1-2 WEEK ITINERARY GUIDE TO TAIWAN

CKS Memorial Hall gate Taipei
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The nation of Taiwan is made of a main island, Formosa, and some smaller ones around it. It’s located in the East China Sea in Asia, not far off mainland China and north of the Philippines.

Taiwan is a relatively small country, with a size 1.5 times bigger than Sicily. However, Taiwan’s population counts over 24 million people, resulting in one of the highest density countries in the world!

But don’t be fooled by the numbers. Despite the cities being very crowded, a trip to Taiwan will award you with breathtaking natural landscapes. Here you’ll find the tallest peaks in Northeast Asia at 4,000mt, lush forests and rice fields, lakes and tropical islands. Plus a history rich in culture, a wide variety of street food, and the great hospitality of the Taiwanese people.


GUIDE TO TAIWAN: INTRODUCTION

In this guide to Taiwan you’ll find general information to plan your travel itinerary and the links to our articles about the top destinations and places to visit in Taiwan.

Travellers from Europe as well as from the US are allowed to enter Taiwan with no visa. You can stay up to 90 days for tourist purposes.

Other than that, there are currently no restrictions nor vaccines requirements in order to visit Taiwan (post updated in March 2024). You just need to fill the arrival card at the airport.

As a matter of fact, during our visit in 2023, we saw that Taiwan international airports in Taipei and Kaohsiung have an E-Gate system already in place, which makes customs checks faster. As of today citizens of Italy, Germany, Australia and South Korea can take advantage of this mutual agreement with the government of Taiwan and skip the line at the airport.

About face masks, much like in the rest of Asia, you’ll see how they are very common here. The majority of locals wear them, especially on metro trains, buses, and in crowded places. There’s no active law about it now, however we do admit we got some critical gazes for hopping on the metro without face mask, but we didn’t have any trouble.

best neighbourhood Taipei Ximen
Guide to Taiwan – Taipei


MANDARIN CHINESE AND IDEOGRAMS

The main reason of this guide to Taiwan is to help those like us who’d like to plan an independent trip to Formosa. The country is safe, welcoming, and caters for all kinds of travellers: from couples to families, from solo girls to groups of younger and less younger people.

On of the obstacles for foreigners who don’t know Chinese is of course facing writings in Mandarin alphabet. That’s why you need to plan carefully to juggle between the ideograms!

Besides, hotels and trains are often crowded and need to be booked in advance to beat sell-outs. Don’t worry, if you start early and follow our posts, we promise it’ll be easier to get around once landed in Taiwan!

Signage in English is not rare on the island, above all you’ll find readable signs in every station in and around Taipei, including in shopping malls and at tourist attractions.
It may happen to sit at a restaurant and find menus in Chinese only, with no images. Thanks to the Google Lens app we often managed to translate menus, and few days later we already knew how to order our favourite dishes like Xiao Long Bao or Gua Bao.

Despite being quite open towards foreigners, not many Taiwanese have a deep knowledge of the English language, but rest assured that they’ll go the extra mile to try and help you, using gestures or mobile phones.

If you’d prefer creating your custom tour of Taiwan, take a look at Life of Taiwan, a reliable local agency. If instead you only have few days available and want to see the best of Taiwan, check this 5-day tour of Taiwan.

Beitou terme Taipei
Beitou Public Library


HOW TO GET AROUND IN TAIWAN

Infrastructure in Taiwan is pretty good, moving by train or bus is often better than by car.
This is true for the airport transfer, for trips to Hualien (Taroko Gorge) and to Chiayi (Alishan Forest), and to reach Kaohsiung in the south of the country.

In particular the super fast HSR-High Speed Rail of Japanese construction can take you north to south across the entire island in less than 2.5 hours, travelling at 300 km/h.

We recommend using public transport when moving between cities, and then choose whether visiting on your own or joining guided excursions.

High Speed Rail HSR Taiwan treno alta velocità
The high speed train HSR in Taiwan


USEFUL LINKS

Websites such as GetYourGuide and Klook are the most used to book excursions in Taiwan, offering tours and any kind of services: from the Sim card at the airport, to tickets for Taipei 101 skyscrapers, from access to museums to the voucher for a dinner at Taiwan’s famous Michelin starred restaurant, Din Tai Fung.

You can browse for deals and promos, in particular combo tickets can save you money on multiple attractions or allow to skip the line when buying tickets.

Major airline companies flying to Taiwan are China Airlines, Eva Airlines, AirAsia, Thai Airways. We were in Thailand prior to travelling to Taiwan, and found good prices (90€ one way) for a Bangkok-Taipei flight with AirAsia. Browse local flight options to Taiwan here.

Don’t forget travel insurance, a must for any trip. We suggest Europe-based Heymondo (up to 20% off for our readers), and international WorldNomads.

By the way, rentals in Taiwan (mostly for cars) are known to be quite strict about International Driving Permit (IDP) requirements. In case of accidents, travel insurance companies won’t cover you unless you have an IDP. At this link you can find an agency that helps getting an International Driving Permit online, and receive a digital and physical card wherever you are.


TAIWAN’S HISTORY

In the past, the island was inhabited by the austronesian people, who lived in many areas of the Pacific Ocean moving around with long wooden canoes. They were nomads and seafarers, more similar to today’s peoples in Oceania rather than in Asia. Nowadays, their descendants still live in rural areas of Formosa, forming the 16 aboriginal tribes officially recognised in Taiwan.

Later on, Taiwan was briefly settled by the Dutch and the Spanish, whilst the Portuguese named it “Formosa” for its green sinuous hills, a name that is still used today.

Over the centuries, millions of Chinese migrated to the island. Taiwan used to be little considered by the empire, and fell under Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945. The Japanese were cruel during war times, but in the same time they built the railways, the hospitals, and influenced the culture with their culinary taste and leisure habits like soaking in the hot springs. These are all traits that are much visible in modern Taiwan.

At the end of WWII, the Chinese Civil War started. The KMT National Party of the Republic of China lost against the powerful Communist Party in 1949. Representatives of the Republic fled to Taiwan, together with millions of soldiers and refugees from all over China.

They brought their language to Formosa (Mandarin Chinese), their food and culture, which began to mix with what was left from the Japanese era. The Republicans believed they would retake China some day, but that never happened.

Taiwan aboriginal Truku people
A photo of the Truku aboriginals displayed at Taroko Gorge


THE TAIWAN DEBATE

That’s why Taiwan is still officially called Republic of China, in a confusing way, since big mainland China is now called People’s Republic of China.

As of today the relationship between Taiwan and China is complex and creates tension. China says that Taiwan belongs to them and is a legitimate Chinese province. They impose their veto and forbid Taiwan to join the UN. Even the denomination “Taiwan” is forbidden in international events such as the Olympic Games (where Taiwan is called Chinese Taipei).

It’s only been a few years since passports finally read the name “Taiwan” on the cover, a huge step for its citizens.

The other world powers, lead by the U.S.A., can’t openly take Taiwan’s side to avoid a conflict, even though a battle on the economic, social and psychological point of views has already been reality for years. In order to avoid trouble with China, very few nations recognize Taiwan officially, even though it acts fully as an independent country.

Having said that, the majority of Taiwanese consider Taiwan to be independent. For us, and for anyone who visits both places, the difference between them is clear. As soon as we landed at the airport, we felt a very different welcome when arriving in Taiwan compared to when we went to China.

Present day’s Taiwan is a modern democracy, with a free press and no censorship. It’s known for its welcoming people, its safety, its efficiency, and the incredible choice of good food. Taiwan is often included in the lists of top countries to live in for expats. It also was the first ever country in Asia to legalize wedding rights for people of the same sex.


TAIWANESE STREET FOOD

You’ll soon notice how Taiwanese are true food lovers, you’ll find street food stalls and night markets literally everywhere you go. There’s a wide choice for all tastes, from meat to sushi, from fried foods to vegetarian and vegan options, from soy milk tea to Bubble Tea.

The best place to try Taiwanese street food is in the night markets. Every city has multiple markets, Taipei has over fifty!

Asian tourists are big fans of Taiwanese kitchen too, they organize proper food trips. Koreans, Japanese and Filipinos love coming here for the food quality and the geographic proximity.

Taiwan street food cosa mangiare
Taiwanese fried chicken or Popcorn Chicken


GUIDE TO TAIWAN SEASONS: WHEN TO VISIT

The next step is deciding when to go to Taiwan. Being crossed by the Tropic of Cancer, Taiwan is effectively a tropical and sub-tropical destination.

Therefore the climate is hot and humid for the best part of the year, including some seasonal rains and typhoons.

There isn’t a real high or low season when deciding when to travel to Taiwan, although winter time is normally more rainy and less appealing. Summers are busy with visitors coming from overseas, whereas weekends and holidays get crowded with local tourism.

We travelled in May and were expecting a bit of rain, but we got lucky and had to use the umbrella only a couple of times over two weeks. Even though at one point a typhoon was getting closer to the east coast during our stay!
Don’t worry though, in case a typhoon is headed towards land, the government issues alarms with days’ notice. In extreme cases, offices and schools get closed, in order for residents to take shelter indoors and away from the coast.

Generally speaking, taking an umbrella or a k-way is a good idea when travelling through the greenery of Taiwan.


NATURE AND HOT SPRINGS

We loved our time in the highlands at Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, where the temperature was up to 10-12 degrees cooler, ideal for excursions. On the other hand, in some afternoons in Taipei the heat was intense and well over 30°C.

Due to mountains over 3,000mt, it’s also possible to see snow in Taiwan in winter! Cold months see more rain and grey skies. The cool days are perfect to enjoy the hot springs or to see the cherry blossom in March and April.

About hot springs, introduced by the Japanese, they are so good that we went in May too, taking advantage of a cool rainy day. Beitou was great in this sense, the most popular hot spring area in Taipei.

N.B.: be mindful when planning a trip during Chinese New Year holidays, the first weeks in February, as many businesses shut down and it can be a hard time for a traveller!

Rikaya hotel spa Beitou Taipei
Our room with private hot spring bath at Kagaya Resort


TRANSPORTATION AND CARDS

In order to use all means of public transport in Taipei and Taiwan you need an Easy Card, a versatile rechargeable card. The Easy Card can be used on the MRT, on national trains, on every local bus in Taipei, to pay for ferries and taxis, and even goes beyond transportation needs.

It’s a proper prepaid card accepted widely in Taiwan, in other cities as Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, and it can be even used in popular convenience stores (above all legendary 7-Eleven) to pay for food, drinks, souvenirs, or any mini market items.

Tickets paid for with an Easy Card are slightly cheaper too. You can get your Easy Card at any MRT station, at Taoyuan airport, and load cash on it. Or you can order an Easy Card online to skip queues and get it as soon as you land in Taiwan.


APPS AND TRAVEL PASSES

There are a few travel passes created for tourists you might want to consider.

These passes have a length from 1 to 4 days and include all transports in Taipei, entry fees to a long list of attractions, some shuttle buses in tourist destinations and more. The most popular is Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass, info here.

Using this link you can get 100$NT off your first booking on Klook.

If you want to browse the internet and use the most useful Apps when travelling in Taiwan, you’ll need a local Sim Card, which is available at the airport or can be pre-booked online.

Among the Apps we used we recommend Google Maps and Google Lens. Google has no restrictions here, unlike in China, and was vital for us to get around, check train and bus timetables, read reviews for restaurants and attractions. Google Lens with its real time translation of menus and Chinese writings was a life saver!

The Taiwan Railways website has a great app (AppStore/Google Play) too, and we found this Taiwan Weather app (AppStore/Google Play) very useful to plan our movements.


HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY IN TAIPEI?

For those who have 3-4 days available in Taiwan, using Taipei as a base and taking day trips is a good idea.

Taipei is a modern and crowded city, but still less chaotic than we expected (population 2.5 million), compared to other gigantic Asian metropolis we visited in the past like Bangkok, Beijing, and Seoul.

It is worth staying at least three days to visit its monuments, night markets, and most famous attractions.

Indeed we decided to stay a full week in Taipei and use it as a base for our excursions: we went on day-trips from Taipei to Taroko Gorge, and to Jiufen and Shifen, two of the top destinations in Taiwan.

We relied on excellent Taiwanese trains in order to get back to our hotel each night rather than having to change cities and accomodation all the time.

Furthermore, Taipei is always full of things to do and see. By day, you can explore cool neighbourhoods, iconic Taipei 101, do some hiking in the hillside, whilst after sunset it’s time to eat all you can at the night markets and best restaurants in town, while admiring the city lights.

When getting around on your own, Taipei feels very safe and easy to explore by MRT, one of the best metros in the world.
For all these reasons we suggest to save plenty of time for day-trips when deciding how long to stay in Taipei.

Here you can find our detailed article: What to see in Taipei in 3 days.

Elephant peak hike Taipei
Taipei at twilight


DAY TRIPS IN NORTHERN TAIWAN

Among the most famous places in the north of Taiwan, to be visited on a day-trip from Taipei, are:

  • Jiufen: an old gold mining town perched on top of a mountain, known for its narrow streets, night lights, and tea rooms.
  • Shifen Waterfall: the widest in Taiwan, the hike starts from tiny Shifen train station, the place where lanterns are released in the sky.
  • Houtong: a.k.a. “Cat Village”, literally a village full of cats and themed attractions!
  • Keelung: a harbour city with fortresses, beaches, and a huge night market.
  • Yehliu Geopark: a seaside park known for its peculiar rock formations.
  • Tamsui: neighbourhood in the north of Taipei, great for seaside walks, with nice beaches and colonial buildings.

Here we talk about How to visit Shifen and Jiufen from Taipei.

Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen, Taiwan


CENTRE AND SOUTH OF TAIWAN

You need to plan carefully in order to create a full itinerary guide of Taiwan because, despite the island size, the east and west coasts are separated by 3,000-mt-high mountain ranges in the middle. The highest peak of Taiwan is Yu Shan (or Mt. Jade), at 3,952m above sea level.

This rugged geography prevents direct travel, there are only a few windin mountain roads crossing the centre of Taiwan. As a matter of fact you’re better off circling around the perimetre rather than cutting inland.

For example, places like Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake and Alishan, which are not too far from each other in a straight line, aren’t directly connected due to the mountains, and you’ll need three to five days to visit them all.

Taiwan’s major cities lie on the vast western plain. If you want to visit Alishan Forest with its red mountain train (climbing up at 2,200mt), you’ll need to go through Chiayi city. Whereas Taichung is the junction for the largest and most loved lake in Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake.

On the east coast, wilder and covered in green rice fields, the main towns are Hualien (for Taroko Gorge) and Taitung.

Lastly, Kaohsiung is the most interesting place in the south. There you’ll be able to see artistic exhibits and cultural festivals, walk around cool Lotus Pond, and reach the islands of Cijin and Xiao Liu Qiu.

Here’s our dedicated post: A trip to Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Ciyun Temple Scenery sunset
Up in the mountains at Alishan (2,200m)


TAIWAN LOOP

For those of you who wish to do a full loop of Taiwan along its coastline, this is doable but would take minimum 15-20 days to see it all without rushing, travelling by car or by train.

The main stops along the way, clockwise from Taipei are:

At first we wanted to rent a car and drive the full lap during our 15-day stay. However, after analysing it in depth, we dropped the loop idea and decided to use Taipei as a base for the north and the east, and Kaohsiung for the south.

Thus we didn’t opt for a car (for which it’s mandatory to have a valid international driving permit – IDP) and opted to rely on trains and buses, plus renting scooters daily in the tourist spots: this was the best decision we could take!

We reached Hualien by train and visited Taroko Gorge by motorcycle, getting back to our hotel in Taipei in the evening. Also, we explored beautiful Sun Moon Lake riding around by scooter after getting there by bus, and stayed for two nights.

Our second longest visit during our trip was a 4-day-stay in buzzing Kaohsiung metropolis (2.7 million), where we took a ferry+scooter day trip to Xiao Liu Qiu tropical islet.

Having even more time available, ideally three weeks or a month, you could add in more stops. Like reaching Kenting and its beaches on the southern tip of Formosa, visiting Lukang area, spending some time in tranquil Taitung, or getting to other islands.
This is why we consider that 2-3 weeks are necessary to visit Taiwan thoroughly.


GUIDE TO TAIWAN’S NATURAL DESTINATIONS

As for places to see in nature, here’s a list of the main spots in Taiwan:

  • Taroko Gorge: a spectacular canyon crossed by rivers and streams in Hualien County. Explore it on a nice paved road by car, motorcycle or bicycle.
  • Taitung County: one of the most rural areas in Taiwan, known for its rice fields and quiet scenery to enjoy on foot or by bicycle.
  • Kenting: here you’ll find some of the best beaches in Taiwan. Keep in mind that Taiwan doesn’t boast an amazing seaside like Thailand or the Philippines.
  • Alishan Forest: a scenic mountain area loved for its cypress forests, the red train, high mountain oolong tea, and its lovely sunsets and sunrises.
  • Hehuanshan: for trekking lovers, this is the best place to see the snow in Taiwan, usually between January and March, and reach elevated viewpoints.
  • Yu Shan: a.k.a. Jade Mountain, the highest peak in Taiwan and in all Northeast Asia at almost 4,000mt of altitude. Permits and planning required.
  • Sun Moon Lake: the pretty lake surrounded by temples and mountains in the centre of Formosa, an iconic destination and pride of the nation.

You’ll find hot springs and spas scattered in abundance around Taiwan, both outdoors and indoors in the spa resorts. We tried them in Beitou in the north of Taipei, a pleasant experience in Japanese style!

Buluowan suspension bridge
One of many suspension bridges in Taroko Gorge


TAIWANESE ISLANDS

Due to its sub-tropical position, some islets around Taiwan are little tropical havens. World renown Japanese Okinawa archipelago isn’t that far from Taiwan after all, but sadly it doesn’t make this list. Let’s see some Taiwanese islands close to the mainland, reachable on a day trip too:

  • Green Island: off the east coast in front of Taitung, it offers great snorkeling and diving opportunities.
  • Orchid Island: harder to get to, here lives the most remote Taiwanese aboriginal tribe.
  • Xiao Liu Qiu: come here for some relaxing time by the beach and snorkeling with sea turtles. Easy to get to, we came here on a day-trip from Kaohsiung.
  • Cijin: very close to town, Cijin is a long and narrow island with black sands by Kaohsiung harbour.
  • Penghu: this archipelago has plenty of beaches and is ideal for boat trips and island hopping.
Xiao Liu Qiu island Taiwan
Beautiful Xiao Liu Qiu


LANDING AT THE AIRPORT

When landing at Taoyuan international ariport, you have a handful of options for transfers:

  • The bus (NT$135, 1 hour) is ideal for single travellers or couples.
  • Airport MRT train (NT$165, 35-50 min), as above, very clean and spacious.
  • Taxis (NT$1000-1500, 45 min to 1 hour) are more expensive, but work for larger groups of families.
  • Private car: as taxis, it could be cheaper depending on your destionation, check prices here.

As mentioned the Easy Card will be your passepartout in Taipei and in all of Taiwan. You’ll use it everyday on the excellent metro MRT in Taipei, which is reliable, clean and safe. Eating and even sipping a Milk Tea is forbidden on metro trains, we were told by a guard as we didn’t know, luckily we didn’t get fined!

Remember to load some cash every few days on your Easy Card to avoid queuing in the morning. Getting an Easy Card requires a deposit of NT$100 (3€), then you can charge it at train stations and 7-Eleven shops. It’s accepted on every city mean of transport, but not on long distance trains.

Taxis are a good option as well in Taipei. Uber works too, but it’s often more expensive. Some taxi drivers may not speak English at all, be prepared with an address in Mandarin. The taxi drivers we met in Taiwan were honest, used the taximeter, and didn’t try to rip us off.

The national currency is the New Taiwanese Dollar, $NTD or $TWD. 1€ gives you 34$NT in 2024. Credit cards are accepted widely in hotels, restaurants, stations, although you’ll need cash in the night markets for snacks, drinks, souvenirs, etc. We used our Revolut card to withdraw TWD at real time exchange from Atm’s with no hidden fees.


TRAINS IN TAIWAN

Starting from the capital, every city in Taiwan is linked to the national railway which runs along the island’s perimetre. Considering distance and travel times from Taipei, whether you’ll travel by High Speed Train (HSR) or regular train (TRA), you’ll be able to reach any destination from Taipei in 2-6 hours by train.

The HSR is indeed fast, and will help you cross the island in a couple of hours. Tickets for the HSR aren’t cheap but not expensive either, taking in consideration the quality and punctuality of the service.

Besides, you can take advantage of promotions and discounts when booking in advance. Find at this link the “Buy 1 Get 1 Free Ticket” promo and browse for more deals up to 30% off the regular fare.

For all details, here’s our guide to Taiwan’s trains and how to buy train tickets in Taiwan.

Taroko Gorge train from Taipei treno
A 6am train from Taipei to Hualien (Taroko Express)


GUIDE TO TAIWAN – RELATED POSTS

Here ends our guide to Taiwan. You can find more info in the related articles here, or ask any question in the comment section below.

Safe travels to Formosa!

ALSO READ:
How to get to Sun Moon Lake
Taroko Gorge by train from Taipei
Sunrise and trails at Alishan Forest


ONLINE IDP – INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT

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More info on the official website.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

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