With a small population and often overshadowed by mainland China, the tiny island nation of Taiwan is an under-the-radar destination. It doesn’t even crack the top 10 in Asia for number of annual visitors. This is crazy! Before diving into our Taiwan itinerary, here are a few reasons why we think it’s so underrated:
- Easy to Navigate: Taipei, the capital and largest city, has a well-designed and affordable subway. There is also an extensive rail system that covers most of the country, which is a great way to get out of the big city and explore everything the island has to offer.
- Nature, just around the corner: Taiwan’s landscapes – beautiful beaches, towering ocean cliffs, tropical forests, and rugged mountains – are diverse and easy to get to.
- Street Food: The Taiwanese love to eat, and Taipei is notorious for its night markets. Check out all the food stalls for yourself, but we recommend the sweet potato balls! If you’re an adventurous eater, try stinky tofu.
- Religious Fusion: The Chinese traditional religions of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have blended into a unique and tolerant spiritual culture. As a result, there are over 10,000 temples throughout the country, many of which incorporate aspects of all three traditions.
- Value for Money: Taiwan has an advanced economy and high standard of living, but it’s very affordable. The cost is higher than travelling to Southeast Asia (e.g. Vietnam, Thailand, etc.), but still way below Hong Kong or Japan for similar amenities.
Due to the rail system and size of the island, you can get pretty much anywhere in a day. So we decided to use Taipei as our home base for the week. Our 7 day Taiwan itinerary is designed for experiencing Taipei and doing day trips to explore other parts of the country.
Day 1: Temples, Hot Springs and Stinky Tofu
The first day of our Taiwan itinerary begins in Taipei, the metropolitan hub of the island where you will most likely fly into. It’s a sprawling city with a lot to offer!
Spend the morning getting acclimated with the new time zone and fill up on a delicious breakfast at Fu Hang Soy Milk. It’s located on the second story of a nondescript building in Zhongzheng District.
This place is VERY popular (over 3,000 google reviews) and for good reason. We ordered an insane amount of delicious food and ended up paying about 150 TWD ($5) per person. It opens at 5:30 AM and by 9:00 the line is wrapped around the building, so make sure to get there early.
With a full stomach and ready to start the day, hop on the MRT to visit Dalongdong Bao’an Temple and Taipei Confucius Temple. They are across the street from each other and a short walk from Yuanshan station on the Tamsui-Xinyi line. A volunteer guide gave us a free tour of Dalongdong Bao’an Temple and explained the different characteristics of Buddhism and Taoism that were on display throughout the complex.
Now it’s time to check out the Beitou Hot Springs.
Make your way back to the Yuanshan MRT station and head toward Tamsui. Get off at Beitou station and transfer to the Xinbeitou line. From there it’s one stop to Xinbeitou station and a short walk to the hot springs.
Not far from the MRT is the Millenium Hot Spring. This is a government-run hot spring area open to the public and more affordable than the other high-end resorts in the area. The entrance fee is 40 TWD ($1.25) and you’ll find several hot spring pools of varying temperatures.
With the afternoon behind you and sundown approaching, the next stop is one of 10 things you should do on the first day of a trip, a food tour! We booked a food and market evening tour around the Ningxia Night Market in the heart of downtown Taipei.
Trust me, no Taiwan itinerary is complete without visiting a night market in Taipei. The first thing you’ll notice is the intense odor of stinky tofu. With the sights and sounds of food stalls and hungry customers lining the streets, it’s a sensory overload.
There’s enough variety to accommodate almost anyone, but if you’re willing to try something different stinky tofu is a must. We also tried pig’s blood on a stick. Neither were enjoyable, but it’s a cool story to tell!
Day 2: National Palace Museum and an Epic Sunset
Our Taiwan itinerary continues with another full day of activities in Taipei.
Kick things off with a visit to the National Palace Museum. It opens at 8:30AM and can be reached by taking the Tamsui-Xinyi MRT line to Shilin station. Exit the train and follow the path about 30 feet to Zhongzheng Road where you will see a bus stop to the right. Fortunately, there are a number of buses that will take you to the museum from here, so you shouldn’t have to wait long.
It is a large, expansive museum with tons of interesting stuff and I learned a lot about Chinese history and culture. The museum is home to a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks.
We spent bout 3-4 hours going through the museum, but you could spend all day in there if you really wanted to. By the time we finished, lunch was way overdue, so we stopped in at Din Tai Fung, an internationally recognized restaurant that originated in Taiwan and now has several locations around the world.
We ordered dumplings, fried rice, cooked vegetables, xiaolongbao, noodles… you get the point. We ate a lot.
After finishing lunch, try to power through the food coma. Ok, a quick power nap is acceptable. Just make sure to head over to Elephant Mountain before sunset.
Take the MRT to Xiang Shan station, leave the station through exit 2 and it’s about a 10 minute walk to the trail head. Hike to the top (20-30 minutes) and prepare yourself for an epic sunset!
Day 3: Hike the Pingxi Crags
The Pingxi Crags consist of three rocky summits known as the Pingxi Three Peaks located in the mountainous area east of Taipei city.
The hikes are short and intense, which makes this the most physically demanding activity in our Taiwan itinerary. It’s basically a straight up the sides of a mountain, but the views from the top are worth it.
From Taipei Main Station, purchase a train ticket to Rueifang Station on the TRA (35 minute ride). Once you get to Rueifang Station, purchase an all day pass for the Pingxi line then take the train to Pingxi Station.
The trail head is on the other side of the river located here, next to the public toilet.
On the return trip we recommend visiting the town of Shifen. The town hosts an annual festival celebrating the Chinese New Year where thousands of lanterns are released into the sky.
The event takes place sometime in February or March, depending on the year. You can, however, release the lanterns year-round. There are a number of vendors selling them along the main street in town. Don’t forget to write a wish on the lantern before sending it off!
About a mile outside the town there is also a group of waterfalls that you can view along a walking trail on the Keelung River. This is a popular stop on the Pingxi line.
At about 70 feet high and 130 feet wide, the Shifen Waterfall is one of the largest and most scenic in Taiwan. Honestly, we weren’t that impressed, but it was a nice walk nonetheless.
Make sure to take note of what time the last train leaves or else you’re stuck there for the night. The last train departed at 6:30PM the day we were there.
Day 4: Liberty Square and Longshan Temple
I’m a bit of a history geek, so the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Liberty Square is one of my favorite stops on our Taiwan itinerary. It’s is located near the CKS Memorial Hall MRT Station.
If history bores you, you’re in luck because Liberty Square also includes the National Theater, National Concert Hall and “Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness.” They are beautiful structures showcasing traditional Chinese architecture and make for great pictures.
We were fortunate to witness a large group exercise where hundreds of people had gathered to form a giant colorful pattern in the square. It was organized by Falun Gong practitioners, a modern Chinese spiritual practice that incorporates elements of Buddhism and Taoist traditions.
They create these wondrous images to bring unity and expose the suffering of the Falun Gong community in mainland China.
After a solid hour of people watching, admiring the architecture and snapping photos in the square, we headed into the Memorial Hall (free admission). It’s a massive building with four floors honoring the former political and military leader.
On the first floor is the Exhibition Hall of Historical Relics, which contains a permanent exhibit of items related to President Chiang. They include all periods of his life from childhood to wartime leader of China to his presidency in Taiwan.
There is also a massive bronze statue of the revered leader on the fourth floor, and a changing of the guards ceremony is performed every hour.
Next, return to the MRT and ride the train to Longshan Temple. Take the Songshan-Xindian line and transfer to the Bannan line at Ximen station. Longshan Temple is one stop from there.
Founded in 1758, Longshan Temple is Taipei’s most historic temple. It’s located in the Wanhua neighborhood, the oldest district in the city and home to numerous historic landmarks.
Aim to arrive by 5PM when crowds of worshippers gather and engage in prayer chanting. There’s also a free walking tour on Tuesdays and Fridays at 7:30PM.
Day 5: Visit the sitting Buddha in Kaohsiung City
Day 5 of our Taiwan itinerary takes you to Kaohsiung City at the southern end of the island.
We opted to ride the high-speed bullet train. Travel time on the high speed rail is 1.5 – 2 hours and the cost is around 1,500 TWD ($50). You can also take the standard train for half the price, but it’s much slower with a travel time of about 5 hours.
Upon arrival in Kaohsiung City, exit the station and catch the public bus to the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. If you take the high-speed rail, you will arrive at the Zuoying High Speed Rail Station and should take EdaBus 8501 located in front of the train station.
The bus drops you off at the Front Hall which serves as the welcome center. Then make your way past the restaurants and shops and exit the other side of the building where you can see the giant sitting Buddha in the distance.
The Great Path to Buddhahood (i.e. the walkway leading to the Buddha statue) is lined by four pagodas on each side that symbolize the spread of Buddhism from India to China. Each pagoda contains something different and the museum provides several recommended self-guided tours.
At the end of the pathway is the Main Hall and behind it lies the massive Fo Guang Big Buddha. This colossal bronze sitting Buddha statue measures over 350 feet high.
It’s an awesome spectacle to behold.
What’s cool about this site is that it’s more than just a statue to look at and take pictures. Inside the Main Hall there is a number of shrines, permanent exhibits, art galleries and even an auditorium. You can also walk out onto the terrace for a better view of the statue.
We spent the entire afternoon here before riding the bus back to the city center. Lastly, if you have some time to kill before catching the train back to Taipei, check out the dragon and tiger pagodas on Lotus Pond. It’s a pleasant walk along the lake and the pagodas are super colorful.
Day 6: Walk the historic trail at Lion’s Head Mountain
We hired a car for the day to take us out to Lion’s Head Mountain because it’s not easily accessible by public transit. Another option to get there is to join an organized tour or shuttle.
The car picked us up in the morning and we were about 40 minutes into the drive before we realized that we were going the wrong direction. Turns out there are two Lion’s Head Mountains in Taiwan, and we were headed to the wrong one. Whoops!
Not including the backtracking our travel time was about 1.5 hours. We started at the Shishan Visitor Center where we were provided an English-language trail map and watched an informational video highlighting the various hikes in the area.
We chose the Shishan Historic Trail, a winding, mostly paved trail that cuts through the forest and up the mountain. There are a number of scenic monasteries and temples along the way, but the most noteworthy is the Quanhua Temple. This beautiful and awe-inspiring temple tucked into the forest warrants a spot on our Taiwan itinerary just by itself.
Day 7: The last day of our Taiwan Itinerary – Explore Jiufen and Jinguashi!
It’s the last day of our Taiwan itinerary. Don’t be too sad though, because this is the perfect way to end your trip.
Before heading out for another day of exploring grab breakfast at a street stall. My favorite breakfast staple in Taiwan is Dan Bing, a Taiwanese egg pancake. It’s hands down the best thing you’ve never eaten for breakfast!
Nestled between majestic mountains and a stunning coastline, the neighboring villages of Jiufen and Jinguashi provide one of the most convenient day trips from Taipei. Bus No. 1062 from MRT Zhong-xiao Fuxing Station runs from downtown Taipei to Jiufen and Jinguashi. Travel time is about an hour.
Once a prosperous mining area during the Japanese occupation, these two villages now serve as a quaint, picturesque destination along the northeast coast. Hence there is a ton to explore around these towns. From the stunning landscapes to delicious food and interesting history, you won’t be disappointed!
Here are the 5 best things to do in Jiufen and Jinguashi:
- Take a stroll along Jiufen Old Street
- Visit the Gold Ecological Park
- Go for a hike up Tea Pot Mountain
- Check out the Golden Waterfall
- Wander the deserted Japanese Shinto Shrine in Jinguashi
Where to Stay
There is a wide variety of hotels in Taipei available in all areas of the city. We decided to stay in the Zhongzheng District near the Shuanglian MRT station. This made for a good central location close to the MRT and near Taipei Main Station where the long-range trains depart from.
Hostel – miniinn sleek, clean and affordable hostel. Perfect for solo or budget travelers.
Budget Hotel – Poshpacker Hotel super nice hotel providing great value for the money. The only downside is that although you get a private room, the bathrooms are shared.
Mid-range Hotel – Amando Inn a modern, comfortable hotel with full amenities and in a great location close to Taipei Main station.
High-End Hotel – Caesar Park Hotel Taipei all the bells and whistles of a luxury hotel including full-service spa, marble bathrooms and 5 in-house restaurants.
Taiwan Travel Tips
Here are 10 tips not included in our Taiwan itinerary. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so let us know if you have any other tips or recommendations!
- Taiwan Travel Tip #1: Get an amazing view at the Taipei 101 Observatory. Once the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101 has an observatory located on the 89th floor. Standard price is 600 TWD ($20), but you can purchase a discounted ticket through Klook. The views are 100% worth the price of admission in my opinion.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #2: Go scuba diving. There are several major diving areas around the country, but Kenting on the southern tip of the island is the most popular. We got scuba certified in Honduras not long before our trip, so we tried to fit it into our Taiwan itinerary. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #3: Getting around Taipei. The MRT has several options to purchase a one-day pass, group tickets or re-loadable cards. This Taipei MRT page is a great resource to find a map, hours of operations and which stations are closest to the primary attractions.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #4: Driving in Taiwan. In order to rent a car you need an international driving permit for the first 30 days. The permit is available through the American Automobile Association, and you can find application information on their website. Also note that you must apply for an extension at the Motor Vehicles Office after 30 days.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #5: Eat local food to save money. Not only does eating local Taiwanese food make for a better travel experience, it’s also much cheaper. Eating local will cost about 300 TWD ($10) per day per person. Eating western food like pizza, hamburgers, etc. will likely double the cost to 600 TWD ($20) per day per person.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #6: Don’t worry about tipping. It’s not part of the culture in Taiwan, so save the tip and buy yourself something nice!
- Taiwan Travel Tip #7: Best time to visit is October to February. Taiwan enjoys a mild climate year-round with an average temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). However, there is a typhoon season between June to August that gets A LOT of rain. So you definitely want to avoid those months.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #8: Relax on the beautiful beaches. Our trip was in November during the rainy season, so it wasn’t the best time of year for beach activities and we decided to leave it out of our Taiwan itinerary. However, there are a number of accessible beaches around the island for sun bathing, swimming and snorkeling.
- Taiwan Travel Tip #9: Catch some shrimp, urban style. Indoor DIY shrimping is a unique activity that I’ve never seen anywhere else. You can go shrimping within the urban confines of Taipei while drinking beers with friends. Once you’ve earned your catch, you can throw it on the barbecue and enjoy! Spring City Shrimp Fishing is a popular spot in Shilin District.
- Taiwan Travel Blog Tip #10: Bring the correct power adapter. Taiwan has the same electrical outlets as the US (Type A and Type B). Thus, if you’re coming from Europe or elsewhere, make sure to bring an adapter.