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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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