From dramatic mountain landscapes to white-sand beaches, and from some of the world’s best food to its finest collection of classical Chinese architecture, Taiwan is a land of countless pleasant surprises.
Here is our shortlist of Taiwan’s most alluring attractions.
1. The view from Taipei 101
Taipei 101 stretches towards the sky, a financial-center skyscraper with the Taipei 101 Mall at its base and quality restaurants and cafes with splendid views on higher floors. The Taipei 101 Observatory located on floors 89 to 91 of the tower, has panoramic views of the city and mountains from an indoor and outdoor deck, and visitors can also view the huge typhoon and earthquake motion-damper sphere on level 88. Soaring 101 stories and for a time the world’s highest building, Taipei 101 is a wonder of engineering that offers tremendous views from its observation deck near the top.
2. Chinese art treasures at National Palace Museum
Home to the world’s greatest repository of Chinese art, collected over the course of a thousand years by China’s emperors, with approximately 700,000 individual works, each priceless.
The National Palace Museum is housed in an impressive main building, but the treasures within unimaginable. The museum, completely refurbished inside and out between 2002 and 2007, displays some 6,000 works of art representing the zenith of 5,000 years of Chinese creativity. And these are just a fraction of the more than 700,000 paintings, porcelains, bronzes, rubbings, tapestries, books, and other objects stored in nearly 4,000 crates located in vaults tunneled into the mountain behind the museum.
The museum now displays its treasures according to historical dynastic period rather than artwork type. In addition, it is adding works specific to Taiwan’s cultural experience as well as works from outside greater China showing the impact of Chinese culture in the region.
3. Taroko Gorge’s spectacular landscape
A deep, breathtaking 19km (12-mile) -long chasm of lofty, marble-laced cliffs and a cascading river strewn with massive boulders, traversed by a slow highway at the bottom literally chiseled from sheer rock.
Those who visit Hualien, which is more a jumping-off point for trips to the famous gorge to the north and to the national scenic areas to the south than a destination in itself, will find it a pleasant and cheerful small city.
With 90 percent of the Hualien County area dominated by mountains, the city – the largest settlement on Taiwan’s east coast, with 110,000 people – fills a narrow strip of flat land separating the mountains from the sea.
Hualien’s greatest claim to fame is marble. Uncountable tons of pure marble sit in the craggy cliffs and crevices of nearby Taroko Gorge (Tailuge) and the area’s mountains, and are processed both in large local factories and small workshops.
Meanwhile, nine out of 10 people who visit Hualien tour Taroko Gorge, one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world and Taiwan’s foremost natural scenery attraction.
4. Diving and sunbathing at Kenting National Park
At Taiwan’s tropical south tip, this top tourist destination with an emphasis on conservation is a natural playground of upraised coral, exotic flora and fauna, sandy beaches, and blue-water recreation.
The attractions of Kenting National Park (also known as Kending), a largely unspoiled, sun-kissed natural playground, include exotic flora and fauna, stunning views, dramatic geographical formations, and fine beaches.
The coastal crescent that occupies Taiwan’s southern reaches is known as the Hengchun Peninsula (Hengchun Bandao). It is most often referred to simply as Kending, a vague term meant as a specific reference to Kenting National Park (Kending Guojia Gongyuan), which takes up a large part of the area’s landmass. There is also the town of Kending near the middle of the peninsula in the south, adding a bit of initial confusion for those visiting the area for the first time.
5. Traditional temples and tea houses in Tainan
Taiwan’s fourth-largest city, Tainan is a hub of rich cultural heritage, with hundreds of shrines and temples and delightful places to sup Taiwanese-grown tea.
Tainan, the island’s fourth-largest city, is clean and cultured, combining a modern social scene with a deep respect for tradition in a maze of narrow lanes and an abundance of historic sites. South of here, the city of Kaohsiung’s urban core and rural hinterland offer intrigue, with remarkable temples, interesting colonial relics, and quality outdoor leisure pursuits. The area around Taitung city offers a soothing mix of indigenous culture, invigorating hot springs, unspoiled forests, and harmonious temples.
6. Weird and wonderful food at a night market
The country’s history and location has made it a crossroads of humanity – and a grand gourmet bazaar. The best initiation to Taiwan’s fantastic traditional snack culture is Taipei’s incredibly diversified Shilin Night Market. With a history of over 100 years, this night market is known for the quality of its food, which represents Taiwanese snacks at their best. The food market is housed in a purpose-built multi-story building, and the streets in the adjoining area are home to scores of shops and still more food-sellers. The market’s signature food treats are giant deep-fried chicken steaks, oyster omelets, and thick squid soup.
7. Cycling around the country
Taipei has led the way amongst local cities in setting up bikeways. A loop now encircles the urban core, meandering through landscaped parks along the Jingmei, Xindian, Tamsui, and Keelung rivers, the loop completed with a jump over the Nangang hills. The system connects with other bikeways, enabling jaunts down the Tamsui to the coast, up the Tamsui all the way to Yingge, and up the Xindian to New Taipei City’s Xindian district. Kaohsiung has been described as one of the five best biking cities in Asia by the same website mentioned above, and its system has expanded rapidly as it has ripped up downtown railway tracks in the harbor area and elsewhere. A high-quality nationwide system of dedicated paths and lanes has been built. Circle the entire city of Taipei by riverside, and head to the north coast, on inexpensive rental bikes.
There is also especially good, safe highway biking along the east coast, in the East Rift Valley, Taroko Gorge, and Kenting National Park, as well as on all offshore islands save for the hilly Matsu islands.
8. Hiking in Yangmingshan National Park
The Yangmingshan National Park takes up the upper section of the Yangmingshan massif and includes its crowning Yangming Park, along with Datun Nature Park and a host of other natural features. Yangmingshan is far more than just a pleasant park with landscaped walks sitting at the summits of Taipei’s most famous nearby peaks, and it’s worth making the time to visit it.
Just 40 minutes from downtown Taipei, overlooking the city, Yangmingshan National Park is often referred to as metropolitan Taipei’s “backyard garden,” a place of endless natural adventure that offers a network of hiking trails, steaming fumaroles, hot springs, birdwatching, and landscaped gardens.
9. Soaking in hot springs
Taiwan’s hot springs are believed to provide restorative cures for all manner of ailments, while their scenic locations are simply good for the soul.
The people of Taiwan have a passion for hot-spring soaking, firmly believing their mineral waters do wonders for the body and that the scenic settings do wonders for the spirit. The rugged country, enjoying the benefits of sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, has one of the world’s highest concentrations of thermal springs on the planet, as well as the greatest variation. There are over 100 hot-spring locations, the majority in the north, and there are also cold springs, mud springs, and saltwater coastal springs. The waters are generally high in temperature and crystal clear, and safe to drink. At a few locations, such as Suao on the northeast coast, it is bottled.