Often overlooked by the general masses flocking to Asia, this stunning island on the fringe of South East Asia is home to some of the most glorious sites anywhere on the continent.
The pristine lakes, exciting mountain ranges and dramatic coastlines of Taiwan should be the highlight of any trip to Asia. From my visit here are my favourite most scenic places to visit in Taiwan…
1. Taipei – a striking modern metropolis with colonial lanes, busy shopping streets and contemporary buildings
The capital of Taiwan, once a central hub of industry and cheap labour, has transformed itself into a modern, stylish and high tech city, symbolised by Taipei 101.
Styled on the traditional pagodas and temples, this 101 storey building opened as the tallest building in the world in 2004, enjoy panoramic views of the city from one of the many restaurants and coffee houses.
The city itself is pleasant to walk around, with market stalls and traditional Buddhist temples spotted around the bright lights of the night markets in the Shilin District.
2. Sun Moon Lake – a stunning lake set in the foothills of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range
This tranquil body of water is the largest in Taiwan and is easily one of the most picturesque places to visit in Taiwan. Framed by stunning mountain tops is home to the native Thao tribes.
The lake itself has been named as the east side of the lake resembles the sun, whilst the west resembles the moon.
Every year the lake plays host to tens of thousands of visitors during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a ritual that has been recorded as being celebrated as far back as 3,000 years.
Romance is ingrained deep into the setting with boat rides especially catering to newlyweds and walks around the mountain ranges by the lake highlighting the picturesque beauty of this fantastically travel destination.
3. Tainan – an ancient city known for its centuries-old fortresses and temples
The oldest city in Taiwan was formerly the capital, but still holds as much prestige and beauty despite a complex history of border arguments and mergers.
The city is now lovingly nicknamed “City of the Pheonix” and has a great range of sights from the traditional Confucian Temple (the countries first) to the nighttime flower market.
4. The Penghu National Scenic Area – clear seawater, pure beaches, beautiful skies and striking cliffs
Penghu is said to be the Orient’s answer to the Canary. Blessed with beautiful beaches, glorious temples and a huge array of traditional Chinese-style homes you shouldn’t leave the country without visiting.
5. Beitou Hot Springs – the best relaxation spot in Taipei
For total indulgence and relaxation, a visit to the scenic Beitou district is essential.
A district located in North Taipei takes advantage of the geographical location of sitting right on top of a fault line between two continental plates, resulting in hot springs located around the country.
There are several hotels with private baths, but for the budget-minded, there are public baths at a reasonable NT$40 (about 80p). Swimwear is required for the public baths, but you will find a more ‘natural’ approach is taken at the private springs in the hotels.
6. Taroko National Park – created by the continual rising of the mountain is one of Taiwan’s most beautiful places to visit
One of the seven national parks around Taiwan but in my opinion, it’s the most impressive, purely based on the quite stunning and literally breathtaking site of Taroko Gorge.
Just driving around you will be exposed to some of the greatest views and most stunning drives if you are a bit of a petrolhead or a keen cyclist.
Sites of impeccable beauty around the Taroko National Park are not easy to come by and unforgettable. The shrine built over the Eternal Spring is as stunning as it is a majestic honour to the countries veterans of World War II.
The gorge itself has been created by the Liwu River cutting through the marble over a period of 200 million years, so to see the effect it has had on the area is somewhat spectacular on its own.
This national park is not only an essential visit to Taiwan but a must-see worldwide.
7. Jiufen – the ancient and scenic town said to have inspired the popular film Spirited Away
This ancient seaside mountain town (once a decommissioned gold mining mountain town, originally built by the Japanese) in Ruifang District, is located east of the capital Taipei.
It’s a very special and scenic place to visit in the Asian country as full of incredible history and ancient buildings. It’s also said to be the town that inspired both the town setting and bathhouse in one of Miyazaki’s greatest films: Spirited Away.
It’s a beautiful and unique place and home to an old town which has a maze of narrow alleyways and teahouses, street-food shacks and souvenir shops galore.
Other highlights include the Shengping Theater, established in the 1900s and since restored and the Gold Mine Museum which details the town’s history as a mining hub during the Japanese-era gold rush.
8. Hsinchu – where traditional kite flying is a beautiful and popular past time
The tradition of kite making is steeped into eastern tradition, none more so than in the northern city of Hsinchu where traditional kite makers still ply their trade.
Purchase a handcrafted kite to fly over the picturesque mountain ranges and within the city parks. Hsinchu’s nickname is the Windy City, in other words, perfect for letting your traditionally made kite fly hypnotically in the currents.
9. The memorials of Taiwan’s founding fathers – two striking and culturally important buildings
The nation’s ‘founding fathers’ are celebrated by two stunning memorials in Taipei. The memorial for Dr. Sun Yatsen can be found on Zhongxiao East Road, whilst General Chiang Kai-Shek is located on Zhonshan Road.
You are free to take pictures and you can enjoy one of the many Tai-Chi displays in the recreation grounds.
10. Alishan National Scenic Area – features gorgeous cloud-ringed peaks and green valleys
This mountain region located in Central Taiwan is home to many of the high-altitude tea plantations dotted around the hillsides and with it some clearings that will leave you absolutely breathless.
The countless hiking trails around the region are sure to lead you through some of these stunning plantations, streaming waterfalls, and through settlements that are home to the indigenous Tsou people, renowned for their hospitality and excitement at the prospect of having tea with a westerner, some of the freshest, sweetest tea you will ever taste, created using their own technique of mixing tea and fruit.
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Michael Cowley – writer and photographer
Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always had an affinity for adventure. Growing up he was lucky enough to live in a handful of exotic far flung locations including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania and since then he’s continued seeking out new places and cultures. In his spare time he explores everywhere from the sizzling street markets in Bangkok to random back alleys in Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for Cohibas, trying all kinds of street food, playing carrom with random strangers, and fine wine – he knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Amsterdam, Indonesia, Goa, Cambodia and Italy as his favourite destinations. Find Michael on Instagram or Twitter.