The 8-mile (12.9 kilometer) stretch of track known as the Pingxi Branch Rail Line, falls a bit off the beaten tourist path but is a day well spent for its charming old-school train experience and excellent stops along the way, most notably the towns of Shifen, Jingtong and Pingxi. The Pingxi Branch Rail Line was completed in 1921, and until the late 1980s, it was used exclusively as a mining train, transporting coal south from the mountains of Northern Taiwan. Today, the train whisks passengers through a wooded gorge area, past waterfalls, trail heads and old mining towns. It’s an inexpensive and easy way to get out of the city for a day and see the Taiwanese countryside. Trains only pass along the line every hour or so, but because many of the stops and attractions are relatively close together, it’s possible to walk from one station to the next if you’ve just missed a train.
Taipei Eye, Taipei’s most popular stage show among visitors, takes traditional Chinese opera and distills it down to make it more palatable for a foreign audience. While some Chinese opera performances go on for an entire day, a visit to Taipei Eye takes only an evening, and an evening well spent for anyone interested in the Chinese performing arts. While Taipei Eye didn’t stage its first performance until 2002, its history dates back to the early 1900s and the opening of the Taiwan Novel Hall as a place to revive Chinese arts during a time in history when the culture of the occupying Japanese had become the norm. The original hall was destroyed during World War II, but the son of the man who built it carried on the legacy by again reviving the art of Chinese opera in Taiwan. While Taipei Eye performances vary, they typically include aboriginal dancing, acrobatics and folk opera. Be sure to come early to watch the performers apply their makeup and don their colorful costumes.
Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101, enjoyed the title of world’s tallest building from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was completed in 2010. It remains the world’s largest and tallest green building. The 1,667-foot (508-meter) structure consists of 101 aboveground floors and five underground floors and houses a mix of offices, a multilevel shopping complex, food court and restaurants.
Perhaps more impressive than the total height of the building is its structural integrity. The skyscraper was designed to withstand earthquakes and typhoon-level winds thanks to a massive damper sphere, the largest in the world. The building’s exterior is meant to resemble bamboo, a symbol of longevity.
You can spot the Taipei 101 from nearly anywhere in Taipei, but the best way to experience it is by riding the world’s fastest elevator to the eighty-ninth floor observatory. Take a self-guided audio tour in the indoor observatory before climbing to the outdoor deck.
Located in central Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is one of the only natural lakes in the country and arguably the most beautiful. Lalu Island divides the lake in two, with one part resembling a moon and the other the sun, giving it its name. The hiking trails and bike paths surrounding the lake are considered to be some of the most scenic on earth, and you’ll find bike rentals near the visitors center. If you want to get out on the water, you can either take a boat tour of the lake, stopping at many of the main temples, pagodas and aboriginal villages, or rent a rowboat to explore the waters at your own pace.
A recently installed aerial tramway, the longest and highest in Taiwan, carries visitors across the lake for a bird’s eye view of the area. To get a taste of the area’s ancient aboriginal cutlure, try to catch a performance at the Naruwan Theater or Culture Square.
The historic town of Chiufen is located along the hillsides just north of Taiwan. Breathtaking views of the Pacific Coastline draw travelers to this popular destination and a bustling shopping district with open pedestrian walkways is small enough to cover entirely on foot.
Jishan and Shuchi streets serve as borders for the historic commercial district. The ancient teahouses, traditional food stalls and local handicraft markets offer travelers a chance to touch the past, while epic views of the Pacific Ocean and hopping harbor make local dining even more enjoyable.
Travelers visiting Chiufen can wander the markets before heading to Taiyang Co. Ruifang, a historic mining building and Songde Park, a quiet retreat stationed on Qinbian Road in the eastern section of Chiufen. Mount Jilong, located between Chiufen and Jinguashi, is also a favorite stop for hikers in search of a short, easy trail and more uninterrupted views of the Pacific.
The incomparable collection of Chinese art in Taipei's National Palace Museum makes it the city's number one tourist attraction. Many of the exhibits were once displayed in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and were moved to Taiwan in 1933, during the Chinese Civil War. Their new home is modern echo of that complex, sitting in lush gardens at the base of a dramatic hillside.
Items on display represent millennia of Chinese artistry and ingenuity, with highlights including an important calligraphy collection, landscape paintings and a huge range of jade, bronze and ceramic artifacts.
The Taiwanese people's reverence for the first President of the Republic of China and the icon of Chinese Nationalism is very much in evidence in the monumental Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
Chiang died in 1975, the hall opened five years later and since then the huge white structure, with its octagonal blue pagoda-style roof, has become a symbol of Taiwan.
You approach through a white ceremonial gateway on a similarly overwhelming scale. Once inside you'll find yourself immersed in Chiang’s life, with relics to bring alive his military and political career, including a slightly eerie dummy of the late president sitting in a recreation of his office.
Longshan is Taipei’s oldest and most popular temple, dating back to the early 18th century, when it was first established by settlers from mainland China. In the meantime it’s expanded and contracted in times of war and peace, very much integrated into the life of the city while offering an oasis of reflection and contemplation within its heart.
Visitors are rarely unmoved by the amazingly ornate carvings and other decorative elements on display. The ceremonial gateways, elegant pagoda roofs and heady incense burners associated with traditional Chinese temples are all here. Also typically Chinese is the mix of faiths; Longshan is associated with Buddhism, Taoism and local gods.
Shifen Waterfall is located in the Pingxi District of Taipei and is one of the most famous falls in Taiwan. At just 20 meters it’s not remarkably tall, but it is the widest waterfall in the country – it spans some 40 meters across – and is both incredibly powerful and majestically captivating. Torrents of water plunge into a deep pool, raising a shroud of mist that creates a dazzling rainbow effect on sunny days. The waterfall’s rocks slope in the opposite direction to the flow of the water in a cascade style similar to that of Niagara Falls, earning it the nickname, “Taiwan's Little Niagara.”
It is a scenic walk from Shifen railway station to the waterfall, with many choosing to extend the hike by alighting the train from Taipei at Sandiaoling and taking three or four hours to complete the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail.
Throughout Taiwan, tea is a deeply embedded part of the day-to-day culture, and the tea plantations of Maokong have become a favorite destination for locals and tourists looking to get away from the city for a day. To accommodate the influx of visitors, the Maokong Gondola began operating in 2007, making it Taipei’s first aerial gondola. In 2010, some of the cable cars were retrofitted with fiberglass bottoms, called “Eyes of Maokong Gondola.”
The entire route extends 2.7 miles (4.3 kilometers) from the Taipei Zoo to Maokong with four total stations. Fares are paid based on the number of stations you plan to travel to. If you’d like to ride in a glass-bottom gondola, you’ll have to wait in a separate line. The gondola ride is only part of the Maokong attraction. Once you get to the top, you can pick tea in the plantations, visit a tea museum or hike the trails of the surrounding hills.
After a relaxing soak in the thermal baths of Beitou Hot Springs, head to the nearby museum that shares a similar name. The Euro-Japanese-style building was built during Taipei’s occupation and once served as the main access to Beitou’s public bath.
In true Japanese style, visitors are asked to remove their shoes before exploring the network of 12 rooms that make up this popular attraction. Once the site of the largest bathhouse in Asia, the museum’s second floor is now home to an exhibition area that showcases articles, books, photographs and the history of the famous hot springs.
Travelers flock to Alishan National Scenic Area for its breathtaking views and incredible sunrises. Thick white clouds cover the valley below and towering mountaintops look like tiny islands in a never-ending ocean.
Thick forests and well-kept hiking trails lead to the incredible views that are the main attraction at this scenic area. But visitors interested in more than just a pretty view can stop at nearby Ziyun Temple, Alishan Hotel and Alishan Rail Station—one of just three mountain rails in the world.
Yilan can be reached in less than an hour from Taipei, thanks to Asia’s second longest highway tunnel – the mighty Hsuehshan Tunnel. Yilan is located in a unique setting, looking out towards the sea along Taiwan's northeast coast on one side and surrounded by rugged mountains on all others. Known for its natural beauty and sweeping views, there’s plenty here to attract visitors, who either visit on day trips from Taipei or choose to stop and linger for a while staying in the area’s many hotels and rustic guest houses.
Located in the center of the Lanyang Plain, hot and cold springs and plenty of scenic nature trails make up the rural landscape around Yilan. Streams and rivers provide a constant source of replenishment for the nutrients in the soil here, making it a rich and fertile landscape. Meanwhile, the ocean provides some scenic coastal walks, along with an array of recreational activities, including the popular whale and dolphin watching trips.
Food vendors, mom and pop restaurants, video arcades and karaoke bars are just part of the draw Shilin Night Market. This tiny Taipei district comes alive at night when the doors of some 539 food court stalls, and small shops selling items that range from electronics to dress shoes open for business. Bold scents waft through the air and bright lights fill otherwise darkened streets, making this the perfect place to explore what local city nightlife is all about.
Visitors in search of typical fare will find literally hundreds of options at Shilin Night Market. Cold bubble tea, strong and sweet coffee, fried buns, intestines and stinky tofu are just some of the delights awaiting adventurous eaters. Travelers should come hungry and ready to explore, since navigating the network of stalls can take an entire evening.
Hualien sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Central Mountain Range on the eastern side of Taiwan, making it one of the most scenic spots in the country. With its pleasant climate and stunning views, international visitors flock to Hualien, where there’s plenty in the way of accommodation and other amenities – not to mention the famous Taroko Gorge just a few miles away.
Hualien is Taiwan's biggest county and much of it is made up of some of Mother Nature’s best work. From the impressive gorges at Taroko National Park to the striking natural landscapes of the East Coast National Scenic Area, visitors to the Hualien area will find themselves among some truly magnificent scenes of nature.
With its towering peaks and verdant valleys, plus its sweeping ocean views and friendly locals, Hualien has understandably become one of Taiwan's must-see travel destinations for both domestic and international visitors alike.
After you’ve seen the Taipei 101 and shopped the city’s mega malls, get a sense of what Taipei was like decades ago with a visit to Dihua Street. The street that once served as Taipei’s major commercial center during the late Qing Dynasty still caters to more traditional tastes.
You won’t find any souvenirs or trinkets here, but you will see a wide range of traditional Chinese goods, like tea, medicinal herbs, dried mushrooms and seafood, beans, rice and sweets, and many locals coming to shop. Dihua Street gets particularly busy in the days leading up to Chinese New Year when families come to stock up on traditional holiday foods. During this time, the street becomes a solid wall of people haggling for their ingredients.
Taipei’s Presidential Office Building has housed the offices of the president and his staff since 1949. The stunning colonial-style building was constructed in 1919 to serve as the Japanese occupation headquarters but was severely damaged by bombing during World War II. The entire structure was rebuilt in 1946 in the same style as the original, and its distinctive brickwork is an excellent example of Japanese-era architecture in Taiwan.
The five-story red brick building has an eleven-floor tower at its center. At the time it was built, it was the tallest building in Taipei. On weekday mornings, the Presidential Office Building is open for tours, giving visitors the chance to see exactly where the president works. Even if you don’t take the tour, it’s worth stopping by just to see the building’s facade.
White sandy beaches and swaying palms are perhaps not the first things that come to mind when you think of Taiwan, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in the Kenting National Park. This natural treasure has some of the best surf beaches in the region, as well as diving, jet-skiing and lots of other seaside fun.
The park’s beautiful scenic landscapes, with dramatic rocky outcrops, lush jungles and cliffs offering outstanding views over the sea and shoreline, make this a popular hiking destination. Visit traditional fishing villages during the day and at night enjoy the numerous dining options and night markets in the area’s towns.
Tucked in the hills, just beyond Taipei city limits, lies popular Elephant Mountain—a natural network of trekking trails and walking paths that lead to some of the area’s most epic views.
Travelers willing to climb the dozens of steep steps along the Xiangshan Hiking Trail will be greeted by an uninterrupted look at the city skyline, including the towering Taipei 101. Visitors agree it’s one of the best in the area, and easy access from downtown makes it a perfect day trip for visitors looking to escape the urban jungle while still keeping it within view.