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Things to Do in Taiwan

Taiwan’s relatively small size makes gaining a comprehensive picture of the Asian island nation a breeze. In one day, you can visit ancient stone temples, dramatic national parks, and bustling street food markets. The Taroko Gorge, a five million-year-old geographical marvel, verdant Elephant Mountain, and Sun Moon Lake allure nature lovers. The capital, Taipei, and second-largest city, Kaohsiung, house temples, striking skylines, and museums. Incessant grazing is encouraged in Taiwan: Be sure to sample steamed dumplings, oyster omelettes, shrimp rolls, and pungent tofu from ubiquitous food stalls. And every February, the Sky Lantern Festival lights up the night in Pingxi.
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Taroko National Park (Taroko Gorge)
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Some of Asia’s most spectacular scenery awaits you at Taroko Gorge National Park, Taiwan’s foremost tourist draw. There’s an incredible range of landscape here: imagine Sumatra snuggling up to Sweden and you get some idea of the variety. Marble rock faces plummeting into chasms, teeming rainforests, crystal waterfalls and pine-covered alpine reaches – snow-capped in winter – offering breathtaking panoramas wherever you look. Among the park’s unforgettable sights are the looming Chinghshui Cliff on the Pacific coast, the twisting vistas of the Tunnel of Nine Turns and the dramatic hanging bridges of Swallow Grotto. The few buildings here make the most of the topography, particularly the Eternal Springs Shrine which hugs a lush green hillside next to its namesake springs.
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Yehliu Geopark
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Rare hoodoo stones, rock spires and sedimentary formations make Yeh Liu Geo Park, located on a cape in Wanli, a popular destination among travelers. The well-known “Queen’s Head” at the furthest end of the park offers impressive views and close proximity to a tiny cave that’s slightly less crowded than the main visitors area. Spend several hours wandering the natural landscape while snapping photos of this park that travelers say looks “other worldly”. The park’s popularity means there are often crowds, so it’s recommended to arrive early and leave before lunch, or arrive later in the day, when larger groups have already dispersed.

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Taipei 101
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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.

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Kaohsiung Pier-2 Art Center
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Once a forgotten abandoned warehouse, this contemporary hub for art and design has become a destination for hip and cultured visitors to Taiwan. Popular exhibits have included 3D street art, automotive art, and even technological displays from gaming developers. In addition to artistic installations, music events and trade shows are also held in this unique space.

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Taipei National Palace Museum
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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.

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Jiufen Village
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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.

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Shifen Waterfall
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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.

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Sun Moon Lake
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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.

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Alishan National Scenic Area
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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.

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Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
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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.

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More Things to Do in Taiwan

Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan Hiking Trail)

Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan Hiking Trail)

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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.

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Zhuilu Old Trail

Zhuilu Old Trail

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Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple

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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.

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Yangmingshan National Park

Yangmingshan National Park

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Located on the northern edge of Taiwan, just a quick trip from Taipei, Yangmingshan National Park offers a dose of nature for city-dwellers and those touring the bustling capital. Visit Yangmingshan to hike through its volcanic scenery and rolling hills, soak in its hot springs, and, in the spring, see the cherry blossoms in bloom.
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Beitou Hot Spring Museum

Beitou Hot Spring Museum

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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.

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Beitou Hot Springs

Beitou Hot Springs

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Weary travelers will love soaking in the steaming waters of Beitou Hot Springs. Deep in the heart of lush green forests and surrounded by breathtaking scenery, these thermal spas offers the perfect opportunity to wash away the stresses of mass transit and the chaos of busy Taipei streets.

Five pools of various temperatures—from crazy hot to lukewarm and even cold—mean there’s an ideal dip for every visitor to Beitou. Unlike other natural spas that sometimes require travelers to soak in the buff, Beitou invites guests to settle into its waters wearing bathing suits.

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Pingxi Branch Rail Line

Pingxi Branch Rail Line

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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.

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Fine Arts Museum

Fine Arts Museum

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The Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the first of its kind in Taiwan, opened in 1983 in the building that once housed the United States Defense Command. The museum’s collection seeks to highlight work by Taiwanese and international artists from the late nineteenth century onward, picking up where the National Palace Museum’s collection ends. Exhibits run the gamut from photography and oil paintings to mixed media art. The Jewels of 25 Years Museum Collection highlights the best pieces of the 4,000 the museum has collected since its opening.

Besides the permanent collection, the Fine Arts Museum hosts special exhibitions throughout the year, including the prestigious Taipei Fine Arts Awards, an annual competition to unearth emerging local talent. The museum frequently exchanges collections with other international museums, so there’s always something new to see.

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Xingtian Temple

Xingtian Temple

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Taipei Zoo

Taipei Zoo

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Built up the side of one of Taipei’s many green hills, the Taipei Zoo is the largest zoological park in Asia with more than 222 acres (90 hectares) of exhibits open to the public. As you walk uphill through the zoo, you’ll pass through 12 outdoor areas and 10 indoor ones with ample space for picnicking.

The zoo was originally privately owned by a Japanese citizen until the Taiwanese government bought it in 1915, a year after it was built. It was relocated to its current location in 1986 to allow for expansion and larger animal exhibits. Today, a variety of domestic and international animal species, including over 130 species of birds, call the park home.

Make sure to visit the Formosan animal area to observe some of Taiwan’s native animals, including the flying fox, Chinese pangolin and Asiatic black bear. Also of note is the Giant Panda facility located just to the left of the entrance. Plan to head there just as the park opens to avoid the crowds.

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Dihua Street

Dihua Street

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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.

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Shilin Night Market

Shilin Night Market

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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.

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