Kaohsiung (高雄 or Gaoxiong) is the largest city in Southern Taiwan and home to the country’s largest port.
Beyond its port vibes and proximity to the sea, Kaohsiung has some big name attractions like Lotus Pond and Fo Guang Shan Monastery. It also has the best street art scene in Taiwan. Last but not least, Kaohsiung is a jumping off point for great outlying Taiwanese islands like Cijin and Xiaoliuqiu.
Kaohsiung is quite different than Taipei, so don’t skip it just because you think you’ve already had enough city time on your trip!
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know for visiting Kaohsiung, from itinerary planning and top attractions to getting there, what to eat, where to stay, and more.
The area of Kaohsiung was originally home to the Siraya Taiwanese aboriginals, who called it Takow. The name stuck for centuries. In 1920, the Japanese occupiers chose the characters 高雄, after the Takao region in Kyoto.
These characters are still used today, but pronounced “Gaoxiong” in Mandarin. The “Kaohsiung” spelling comes from the Wade-Giles romanization system favored in Taiwan in the past.
In the Qing Dynasty, Kaohsiung was centered at Fongshan, near today’s Lotus Pond and Zuoying HSR station, where you can still see some ruins and old city walls today. Kaohsiung Port was first opened in the 1680s, but the Japanese largened it during their colonial occupation.
After the Japanese left and KMT arrived, Kaohsiung city and Kaohsiung county were created. Just like Taoyuan, Taichung, and Tainan, Kaohsiung city and county were merged in 2010, so “Kaohsiung city” is now a sprawling area reaching up into the Central Mountain Range. It is home to 2.7 million people, the 3rd largest in Taiwan after New Taipei City and Taichung.
Taiwan’s High Speed Rail (HSR) line first reached Zuoying Station in 2006. The KMRT opened in 2008, followed by the Circular Light Rail (LRT) in 2015. Once complete (it’s almost there!), it will form a loop around the city center.
Street art has long been not just legal but encouraged in Kaohsiung. You can see amazing murals everywhere, but some of the best spots are at Pier 2 Art Center (which also features several museums, restored port warehouses, shops, and art installations) as well as Weiwuying, a whole neighborhood covered in murals.
Kaohsiung’s waterfront has been revitalized in recent years, especially with the addition on the Light Rail and Kaohsiung Music Center. These are some of the reasons Lonely Planet chose it as one of the top cities in the world to visit in 2018.
Getting to Kaohsiung
A growing list of international flights arrive at Kaohsiung International Airport, to the south of the Kaoshiung city center. The airport is connected to the city by the red KMRT line. See my guide to finding the cheapest flights to Kaohsiung and other cities in Taiwan, and find the best flight deals here.
The High Speed Rail (HSR) takes approximately 2 hours from Taipei to Zuoying Station, which is to the north of the Kaohsiung city center. The KMRT red line also connects it to the city center. Buy discounted HSR tickets here on Klook and read my step-by-step guide to booking them.
If you come by regular (TRA) train, it can takes anywhere from 3 hours 45 minutes to 5 hours from Taipei, depending on the train, but will cost half the price of the HSR. You can arrive at Kaohsiung Station, which is conveniently located in the city center. Read my article introducing how to buy train tickets in Taiwan for more information.
Ferries depart from Gushan Ferry Pier in Kaohsiung to Cijin Island. For getting to Xiaoliuqiu Island in Pingtung county, take bus 9127D from Zuoying Station to Tungliu Line Wharf (琉線碼頭站), where you can catch the ferry. You can also find shared taxis on the south side of Kaohsiung Station, or just taxi there by yourself (TWD 1200).
In Kaohsiung, there are two KMRT lines. The Red Line goes north to south, while the Orange Line goes east to west. They intersect at Formosa Boulevard Station, one stop south of Kaohsiung Station (where the TRA trains stops). Formosa Boulevard Station is also where you’ll find the famous Dome of Light art installation, and Liuhe Night Market is nearby.
Where to Stay in Kaohsiung
The most convenient place to stay in Kaohsiung is around Kaohsiung Station. I recommend Kindness Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda), which is right next to the station. Ahiruyah Guesthouse (see on Booking / Agoda) is the best-rated hostel around the staiton.
My personal favorite place to stay in Kaohsiung is Yancheng District, around Yanchengpu KMRT station. This gives you close access to Pier 2 Art Center, which is especially cool at night. It’s also close to attractions like Shoushan LOVE Lookout, Siziwan Beach, The British Consulate at Takow, and the ferry to Cijin Island.
In Yancheng area, I recommend Hotel Yam Lagom (see on Booking / Agoda). Higher rooms have sea views. I also enjoyed my stay at KLA B&B (塩晶棧) (see on Booking / Agoda) – it has capsule-style dorms and cheap private rooms.
The best luxury hotels in Kaohsiung are downtown, around the iconic 85 Sky Tower. They include Intercontinental Kaohsiung (see on Booking / Agoda), Silks Club Kaohsiung (see on Booking / Agoda), and TAI Urban Resort (see on Booking / Agoda) – the view from the pool at the latter is unbeatable.
See more info and pics of these in my guide to Taiwan’s top hotels.
Top Things to Do in Kaohsiung
I’ll separate the below attractions into Around Kaohsiung Station, Yancheng & Gushan Districts, Other Parts of the City Center, and Outside the City Center.
Around Kaohsiung Station
From Kaohsiung Station, ride the KMRT one stop south to Formosa Boulevard Station, where you’ll find the impressive Dome of Light (美麗島站 光之穹頂) art installation, the world’s largest glass artwork. The designs change constantly, so it’s fun to watch for a while.
Head to Houyi Shopping District near Kaohsiung Station for all your shopping needs. At night, Liuhe Night Market (六合夜市) is the most famous night market in Kaohsiung among tourists (locals prefer Ruifeng Night Market or others, but they are further away).
Also consider walking to Sanfeng Temple, famous for its courtyard filled with red lanterns.
One stop further south from Formosa Boulevard will bring you to Central Park (高雄中央公園), a large green escape in the middle of the city.
More shopping can be done at the collection of malls at Sanduo Shopping District. 85 Sky Tower, Taiwan’s tallest building before Taipei 101, is also nearby. The tower’s observatory is unfortunately closed.
Yancheng & Gushan Districts
The area just west of the city center and Love River (愛河) has several sights worth half a day in your Kaohsiung itinerary. You’ll also need to go here for getting to Cijin Island, which is also worth half a day. Access the area on the orange MRT line or Light Rail.
The harborside Pier 2 Art Center is the top attraction here. It consists of several collection of old port warehouses which have been converted into public art venues and cool shops. The area is quite large and can take a couple hours to explore. See my Pier 2 Art Center guide.
A few minutes’ walk east of Pier 2 Art Center, the similar Dayi Warehouses house more shops, artworks, a beer hall, a concert venue, and more. Between Pier 2 and the Love River, Kaohsiung Music Center is a stunning new building, especially when lit up at night.
West of Pier 2, Penglai Area (駁二蓬萊倉庫群) has the Hamasan Museum of Taiwan Railway (哈瑪星台灣鐵道館), with an amazing model train system that represents all of Taiwan through modern history.
Beside Penglai Area, Hamasan Railway Cultural Park (哈瑪星鐵道文化園區) has some old train cars and the original terminal station, now a small, free museum.
South of Pier 2, Kaohsiung Port Warehouse No. 2 (棧貳庫KW2) and Holo Park (光禹浮空劇院生活廣場) have even more shops, ice creameries, restaurants, and so in more port warehouses.
The whole harborside is especially fun to explore at night, when many buildings and art installations are lit up.
If you’ve got the energy, consider hiking up to Shoushan LOVE Lookout. This is just the start of a small mountain chain stretching to the north.
Trails in the northern parts of it, best accessed here, are known for their large population of macaques, which you are guarantee to see. For this reason, it is nicknamed “Monkey Mountain”. Just watch your things, as they may try to grab them.
Kaohsiung City Zoo (高雄市壽山動物園) is also on the mountain.
Wude Martial Arts Center (高雄武德殿) is a beautifully maintained Japanese era building.
From there, you can walk through Xiziwan Old Tunnel (西子灣隧道) to Siziwan Beach (西子灣海水浴場). The beach is technically owned by the large hotel fronting it, but if you go the long way through the parking lot to the south, you can access it for free. Swimming is not allowed but they don’t really enforce it.
Read more about Taiwan’s best beaches here.
Ferries to Cijin Island (旗津) depart from Gushan Ferry Pier. You can ride a scooter/bicycle on board or just walk on. You can also rent a bicycle upon arriving at Cijin. Budget 2-4 hours for exploring Cijin Island by bike.
Ride up Qijin Old Street to black sand Qijin Beach (swimming sometimes allowed), have a drink at Qijin Sunset Bar, ride down the coast to Rainbow Church, and hike up to Cihou Fort (旗後砲台). See my Cijin guide here.
Other Parts of the City Center
One of Kaohsiung’s top attractions, Lotus Pond (蓮池潭) is in Zuoying District, north of the Kaohsiung city center. Around half a dozen large temples are built on the side of this human-made lake. The most famous are Dragon and Tiger Pagodas and Zuoying Yuandi Temple.
Access to Lotus Lake is Ecological District MRT, Zuoying Train Station, or Zuoying HSR Station. Off-the-beaten-track explorers may also be interested in the old ruins of Old Fongshan – see the Zuoying section of my Kaohsiung things to do article.
To the east of the city center, Weiwuying Street Art Village (衛武營彩繪社區) is a neighborhood where every building has been covered in murals. Take exit 5 from Weiwuying MRT and walk north to find it.
South of the city center, Dream Mall (統一夢時代購物中心) is one of the biggest malls in Taiwan, with the iconic Kaohsiung Eye Ferris Wheel on top. Access is from Dream Mall Light Rail stop.
Further South, at Caoya KMRT, SKM Outlet is a mecca for families. The outlet mall is totally kid focused, with several indoor playcenters (try this one), kid-focused restaurants, bowling alleys, trampoline parks, VR center, and more.
Outside, there’s an amusement park, carousel, and full-size go-karting track.
Outside the City Center
The most famous attraction outside of the Kaohsiung city center is Fo Guang Shan Monastery. Almost every visitor to Kaohsiung makes the half-day trip to Taiwan’s largest Buddhist monastery.
The monastery complex is huge, with two main sections. The older section here is the original monastery. Less visited today, you can actually spend the night there in the Pilgrim’s Lodge. See my Fo Guang Shan guide for the details.
Most people today visit the newer Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum (佛光山佛陀紀念館). This area is also very large and includes Taiwan’s largest Buddha statue and a museum which houses some relics from the Buddha.
Not far from Fo Guang Shan, E-Da Theme Park (義大遊樂世界) is one of the largest and most famous amusement parks in Taiwan.
Up in the hills north of there, Senya Village (千野村-日式景觀園區) is a Japanese-themed village where you can rent kimonos and see capybaras (here are other places to see capybaras or rent kimonos in Taiwan).
Going further northeast, Qishan Old Street (旗山老街) is a popular Old Street for tasting local snacks. Meinong Folk Village (美濃民俗村) is a major Hakka settlement in southern Taiwan, where you can see or purchase their famous rice paper umbrellas.
Maolin Butterfly Trail (茂林賞蝶步道) is known for its millions of butterflies in winter, while Baolai Hot Spring (寶來溫泉) is Kaohsiung’s top hot spring village.
In northern Kaohsiung, Eye of Gangshan (崗山之眼) is a violin-shaped skywalk, while Tianliao Moon World (田寮月世界) features lunar landscapes.
Best Kaohsiung Tours
This Kaohsiung Classics tour includes top spots like Lotus Pond, Fo Guang Shan, Tienliao Moon World, and Pier 2 Art Center. This is really the best of Kaohsiung in one day.
To make your own schedule, hire a private driver in Kaohsiung.
How to Plan Your Kaohsiung Itinerary
I recommend a minimum of two full days to explore Kaohsiung. For Day 1, spend half a day on Cijin Island and half a day exploring the sights of Yancheng, Gushan, and Kaohsiung Station area. Try Liuhe Night market at night.
For Day 2, visit Fo Guang Shan Monastery in the morning, Lotus Pond in the afternoon, and Ruifeng Night Market for dinner.
What to Eat in Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung’s dining scene is rich and varied. Many famous specialties from Tainan, which is considered the culinary capital of Taiwan, are also widely available in Kaohsiung.
Be on the lookout for Tainan classics like eel noodles (鱔魚意麵), Spanish mackerel soup (土魠魚羹), danzai noodles (但在面), and milkfish soup (虱目魚湯).
It is believed that beef noodle soup (牛肉麵), one of the famous dishes across Taiwan today, actually originated in Kaohsiung.
Copy paste any of the Mandarin names of the above dishes to GoogleMaps to find stalls or restaurants serving them in Kaohsiung.
Liuhe Night Market (六合夜市) is the most famous Kaohsiung Night Market among tourists, thanks to its convenient location and lack of traffic. Famous stalls are this papaya milk and this luwei (braised foods) stand.
Ruifeng Night Market (瑞豐夜市) is a little further away but more popular among locals. Try this super fresh milk tea, amazing oyster omelets here, and the best mochi I’ve ever had here. Find out about even more night markets in Kaohsiung here.
The ground floor is an upscale Japanese grocery store where you can also buy some fresh seafood products. You can take those upstairs, where they will cook them for you in hot pot. There are also super fresh sashimi trays you can take away or eat upstairs.
Seafood fans can also travel to Keziliao Fishing Harbor (蚵仔寮漁港) or Xingda Harbor Fish Market (興達港觀光漁市) on the coast of Kaohsiung for even fresher seafood.
One touristy restaurant in Kaohsiung, but with good beer and an unbeatable view, is Tokyo Beerhall (東京酒埸-愛河店). It’s a typical quick fry place (the food is fine but not as good as others). But both the exterior and interior and very photogenic, plus you’ve got excellent views of the Love River.
On Cijin Island, there’s lots of fried seafoods on Cijin Old Street, while Cijin Sunset Bar is a rarity in Taiwan: a legit beach bar with good beer and food.
Lantern Festival, on the 15th day of the first lunar month, is always an amazing spectacle. In Kaohsiung, the event usually takes place either along the Love River or at Lotus Pond.
Around the same time, Fo Guang Shan also hosts the beautiful Festival of Lights. The month-long event includes some lit up drone shows. The monastery also usually has events for Buddha’s birthday in May. See more info in my guide to various Lantern Festival events around Taiwan.
For the April 4-day long weekend (always the first weekend of April), Kaohsiung hosts the huge Megaport Music Festival, which focuses on rock and heavy metal.
For Dragon Boat Festival in June, Dragon Boat races take place in the Love River.
In summer, watch for the Cijin Black Sand Festival (旗津黑沙玩艺节), when you can see beautiful sandcastles on the main beach on Cijin Island, similar to the sand castle event at Fulong Beach in northern Taiwan.
In October, the Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival is a traditional celebration held at Lotus Pond.
For New Year’s Eve, the main fireworks display in Kaohsiung is at Dream Mall. You can see the fireworks from many locations on the harbor or from Shoushan Love Lookout. E-Da Mall in the north also usually has a fireworks display.