A Comprehensive Taiwan Travel Guide and Itinerary for First Timers

A Comprehensive Taiwan Travel Guide and Itinerary for First Timers
Reading Time: 13 minutes

 

Taiwan is a compact but extremely rewarding travel destination. This East Asian island country will tempt you with its welcoming people, track record for safety, convenient transportation, unbeatable street food, stunning natural scenery, and outdoors activities. If you’re in the early stages of planning your Taiwan trip, you’ll uncover a wealth of information in this Taiwan Travel Guide, including when to go and for how long, how to plan your trip, the top attractions, the ideal itinerary, plus more tips and FAQs.

This article was written by Nick Kembel, who has been living in and traveling around Taiwan for over a decade. He’s written a book about Taiwan, manages two websites about the country, and moderates the Taiwan Travel Planning Group on Facebook.

 

 

Taiwan Trip Planner and Guide

Pin this Taiwan Trip Planner and Travel Guide to plan for your Trip to Taiwan

 

When is the best time to Visit Taiwan?

If you want the perfect combination of good weather and small crowds in Taiwan, choose March, April, October, or November.

May and June are the rainy season in Taiwan. Summer (July to September) is uncomfortably hot and humid, not to mention that your travel plans may be ruined by a typhoon.

December is the most popular month of the year for tourism in Taiwan, mainly because visitors from nearby Asian countries flock there for Christmas events, New Year’s Eve fireworks, and because they want to experience cooler weather for their winter holidays.

Winter (January to March) is a little cold in Taipei and the north, but the south of Taiwan remains tropical year-round. It’s a good time for hot springs and cherry blossom viewing.

However, avoid visiting during Lunar New Year, when everything closes, flight prices skyrocket, and all trains and hotels will be fully booked. But consider visiting for the Lantern Festival (15th day of the lunar year), one of the most impressive traditional celebrations in the country.

Red Paper Lanterns in Taiwan | Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

 

How many days do you need for Taiwan?

Many visitors only book one week or less for Taiwan. This is not nearly enough. With this amount of time, you’ll probably only be able to visit Taipei plus one or two other places. I’s not enough to do a full loop around the country.

In order to travel in a circle around Taiwan and visit all the main attractions along the way, two weeks is the ideal amount of time. If you can extend it to three weeks, that will be even better. Then you’ll be less rushed and you can even include some more off-the-beaten-track stops.

But two weeks is a decent chunk of time to work with, and I’ll introduce the perfect Taiwan two-week itinerary in this Taiwan Travel Guide.

 

How to plan your trip to Taiwan

Taiwan is not an ideal country for just showing up and figuring it out as you go. It’s a crowded country with millions of locals who also like to travel around on weekends and holidays, not to mention the 10 million+ tourists who show up every year.

It is common for all the hotels to sell out at destinations in Taiwan. This is especially true for Alishan, the country’s most popular mountain resort, and one of the Best Places to visit in Taiwan. The hotels there are limited and sometimes all the rooms sell out weeks in advance. This is especially true for weekends, holidays, and cherry blossom season (mid-March to early-April in Alishan).

This can also happen at Sun Moon Lake and Taroko Gorge, but only at the busiest times of the year (long weekends and Lunar New Year holiday). And for December, the busiest month for international tourism in Taiwan, I’ve even heard of travellers having difficulty finding rooms in major cities like Taipei.

RaoHe Night Market, Taipei | Photo by Clement Souchet on Unsplash

The main lesson here in this Taiwan Travel Guide and Itinerary is: book your Taiwan hotels in advance! Personally, I usually start making my itinerary and looking at hotels about six months before my trip. However, I sometimes don’t actually book them until about 2-3 months before. Unfortunately, some hotels in Taiwan, especially smaller ones, tend to not release their rooms until 2-3 months in advance. This can be a little pesky when you’re hoping to secure a room at a famous location like Alishan.

As for trains, that is a whole different story. Figuring out which trains to take around the country is going to be one of the more complicated parts of your trip. Because there’s so much to say about that, I’ll cover it in the FAQs section below.

But for now, suffice to say that you can buy regular (TRA) train or High Speed Rail (HSR) tickets 28 days in advance (or 29 days in advance for Saturday trips and 29 days for Sunday trips). The tickets for a new day are released at precisely midnight (Taiwan time – you’ll need to figure out what time that is in your country).

These are important details, because some popular train routes and dates in Taiwan can sell out within minutes of being released. For others, you don’t even need to book them – you can buy tickets or swipe an EasyCard (a reloadable smart card for transportation in Taiwan) just before boarding.

There are a few other things you may want to book before arriving in Taiwan. These include a Taiwan SIM card, entrance to popular attractions in Taiwan, and a Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass. All of these can be booked on Klook. You can also buy them when you get there, but then you’ll need to use more cash.

Last but not least, if you plan to visit any famous upscale restaurants like those with Michelin stars, you may need to reserve them several months in advance.

 


PS – Useful Travel Resources to use while heading to Taiwan to tick off these Best Things to do in Taiwan as shared in this Taiwan Travel Guide and Itinerary – 


 

Top Attractions in Taiwan

Taipei

Longshan Temple | Taipei

For most visitors, their journey starts and ends in the capital city, Taipei. Some of the top highlights include the Observatory at Taipei 101 (once the tallest building in the world), Maokong Gondola (a glass-bottomed gondola with views of the city and tea farms), Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (one of the city’s most impressive landmarks, dedicated to a former dictator), and Beitou Hot Springs.

Of course you also can’t miss the city’s famous night markets, where hundreds of food stalls dish out mouth-watering delicacies every night of the year. The city’s five biggest ones are Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market, Ningxia Night Market, Tonghua Night Market, and Nanjichang Night Market, but there are many small ones, too. The city also has a huge range of hotels, from excellent hostels to some of Taiwan’s top luxury hotels.

Unlock Massive Savings on different attractions and activities in Taipei by getting the Klook Pass Taipei (save upto 41%).

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Around Taipei

Jiufen Old Street | Photo by Danielle Hoang on Unsplash

Some of the country’s most famous attractions are within a few hours of Taipei. The most popular attractions among them are Shifen Old Street (where tourists write wishes on paper lanterns then send them up to the sky), Shifen Waterfall, Jiufen Old Street (an old mining town with traditional teahouses), and Yehliu Geopark (with interesting shaped rock formations on the coast. Another popular day trip is Yangmingshan National Park, an active volcano right next to the city.

 

Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge – The Grand Canyon of Taiwan

The “Grand Canyon of Taiwan” is the most famous natural attraction in Taiwan. This deep, dramatic gorge features stunning hikes, impossibly perched shrines, thrilling suspension bridges, and roaring waterfalls. Taroko Gorge is the top sight in Hualien county on wild east coast of Taiwan.

 

Taitung

Cycling in Chishang in Taitung County

Remote Taitung county sits in the quiet, primarily rural southeastern corner of Taiwan. This is the land of epic bicycle paths through rice paddies, taking it easy, and meeting local Taiwanese aboriginal peoples. The county also boasts two incredible islands, Green Island (great for scuba diving and with a unique saltwater hot spring) and Orchid Island (home to the country’s most isolated aboriginal tribe).

Unlock Massive Savings on different attractions and activities in Taitung by getting the Klook Pass Taitung (save upto 45%).

 

Kaohsiung

Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

Kaohsiung is the largest city in Southern Taiwan and country’s largest port. It features some of the country’s more grandiose attractions, including Fo Guang Shan (Taiwan’s largest Buddhist monastery and tallest Buddha statue), Lotus Pond (a manmade lake surrounded by temples, including the ever-popular Dragon and Tiger Pagodas), and the best street art in the country – graffiti is legal here! From Kaohsiung, you can also make side trips to Xiaoliuqiu island for snorkelling with giant sea turtles or Kenting National Park for some of the  best beaches in Taiwan.

Unlock Massive Savings on different attractions and activities in Kaohsiung and Xiaoliuqiu Island by getting the Klook Pass Kaohsiung (save upto 30%) and Klook Pass Xiaoliqiu (save upto 28%) respectively.

 

Tainan

A traditional temple in Tainan

The ancient capital of Taiwan, Tainan is rich in historical architecture. Come here to see some of the oldest and most important temples, forts, and Japanese-era architecture in the country. Locals consider Tainan the culinary capital of Taiwan, too, so there are plenty of good eats to be had.

Unlock Massive Savings on different attractions and activities in Tainan by getting the Klook Pass Tainan (save upto 50%).

 

Alishan

Towering trees in Alishan – Taiwan’s Most Famous Mountain Resort

Alishan is Taiwan’s most famous mountain resort. Sitting at 2200 meters above sea level, the area features towering ancient cypress trees, sunrises over a sea of clouds, and the chance to ride on the cute red train cars of a former logging line, the Alishan Forest Railway. The region is also known for Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea, Taiwan’s most famous tea.

 

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake

Here we have the largest and most enticing lake in Taiwan. This tourist hot spot boasts a wealth of activities, from boat rides across the lake and epic views from Sun Moon Lake Ropeway to fantastic cycling and temples overlooking the lake. In February, visitors flock to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, an aboriginal theme park, when thousands of cherry blossoms bloom. In September, thousands of locals do a mass swim across the lake, the only time of the year that swimming is allowed.

 

Taichung

Lanterns in Taichung

The largest city in Central Taiwan is a haven for foodies with a sweet tooth, with the likes of Miyahara (over-the-top ice creams in a Harry Potter-like setting), Taiwan Sun Cake Museum (honouring a local cake that was invented in the city) and Chun Shui Tang Siwei Original Store (the supposed birthplace of pearl milk tea). Taichung is also a convenient base for venturing to attractions outside of the city like Rainbow Village (a traditional house painted in vibrant colours by a former Chinese soldier), Gaomei Wetlands (for amazing sunsets on the coast), and Zhongshe Flower Market (for seas of various flowers).

Unlock Massive Savings on different attractions and activities in Taichung by getting the Klook Pass Taichung (save upto 60%).

 

Taiwan Travel Itinerary

Days 1 and 2: Spend these days overcoming jetlag and exploring the many sights, activities, and night markets in Taipei.

Day 3: Use this day to make a day trip from Taipei. The most popular option is a day trip to the east, including an eclectic mix of stops like Jiufen Old Street, Shifen Waterfall, Houtong Cat Village, Yehliu Geopark, and finishing at Keelung Night Market before returning to the city.

Day 4: Travel to Hualien, check in to a hotel, and explore Dongdamen Night Market.

Day 5: Full day tour of Taroko Gorge, including stops at Qingshui Cliffs (some dramatic coastal bluffs) and Qixingtan Beach (a pretty pebble beach). 

Day 6: Cycling among the rice paddies in Chishang, the most picturesque town in Taitung county.

Days 7-8: Explore the main sights of Kaohsiung on day 7 then do a day trip to snorkel with sea turtles on Xiaoliuqiu island on day 8.

Day 9: Catch the train + bus to Alishan and do some hiking before sunset.

Day 10: Wake up super early for the famous Alishan sunrise, then do a little more hiking before check-out time. Catch the afternoon bus to Sun Moon Lake.

Day 11: Explore Sun Moon lake by bike, gondola, bus, and/or boat.

Days 12 and 13: Tour the main sights in Taichung city on day 12, then make a day trip to Rainbow Village, Zhongshe Flower Market, Gaomei Wetlands, Lihpao Discovery Land, and/or Lukang (a very traditional old town) on Day 13. Make sure not miss Feng Chia Night Market, one of the largest in Taiwan.

Day 14: Return to Taipei or go directly from Taichung to Taoyuan International Airport for flying out.

 

Some common Taiwan FAQs

Will I need cash in Taiwan? How much?

Typical travellers will spend TWD 1000 to 2000 per person per day in Taiwan. This is not counting hotels.

Taiwan is still very much a cash-loving society. Although you can use EasyCard and credit cards for some things (international credit cards only sometimes seem to work), you’ll still need cash for most things. Even if you book all your hotels on platforms like Booking, most budget and some mid-range hotels will still expect cash payment on arrival.

Luckily, there are ATMs everywhere in Taiwan, so you can withdraw money as you go. They allow you to take out quite a lot at once, so make sure to check your bank’s upper withdrawal limit before you go. If you’re bringing foreign cash, exchange it at the airport. There’s only a small fee per transaction, and it’s much more convenient than going to banks in the city. Banks don’t carry certain currencies, too.

 

What’s EasyCard?

Most people in Taiwan use a very handy reloadable smart card called EasyCard. You can buy one for TWD 100 at any convenience store or MRT station, including the Airport MRT for getting from Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei).

EasyCard – Taiwan

On top of the non-refundable 100 deposit, you can load as much money as you want onto the card. You’ll use this a lot in Taipei for riding the MRT to explore the city. You can also use it to pay for local buses, trains (for example on day trips from Taipei), to pay for items at convenience stores, and some taxis take it.

 

Which kind of transportation should I take and when should I book it? 

If you follow the above itinerary, here are some tips:

  • In Taipei, you’ll mainly ride the MRT. Just load some money onto an EasyCard for swiping into and out from the stations. You can also use EasyCard for the Airport MRT.
  • When you do day trips from Taipei, you’ll mostly be riding local trains. Those don’t have seat numbers, can’t be booked, and you can just swipe EasyCard to board them.
  • For Taipei to Hualien, the express train (2 hrs) is extremely popular and often sells out. Try to book this on the official TRA site 28-30 days in advance. If the express train sells out, you’ll have to ride a slower one (3 to 4 hours).
  • From Hualien to Chishang and Chishang to Kaohsiung, it’s the same as above. Trains on the west coast are more limited, so book early.
  • To travel from Kaohsiung to Alishan, ride train (no booking needed if you choose a local one, only 1 hour) from Kaohsiung Station to Chiayi Station. From Chiayi, take the bus (swipe EasyCard) to Alishan (2 hours).
  • There’s only one bus per day from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake, departing 1 PM and arriving 4 PM, swipe EasyCard.
  • The bus from Sun Moon Lake to Taichung takes 90 minutes. Again you can swipe EasyCard.
  • For Taichung to Taipei (or to Taoyuan for transferring to the Airport MRT), try taking a ride on the super-fast High Speed Rail. These tickets can be booked in advance on the official HSR site for an early bird discount or on the spot (non-reserved ticket) right before boarded. Non-reserved section is cars 10-12, but a seat is not guaranteed.

 

Is Taiwan suitable for vegetarians?

Yes, Taiwan is a vegetarian-friendly country. There are hundreds of vegetarian restaurants in Taipei and around the country. Most traditional Taiwanese vegetarian food is also vegan. Many vegetarian restaurants have the character for vegetarian (素) prominently displayed. You can easily find them by searching on GoogleMaps or using websites like HappyCow.

 

Some Final Taiwan Travel Tips

  • English is limited in Taiwan, so I recommend preparing a translation app like GoogleTranslate or Papago. These can be used to scan signs/menus or even translate conversations as you try to communicate with locals.
  • Taiwanese are very polite and generally love foreigners. Young people tend to be shy, but most people will help if you need it.
  • When it comes to local etiquette, don’t make any noise (even talking should be a whisper) on buses & trains, the dark blue MRT seats are for the needy, stand only on the right side of escalators, and wave at buses if you want them to stop to pick you up.
  • Pay restaurant bills at the front of the restaurant before leaving, and there’s generally no tipping in Taiwan.
  • Taiwan is an extremely tolerant country and the only place in Asia where same-sex marriage is legal.
  • Dress as you wish, but don’t go barefoot or wear beach attire unless you’re at the beach.
  • Unlike Japan, tattoos are fine for hot springs but you may need to wear a swimming hat.

 

And if you are wondering, Where to stay in Taiwan? All you have to do is, fill in your dates, the destination and click on the search button in the box below, and save upto 50% on the Best Hotels and Resorts in Taiwan.

 

 

Don’t forget to Pin this Taiwan Travel Guide featuring the Best Things to do in Taiwan along with a 14 Day Taiwan Travel Itinerary, which will help you plan for your Trip to Taiwan.

14 Day Taiwan Travel Itinerary | Taiwan Travel Guide | Things to do in Taiwan

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