With dynamic night markets jam-packed with delectable street food, gorgeous beaches and soaring mountains, Taiwan offers lots in a small package.

Just 395km (245 miles) from top to bottom, travelers will find futuristic cities, historic temples and killer surf breaks – all connected by affordable high-speed rail. As one of the friendliest East Asian countries for LGBTIQ+ travelers, too, it's pretty much got everything. Here are the best places to visit.

1. Sun Moon Lake

Best place to bike

Located in central Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is renowned for hiking, boating, romantic walks and countryside temples. It’s also famous for its bikeways, frequently found on lists of the world’s most stunning biking paths in the world. There are multiple options, but we recommend the Shuishang Bikeway. This 1300ft-long route wraps so closely around the lake that whizzing around its perimeter feels like floating on water. 

2. Beitou, Taipei

Best place for hot springs

Although 130 hot springs spill across this volcanic country island, Taipei locals love Beitou hot springs for their accessibility. Just a 30-minute train ride away from the center of the capital, you can luxuriate in geothermal heat-fueled hot springs. Veiled in the sulfur mist, you'll find hotels outfitted with bathtubs gushing hot water, public baths and a springs-obsessed culture. 

Planning tip: Visit Thermal Valley, aka Hell Valley, for one of the world’s only two green sulfur hot springs. It reopened in July 2022 after a renovation featuring improved accessibility, additional facilities and upgraded seating areas. 

A red iron bridge leads to a small riverside pavilion
Find the perfect hiking trail for your ability in Taroko National Park © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

3. Taroko National Park

Best place to chase waterfalls

Journey to this popular national park for its famed 19km (12 mile) canyon, Taroko Gorge, which features marble cliffs carved through centuries by the Liwu River. Located around 145km (90 miles) southeast of Taipei, the gorge contains hikes of all levels where you can view an abundance of waterfalls towering and small. 

Make sure to hit the Yindai, Baiyang and Lushui waterfalls for the most stunning views. Intermediate hikers should trek the 4km round trip (2.6 miles) Baiyang Waterfall Trail, featuring eight tunnels and the Shuiliandong Water Curtain. For photo ops at Taroko National Park, check the waterfall and pavilion at the Eternal Spring Shrine, a picturesque veteran’s memorial. 

4. Jinzun

Best surf spot

Jinzun is located in Taitung County, which is home to the lengthiest coastline in Taiwan, running approximately 175km (109 miles). This little fishing village is a 40-minute drive from Taitung and hosts the Taiwan Open of Surfing. Surfing conditions are decent year-round, but the best time to go is in the autumn and winter, when typhoons create optimal waves. Professional surfers consider the waves here to be world-class, and since surfing is a newer sport in Taiwan, Jinzun is ideal for surfers trying to beat the crowds. If you don’t want to catch waves, go fishing or sunbathe on the sandy beaches. You can also pop 10 minutes south to Dulan to visit the Amis tribal village and Xindong Sugar Factory.

People watch the sunset over the ocean from the harbor in Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung is Taiwan's second-largest city © htu / Getty Images

5. Kaohsiung 

Best place to temple hop

Taiwan’s second-largest city crackles with energy, and many consider it one of the best places to live on the island for its convenience and safety. Despite Kaohsiung’s zippy streets, you can find pockets of tranquility in its parks, pagodas and temples. Visit Lotus Pond to see more than 20 temples – enter through the Dragon pagoda and exit the Tiger pagoda for good luck. 

Located on the north side of the pond is the Kaohsiung Confucius Temple – the largest Confucius temple in Taiwan, designed in the style of a Song Dynasty-era temple. After temple-hopping, visit the romantic Love River and indulge in street eats at the Rueifong Night Market.

6. Yilan

Best place for quiet

This beautiful haven for nature fans rests on Taiwan’s northeast coast. Here, mountains meet the sea with cold and hot springs, whale and dolphin-watching, scenic hikes and black sand beaches. Highlights include the Hsuehshan Tunnel – the second-longest highway tunnel in Asia, connecting Taipei to Yilan in just 50 minutes – and the Divine Trees Garden at MaKau Ecological Park. The garden is home to over a hundred indigenous, millennia-old Taiwan red cypress trees, hinoki and benihi trees.

Planning tip: Head to the world’s first quiet trail, Cuifeng Lake Circular Trail – accredited by Quiet Parks International (QPI). It’s a 7.4km round trip (4.6 miles) hiking path, ranging from 1890–1980m (6200–6500ft) above sea level, abutting Sun Moon Lake and winding through floors of dense moss – said to absorb sound. 

A rainbow walkway painted on the street spelling out TAIPEI
Ximen is a popular neighborhood for Taipei's LGBTIQ+ community © Richie Chan / Shutterstock

7. Ximen district, Taipei

Best place for LGBTIQ+ travelers 

Taiwan has become one of the most progressive Asian countries for LGBTIQ+ rights. As the host of Asia’s biggest Pride parade, it’s also the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The Ximen district in Taipei is renowned for its gay scene found behind the historic Red House Theatre, built in 1908. At this first openly gay place in the city, there are countless gay bars, saunas, restaurants and open-air plazas for hanging out. 

Planning tip: Ximen district is a well-known shopping area, great for people-watching stylish youth and the high-end fashion of those living in what’s considered the richest city in Taiwan. It’s also likely you'll see cosplayers, impromptu street dances, performances and celebrities and pop stars hosting meet and greets. 

8. Keelung

Best place for fresh seafood

This port city overlooking the Donghai Sea is about 30km (19 miles) north of Taipei. Known for fresh seafood, Keelung Night Market is the perfect place to sample many dishes at once. Munch on butter crabs, thick crab soup, oyster omelets, tempera fish paste, ding bian cuo – a meat and seafood stew with rice batter noodles, deep-fried crab and braised eel, to name a few. 

Continue your eating spree by trying the local street food delicacy, chikuwa, a charcoal-grilled fishcake treat, and leftover remnant of the Japanese occupation at the Zhengbin Fishing Port. Afterward, night owls can hit the Kanziding Fish Market, a large frenetic seafood market open from 10pm to 6am. 

A boat loaded with tourists explores the natural stone features that line an island coastline
Take a boat trip out to get a close look at the basalt columns along Penghu's coastline © weniliou / Shutterstock

9. Penghu

Best place to island hop

Locals love the southwest Penghu archipelago as a holiday destination for its white sand beaches, illustrious basalt columns, and pristine coral reefs. It’s speckled with islands and accessible from Taipei via an hour's flight. You’ll probably land in Magong City, where there’s plenty to explore, like the Penghu Tianhou Temple, Shanshui Beach, and the Du Hang Shih Cun military village. Don’t leave without trying local specialties, such as brown sugar cake, peanut candy, fresh oysters and cactus ice cream.

Planning tip: Sign up for an island-hopping tour with everything from half-day to multi-day itineraries available. History buffs will enjoy Wang-an island for Zhongshe Village, an ancient fishing village. For sunbathers and swimmers, Jibei is a great stop for its stunning beaches. Other famous islands include Wiyu, Baisha and Huxi.

10. Green Island

Best place to be underwater

Snorkelers, freedivers and scuba divers enjoy Green Island’s hundreds of species of brightly colored coral and fish. Located southeast of Taitung, this volcanic island is a diving destination with options for both shore and boat dives. If you prefer being above water, eyeball stunning views from the Lyudao Lighthouse, soak in the Zhaori Hot Spring or relish the island’s natural vistas. 

This article was first published January 2023 and updated October 2023

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