Quick Taichung Itinerary: What To Do With 2 Days

I had first heard of Taichung from a girl I met while I was traveling in Greece, who had taught English there for two years. The way she described the city made me fall in love with it before I had even visited. Close to hikes and lakes, full of cafés and streets jammed with street food each night: it basically sounded like a perfect synthesis of all my favorite things.

When I arrived in Taichung, though, I found that all the sights in the city were very spread out, and it was actually a bit hard to plan my Taichung itinerary. We wasted a lot of time backtracking and, having not really planned much, found Taichung was a bit difficult to be spontaneous in, especially compared to Taipei. Whereas Taipei has the super-simple MRT, I found Taichung’s public transportation network of buses a little more inscrutable as a quick visitor to the city with only 2 days in Taichung planned.

I’ve organized this post so that you can learn from the slight troubles we had in organizing our time in Taichung, so that you can maximize however many days you have on your itinerary for Taichung. I’ve optimized this for two days; however, you could squeeze it all into one day if you must – but you’d need to get an early start.

Taichung Itinerary: Day 1

Start with a wander through Taichung Cultural and Creative Industries Park

Taiwan is the only place in the world I’ve been where they have “creative parks.” There’s nothing I can really compare it to: these parks are probably best described as a combination of your standard urban park and an open-air network of pop-up boutiques and “selfie areas” where you can pose with your favorite cartoon figures (this is Taiwan, after all). I had gone to two creative parks in Taipei and found them super interesting, so I made sure to pop into Taichung’s creative park.

Due to the pop-up nature of these creative parks, what you’ll find will change. When we went, there was an “umbrella alley” perfect for Instagram, some cool walls to pose with, a sake brewery, and a DIY customizable umbrella shop.

Thanks to Janet Newenham, who kindly shared her photos with me after I left my memory card 6,000 miles away

Have a bubble tea at its birthplace, Chun Shui Tang

From the creative park, walk 10 minutes to the original bubble tea shop, Chun Shui Tang, who hold the claim to being the first people to invent bubble tea. If you haven’t had bubble tea, you simply need to try it when you’re in Taiwan.

It’s a bit of an acquired taste for some: the tapioca pearls, aka the “bubbles”, are pretty tasteless but incredibly chewy. I personally love the chewy, stretchy texture, which is common in Taiwanese food. However, my friend Janet was not a big fan of bubble tea!

You can get a variety of flavors and teas, whether you want black or green tea or you prefer a juice or smoothie instead of a tea. I prefer my bubble tea iced, milky, and slightly sweet, but you can specify how you’d like it and they’ll make it to order.

Stop for lunch at Taichung Second Market

After you’ve had dessert first, why not eat at Taichung’s Second Market? Just another 10 minutes’ walk, the Taichung Second Market is the daytime version of the popular outdoor Fengjia Night Market.

The Second Market is less touristy than the night market, and you’ll find lots of traditional Taiwanese favorites like pork rice, xiao long bao, and of course, the hit-you-in-the-face-with-its-stench stinky tofu.

Overwhelmed on what to eat? Check out this YouTube clip:

Stroll along the Liuchan Riverside Walk

The Liuchan River is not that big, but it does make for a really nice walk through central Taichung. I always love being around water when I’m in a city, and Taichung is no exception. While I wouldn’t necessarily make a point of visiting it unless I was already in the neighborhood, since you’ll be located near here if you’re following my Taichung itinerary, it’s definitely worth walking along this street.

Dip into Painted Animation Lane

Just a 1-minute detour on your Riverside Walk, you’ll find Painted Animation Lane. It’s a cutesy collection of murals featuring characters like Mario. I thought it was interesting for a brief, 5-minute stop. It’s definitely nothing special, but if you’re passing it anyway and you want a funny quirky selfie, go for it.

Rest your legs

You’ve been walking quite a bit with this itinerary, so take a little break at either one of the city’s many parks or back at your hotel. I’d recommend the Calligraphy Greenway if you are looking for a place to sit and relax outside.

Fengjia Night Market

Let’s be honest, this night market is probably the whole reason you are going to Taichung! The biggest night market in Taiwan, Fengjia is where new street food ideas are given a trial run before making it to the rest of Taiwan, and even the world. Apparently, if it’s good enough to make people queue for it in Taichung, it’s good enough to sell in the rest of the island!

A few of my favorite things I ate at Fengjia: chopped fried giant squid with sweet chili sauce, octopus takoyaki balls, pork xiao long bao, and enormous extra-long french fries with wasabi mayo.

Taichung Itinerary: Day 2

Go to Rainbow Village early in the morning

This is one of the most popular spots in Taichung so I highly recommend setting an alarm and getting an early start before everyone else does! This painted village in Taichung is vibrant. In today’s day and age, it would be an Instagram gimmick, but the story behind it is much deeper and much sweeter.

The “village” (which is really about two or three blocks painted in a small area) was painted entirely by one man, a man in his 90s named Huang Yung-Fu, nicknamed Rainbow Grandpa. He used to be a soldier in the military and lived in this “veteran village” which was used to house former Kuomintang soldiers upon returning from battle in mainland China. However, forces of gentrification are at work everywhere, and Taiwan is no exception. These “veteran villages” are disappearing from Taiwan’s landscape, as developers are using the land to build new apartment buildings.

The story goes that Rainbow Grandpa was getting bored of living alone in his village; everyone else had already moved away, bought out by developers. Rainbow Grandpa didn’t want to leave his home, and he started to paint to kill time and be less bored.

He painted a bird, then a cat, and then just kept going until eventually all the walls and floors were covered in vibrant paintings. A group of students heard about what he was doing and petitioned the government to turn it into a cultural village, and the government obliged. Rainbow Village is now protected as a designated cultural village and will be preserved for generations to come.

Admission to Rainbow Village is free, but you should support its upkeep by making a small donation by purchasing a print or souvenir in the shop.

It’s possible to get here by bus but I found that it was easier just to use Uber to and from Rainbow Village as it was pretty inexpensive.

Marvel at the Miyahara building

Housed in a former eye hospital, the Miyahara building is an incredibly fancy place to buy sweets, including the traditional pineapple tart that it’s famous for. But the Miyahara building is also a great place to go for photography and Instagram photos. It actually kind of reminds me of a Hogwarts-esque library!

I didn’t end up eating here as there is a minimum spend of about $13 USD per person and it always annoys me to have to spend a minimum — even if I know I would hit it, it’s just the principle. I know, I’m weird. But if you want to get good photos on the stairway and to capture the building, you will have to pay up. What can they say… Taiwan knows how to profit off Instagrammers!

There’s also a famous ice cream shop on the ground floor, with lines stretching down the block. I’m not one to wait nearly an hour for an ice cream but if you’re more dedicated than I am, give yourself some time here.

Taichung Park

This pretty little urban park is about a 10-minute walk from Miyahara and is well worth a quick visit. It’s the oldest park in Taichung and was created when the island was under Japanese rule. Today, the park is known for its lake – you can rent a boat and paddle around on a hot day. It’s also just a nice place to sit and rest your legs after walking around for a bit.

Taichung Confucius Temple & Martyr’s Shrine

I love visiting different religious sites when I travel, and Taiwan is no exception. I didn’t have time during my trip to make it out to the Taichung Confucius Temple but I wish I had as it’s quite beautiful. It uses traditional Chinese design elements and balances simplicity and elegance in a really nice way. I visited Longshan when I was in Taipei and loved it, so this temple is on my list to visit in Taichung when I return.

CMP Block Museum of Arts

At this point I recommend you take another Uber as you’ve gotten a bit outside the city center and you’ll want to head back to the middle of the city. The next place I recommend including on your Taichung itinerary is the fascinating open-air CMP Block Museum of Arts, which has rotating, frequently changing exhibits that you can interact with (and, more importantly for Taiwan – photograph yourself with).

When I was there, there was an installation that included planets whose lights changed colors and beds you could sit on and pose with (this would never fly in NYC – the beds would be riddled with bedbugs by the end of day 1)

If you’re in the mood for a snack and a selfie, the beloved ice cream shop I’m Talato is not far away, so pop in and join the queue of Instagrammers.

Return to the night market

Fengjia Night Market is so big that I think it’d be a mistake to only go once! Wander around a different area and try all the foods that you didn’t have room for on your first go-round. If you’re really brave, you could always go for the stinky tofu….

Day trips to add to your Taichung itinerary

If you have more than 2 days in Taichung, here are a few recommendations of where you could go next.

  • Sun Moon Lake: One of the most popular additions to Taichung itineraries, this gorgeous alpine lake in the mountains is beloved by many. I intended to go but we had rainy weather on the day I wanted to go.
  • Lavender Cottage: If you’re a fan of lavender, this pretty retreat in the mountain has lavender and flower fields and is a great city escape
  • Zhongshe Flower Market: Another popular destination for Instagrammers, this flower market not only sells flowers but has lots of landscaped flower beds and quirky things like a white piano in the middle of a lavender field to appeal to photographers.

Where to Stay in Taichung

Janet and I opted to stay in an Airbnb close to the Fengjia Night Market. While that was great for dinner, it did mean we were a good distance away from all the main sights. If I go back to Taichung, I will probably stay in a more central location to have easier access to other places, especially as I had trouble figuring out how to use the bus system and relied heavily on Uber during my stay.

Budget: If you’re on a budget or traveling solo in Taichung, there are a few hostels in Taichung. Stray Birds has excellent reviews for a hostel (9.2 on Booking.com with over 100 reviews) and has a prime central location. The design is gorgeous and cozy, a true boutique hostel option. If I was solo traveling, this would be my top hostel choice. Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-range: Taiwan is not cheap, nor is it crazy expensive, and you really get the best bang for your buck when you opt for mid-range accommodations in Taichung, which I define as under $100 per night for a double room. I’d recommend either choosing an Airbnb like we did or picking one of Taichung’s boutique hotel options. My absolute favorite find is Lavie Inn, which combines gorgeous design elements with comfortable amenities without luxury pretense. Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Taichung definitely has a few luxury options though of course nowhere nearly as much variety as Taipei. The Splendor Hotel in Taichung is the best combination of luxury and value. The lobby is glamorous, the rooms are spacious, the views over Taichung are insane, and hello – some of the rooms have an in-room jacuzzi. If you can afford the good life, Taichung is a great value. Check rates, reviews, and availability of The Splendor here.

Shifen to Jiufen: See 2 of Taiwan’s Best Sights in 1 Day Independently

While there is so much to do in Taipei itself, one of the best things about traveling to Taipei is the sheer abundance of day trip possibilities there are in the region. The small town of Shifen with a train track running straight through it is one of the best-loved day trips from Taipei, especially because the gorgeous Shifen Waterfall is just a short walk or electric scooter ride from the train stop.

Jiufen is also a hugely popular day trip, especially in the evening, when the orange lanterns come to life and you can watch the sunset from one of the magical teahouses on the hill.

While you can go to both towns in one day on a guided tour, I think it’s better to go from Shifen to Jiufen independently to give yourself more flexibility to explore, photograph, and enjoy these towns all on your own. Plus, public transportation in Taiwan is very affordable and reliable, although signage can sometimes be a bit difficult due to the written language barrier.

However, I never really found the language barrier to be that much of an issue, as Taiwanese are some of the most helpful and kind people I’ve met on my travels, and they were always willing to go above and beyond to help no matter what their proficiency in English was.

That said, if you don’t want to stress getting there with public transportation, there are convenient shuttle buses that allow you the freedom of visiting independently with the convenience of point-to-point transportation. This means you can visit each site independently rather than traveling like a herd with your tour guide, but you have a comfortable coach bus transiting you between the sites. At around $20 USD, it’s inexpensive and cost me pretty much exactly the same as visiting independently using public transport as I ended up taking a pricier shared taxi back from Jiufen because the public buses were so packed. Here’s the shuttle bus company I recommend as it’s been reviewed positively nearly 3,000 times.

How to Get to Shifen from Taipei via Ruifang

In case you’re not in Shifen yet, here’s how I recommend going independently on public transport from Taipei.

Start at Taipei Main Station, which is accessible on both the Red and Blue MRT lines. Walk towards the train section of the station. You can buy your ticket at one of the machines (if you do, use cash rather than a card, as many foreign credit cards don’t work properly in Taiwan) or you can wait in line to buy your ticket from a staff member. We chose the Tze-chiang class, which is a limited express train, and it takes about 45 minutes to get to Ruifang. The cost was 76 Taiwanese dollars, which is about $2.50 USD

From Taipei Main Station, you’ll need to take a train to Ruifang (in Chinese: 瑞芳站). You can take any northbound train that is not headed towards Keelung. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from locals when finding your train, as it can be a bit confusing to find the right train, as only the ending destinations are listed. Just ask people for Ruifang and perhaps have the Chinese translation saved in your phone notes so you can show people. Locals will be glad to point you in the direction of the right train.

From Ruifang, you can easily transfer to the Pingxi line. Buy a one day pass from the stand; it’s the best option and it costs only 52 Taiwanese dollars ($1.75 USD). Ride the train from Ruifang to the end of the line at Shifen– easy!

When you’re in Shifen, be sure to see the Shifen Waterfall, the Old Street, the suspension bridge, and watch the people setting off lanterns on the train tracks.

Optionally, you can stop at Houtong Cat Village on the way from Shifen to Jiufen, as it’s located on the Pingxi line as well. I didn’t have a chance to visit (I slept in too late that day, as I am likely to do!) but it would have been as easy as getting off the train, checking out the town for a bit, and getting back on when I was finished.

How to Get from Shifen to Jiufen

If you’re already in Shifen, luckily it’s pretty easy to get to Jiufen from there. Using your one-day train ticket on the Pingxi Small Railway line, you’ll want to ride the train back to the terminus at Ruifang. You won’t have to pay again as you will have already bought the one-day pass.

Once you get back from Ruifang, you’ll need to exit the train station and head to the bus stop. After exiting the train station, walk to the main street, then turn left. Walk about two blocks. (You can find the exact location of the bus stop by inputting Jiufen as your destination in your Google Maps). There are three different buses which will bring you to Jiufen, the #788, #827, or #1062. I don’t recall the exact cost of the bus but it was quite cheap.

There is signage on the bus stop that is translated into English as well, making it easy to figure out which bus route to take. It’ll take about 25-30 minutes to go from Ruifang to Jiufen. Don’t let yourself get lost in your phone: the views on the way to Jiufen are simply incredible.

It’ll let you off right by a temple that looks like this.

Not a bad view, eh?

Walk up the street past the temple and you’ll see the start of the Jiufen Old Street area! Keep walking up, passing the food stalls, until you reach the iconic teahouses everyone visits Shifen for.

It’s especially stunning right around sunset — just look at that landscape overlooking the sea, with Mount Keelung in the distance. Now you can see why everyone loves it (just be prepared for the massive crowds that descend on Jiufen virtually every night — it was packed when we visited in January, the lowest of the low season!)

Getting Back to Taipei from Jiufen

This part can be a real pain in the neck, because Jiufen is such a popular nighttime destinations and the buses only run about once every 30 minutes. We waited at the bus stop for a while, only to find every bus going back to Taipei (#1062) completely full. Another option would be to take the #788 to Keelung Station and then take the 4107 shuttle to Songshan Station.

Instead, we were really tired, so we opted for a collective taxi, which cost 300 Taiwanese dollars per person (approximately ~$10 USD). For a comfortable and convenient ride back to Taipei minus all the waiting, it was well worth the extra price.

25 Delicious and Fun Things to Do in (and Around) Taipei

I went to Taipei curious and hopeful, but with low expectations. I expected a city more like Singapore, which I never really jived with — too flashy, tech-y, crowded. While Taipei is certainly busy, I found it so much more down-to-earth, calm, and livable than other cities in Asia I’ve visited.

To say Taipei was a surprise is an understatement. I didn’t imagine the amount of green spaces, even in bustling central Taipei. I didn’t think I’d be able to hike amongst volcanoes or see sulfuric thermal valleys with steam rising skywards like a dense fog — all without leaving Taipei proper. I certainly didn’t imagine pristine waterfalls and suspension bridges just a short train ride away, nor did I expect to meet some of the friendliest people of my travels (no small feat after visiting nearly 60 countries).

I spent about 10 days in Taipei and doing day trips from Taipei to surrounding areas, and honestly, I still didn’t even come close to running out of things to do in Taipei. Taipei is one of the most rewarding metropolises I’ve ever visited. Delicious, unpretentious food cooked in front of your eyes for a few dollars, the most orderly and efficient metro I’ve ever used, and a sense of curiosity and welcome emanating from some of the most smiling faces — these are the things that stick in my mind after leaving Taipei.

While most of these things to do in Taipei are focused on the city proper, Taipei is so well-connected that I’ve included several side trips that you can easily do in case you’d like to get out of Taipei for a bit and see the beautiful surrounding Taiwanese nature. 

Taiwan is super well-connected by metro and bus, making getting around pretty easy for the most part, even if you don’t speak or read Chinese (I most certainly do not). I’d at least recommend a trip to Shifen Waterfall or Jiufen, as both were huge highlights of my time in Taipei and easily doable as a half-day or full-day excursion.

Getting into Taipei

Most likely you will fly into Taoyuan International Airport. There are three simple ways to get into Taipei from there

MRT

Hop on the MRT from the Taoyuan Airport and you’ll arrive at Taipei Main Station in 35 minutes. This ticket costs 160 Taiwanese dollars, a little more than $5 USD. Be sure to select the express train to get there quickly.

From there, you can then transfer to the regular citywide MRT, where tickets are even cheaper (based on zone, but roughly 20-40 Taiwanese dollars per ride, less than $1.50 USD).

This is only an option from 6 AM to 11:30 PM, so if your flight is outside of those times, you will need to select another option.

Bus

There are two buses that take you downtown. #1960 will bring to to Xinyi near Taipei 101. It costs 145 Taiwanese dollars, about $5 USD.

The next is 1819 or 1961. Either of these bring you to Taipei Main Station where you can easily get to wherever you need to go by MRT. Bus 1819 is a 24-hour bus. The other buses, 1961 and 1960, only run from 6 AM to 1 AM.

But 1819 costs 125 Taiwanese dollars, about $4 USD, whereas 1961 will cost 90 Taiwanese dollars, about $3 USD.

Private taxi

If you get stressed out with airport arrivals (same) and have any compunctions about figuring out Taipei’s public transport system after a long flight, I recommend just booking a private taxi to make your life easier. It’s inexpensive and easy as can be, since they personally greet you with a sign with your name, assist you with your luggage, and drop you off right to your door. It’s a nice treat to yourself to make arriving in Taipei stress-free.

You can book it easily online here (also works for departures)

Delicious & Fun Things to Do in Taipei

Eat your heart out at Shilin Night Market

fried crabs at the night market - the top thing to do in Taipei!

If you only make time for one of the many things to do in Taipei, you’ve got to check out a night market. Taiwan is famous for its delicious and inventive night markets, where street vendors specialize in a single dish and prepare it to perfection to long queues of salivating visitors.

For my first four nights in Taipei, I stayed within walking distance of the Shilin Night Market, which is the most popular of the Taipei night markets. It’s considered by Taiwanese to be the most “touristy” night market, but since I was visiting Taipei in the off-season (January), the crowd was mostly locals.

A few of my favorites: Japanese-style takoyaki (octopus balls covered in BBQ sauce, mayo, and bonito flakes), the flame-grilled beef sprinkled with cumin, the suckling pork wraps, the steamed leek buns… I’m drooling just typing this and a few seconds away from opening up Skyscanner just to fly back and eat ALL THE FOOD.

One thing I was emphatically not brave enough to try was the stinky tofu. It smells like a toilet pipe exploded. Enough said.

But check out the other night markets, too

Shilin is fantastic, but it’s not the only Taipei night market. During my two weeks in Taiwan, I also went to Feng Shia Night Market in Taichung, which is said to be the largest night market in the world and where all the newest street food inventions are given a trial run.

On my last night in Taipei, I also went to Raohe Night Market, which is a slightly more local night market that was recommended to us by a local who worked at the pop-up craft beer bar at one of the creative parks. The food was delicious (you can’t miss the pepper pork buns) to see another night market. Plus, it has a super central location, so you have no excuse to miss it!

Check out this great guide from Migrationology about the Raohe Night Market to help you plan your visit, as the sheer number of stalls at the night markets and the fact that a lot is written in Chinese can make these markets slightly intimidating initially.

If you prefer a guide to help you work your way through the night markets, this Taipei bike & night market tour is a fantastic choice – it includes a bike tour around the city, some night market tastings, and a complimentary drink at the end of your tour!

Book your night market tour today!

Drink bubble tea where it was created

Aside from its night markets, Taiwan is also famous for having invented bubble tea. Bubble tea is basically an iced tea, usually quite milky and sweet, served with tapioca pearls called boba. You use an extra-wide straw to suck up the boba, giving you something to chew as you drink. The boba don’t really taste like anything — the point is the chewiness.

The Taiwanese are obsessed with the texture of food, and chewy textures are one of their favorites (hence why fish cakes are such a popular ingredient in Taiwanese cooking). Curious? Read all about the beloved “Q texture” found in Taiwanese food.

Explore Taipei’s own Yangmingshan National Park

How many capital cities can boast a national park within their city limits — let alone a national park complete with volcanoes, hot springs, and sulfur pits?

Taipei is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which makes it quite geologically active. In fact, just two weeks after I left Taiwan, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the country. But the small risk of earthquakes is just part of the reason why Taiwan’s landscapes are so visually stunning, full of mountain peaks, waterfalls, and hot springs.

In Yangmingshan National Park, you can hike to the highest peak in the park, Mount Qixing, enjoy the hot springs all around the park, walk across the beautiful Jingshan suspension bridge, see the aptly-named “Milk Lake”, and so much more. There are resorts in the national park offering relaxation packages in the thermal waters with private rooms – check them out here.

We kind of bungled our day in Yangmingshan by sleeping in and getting there too late in the day to properly enjoy all the sights, but we still enjoyed our day out of Taipei. However, if I did it again I would probably take a guided tour to make sure I saw all that I wanted to see, such as the sulfur fumaroles and all the best hot springs. This tour of Yangmingshan National Park (check availability and ratings here) hits all the highlights and is a lot more convenient than trying to figure out the bus system inside the park, which is a bit complicated for non-Chinese speakers.

Alternately, there is this self-guided shuttle bus that takes you to several important points in Yangmingshan National Park, including Xiaoyoukeng, Bamboo Lake, Lengshuikeng, and Qingtiangang Grassland.

Relax in Taipei’s Beitou hot springs

Taipei is positively covered in hot springs — and you don’t even need to venture to Yangmingshan National Park to find them, as they are quite literally out in the open in the city for all to use and enjoy!

Just take the metro out to Beitou on the red MRT line and you’ll find plenty of hot springs available, including a free hot spring foot bath being enjoyed by all the locals in a public park!

But the biggest draw to me was “Hell Valley,” which you will most definitely not want to dip your toes into, considering the hot springs are nearly boiling! It was gorgeous to see the milky, whitish blue water sending up a layer of mist towards the sky — the smell, though, not so much!

There are also a lot of hotels in the area that offer thermal waters and spa treatments if you’re looking for a bit of a getaway within the city, but I haven’t tried this personally. Grand View Resort is one of the nicest hotels in the Beitou area and has a sauna, steam room, white sulfur waters, outdoor pools, stone spas, and great views, plus a shuttle service from the Beitou MRT – check out the package deal here.

Stroll along the Tamsui Old Street boardwalk

bridge at sunset - Tamsui lover's bridge is one of the best things to do in Taipei

Tamsui Old Street is one of the coolest places to visit in Taipei. Simply take the red MRT train to the end of the line at Tamsui and walk along the waterfront to enjoy the historic neighborhood of Tamsui.

There are countless food vendors to enjoy, plus the area around the boardwalk is super gorgeous around sunset with the many bridges and mountains across the river. It’s popular with families but I also really enjoyed walking around ordering from all the different street food vendors and drinking way too much bubble tea.

I recommend going at sunset so you can photograph the beautiful Tamsui Lovers’ Bridge, which is gorgeous silhouetted against the sky.

Drool over delicious xiao long bao

delicious dumplings on Shifen Old Street

One of my favorite foods to eat in Taipei is the tasty xiao long bao, aka Shanghai soup dumplings. I’ve yet to go to Shanghai, but I’d be willing to bet that Taiwan’s version of the xiao long bao gives Shanghai’s a run for their money.

Soup dumplings are usually either pork or a mix of crab and pork, filled with a piping hot dose of broth and wrapped up neatly in a pleated dumpling skin. They are steamed to perfection and served with a soy and rice vinegar mixture as well as some thin ginger matchsticks which you place in the soy-vinegar sauce.

To eat a soup dumpling, dip it in the soy-vinegar-ginger combo, place it in your spoon, poke a hole or take a small nibble of the skin to slurp out the sauce, and then eat the dumpling all in one bite. It sounds tricky, but by your second or third dumpling, you’ll have gotten the hang of it.

Din Tai Fung is the quintessential, Michelin-starred place to go, but lines can stretch up to two hours at peak meal times – hardly an enjoyable way to spend your Taiwan trip! Instead, I recommend picking up these fast-track vouchers – you’ll still have to wait a bit, but generally, it reduces your wait from like 2 hours to around 30 minutes. It also includes a great deal on 8 different dishes including, obviously, their famous soup dumplings!

Get your fast-track voucher online today!

One tip: if you do it this way, be sure to print out the voucher from the actual provider, not GetYourGuide, to avoid issues! Mobile vouchers are not accepted.

An alternate idea if you want to combine some dumping-eating with some nighttime sightseeing is to do a dumpling and night tour of Taipei (check ratings and availability here) – it also includes a stop at Din Tai Fung without the crazy waits you normally have to endure.

Get a breath of fresh air at the lush Taipei Botanical Garden

Sure, there is tons of nature within a short distance of Taipei – from the waterfalls of Shifen to the mountains of Yangmingshan National Park to the hot springs of Wulai – but if you really want a quick hit of nature without even leaving the city center, it’s definitely worth taking a stroll through Taipei’s gorgeous botanical gardens.

The Taipei Botanical Garden is over 100 years old and is home to over 2,000 different species of plants and takes up a massive 82,000 square meters of central downtown Taipei – further proof of how much the Taiwanese value being close to nature.

It’s just a short walk away from the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and entrance is free, so there’s really no excuse not to visit this lovely garden if you have time while in Taipei.

Go to the top of the Taipei 101 (and drink at the world’s tallest Starbucks, if you must)

Formerly the world’s tallest building for 6 years (before being unseated by the Burj al Khalifa in Dubai), the Taipei 101 is the most recognizable icon of Taipei and even Taiwan as a whole. It’s a beautiful skyscraper, inspired by Chinese pagoda-style architecture and looking — to my hungry eyes, at least — a bit like an ornately layered cake (others say it looks like a stack of Chinese takeout boxes, and I can’t disagree with that either).

The building is truly remarkable. It’s one of the greenest skyscrapers in the world, with a platinum certification in environmental-friendly design. It’s also built to withstand both the typhoon winds and earthquakes that often shake Taiwan, thanks to the unique pendulum damper inside. And in true Taiwanese form, apparently, this steel damper has even been given the mascot treatment by Sanrio and now a “Damper Baby” mascot exists. You can’t make this up.

Honestly, I gave this one a pass, because I generally prefer to look at the tallest buildings from ground level than go up inside of them — more because of my hatred of lines and crowds than any other logical reason.

But I understand that visiting the Taipei 101 is the #1 thing to do in Taipei for most visitors, so of course, even though it’s not my thing, it surely deserves a spot on this list.

If you hate crowds and lines (which are usually about ~1-2 hours), you can buy this skip-the-lines pass which will allow you to be at the top of Taipei 101 with no wait involved for an extra convenience fee. It’s a bit extra, but waits can be upwards of an hour, so for me on my vacation, it’s worth it — your opinion may differ depending on budget, schedule, and travel style.

 Book your skip the line ticket today!

If that’s too pricy, you can buy an e-ticket which you can pick up at the self-service desk and save yourself a few bucks and some time waiting in the ticket queue, but you’ll have to wait for the elevators like everyone else.

Hike to the top of Elephant Mountain for sunset

Now this is more my speed.

If you want a killer photo of Taipei 101, you can’t miss hiking up Elephant Mountain, one of the easiest but most rewarding hikes in Taiwan. It’s more of an eternal staircase than an actual hike, to be honest. Simply take the red line to its beginning stop and follow the signs for Elephant Mountain; it’s pretty hard to miss. After about 20-30 minutes of huffing and puffing, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over Taipei.

Try to get up there before sunset so you can have the best photography opportunities, although when the city lights up after dark it’s spectacular in a whole different way. I recommend bringing a tripod if you want crystal-clear night shots!

Bask in the bright lights in Ximending

neon lights in ximending - one of the best places in taipei to visit

Ximending is one of the most bustling areas of Taipei, and it kind of reminds me of Tokyo’s Shinjuku or Osaka’s Dotonbori. With neon lights everywhere, groups of friends out for nighttime strolls, and delicious restaurants everywhere, it’s definitely one of the best places to go out in Taipei after dark.

Oddly, though, there aren’t a lot of bars in this area — nor in much of Taipei, either. It became a bit of running joke between Janet and me that we could never find a proper bar in all of Taipei (until we caved and researched a pub on our final night).

Still, even though we ended up beerless, we had so much fun wandering around Ximending at night and enjoying the energy of all the young Taiwanese out and about. It’s also one of the best areas for LGBT travelers to Taipei to go out!

Taste your way through Taipei

If you want to taste the very best of Taipei and suffer no FOMO, I’d recommend signing up for a tasting tour (check availability and ratings here).

This tour lasts three hours and will cover 8 food samples and 2 drinks, including scallion pancakes, sushi, meat pies, mochi rice cake, tempura, pork rice, and so much more. While you snack hop, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about Taipei’s history and how the confluence of Japanese and Chinese cuisines mixing over the years to create a uniquely Taiwanese food scene.

Book your food tour here!

You’ll get to explore hole-in-the-wall eateries, local markets, hidden alleys, and other places packed with locals yet not so well-known by tourists yet. The price is super affordable for the amount of food it covers, so I’d highly recommend doing this while in Taipei!

Check out Taipei’s unique creative parks

Taiwan has several “creative parks,” which are an interesting combination of pop-up shops, handmade craft stalls, nature, and selfie “parks” where you can take photos with a variety of the cartoon characters the Taiwanese are so enamored with.

I had never seen anything quite like these, so I visited two in Taipei and one in Taichung. Huashan 1914 Creative Park was really cool, but I was a bit sad to see that their upside-down houses display that was so beloved by Instagrammers had been dismantled. We also saw what looked like a really interesting color-themed selfie park that was in the process of being built, that we couldn’t visit. Basically, these creative parks are in constant flux, so just go and prepare to be surprised. We did, however, stumble across a Canada-themed (I know, I’m confused too) pop-up craft beer bar with a lovely, super friendly bartender who kept us full of samples of different craft beers.

We also visited Songshan Cultural Creative Park, which had more nature and was super beautiful to wander around but had fewer galleries and things to see.

Eat at a themed restaurant

Taiwan is well-known for its kooky themed restaurants, the most notorious of which being Modern Toilet, which is — you guessed it — toilet themed. I couldn’t help but join in on this hilarious gimmick. I mean,  how often do you get the chance to eat out of a miniature toilet bowl while sitting on a toilet while people around you eat poo-shaped meatballs and pay $10 for the honor?

The food wasn’t great, and the price was definitely on the expensive side for Taiwan, but the hilarity was definitely worth it in my eyes. However, it’s definitely a one and done experience, I’d say. Check out the hilarious video my friend Janet made when we went!

If the idea of eating at a toilet themed restaurant makes you squeamish, that’s understandable. There’s also the more benign Hello Kitty cafe, a Lego cafe, and even an alpaca café (however, this is located way out of the center of Taipei and is quite a trek unless you are a huge llama enthusiast!)

Eat and shop your way down Yongkang Street

Yongkang Street was one of those lucky finds. I originally went here because it is the location of the original branch of Din Tai Fung, but when I saw the insane line I decided it’d be better to eat elsewhere and had delicious xiao long bao and dan dan mien (another one of my favorite Chinese staples) at a small restaurant just down the street.

But Yongkang Street is great for more than just dumplings. There are also lots of cute quirky shops just waiting to be explored, a great coffee shop, and an inexplicably large number of umbrella shops (which seem to be a thing in Taiwan for whatever reason!). This was one of the cutest streets I found in Taipei, and it’s in a very central location between Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Daan Park, so it’s definitely worth a wander if you’re starting to run out of things to do in Taipei.

Dine or drink in trendy Zhongxiao

If you’re in need of refreshing your wardrobe when you’re in Taiwan, Zhongxiao is the place to go! But this is also the best area to go out in Taiwan. As I wrote above, one thing we found when we were in Taiwan is that there is a puzzlingly low number of bars in the city. Drinking doesn’t seem to be that popular of a pastime for young Taiwanese — or if it is, the bars are quite well hidden away from the eyes of foreigners.

However, Zhongxiao is the exception to the rule. While there isn’t a proper bar area, there are a few good bars in Taipei if you look for them, most of which are clustered in Zhongxiao. We enjoyed a night out at ON TAP, which was fun, unpretentious, and had passable Mexican food (long-suffering readers of this blog will know that I commit foodie sacrilege in basically every city I visit, which usually means eating Asian food in Eastern Europe, but in a major plot twist, this time involved eating Mexican food in Asia).

It’s also home to some delicious Korean food (again, I’m all about that foodie sacrilege) and cute coffee shops and boutiques, so night or day, this is a great spot to check out in Taipei.

Snack on some Hot Star Fried Chicken

Photo credit: Alpha, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Taiwanese food is famous for its stinky tofu, soup dumplings, and bubble tea, but if you ask a young Taiwanese person their favorite food, odds are they’ll say — Taiwanese fried chicken!

This ain’t no KFC, though. Taiwanese fried chicken is different than any other chicken I’ve tried. It’s pounded thin until it’s really flat and tender, breaded and spiced, deep-fried to golden perfection, and then coated with a little extra spices. I ate a piece of chicken that about twice the size of my face at Hot Star Fried Chicken in Ximending and adored every bite. The sweet potatoes were also really delicious there — I highly recommend getting them too!

Visit Liberty Square and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

I won’t pretend that I understand the full history of the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan. It’s complicated to a degree that I can’t even comprehend, let alone distill into a bite-sized informational nugget on a listicle of things to do in Taipei.

What I do know though is that Chiang Kai-shek ruled over Taiwan from 1945 to 1975 with an iron fist, placing the country under martial law for decades, making enemies of journalists and dissenters. However, he was successful in keeping Taiwan independent from Communist mainland China, a thing for which many Taiwanese are grateful.  Today, his legacy is controversial – in fact, this monument will likely change its name and function in the future.

For now, though, it’s one of the most iconic areas of Taipei and a common meeting and gathering spot. With the National Concert Hall, the National Theatre,  and the DaXiao Gate all within walking distance Despite the complicated history, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is one of the most beautiful feats of architecture in Taipei.

If your time in Taiwan is limited, you may want to consider doing a bus tour. To see this and other essential Taipei itinerary musts (Taipei 101, Longshan Temple, and beyond!) a hop-on hop-off bus tour may save you some time.

See the stunning 18th century Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple is the most famous temple in Taipei, and it’s very active with local Taiwanese going about their prayers. Visitors are welcome (just dress respectfully, as you would in any place of worship).

There are some interesting customs that the Taiwanese observe when praying that I’ve never seen elsewhere. For one, there are small, painted pieces of wood that are shaped somewhat like a segmented orange. It’s common for people to pick up the painted crescent-shaped wood, hold it in their hands, toss it to the ground, and pick it back up again. They’re apparently called “jiaobei blocks” or “moon blocks”, which are thrown in pairs and used as a divination method — learn more here, as the custom is really interesting

I really love observing other cultures’ religious customs (especially as someone who is not particularly religious) and Longshan Temple is a great place for those curious about Taiwanese religious customs to learn more about them.

Things to Do Near Taipei (Within 2 Hours)

Admire the “Niagara Falls of Taiwan,” Shifen Waterfall

The gorgeous Shifen waterfall

Shifen Waterfall is not technically in Taipei proper, but it is so easy to get there that it deserves a spot on this list. Within about two hours and under 5 dollars, you can be walking in the beautiful park that is home to Shifen Waterfall.

I’ve written a complete guide to visiting Shifen Waterfall if you’re interested in making this trip, but for now, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Simply gorgeous!

Note: I recommend combining a trip to Shifen Waterfall, Shifen Old Street, Jiufen, and Keelung Market using this convenient shuttle bus service, which is easier than planning your trip out using public transportation and not much more expensive.

Let off a lantern on Shifen Old Street

Yes, this is a super touristy thing to do in Taipei (well, technically Shifen) but it was so much fun, so to hell with it.

For 100-200 Taiwanese dollars (about $3-6 USD) you can purchase a lantern, write your messages on it, take all the selfies, and set it off into the sky with all the other tourists on the train tracks. It was pretty fun to photograph all the other balloons going up into the sky as well.

Aside from setting off lanterns, you can also eat at all the various street stalls selling fried and steamed Taiwanese snacks, check out the nearby suspension bridge, or rent an electric scooter (or walk, it’s really not that far) to nearby Shifen Waterfall.

Head to Jiufen Old Street

Jiufen is another trip well worth making while you’re in Taipei. I’ve heard it called “the Santorini of Taiwan” and honestly, that’s pretty accurate. The city of Jiufen is built on a hill overlooking the spectacular coastline, making it a perfect place to take in the sunset in one of the many teahouses on the hill.

The entire city is covered in orange lanterns and food stalls, and there are gorgeous tea houses dotting the mountainside overlooking the coastline at sunset. In fact, the city is famous for being the inspiration for Japanese director Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away, and there does seem to be a kind of magic in the air.

However… a place this beautiful is impossible to enjoy alone. Expect to share the magic with approximately 75,000 other people, all trying to cram down a few tiny staircases. Claustrophobes and my fellow anxiety sufferers, be warned — descending the stairs after the sun sets is a neverending hellscape of people. We got stuck in a slow-moving river of people for what felt like ages (but was probably 10 minutes). And we visited in January, which is about as off-season as it gets!

You could go with a tour to Jiufen (check out prices here) but that would just compound the chaos, in my opinion. It’s easy enough to go independently. The buses are really crowded on the way back, so I’d suggest taking a collective taxi back to Taipei. I believe it cost about 300 Taiwanese per person ($10) for the one-hour journey back to central Taipei. Well worth it.

See the rock formations of Yehliu Geopark

I ran out of time in Taipei to get to do this, but it was on my list and it’s easily doable as a day tour so I figure I’d include it for you, anyway. Yehliu Geopark is an amazing natural phenomenon located on the north coast of Taiwan, just two hours outside of Taipei. Here, rocks have been carved away by twin forces of sea and wind erosion, leaving behind alien-esque rock formations including the famous “Queen’s Head” rock.

It’s perfectly possible to do with public transport, but you can also take a guided tour that will show you the port city of Keelung as well (see prices and availability here) and save you a bit of a headache with local transportation.

Book your Yehliu & Keelung tour here!

Go tea tasting and see the beautiful Thousand Islands Lake

If you really want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Taipei metro area, a day tour to Thousand Islands Lake is a fantastic escape, especially when combined with a trip to the Pinglin Tea Plantation where you can sample a few different Taiwanese teas while admiring views of turquoise lakes and terraced tea fields.

Check out tour prices and availability here!

Visit Taichung’s adorable Rainbow Village

While I believe Taichung is definitely worth at least two days – especially since you’ve got to check out the largest night market in Taiwan at Feng Jia – if you only have a day and you want to visit Instagram heaven, check out the Rainbow Village just outside of Taichung. This is easily done in a single day thanks to Taiwan’s high speed rail connections, which connect Taipei and Taichung in a mere 45 minutes — for a price (about $22 each way). If you have more time and you’d like to save some cash, you can also take the regular train, which costs about 1/3rd as much and take twice as long. From Taichung, it’s a cheap Uber or taxi to Rainbow Village, or you can work out the local buses (I’m lazy and took an Uber).

I’ll be honest, before I researched Rainbow Village, I thought it was just an Instagram gimmick. But the story is so much cooler than that. Check out this video I made for the full history of how this village got this way (and who the badass “Rainbow Grandpa” is)

A Larger Taiwan Itinerary

If you’re planning to visit more of Taiwan than just Taipei, I’ve got you covered. I’ve written a 5-day Taipei itinerary (including day trips from Taipei) as well as a 2-day Taichung itinerary that you can combine to make a proper week in Taipei.

Have more time? Tack on Tainan or Kaohsiung further down the west coast after Taichung (perhaps adding on Kenting National Park if it’s summer), or head the east coast and stay a bit in Hualien to be at the gateway to Taroko National Park.

Overwhelmed by all the options? You can also book an affordable tour of Taiwan and combine that with some independent exploration in Taipei. Compare tour itineraries and find the best prices here.

Where to Stay in Taipei

Taipei is a vibrant, bustling city with so much to see. I spent about 10 days in Taipei, experiencing different neighborhoods along the way. When I first arrived in Taipei, I stayed near Shilin, which was great for visiting the night market every single night! It’s also super convenient with the excellent Taipei MTR serving Shilin easily. However, if you want a more central location, I’d recommend staying around Ximen or Zhongxiao. I also stayed in Xinpu and really enjoyed the vibe around that area – it is much more local-feeling but there were plenty of great restaurants and street food to be found! Though to be honest, the MRT is so convenient and extensive that no matter where you stay, you are not far from anywhere in the city with the MRT.

I’ve broken down where to stay in Taipei into three budget ranges, which can roughly be defined as follows:

  • Budget: Under $25 per night for a dorm bed
  • Mid-range: $50-100 per night for a hotel room
  • Luxury: $150+ for a hotel room

Budget: For a super-affordable stay with excellent aesthetics and a good location, I recommend LuckyOne Hostel in Datong. The hostel is very well-designed in a way that I wish more hostels were — simple things like the top bunk being high enough that the person on the bottom bunk can sit comfortably, reading lights and outlets next to each bed, etc. have all been considered in the design.   Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Another great option is Ximen Duckstay Hostel (the name is hilarious, I know) which has an amazing central location in Ximen, one of the  most bustling areas of Taipei in the evening. The rooms are small but well-designed, with designated places to keep your luggage to keep the floor clear, privacy curtains, reading lights, etc. There’s also a hostel bar so it’s good for solo travelers who want to socialize, as Taipei doesn’t have the best bar scene. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Mid-range: Taipei is home of one of my favorite affordable hotel chains, citizenM ! I love booking rooms with citizenM because I know that I’m going to get a well-designed room at an affordable price, without having to pay for a bunch of luxuries I won’t use. The deisgn is fun and quirky, with a real sense of personality that is missing from many hotel chains. You always know when you are stepping into a citizenM and I love that. The location is also great. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Luxury: If you’re looking for luxury meets a dash of quirkiness, I highly recommend Eslite during your stay. Located in Songshan Creative & Cultural Park, this 5-star hotel is beautifully appointed with tons of amazing details like unending shelves of books in the lobby (swoon!). With perks like private balconies, enormous beds, sunken bathtubs, in-room sound systems, you can stay in style at Eslite without paying an insane amount. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Forget to Pack for Taipei

  • A guidebook: While I obviously love reading travel blogs, I also love traveling with a guidebook like Lonely Planet Taiwan – it is thoroughly researched and full of ideas that a lot of blogs haven’t covered.
  • Chinese-English phrasebook: The language barrier in Taiwan is still pretty large for English speakers, especially in places like small hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and then the different writing system adds another barrier as it’s harder to learn what certain words mean in a character-based language vs. an alphabet-based language. I recommend a Chinese-English phrasebook especially if you want to get a bit off the beaten path during your time in Taipei.
  • Rain jacket or travel umbrella: Taipei can be quite rainy year-round due to its subtropical climate. If you are traveling in spring, winter, or fall, you’ll definitely want a rain jacket. I traveled in Taiwan in winter with my Marmot PreCip rain jacket and it was perfect (though Taipei was pleasantly warm for January, with temperatures around 60 F / 15 C most days). In the summer, it will be way too hot for a rain jacket, so then I suggest a travel umbrella.
  • Mosquito repellent if traveling outside of winter: I traveled in winter so I had no problems with mosquitos but if you are there in spring, summer, or fall be warned that the mosquitos in Taiwan are notoriously vicious and can carry un-fun diseases like dengue. When I travel to mosquito-ridden places I tend to travel with both a mosquito repellent spray and mosquito repellent wipes that I carry in my purse for touch ups during the day/night, especially around dusk.
  • Travel insurance: While Taiwan and Taipei are both very safe, that’s no reason to skimp on travel insurance! I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for the past two years and recommend them highly to all travelers, so that you can be covered in case of accident, illness, theft, or flight interruptions. Click here to get a free quote.

So, if you’ve been to Taipei, what are your favorites — am I missing anything?

Planning a trip to Taiwan? Check out my guide to the most tasty, fun things to do in Taipei (and day trips from Taipei you can't miss), to help you plan the perfect Taipei itinerary!

 

Shifen Waterfall: The Most Beautiful Day Trip from Taipei

The gorgeous Shifen waterfall

It’s hard to get sick of Taipei. The city is electric, full of activity and excitement. Whether you’re exploring the urban architecture or snacking at one of the many night markets in Taipei, it’s nearly impossible to get bored.

However, you can get a bit tired of the constant flow of traffic and go-go-go atmosphere of city life anywhere, and Taipei is no exception. Luckily, one of the most amazing things about Taipei is just how accessible this city of nearly 3 million people is to such green, beautiful nature.

Even better, Taiwan’s excellent transit system makes it pretty easy to get just about everywhere you’d like to go.

Like Yangmingshan National Park – a mere 40 minutes from central Taipei!

I was initially a bit nervous to try to traverse Taiwan’s public transportation given that I neither speak nor read Chinese: turns out I shouldn’t have worried at all.

The public transportation here has excellent signage with plenty of English language directions. And in my few moments of confusion, Taiwanese locals have always proven to be extremely friendly and ready to help. (However, one of my top Taiwan tips is to have a SIM card and to use Google Translate’s camera feature to help you translate Chinese characters when needed!).

However, if you do want to take a tour, you can purchase a guided tour of Shifen, Jiufen, and Pingxi here with Get Your Guide. Or, if you’d rather self-guide but have point to point transportation in between, there is this convenient Taipei-Shifen-Jiufen-Taipei shuttle bus that is inexpensive at around ~$20.

Getting from Taipei to Shifen

There’s a reason why Shifen is the most popular day trip from Taipei! It’s quite easy to get to Shifen from Taipei. First, you’ll want to to take the MRT to Taipei Main Station. From there, you can board any northbound train except a Keelung-bound train to Ruifang (the express trains are called Tzechiang). A ticket cost 78 Taiwanese dollars, or about $2.50 USD.

This is the only place I found the signage a bit confusing, as it wasn’t immediately apparent which trains were going to stop at Ruifang. You might want to ask a local to be sure you’re getting on the right train if you don’t read Chinese.

At Ruifang, transfer to the Pingxi line and ride that all the way to the end. Best is to buy a day pass for the separate Pingxi line, which costs 52 Taiwanese ($1.76 USD).

The Pingxi line can be quite crowded and you may have to stand – but try to look out the window as you go because you’ll cross some really beautiful scenery!

Shifen Old Street

Shifen Old Street reminds me a bit of that famous “Train Street” that goes right through a market in the center of Hanoi. As you pull into town, the bell will ding manically, telling the people standing in the train tracks taking selfies and sending lanterns into the sky to get off the rails.

Shifen Old Street - the train goes through the center

This train ritual is a well-oiled machine, though (pun fully intended — I can’t help myself), and plenty of conductors are present to direct the selfie-stick wielding crowds off the tracks in a timely and safe manner.

You’ll cross the tracks and immediately, you’re in the heart of Shifen’s Old Street, where plenty of delicious and tempting Taiwanese street snacks await you. Some personal favorites are Taiwanese fried chicken and xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings — look for steam rising from bamboo baskets!).

delicious dumplings on Shifen Old Street

The quintessential thing to do in Shifen is light a lantern for good luck and send it off into the sky.

It costs 150 Taiwanese dollars (~$5 USD) for one color, or 200 (~$6) for 4 colors; each color is symbolic and represents a wish you’d like to come true.

Ever the narcissists, we chose attraction and popularity (in reality, Janet just wanted a pink one!).

Jury’s still out on if it’s working yet.

Jokes aside, while touristy, I’ll admit it was a fun experience to write our wishes (and our blog names, because again, #narcissist) on the lantern, light it up, and watch it go careening into the sky to disappear somewhere over Taiwan’s green mountains.

Shifen is the site of the mega Lantern Festival held in Taiwan each year in February, so it was nice to be able to be a part of this tradition in a smaller way.

Getting from Shifen Old Street to Shifen Waterfall

The gorgeous Shifen waterfall
Shifen Waterfall’s nickname is “Little Niagara” – you can see why!

Once you’ve snacked to your heart’s content and sent your wishes skyward, it’s time to visit the stunning Shifen Waterfall. We were able to rent an electric bike for an hour for 200 Taiwanese (about $6 USD), which carried two people — barely. At some points, I thought I was going to have to get off and let Janet scoot her way up the hill, as all the xiao long bao I’ve consumed over the past few days certainly wasn’t helping our center of gravity.

To be honest, though, the electric bike ride was so short that I don’t even know if it’s worth it unless you’re really in a rush. I think it would have only been like 30 minutes walking to the parking lot (even though signs insisted it was one hour).

You have to walk about 20 minutes once you’ve reached the parking area anyway, so I’d only rent an e-bike if you want to give one a spin for shits and giggles or are just short on time.

Shifen Waterfall

Shifen Waterfall is probably Taiwan’s most famous and has been nicknamed “Little Niagara” because the horseshoe shape mimics North America’s most famous waterfall. It’s not as tall nor as wide, at 20 meters high and 40 wide — though it is incredibly powerful. It is, however, insanely beautiful.

The walk to the waterfall is a real beauty, passing two suspension bridges, an insanely turquoise river set into luscious green mountains, and countless photo spots. It struck me when I was there that this is a side of Taiwan that too few people know about.

On the way to Shifen Waterfall near Taipei

Most people who haven’t been to Taiwan probably just think of Taipei and Chinese food (if they think about it at all, to be frank).

They don’t think about the verdant green mountains, stunning landscapes, or ease of access to an abundance of different natural wonders within a maximum two hour train ride from the city.

The walk to Shifen Waterfall is easy, and there’s also some cafés here in case you get peckish (though after visiting Shifen Old Street, I’d doubt you are!). The offerings here looked a little less interesting and fresh than on the Old Street, so I’d recommend eating there first.

Make sure you go to the Observation Point Trail past the first major viewpoint of the falls — you can walk nearly all the way to the bottom of Shifen Waterfall where you’ll get the best view and photos (that is why you came, no?).

Tips for Photographing Shifen Waterfall

To get the best photos of Shifen Waterfall, I recommend using a manual camera where you can change the settings. I set mine to f/22 (as high as it could go, to let in less light), 0.5 seconds shutter speed (to keep the shutter open longer), and my ISO to 100 (to decrease light sensitivity).

I balanced my camera on the fence to reduce my hand shaking, as I have perpetually caffeinated twitchy fingers.

If you’re super prepared, which I am never, you’d bring a tripod and maybe some filters to let you take an even longer exposure. But I found with these settings, I was able to get that silky smooth waterfall look I was aiming for.

What Else to Do in the Area

If you’ve finished up in Shifen and are looking to add something else to your day trip from Taipei, I have two suggestions. One is to visit Houtong Cat Village, a village packed with stray cats that’s now become a tourist attraction in its own right. The location is super easy to add on to your Shifen day trip as it’s right on the Pingxi line on the way back to Taipei from Shifen. We didn’t get a chance to visit here, as we ran out of time, but I’m hoping to have a chance to visit on an upcoming day trip from Taipei.

What we did instead was return to Ruifang and then catch a bus to Jiufen in time for sunset. As soon as you step off the bus in this hillside town, you’re treated to epic views of Taiwan’s beautiful, temple-studded coastline.

Climbing up through the Old Town, you’ll get even better views which you can enjoy with a sunset cup of (overpriced) coffee or dessert.

Once the sun is down, thousands of orange paper lanterns light up the streets and it becomes incredibly crowded — even on a normal-seeming Monday night in the middle of winter. Still, even with all the crowds, it’s beautiful and quite easy to combine Shifen and Jiufen into a one-day trip from Taipei. We did this independently with public transportation, but if you are concerned about figuring out the transportation systems in a country with Chinese-language signage (which admittedly can be a bit tough to navigate), I recommend this inexpensive Taipei-Shifen-Jiufen-Taipei return shuttle which is inexpensive at around ~$20 USD and well-reviewed by nearly 3,000 travelers.