Taiwan’s Most Underrated Cities
When most people imagine the best cities in Taiwan, they think about the most popular ones. Namely, the country’s capital—Taipei—and its large southern metropolis Kaohsiung.
In fact, there are many amazing places to visit in Taiwan between these two cities—and indeed, on the island’s other coast. While none are as cosmopolitan or dynamic as Taipei or Kaohsiung, it’s difficult to deny their authentic character and flavor.
After spending 3 days in Taipei, to be sure, you might be in the mood for a more home-grown destination. Here are five underrated Taiwanese cities you should consider visiting.
The Cities Most Taiwan Travelers Visit
To begin with a disclaimer, I don’t mean to insinuate that Taipei and Kaohsiung are not among the best cities in Taiwan—both undoubtedly are. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t judge Taiwan’s cities solely on their size, or on the number of international residents that call them home. Or, as the case may be, because you can ride a high-speed train from one to the other.
There are plenty of reasons, to be sure, that Kaohsiung and Taipei belong on your Taiwan itinerary. From Taipei’s towering landmarks, to Kaohsiung’s eclectic pagodas, temples and monasteries, Taiwan’s two most popular cities are popular for a reason. The thing is, many of the country’s less popular cities are home to just as many reasons for visiting.
Taiwan’s Other Cities are listed as below
Is Tainan worth visiting? The answer is absolutely “yes,” regardless of why you come here. Some visit due to history—Tainan was Taiwan’s capital before Taipei—and historical buildings, such as the 17th-century Chihkan Tower or the Dutch-colonial Fort Zeelandia. Others come for Tainan’s famously sweet food, be it signature dishes or a stroll through the sprawling Garden Night Market.
A sprawling metropolis located at the center of the country’s urbanized west coast, Taichung (pronounced Tai-Zhong) doesn’t often make lists of the best cities in Taiwan. This is unfortunate. Within the city center, amazing discoveries abound—take selfies in the Instagram-famous Rainbow Village, or sip Taiwan’s national drink (bubble milk tea) at its birthplace Chun Shui Tang. Taichung also sits within day-trip distance of iconic Sun Moon Lake.
Most travelers stop in Hualien as a base for sleeping before a Taroko Gorge hike—and that’s totally valid. Of course, Hualien hosts some urban delights, too, namely the eggy goodness of cong you bing scallion pancakes at Lao Pai. Hualien also makes a great launching pad for a Taiwan road trip (more on that in a second), whether you head north to the Qingshui Cliffs, or south through the rice fields of Yuli onto the East Coast Scenic Road.
Taitung (Tai-dong) is at the southern end of the East Coast Scenic Road, though convenience isn’t the only reason I consider it one of the best cities in Taiwan. Stay within the city and enjoy the panorama from Liyushan mountain, or take day trips to stunning Taimali Beach and into the East Rift Valley, where enchanting Lisong Hot Spring awaits. Or, continue on to Kenting National Park, which I’ll mention again in a couple paragraphs.
If you want to travel from Taipei to Alishan, you’ll almost certainly need to stop in the city of Chiayi. An underrated city even among Taiwanese (most only know it for its huo ji rou fan or turkey rice), Chiayi has a rough-and-tumble feel that evokes Southeast Asia as much as it does Taiwan. Other worthwhile attractions in Chiayi include the Old Prison and the Japanese-colonial Hinoki Village.
Other Underrated Taiwan Destinations
From outlying Taiwan islands to natural areas that are far outside any of Taiwan’s cities, here are some other places in Taiwan you should consider visiting:
- Kinmen and Mazu Islands (accessible by plane from Taipei)
- Kenting National Park (drive or take a train from Kaohsiung or Taitung)
- Penghu Island (accessible by plane or boat from Kaohsiung)
- Shitoushan National Park (drive from Taipei or take a bus from Hsinchu)
- Green and Orchid Islands (accessible by plane or boat from Taitung)
Ideally, you’ll combine these wilder places with the best cities in Taiwan to create a balanced trip. Let me explain how to do that!
How to Assemble Your Taiwan Trip
Creating a Taiwan itinerary is easy once you understand the logic of the island. It’s essential binary: The urbanized west coast and the natural east coast. Some travelers will devote a week in Taiwan to taking a west coast train trip, stopping in Taichung, Tainan and/or Chiayi on the way down from Taipei down to Kaohsiung. Others will rent a car in Taipei, then drive to Kenting, stopping in Hualien and Taitung on their east coast road trip.
If you have two weeks, meanwhile, you can combine these: Drive from Taipei to Kenting via Hualien and Taitung, then drop your car off in Kaohsiung and travel back north by train. It’s just as easy to plan your trip to Taiwan if you want to take excursions to the islands I mentioned in the previous section, though you’ll likely need an extra week or two.
The Bottom Line
The best cities in Taiwan aren’t necessarily the biggest ones. This is not to say that Taipei and Kaohsiung aren’t lovely and worth visiting —they certainly are. On the other hand, you’re doing yourself a huge favor if you venture off Taiwan’s beaten path, whether to the ancient capital of Tainan, or to rough-and-tumble Taitung on the scenic east coast. While exploring secondary and tertiary Taiwanese cities can be daunting at first, especially if you don’t speak Chinese, I have a feeling you will quickly realize how worthwhile the excursion is.
Upon moving to Taipei in 2019, Robert Schrader realized that English-language content about Taiwan was…deficient, shall we say. His solution came in the form of Taiwan Starts Here, which he envisions as a one-stop shop for Taiwan travel information—and inspiration. He hopes you’ll feel the same!