang has preserved much of its architectural and cultural heritage, partly thanks to the efforts of its famously conservative inhabitants. Lugang’s historic temples are wonderfully atmospheric, but much of the town’s fame derives from its tasty local snacks and its traditional handicrafts, fashioned by the greatest concentration of master craftsmen in the country.

But while the town is eulogized in Taiwan as the epitome of classical China, the historic centre is relatively small and is surrounded by modern urban development. Adjust your expectations accordingly and Lugang can still make a fascinating trip from Changhua or Taichung. All the more so if you choose to stay overnight and see the old town when all the day-trippers have left.


Wen Wu Temple, Lugang, Taiwan © chungphoto/Shutterstock

7. Lanyu (Orchid Island)

Jutting sharply out of the sea some 91km southeast of Taitung, Lanyu is one of Taiwan’s most picturesque destinations. This volcanic island consists of a green-velvet mountain surrounded by a flat, narrow coastal plain, which stretches into some of the most unspoilt coral reefs in Asia.

There are few tourist sites per se – the main attractions are the rich tropical scenery, the Tao villages with their signature semi-subterranean houses and some of the world’s most underrated snorkelling. One of the best things to do in Taiwan is to simply take a scooter or bicycle around the island, stopping at your leisure to swim, snorkel or just soak up the captivating coastal scenery.

Find accommodation options to stay in Lanyu


Aboriginal canoe, Lanyu, Taiwan © werelion/Shutterstock

8. Aboriginal culture

Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, divided into fourteen officially recognized tribes and several other distinct groups, have their own vibrant cultures quite separate from the Chinese majority. Taiwan’s indigenous tribes form part of the Austronesian cultural and linguistic family. The origins of Taiwan’s aborigines are still fiercely debated, though most agree that they are descendants of Neolithic peoples.

The most radical theory, and the one currently in favour in Taiwan, claims that the island is the homeland of all Austronesian people – that migrations from Taiwan would eventually, over thousands of years, colonize the entire Pacific.

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Taiwanese aborigines Totem © Shutterstock

Taiwanese aborigines Totem © Shutterstock

9. Tainan

Historic Tainan, just a few kilometres inland from the southwest coast, is a city that contains many of the best things to do in Taiwan: ancient monuments, delicious food and, above all, temples. There are more gods worshipped, and more festivals and rituals are observed in Tainan than in any other place in Taiwan. Much of this is a legacy of its two-hundred-year history as Taiwan’s capital city – during the seventeenth century.

The oldest and most absorbing parts of Tainan are Anping, on the west side of town by the sea, and the cultural zones in the heart of the old city. The latter was created specifically to make things easier for visitors, with English information, signs and maps. The Chihkan, Dong-an Fang, Five Canals and Confucius Temple cultural zones contain the richest concentration of sights – reckon on spending at least two days to do them justice.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Tainan


Tainan park, Taiwan © The HippoZoom/Shutterstock

10. Surfing

Although Taiwan’s surf is not of the same calibre and consistency as the likes of Hawaii, Indonesia or Sri Lanka, anyone who has surfed the island on a good day will tell you that it can be nothing short of inspiring. Rideable waves can be found from tip to toe of Taiwan, but in general, those that travel across the Pacific to crash against the eastern coastline are the ones to look out for – especially in the days preceding a typhoon.

The beaches best kitted out for travellers looking to surf are Daxi on the northeast coast, Dulan and Donghe on the east coast and Nanwan and Jialeshui near the island’s southern tip. There are several other possible surf spots along the east coast, but you’ll need your board, private transport, time to scout out the coastline and plenty of experience navigating the reef.

Explore our list of the best beaches in Taiwan and find some perfect surfing destinations for your holiday.


Surfing in warm turquoise waters is one of the best things to do in Taiwan © Wayne0216/Shutterstock

11. Chung Tai Chan Monastery

Just a few kilometres north of Puli, the Chung Tai Chan Monastery is one of the world’s most lavish modern monuments to Chan Buddhism, fusing ancient tradition with contemporary building techniques. Designed by C.Y. Lee (the architect of Taipei 101), at an estimated cost of US$110 million, the monastery is worth a good half-day of exploring.

The monastery complex is dominated by the massive, 37-floor central building, surrounded by a series of ancillary halls and statues. The 150m central tower is its most distinctive feature, flanked by two sloping dormitory wings and topped by an ornate gold pearl, set on gilded lotus leaves.


Chung Tai Chan Monastery, Nantou, Taiwan © Suchart Boonyavech/Shutterstock

12. Alishan National Scenic Area

Stretching from the foothills of western Taiwan, the extraordinarily diverse Alishan National Scenic Area covers kilometres of picturesque tea plantations, tranquil homestays and inviting Tsou aboriginal villages. Confusingly, there is no single mountain called Alishan; the actual peak that attracts the most viewers at sunrise is named Zhushan.

It’s the centrepiece of the Alishan Forest Recreation Area, the region’s main tourist hub, which most Taiwanese refer to – similarly confusingly – as just “Alishan”. The spectacular Alishan Forest Railway is one of the scenic highlights of Taiwan, but sadly only half of it was running at the time of writing, due to successive typhoon damage.

Explore Taiwan's diverse culture and fascinating landscapes with this tailor-made trip to Treasures of Taiwan covering the whole island. Starting in Taipei you will move on to Sun Moon Lake before heading to Alishan. Discover monasteries and national parks on the Southwest coast before heading back to Taipei.


Sunset in Alishan mountains, Taiwan © NH/Shutterstock

13. National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum is the most famous attraction in Taiwan, pulling in over two million visitors a year with its unparalleled collection of Chinese art, a priceless treasure trove going back five thousand years. The museum also owns hundreds of documents, pieces of furniture, rare books and official decrees issued by the Imperial Chinese government.

The museum’s collection of over 655,000 pieces is still too large for everything to be displayed at the same time, but there’s always plenty on show. The museum is arranged thematically, but there’s often a chronological order within each section. It’s perhaps most rewarding to start on the third floor and work down, alternatively, the daily tours in English offer a more digestible introduction to the main exhibits.


Gugong National Palace Museum, Taiwan © Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock

14. Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage

The annual eight-day Mazu Holy Pilgrimage from Zhenlan Temple in Dajia to Fengtian Temple in Xingang is one of the greatest of all Taiwan’s religious festivals. The event has also become a veritable media circus, attracting ambitious politicians and even street gangs who in the past have ended up fighting over who “protects” the goddess during the procession.

The pilgrimage has its origins in the early nineteenth century when Taiwanese pilgrims would cross the Taiwan Strait to the Mazu “mother temple” in Meizhou in Fujian every twelve years.


Dajia Mazu Temple, Taiwan © Lewis Tse Pui Lung/Shutterstock

15. Climbing Yushan - one of the most exciting things to do in Taiwan

Taiwan’s most untarnished breadth of the backcountry, Yushan National Park is an archetypal mountain wilderness with a seemingly endless proliferation of 3000m peaks, separated by yawning river valleys. The park is primarily known for the majestic Yushan (Jade Mountain) – the tallest peak in northeast Asia at 3952m.

Climbing to the summit is one of the most exciting things to do in Taiwan, and not as challenging as it might sound, although obtaining a permit requires significant planning. Spring and autumn are generally considered the best seasons for climbing, but you should always come prepared for fickle weather.

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Yushan mountain, Taiwan © Shutterstock

Yushan mountain, Taiwan © Shutterstock

16. East Coast National Scenic Area

The East Coast National Scenic Area, the prime indigenous territory is scattered with idyllic fishing villages, rice paddies, herds of water buffalo and some of the best surf breaks in Taiwan. Buses ply the highway, and you can visit the main spots on public transport, but to make the most of the area, and particularly to hop between the coast and the Rift Valley, you’ll need your transport.

If you’re visiting in late summer and hope to witness some of the many indigenous festivals held each July and August, private transport is essential. One of the joys of coming at this time is whipping from one festival to another on a scooter, soaking up the boundless seascapes along the way.


Taitung Island, Taiwan © Chen Liang-Dao/Shutterstock

17. Night markets

Strolling Taiwan’s night markets (yèshì) is one of the best things to do in Taiwan to sample local food at budget prices. They’re usually located along streets lined with both permanent shops and temporary stalls, though in some cities, a few markets have specially built premises. Things only really get going after 5 pm and start to wind down after 11 pm, though many stay open till the early hours, especially at weekends.

Language is not a problem – just point and get stuck in. The crowds can be suffocating at weekends, but that’s all part of the experience and probably the reason why most night markets also feature foot massage centres.


Street food in Taipei, Taiwan © Baiterek Media/Shutterstock

18. Bubble tea

Teahouses are an important part of contemporary Taiwanese culture, ranging from the traditional to the ultra-chic, and Taiwan is regarded as a global leader in tea innovation. Bubble tea (pàomò hóngchá) originated in Taichung and the city remains home to some of the island’s grandest teahouses, often huge establishments with carp ponds, miniature gardens and cosy pavilions.


Bubble tea served in Taiwan © Shutterstock

19. Taipei 101

Looming over Xinyi, and indeed the whole of Taipei, the 508m-tall Taipei 101 tower became the world’s tallest building on completion in 2003 – it was surpassed six years later by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (828m). A whopping 101 storeys high, it looks surprisingly delicate, given its size, having been designed by Taiwanese architect C.Y. Lee to resemble a stalk of bamboo.

The tower sits atop a large shopping mall, which remains up there with the best in the city, though the luxury shops, aimed at mainland Chinese who are no longer arriving in huge numbers, are now a bit empty. In the basement is a great food court, as well as a branch of Din Tai Fung.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Taipei


Taipei, Taiwan © Sean Hsu/Shutterstock

20. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

The collection of the monumental architecture surrounding Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is one of Taipei’s grandest sights. It doesn’t seem to matter that all this was completed in the 1980s – these buildings are some of the largest examples of classical Chinese architecture anywhere in the world. The memorial hall sits at the centre of a grand plaza (known as “Liberty Square” since the DPP renamed it in 2007).

The plaza’s striking 70m octagonal roof is designed to resemble the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and is covered with blue glazed tiles. Start by climbing the 89 granite stairs to the main hall, which contains a giant bronze statue of the Generalissimo under an elegant red-cypress wood ceiling; though it seems a bit like a mausoleum, Chiang isn’t buried inside.

Aerial view The main gate of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall © Shutterstock

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall © Shutterstock

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Find more inspiring ideas for your exotic journey in our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world. Also, take a look at China, where you will also find plenty of exciting things to do.

For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Taiwan without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 29.12.2023

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