If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the bounty of nature, get familiarised with rich cultural sites offering scrumptious delicacies or just enjoy a relaxing soak in world-famous hot springs, Taiwan is the place to be. The beautiful island nation offers the perfect amalgamation of ancient wonders and modern marvels, that too on a budget. From exploring night markets to hiking on the hillsides and frolicking by the beaches during the travel, you can enjoy a host of free things in Taiwan.
This urban metropolis offers a host of activities and picturesque locations to satiate your wanderlust all year round. And especially with the Taiwanese government’s lucrative travel offers to boost tourism, travellers are lining up to grab the best accommodation deals pronto. So, if you’re scouring locations for your next budget-friendly and Instagram-worthy trip, we suggest you book the earliest flight to travel to Taiwan. Sit back and trust us to be your official itinerary planner as we take you through the 10 best things to do in Taiwan for an unforgettable experience. Keep reading!
Taiwan travel: 10 free things to do for a budget-friendly trip
1. Explore Taipei’s night markets for your gastronomical adventures
Nothing comes close to Taiwan’s night markets if you want to explore the local delicacies or walk away with great deals on clothes, shoes, jewellery and more. Taiwan’s gorgeous capital city Taipei is home to some of the best night markets, whether it’s the popular and the largest Shilin Night Market or the distinctive Ningxia Night Market.
Flaunting over 500 food stalls offering the best pork paper, stinky tofu, fried chicken fillets, sticky rice sausage rolls and whatnot, Shilin is a paradise for all gastronomes out there. Get your bargaining skills in place to get great deals on souvenirs, clothes, Chinese tea sets and ceramics. All of which make for great gifts to take back home!
Meanwhile, Ningxia boasts a more old-Taiwan-style aura. It is famous for its traditional gourmet snacks including oyster omelette and fried taro balls. Ningxia is on the more affordable side, making it a must-visit for all budget-conscious hunters. If you want to explore delectable street food away from the chaos of locals and tourists, Ningxia is the place for you.
How to reach Shilin Night Market: Take THSR (or TRA) to Taipei Station. Further, travel from the Taipei MRT to Jiantan Station. Take the Taipei Sightseeing Bus Blue Route to the MRT Jiantan Station stop.
2. Unleash the adventure junkie in you with scenic hiking trails
Go beyond the urban pleasures of the metropolis and hike your way into Taiwan’s natural wilderness. Take a half-day trip to Yangmingshan National Park, with its hiking trails offering everything from lush forests, and hot springs to breathtaking bird and butterfly species. If you love hikes, then it’s likely that you’ll reach Qi Xing Shan, Yangmingshan’s highest peak, which offers panoramic views of the hills and volcanoes as well as the stunning Taipei Basin.
Taroko National Park is another great offering for hiking enthusiasts. The Zhuilu Old Trail is the most impressive trail here, resting more than 700 metres above the canyon floor with extremely limited to negligible fencing or rail alongside the trailing edge. Zhuilu will get your heart pounding with its narrow pathways amid the treacherous mountains. In addition, the pagodas, the Taoist temples with the rushing green river residing alongside make for unmatchable views you don’t want to miss.
The period from March to May and October to December offers you the best weather to indulge in hiking activities, so plan your trip accordingly. Also, while entry is free, certain areas (including the hikes) require access permits you must apply for well in time.
How to reach Yangmingshan National Park: Take THSR (or TRA) to Taipei Station. Then transfer to Royal Bus 1717 to the Yangmingshan National Park Administration stop.
3. Get touristy at the iconic Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
You don’t want to miss one of the most grandiose monuments when you travel to Taiwan. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is dedicated to none other than the former military leader Chiang Kai-shek. It’s a wonderful place to familiarise yourself with the political and military history of the country. The memorial gives an in-depth insight into the day-to-day workings of the leader.
You’ll be delighted to witness the ‘Changing of the Guards’ ceremony in front of the huge bronze statue. It takes place at the beginning of each hour from 9 am to 5 pm. The flag-raising ceremony at dawn and the lowering ceremony at dusk are other tourist-favourite sightings. Located inside the expansive public plaza Liberty Square, the landmark is surrounded by the National Concert Hall and the National Theater.
The best time to visit the memorial is towards the end of January when you’ll also be able to witness the New Taipei City Pingxi International Sky Lantern Festival. Another option is to hop by in late June when the Taipei Dragon Boat Festival takes place.
Timings: Memorial Hall- 9 am to 6 pm, Memorial Park- 5 am to 12 am
How to reach: Take the MRT to Chaing Kai Shek Memorial Hall Metro Station. Use Red Line 2 or Green Line 3.
4. Lay eyes on endemic species at the Taipei Zoo
While children under six and adults over 65 can visit the zoo for free, other visitors can enter Southeast Asia’s largest zoo at a minimal fee of less than USD 2 (RM 8). Animal lovers will be introduced to eight outdoor exhibition areas ranging from the ‘Children’s Zoo’ and ‘Formosan Animal Area’ to the ‘African Animal Area’. As for the seven indoor exhibit areas, you’ll be introduced to the Insectarium, the immensely popular Koala House and the Penguin House.
Two beautiful giant pandas (Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan) were the resident celebrities of the zoo, presented by China in 2008 as a gesture of unity. However, Tuan Tuan passed away in 2022. Asian Elephant ‘Grandpa Lin Wang’ was another star of the zoo, who lived for 86 long years. You’ll find his gigantic stuffed version on display in the museum’s Education Centre. From koalas, Asiatic black bears, grey kangaroos and chimpanzees to monkeys, snakes, tortoises and meerkats, the zoo possesses a large treasure of species. It’s a must-visit spot, especially if you have toddlers alone.
Timings: 9 am to 5 pm (last entry at 4 pm). The animal exhibits are on display from 9 am to 4:30 pm
How to reach: The best way is to take the MRT Wenshan-Neihu Line and get off at Taipei Zoo Station.
5. Take a rejuvenating dip in the outdoor hot springs
Taiwan is a haven for hot spring lovers. The geothermally heated water springing from the Earth’s lap is the best way to unwind after a tiring day, in addition to being extremely photogenic to flaunt on your Instagram feed. The Fanfan Creek Hot Spring in Taiwan’s Yilan is one of the most easily accessible hot springs. Fanfan is in the lap of cliffs and trees and is devoid of strong sulphur odour making it very therapeutic to relax and bathe here.
Another remarkable spot in Northern Taiwan is the Sileng Hot Spring. Hidden in the shade of a valley, you’ll have to go through a challenging trail to witness it. You’ll have to start by hiking down the hillside, into the lap of a chilly river having a hot spring on the bank. Enjoy the rustic jungle views surrounded by beautiful birds as well as mammal species as you relax here. The hot spring is also one of the best camping places in Taiwan.
How to reach: Fanfan Hot Spring- From the Yilan Bus Station, take bus 1744 and sit for an hour-long journey to reach Fanfan Station. The springs are a 20-minute walk from here.
6. Visit Taiwan’s largest alpine lake, Sun Moon Lake
Surrounded by mountains, streams and forests, this beautiful lake presents the best of the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Taiwan. The lake is separated by Lalu Island in the middle, bifurcating it into a part looking like a crescent moon, while the other appears to be a round sun. That’s why it’s called ‘Sun Moon Lake. The lake flaunts a dreamy blanket haze in the wee hours of the morning, while the dusk presents a shimmery golden picture of the sun melting on the water body.
There are plenty of activities here to keep you entertained. Enjoy bike rides on the pedestrian paths around the lake, take cable cars or boat rides or just hop onto a train at Jiji to experience the Taiwan railway during your travel. You can also rent a canoe or rowboat for a wholesome experience.
Not only this, but you can also witness the customs and traditions of the indigenous Thao tribe and Bunun tribe residing here. You must visit the Ita Thao shopping district, where you can devour scrumptious Thao cuisine while enjoying the tribe’s music and dance performances. The Ci’en Pagoda is another attraction here. To fully explore the place, we suggest you spend at least two nights here. You especially won’t regret coming to this beautiful landscape with your partner.
How to reach: From Taipei City, take the HSR train to Taichung HSR Station. It will take about one hour. Then transfer to the Nantou bus at Taichung station to directly reach Sun Moon Lake.
7. Bask in the majestic beauty of mountains at Taroko National Park
The crowned jewel among Taiwan’s natural wonders, Taroko National Park stands at the gorge of Mount Taroko, offering the most pristine sceneries. From the entrance, you can take the Taroko Gorge Trail to visit the Eternal Spring Shrine, which is of utmost cultural and historic significance. The Shrine, which is nestled beautifully into the landscape, commemorates the veterans who died constructing the Central Cross-Island Highway. Those looking to immerse themselves in tranquillity can also visit the Changuang Temple. The beautiful Buddhist shrine is located just around the entrance of Taroko Gorge.
Embark on the Swallow Grotto Trail to enjoy the views of cliffs as well as the turquoise Liwu River. Meanwhile, the Shakadang Trail offers an exploration of the jungle mountainous area. Visitors can enjoy several replenishing activities including rafting as well as mountain hiking or just admiring the beauty of the waterfalls.
Visit the national park in October to witness the annual Taroko Music Festival. It boasts marvellous performances that perfectly encapsulate the traditions of people and communities here.
How to reach: The best way is to take a train from Taipei to Hualien. Opt for the Taroko Express or Puyuma train for the fastest route.
8. Seek divine guidance at the unique Xingtian Temple
Xingtiang isn’t an old-school place of worship that follows archaic practices and beliefs. The site is famous for its progressive policies and relatively modern outlook, which is what attracts thousands of people each day. The main altar sees offerings of only fresh flowers and tea while killing and offering animals is prohibited here. Burning of ritual paper money as a tribute to the deceased, presenting gold ornaments to the deities as well as staging operas for the gods, is all discouraged here.
What’s more, there’s no donation box, a first for a highly religious establishment. The absence of all these things makes the visit a hugely enriching experience.
Xingtian Temple is dedicated to Lord Guan, one of the most celebrated figures in Chinese culture. The deified general, who served during China’s Three Kingdoms period, is also known as the ‘God of War’. Interested in knowing about your future? The pedestrian underpass outside the temple is lined up with fortune tellers and palmists who take monetary advantage of the temple’s popularity.
Timings: 4 am to10 pm
How to reach: Take the Taiwan High-Speed Rail to Taipei Station, and transfer Taipei MRT to Xingtian Temple Station.
9. Get relaxing beach therapy at Fulong Beach
It’s never a bad day to hit the beach, especially if it comes with the most picturesque views. If you’re done exploring the various tourist attractions in Taipei, head to Fulong Beach, located at the mouth of the Shuang River. The best time to bask in the serenity of this 3 km stretch of golden sand is on weekdays. Weekdays are perfect to sunbathe here with pints of beer and snacks without the tourist hullabaloo. You can also go kayaking, canoeing, or windsurfing based on the currents.
The best time to visit Fulong Beach is from May to July, coinciding with the Fulong Sand Sculpture Festival. Taiwan’s annual rock music festival, the Hohaiyan Rock Festival, also takes place at Fulong Beach every year. So, if you want a weekend filled with good music, food and more, check the festival dates and plan accordingly.
How to reach: The best way to reach it is by taking the train from Taipei Main Station to Fulong Station. Available every 15-30 minutes, the trains take about 1.5 hours to get to Fulong.
10. Experience the old way of life at Lukang
The historic town of Lukang brings back memories of Taiwan’s glory days. The town wasn’t only the economic and transport hub of Taiwan in early times, but its cultural offerings were no less. You’ll find over 200 temples nestled in the alleyways, in addition to multiple handicraft stores and traditional food stalls satiating all your touristy needs. Some famous attractions here are Lukang Old Street as well as Tianhou Temple, the most revered Matsu temple in Taiwan.
If historically rich places excite you, visit the Lukang Folk Arts Museum. It houses paintings, carved stones, musical instruments and more artefacts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The museum also boasts an aesthetic combination of Asian as well as Western architecture. Nine Turns Lane is another place to visit. Legend has it that these thin, crooked alleyways of Nine Turns Lane were built as natural windbreaks to block the chilly winds and to confuse pirates who got lost in the turns. Some people also claim that these alleyways kept evil spirits at bay as they couldn’t manoeuvre through the twisted ways.
How to reach: From Taipei, board the train to Changhua and make the transfer to Lukang.
Hope this guide makes your planning easier!
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This story first appeared here.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: To get the best of Taiwan's landscapes and other outdoor activities, plan your visit between September to November.
Answer: 8 to 10 days is a good amount of time to explore the major sights in Taiwan as well as spend a generous amount of time at each destination.
Answer: For a fun and budget-friendly trip, explore Taipei’s night markets, visit scenic hiking trails or explore the temples and memorials of Taiwan.
Answer: Yes, travel to Taiwan is absolutely safe.