A Guide to Shifen Old Street, Taiwan’s Famous Sky Lantern Spot

A super crowded narrow street, with a large red lantern with money symbol painted on the side

Shifen Old Street (十分老街) is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Taiwan. Every day of the year, foreign tourists flock to this tiny village on the Pingxi Railway Line to write their wishes on sky lanterns and release them to the sky from the train tracks.

In this article, I’m going to introduce everything you need to know for visiting Shifen, like how to get there, what to eat, the best tours, and how to visit during the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. For Shifen Waterfall nearby, you’ll want to see my separate Shifen Waterfall guide.

I’ll also try to convince to you buy the eco-friendly sky lanterns (the regular ones are terrible for the environment) and how to find them at Shifen.

Finally, I’ll provide some alternatives to Shifen Old Street for those who prefer to avoid the most touristy places.

FYI – in a poll I conducted in my Taiwan Travel Planning group, members voted Shifen as the 4th most overrated tourist attraction in Taiwan after Cinging Farm, Shilin Night Market, and Sun Moon Lake. Personally, I’m not a fan of Shifen Old Street.

Shifen Old Street Introduction

A train passing by with tourists standing and posing for photos right next to it
A train passes through super narrow Shifen Old Street

Shifen (十分) literally means “ten portions”, as the original 10 families living here would request 10 portions of supplies. Nearby Jiufen (九份), another extremely popular attraction that people usually visit on the same day, means “9 portions” for the same reason.

Shifen is the middle station of the Pingxi Line in Pingxi district of New Taipei City. The Japanese built this railway line in 1918 to transport coal from mines in the Pingxi Valley. Shifen was one of several small mining towns that developed along the line.

An orange Pingxi line train parked at Shifen station, with the station platform on the right and words "Shifen Station"
Shifen Train Station

Coal mining in the area ended in 1971. In the early 90s, these towns started to become tourist attractions.

The custom of releasing sky lanterns (天燈 or tiandeng) can be traced back to Fujian province in China, where the ancestors of most Taiwanese came from.

Piles of folded up sky lanterns of various colors
Piles of sky lanterns for sale in Shifen

In the mid-1800s, bandits plagued the Pingxi area. When local villagers would descend from the mountains to the train station area to pick up supplies around Lantern Festival, they would send up sky lanterns to inform others that it was safe to come.

Because the lanterns would ascend so high into the sky, locals later developed the habit of writing wishes to the gods on them. It also become common for newlyweds to release them, as tiandeng sounds similar to “have a baby boy” in the Taiwanese language.

Two women holding up a red sky lantern with a large fire inside of it and it's about to float up into the dark sky above
Some of my Taiwanese friends releasing a sky lantern at Pingxi Mass Lantern Release in 2009

Today, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the region every year for the Pingxi Mass Lantern Releases on Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the 1st lunar month).

The festival is so popular that it is held on two separate days, usually the two Saturdays closest to the the festival date. One of them is usually held at in Shifen and the other at Pingxi station.

Besides the mass release events, tourists can buy and release lanterns from the train tracks at Shifen station any day of the year. This can also be done at the less touristy Pingxi and Jingtong stations.

These three villages are the only places in Taiwan that you can release sky lanterns. Other Lantern Festival events around the country focus on viewing beautifully designed lanterns on the ground.

Getting to Shifen Old Street

There are three main ways to get to Shifen, by car, by train, or by bus. The bus or train take a similar amount of time but reach Shifen from totally different directions – by train you’ll arrive from the east, but by bus you’ll come from the west.

By Car

If you rent a car or hire a private driver, it takes about one hour to drive from Taipei to Shifen. Driving time will depend on where in Taipei your coming from and rush hour traffic. National Freeway 1 goes straight east towards Keelung then south to Shifen.

Some people choose to take a slower route from Taipei to Shifen, via Shenkeng, Shiding, and Pingxi, in order to visit attractions like Shenkeng Old Street, Hsu’s Hand-Pulled Noodles, and Jingtong or Pingxi stations before reaching Shifen.

There is parking here at Shifen Old Street. Since you have a car, it makes sense to drive to Shifen Waterfall (otherise it’s a 30-minute walk from Shifen Old Street to Shifen Waterfall).

It’s a lovely 20-minute walk from this parking lot to the waterfall along a river with two suspension bridge crossings. Or, you can have your driver drop you off at this spot only 5 minutes from the falls (but no parking there).

By Train

An orange and red Pingxi line train parked at a station, with a conductor standing on the platform beside it
Shifen train station

By train, it’s a 45-minute ride east from Taipei to Ruifang, which is a transportation hub for the area. At Ruifang Station, you will arrive at Platform 1 or 2. Cross over to Platform 3 for catching the Pingxi train line, which will go south then west to Shifen (27 to 31 minutes). See more info in my Pingxi line guide.

Note that Jiufen Old Street is a 10-minute bus ride from Ruifang station, so you might want to exit the station and visit Jiufen first before going to Shifen.

Jiufen Old Street is best visited around 10 AM (when shops open) until 12:00. After noon, Jiufen becomes extremely crowded and the crowds don’t taper off until the early evening. Shifen Old Street and Shifen Waterfall, on the other hand, have more space, so they won’t feel as crowded as Jiufen, even in the afternoon.

Looking out a train back door window, with crowds of people on the side of the train tracks watching the train go by
Looking out the back of the Pingxi train as it passes through Shifen

Most trains to Ruifang and all trains to Shifen (i.e. all Pingxi Line trains) are Local type, which means you can’t reserve seats and you can just swipe your EasyCard to board. They can get packed at busy times.

A few trains per day from Taipei to Ruifang are express ones (Puyuma Express or Tze Chiang 3000) – those ones require seat reservations. See more info in my guide to riding TRA trains in Taiwan.

Don’t forget to swipe out when you arrive at Shifen station (it’s easy to miss the machine there). Search all your train times here or on the TRA train app.

By Bus

A lesser-known way to reach Shifen is by bus. Bus 795 goes from Muzha MRT to Shifen, taking 1.5 hours to get there (TWD 45). Use GoogleMaps or the Bus+ app to see the times (see my guide to best apps for Taiwan). Swipe EasyCard for the bus.

You need to factor in time for getting to Muzha MRT station (one stop before Taipei Zoo), so this option may actually be a little slower than taking the train to Shifen, depending on where you are coming from in Taipei city.

If you get a seat on the busy, you’ll have a nice cosy ride. However, on busy weekends, holidays, or December high season in Taiwan, the bus can get very full and you might have to stand.

Before reaching Shifen, the bus will pass some other places you might want to stop, including Shenkeng Old Street (famous for stinky tofu), Jingtong station (the last stop on the Pingxi Line), Pingxi Station, Lingjiao Station, and Wanggu Station (see my Pingxi Line guide to read about each stop).

After Shifen Old Street, the bus goes one more stop to Shifen Visitor’s Center, the terminal stop. Get off there if you want to visit Shifen Waterfall first.

Walking to Shifen Waterfall

Two parallel bridges over a river, one with an orange Pingxi train crossing it, the other with hikers crossing it
Walking to Shifen Waterfall with Pingxi trains going past

Around this point on Shifen Old Street, the road splits in two and that is basically the end of the Old Street. There are a few more shops and restaurants up either lane (both are named Shifen Street or 十分街).

You can walk down either lane to reach Shifen Waterfall (30 minutes one-way). See my Shifen Waterfall guide for the details and map of the walking route.

The scenic walk follows the river, with a view of a small waterfall on the way and Pingxi trains going by. The walk includes some stairs so it is not wheelchair friendly.

You can walk back to Shifen Old Street and train station the same way or via this quiet vehicle road. This pin is also the location where you could get dropped off by a driver for the shortest possible walk (and it is wheelchair-friendly route) to the waterfall viewing platforms.

Best Shifen Tours & Private Drivers

Most visitors want to visit Shifen + several other attractions in the area on a day trip from Taipei. However, the logistics can become a little complicated, not to mention all the time waiting for buses and trains.

Therefore, many people visit Shifen as part of a day tour from Taipei. The most popular day tour is this one which includes Shifen Old Street, Shifen Waterfall, Golden Waterfall, Jiufen Old Street, and Yehliu.

Similar ones with slightly different itineraries or activities include this one with pastry making, this one with Heping Island in Keelung, and this one with hotel pick-up in Taipei.

If you’re staying in Ximending, this one and this one offer pickup from Ximen.

If you want to travel at your own pace or with customized itinerary, booking a private driver to Shifen and other spots here.

Where to Stay at Shifen

Not many people stay overnight at Shifen and I don’t really recommend it. Besides being super touristy, there isn’t much to see or do there besides Shifen Old Street and sky lanterns. You only need about one hour to do these.

Almost everything in Shifen closes around 7 PM, including all restaurants and shops selling sky lanterns. The village is totally dead after that. The one FamilyMart in town closes at 10:30. During Lantern Festival, any guesthouse anywhere near the festival will be very hard to book.

If you do still want to spend the night at Shifen, there are only two accommodations I’m aware of in Shifen.

Pingxi Car Head B&B (see on Booking / Agoda) is a very basic guesthouse close to the train station. Very Happy Guesthouse (see on Booking / Agoda) is better, but it’s a 15-minute walk from Shifen Old Street or 30-minute walk from Shifen Waterfall.

See my recommended hotels in Jiufen and in Taipei, which have far more options than Shifen.

Visiting Shifen Old Street

A small group of young tourists shot from behind, standing on some railway tracks and holding a big red sky lantern while they pose for a camera
Typical scene on Shifen Old Street

Shifen Old Street is only about 300 meters long, so you can visit it in one hour or less, including time to set off a sky lantern. If you plan to walk to Shifen Waterfall as well, add 90 minutes, for a total visiting time of about 2 to 2.5 hours.

You will exit the train station on the north side, and Shifen Old Street starts right at the end of it. At the start of the Old Street, you can cross the tracks to reach Jingan Suspension Bridge (靜安吊橋), a popular photo spot.

Looking up at the cement tower of a suspension bridge with some blue painted on it and Chinese characters in yellow
Jingan Suspension Bridge

The souvenir shops, sky lantern shops (more than 30!), and small restaurants run along either side of the train tracks.

At the souvenir shops, you can purchase various typical souvenirs, but also some region specific ones like Spirited Away merch (due to the false myth that nearby Jiufen Old Street was the inspiration for the Miyazaki film) and some cute little sky lantern decorations with lights inside (see my guide to buying souvenirs in Taiwan).

Close up of a red sky lantern souvenir with a light inside of it and a Chinese cat pendant attached to it
Cute mini sky lantern

You can walk on and cross the train tracks almost anywhere along the Old Street, but of course you need to be careful when a train is coming.

The main section of the Old Street ends here, where the paths on either side of the train line separate to the left and right. A few more shops and restaurants can be found up either lane, and you can walk up either lane to reach Shifen Waterfall.

Releasing Sky Lanterns

A red sky lantern with a small fire in it floats up to the sky between buildings, with hands of the person who just released it visible at the bottom
Releasing a sky lantern at Shifen

Sky Lanterns (天燈) are the biggest draw at Shifen Station. Even though various environmental groups in Taiwan have spoken out against them (read here, here, and here), tourists continue to practice this environmentally harmful activity.

A stack of about two sky lanterns with red, yellow, blue and pink color on a display at the front of a shop
Stack of sky lanterns waiting to be sold

What goes up must come down, so when the fire inside sky lanterns burns out, they fall back to the Earth. The 30,000 lanterns released every month usually land in the forest or get stuck in trees or electrical wires, sometimes causing fires.

The lanterns have metal and plastic parts and harmful dyes in them. If you really must participate in this activity, then please consider to pay a little more for the eco-friendly ones (see below).

A fallen sky lanterns stuck at the top of a tree with cement bridge on the left
Sky lantern stuck in a tree in Pingxi area

The typical price for a sky lantern and Shifen is TWD 200 (single color, red is the most common), 250 (four colors), or 350 (8 colors).

The price will include everything you need to paint your wishes on the side and light the fire to send it up to the sky.

A row of red sky lanterns held up to racks by clips and with little canisters of black paint and paintbrushes on the side
Stations for painting your wishes

Each color of lantern has a different meaning, as you can see on the below photo. Or you can cover all the bases and splurge on the eight-color lantern.

A table showing various colors of sky lanterns at Shifen, their symbolic meanings, and their prices
Lantern colors and their different meanings

While lighting the lantern, it’s best to have two or more people to hold onto it.

As soon as you all let go, it will take off to the sky quite quickly (thanks to the heat created from the flames of the kerosene soaked paper), so make sure to have your cameras ready or one person on the side taking photos.

How to Find the Eco-Friendly Lanterns

A sign explaining the sustainable, eco-friendly lanterns sold at this shop
Info about sustainable sky lanterns at Yiqiao Sky Lantern Shop

For just a little more money (TWD 450), you can purchase an environmentally friendly sky lantern at Shifen Old Street. These ones burn up entirely in the sky, so nothing falls back to the ground.

These lanterns were first developed by graduates from National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (國立陽明交通大學) in Hsinchu. The graduates consulted with long-time lantern makers in Pingxi area, such as Shifen local resident and retired teacher Lin Guo-he.

Lin first learned how to make sky lanterns from his father. He still makes and sells them from Yiqiao Traditional Sky Lantern Shop (藝巧傳統天燈工藝社), located here at the end of Shifen Old Street, just after it branches off on the right side.

An elderly Taiwanese man holds up an eco-friendly sky lantern to show the bottom of it in his worshop
Master Lin shows me one of his sustainable sky lanterns

Lin makes his lanterns with entirely biodegradable parts, including bamboo and paper pulp. Not only are his less harmful to the environment but also they are made using traditional techniques which are closer to those in the past.

The lanterns have five sides instead of the usual four. Because they are lighter, they will supposedly fly even higher up than the other ones, soaring up to 250 to 250 meters before burning up (the regular ones only go up about 50 to 100 meters before they start descending, often still burning as they fall down).

A shop front of Shifen Old Street with souvenirs displayed on a table and colorful sign
Watch for this shop front, called 藝巧傳統天燈工藝社

Whether you meet Lin Guo-he or his wife in the small shop, they may proudly show you the laminated newspaper article from Taiwan Journal, published in 2007, about their lanterns. They are very friendly and will do their best to help you snap photos if you need it.

I also noted that this shop on the left side of Shifen Old Street also has the same eco-friendly lanterns available.

Visiting During Lantern Festival

Dozens of lit up sky lanterns floating up into a dark sky, with crowds of people barely visible below
The famous Pingxi Mass Lantern Release

Shifen Old Street is at its busiest during Lantern Festival. While the festival falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar New Year (usually in February or early March), the whole Pingxi area will be very busy for weeks around that time.

The Pingxi Mass Lantern Releases usually take place on the two Saturdays closest to the holiday date. One of them is usually held at this venue near Shifen and the other at this venue near Pingxi station.

All evening on those two days, masses of sky lanterns will be released at the same time, once every 15 minutes.

Crowds of people walking down a narrow street in Shifen with some holding sky lanterns with wishes painted on them
Crowds arriving for Pingxi Lantern Festival

This event is one of the most crowded places I’ve ever experienced. The Pingxi Line will be jam packed, so opt for the shuttle bus from Muzha MRT. You may need to wait in a line for some time to get there and again to get back to Taipei.

If you want to participate in one of the timed mass releases, you have to show up earlier in the day to register. But if you don’t, you can come just to watch or set off your own lantern anywhere in the area as you wish.

Crowds of tourists and sky lanterns on one side of a railway line
Crowds squishing to the side as a train is about to pass

During COVID, the Pingxi Mass Lantern Release event was cancelled a few times. In 2023, the crowds weren’t so bad because tourism numbers hadn’t fully recovered and many locals were still very COVID conscious.

But for the 2024 event and later ones, we’re finally back to full tourist numbers again, so expect the event to be crazy busy once again.

What to Eat at Shifen Old Street

Close up of two hands preparing an ice cream wrap, with two scoops of ice cream, cilantro, and peanut brittle shavings on a wrap on a silver counter, and the hands are rolling up another one
Ice cream wraps at Shifen Old Street

There are several small eateries and food stalls on Shifen Old Street. They are all aimed at tourists, so I personally found the quality of food was not the best, yet the prices were high for Taiwan.

A hand holding a white paper cup filled with chunks of battered and deep fried cuttlefish and shrimps, with a cuttlefish sign behind
Deep fried cuttlefish and river shrimps

Some of the foods you will see on Shifen Old Street include rice stuffed chicken wings (雞翅包飯, try it here or here), deep fried cuttlefish, river shrimps, and river crabs (the one I tried was lower than average quality) and stinky tofu (this vendor is the best).

I also saw soup dumplings, peanut brittle cilantro ice cream wraps (you can never go wrong with these), and popsicles with local flavors such as kiwi, roselle, and plum.

A hand holding up a rainbow colored popsicle with train tracks behind
Rainbow popsicle by the tracks at Shifen

If you also visit Shifen Waterfall, there are a few vendors there selling sausages, grilled mushrooms, and cold drinks.

If you are also visiting Jiufen Old Street on the same day, consider waiting until you get there to eat, as it has more variety, unique foods, and better prices.

Alternatives to Shifen Old Street

Some triangular Asian farmers' hats for sale outside of a small shop, with some hard plastic chairs for seating beside Pingxi Old Street
Pingxi Old Street has more local vibes

Because it is so touristy, I don’t personally enjoy visiting Shifen Old Street.

If you’re willing to ride the Pingxi Line just 13 minutes longer to Pingxi station, Pingxi Old Street (平溪老街) has a less touristy vibe than Shifen Old Street and attracts more locals than foreign tourists.

You can also buy and set off sky lanterns right on the train tracks at Pingxi station. Brave hikers should also check out the thrilling Pingxi Crags hikes from there (read about them here in my Taipei hiking guide).

Some train tracks with green grass growing around them, a cement wall on the left, and an orange and red Pingxi train parked at a small station on the right
Jingtong Station

Ride another five minutes past Pingxi and you’ll reach the terminal Jingtong station, and Jingtong Old Street (菁桐老街). Of the three four famous old streets accessible from the Pingxi Railway Line (Jiufen, Shifen, Pingxi, and Jingtong), this one is the smallest but I would say cutest and quietest. You can also buy and release sky lanterns there.

Although Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) is even more popular and crowded than Shifen Old Street, I still like it better than Shifen. It more variety and better foods, ancient teahouses, impressive views of the Pacific ocean, and overall more atmospheric vibes.

See my Jiufen Old Street guide.

A narrow lane with some hotel signs and red lanterns in Jiufen, New Taipei City
Jiufen wins for most atmospheric old street in the region

Shenkeng Old Street (深坑老街) also attracts mainly local tourists, who flock there on weekends for its many stinky tofu stalls and nicely restored old buildings. It’s closer to Taipei – make it a stop when riding the bus from Muzha MRT to Shifen. See my Shengkeng Old Street guide.

For alternatives to Shifen Waterfall (there are several other great waterfalls on the Pingxi Line!), see my Shifen Waterfall guide.

Crowds of people on a narrow lane in Shenkeng old Street
Shenkeng Old Street is the most local one and is famous for stinky tofu.

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