A Travel Guide to Tainan, Taiwan’s Original Capital

A traveler's guide to Tainan city in Taiwan

Tainan City (臺南 or “Taiwan South”) is in many ways the best major city in Taiwan for experiencing Taiwanese history and culture.

For over 200 years, Tainan was the capital of Taiwan. To this day, it retains a traditional vibe, with some of the country’s most important historical attractions and temples. Many locals also consider it the food capital of Taiwan. Outside of the city center, there are some quirkier attractions, like Cigu Salt Mountain, Guanziling Mud Hot Springs, and Sicao Green Tunnel.

In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know for visiting Tainan, including the most famous and lesser-known sights, how to reach them, where to stay, how to plan your itinerary, and most important, what to eat in Tainan.

If you prefer a listicle, see these 70+ things to do in Tainan.

Tainan History

Red tablets with Chinese characters inside the Confucius Temple in Tainan
Confucius Temple in Tainan, which was the first public school in Taiwan

Tainan’s history is so rich that it has been dubbed the Phoenix City (鳳凰城), after the mythological bird known to kill itself and rise from the ashes time and time again.

Tainan is the part of Taiwan where both Chinese and European settlers first arrived. The name Taiwan may come from the Taivoan aboriginal people who lived there at the time, or it may have come from the name “Tayouan” used by another local tribe, the Siraya.

Whichever theory is true, the word Taiwan eventually came to be used for the whole island, and the variation “Tainan” came to be used for that area. The Chinese chose the characters 臺南 or “Taiwan South”, which differentiates it from Taipei (Taiwan North), Taichung (Taiwan Middle), and Taitung (Taiwan East).

A large white statue of Koxinga riding a horse
Koxinga statue in Tainan

In 1622, the Dutch established Fort Zeelandia in today’s Anping District of Tainan. Dutch presence only lasted until Koxinga, a half-Chinese, half-Japanese pirate and Ming Dynasty loyalist, showed up and kicked them out.

While Koxinga’s Kingtom of Tungning based in Tainan only lasted 22 years, it would have long-lasting impact. Even today Koxinga is revered in Tainan and there are several temples dedicated to him. (As a fun side note, my wife’s family has the same surname as Koxinga (鄭), and they come from the Chiayi-Tainan area, so my father-in-law often jokes that he is a descendent of the pirate king.)

Koxinga’s rule ended dramatically when the Qing Dynasty took over – one Ming prince and his five concubines famously committed suicide in what is now the Grand Matsu temple in Tainan.

An abandoned warehouse filled with tree roots and vines
Anping Treehouse in a former trading warehouse

The following centuries saw waves of Chinese migration to Tainan and Taiwan. In 1858, the Qing rulers opened up Anping Port to foreign trade. Opium flowed in, while tea, sugar, and camphor flowed out. Today’s hot attraction, Anping Treehouse, is in one of those trading houses.

Tainan also became known for its salt production, with several salt-related attractions remaining today. This would last until 2002, when cheap salt flooded in after Taiwan joined the WTO.

When Taiwan was opened for trade, Taipei developed as the preferred port, thus the capital was moved from Tainan to Taichung (briefly) then to Taipei in 1887.

The Japanese kept Taipei as the capital during their colonial rule of Taiwan (1895 to 1945), but they also transformed Tainan. Several great examples remain and are tourist attractions, including Hayashi Department Store.

A stone Japanese gate and shrine on the roof of a building overlooking Tainan
Japanese shrine on top of Hayashi Department Store

After the Japanese left and KMT arrived, Kaohsiung overtook Tainan as the main financial center in Southern Taiwan. Tainan of today is a medium-sized city with refreshingly few skyrises.

In 2010, Tainan City was merged with Tainan County (just like Taoyuan, Taichung, and Kaohsiung), so the whole area is now called Tainan City.

Tainan’s City Center is rich in historic temples and buildings. Anping District in the city’s northwest is known for Anping Fort (Fort Zeelandia), Aping Treehouse, and Anping Old Street.

Getting to Tainan

A Tainan (台南) sign on the train station platform
Welcome to Tainan!

Tainan is well connected to other major cities on the west coast of Taiwan. The closest international airport is in Kaohsiung – Tainan Airport only has domestic flights. Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) is 1.5 hours away by High Speed Rail.

If you come to Tainan by regular (TRA) train, you’ll fin Tainan Station is conveniently located in the city center, where many old temples and sights are. If you want to visit Anping District, you’ll need to take a bus from there (45 minutes). Travel time from Taipei to Tainan by TRA is 3 to 4.5 hours. Find out how to buy tickets for these trains here.

Tainan’s High Speed Rail (HSR) station is located here, southeast of the city center. If you come by HSR, the travel time from Taipei will be faster (1 hr 45 min). Here’s how to book HSR tickets.

But then you’ll need to take a taxi (20 min) or local train (20 min) from Shalun Station on the TRA (regular train) line to the city center. Shalun station is connected to the HSR station. Buy discount HSR tickets here.

A high speed rail train car  driving on a cement overpass through a city
The HSR whizzes through Tainan city

Kaohsiung is even closer, at only 30 min to 1 hr (TRA) or 15 minutes (HSR). Just keep in mind that Kaohsiung’s HSR station is also not in the city center of Kaohsiung but in Zuoying district.

There’s no MRT in Tainan. Make use of bicycles, taxis, or local buses to get around, as the city’s main attractions are rather spread out. You can see quite a bit on foot, but the occasional bus or taxi will help. GoogleMaps is fairly reliable for bus times and stop locations.

To visit places outside of the city center, you’re going to need more time. Buses tend to be slow. Consider hiring a driver for a day if you want to visit multiple places outside the city. Guanziling Mud Hot Spring is easier to reach from Chiayi city than from Tainan’s city center, even though it”s technically in Tainan.

Where to Stay in Tainan

A dock leading to many boats parked in the harbor in Anping, Tainan
Anping Harbor in historic Anping District

For the Tainan city center, Huzi Room Guesthouse (see on Booking / Agoda) is conveniently located near Tainan Station. For a hostel, U.I.J. Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda) is one of the nicest ones I’ve ever seen.

For visitors with kids, Hotel Cozzi (see on Booking / Agoda) is excellent, with family-themed rooms plus indoor and outdoor play areas.

If you decide to spend a night in Anping District, for visiting the many attractions there, I highly recommend Anping Inn Here (see on Booking / Agoda).

If you want to spend a night in a hot spring hotel, the best one at Guanziling Mud Hot Spring is King’s Garden Villa (景大渡假莊園) (see on Klook / Agoda). Read more about it in the “Things to Do” section below.

Top Things to Do in Tainan

I’ll separate the below into the top attractions in Tainan City Center, Anping District, and Outside the City Center. You can see even more pictures and details about each of these places in my guide to the best things to do in Tainan.

Tainan City Center

The Tainan city center, especially the area west of Tainan train station, is rich in historical attractions. There’s a long list of temples in Tainan, several of which are the oldest or most important of their kind in Taiwan.

A very detailed and intricate altar inside a temple in tainan
Inside one of Tainan’s many temples

The Confucius Temple stands out as the most popular, but others worth visiting are Koxinga’s Shrine (延平郡王祠), Lady Linshui’s Temple (臨水夫人媽廟), Wufei (五妃廟 or Five Concubines Temple), Grand Matsu Temple (臺南祀典大天后宮), and God of War Temple (臺灣祀典武廟).

Hayashi Department Store (台南林百貨) is a really cool Japanese-era department store where the elite used to go shopping. Today its shops still sell luxury teas, crafts, jewelry, souvenirs, and so on. Don’t miss the original Shinto shrine on the roof!

Large blue robot statue at Blueprint Creative Park in Tainan
Blueprint Creative Park

Other interesting attractions in the Tainan city center include Chikhan Tower (赤崁樓), Tainan Park (臺南公園), Tainan Wu Garden (吳園藝文中心), Blueprint Culture & Creative Park (藍晒圖文創園區), Tainan Art Museum 1 & 2 (臺南市美術館1館/2館) and Black Bridge Sausage Museum (黑橋牌香腸博物館).

For atmospheric streets, check out Snail Alley (蝸牛巷) and Shennong Street (神農街). You can even rent a qipao to take photos on Shennong Street at night, when the lanterns are lit (see more places to rent qipaos in Taiwan here).

A narrow lane with red lanterns in Tainan
Shennong Street

For visitors with kids, or anyone who feels too hot, cool off in The Spring (河樂廣場), when it has water in it, that is! It’s closed on Tuesdays, during water shortages, or when they decide it isn’t hot enough out.

321 Art Alley Settlement (321巷 藝術聚落), once a very cool attraction, is unfortunately closed for at least a few years.

Anping District

Anping is the area originally settled by the Dutch. Although it may not feel like it, it’s actually an island formed by Anping Canal (read about other fascinating Taiwanese islands here).

Anping can be reached in about 45 minutes by bus from Tainan city center. It is a very traditional area with some fascinating attractions.

Looking up at the stairs of an old Dutch fort in Tainan with trees on the sides
Anping Fort

Anping Fort (安平古堡 or Fort Zeelandia) is the top attraction. Right next to it, Anping Old Street (安平老街, see my guide) is a very traditional street specializing in prawn crackers and dried fruits.

Also right next to the fort, Anping Matsu Temple (安平開台天后宮 or Anping Kaitai Tianhou Temple) is truly impressive, especially the roof details.

A short walk from Anping Fort, Anping Treehouse (安平樹屋) is a unique attraction. There, banyan tree roots have been left to take over a former trading company’s warehouse.

A giant white statue of Matsu, the goddess of the sea
Matsu statue in Lin Mo-niang Park

Besides the above must-sees, some smaller attractions in Anping District include Eternal Golden Castle (二鯤鯓砲臺), Deyang Ship Destroyer (安平定情碼頭德陽艦園區), a parked US Navy Ship, Lin Mo-niang Park (林默娘公園臺) with its giant Matsu Statue, Anping Salt Beach White God (安平鹽神白沙灘公園), and Big Fish’s Blessing (大魚的祝福, a whale art installation).

For beautiful sunsets, head to Sunset Platform (觀夕平臺) or Yuguang Beach (漁光島沙灘) on Yuguang Island.

Outside the City Center

Outside the Tainan City Center, but still technically in “Tainan City” the attractions become less about history and more varied.

A large museum that looks like the White House, with a pond in front
Chimei Museum

South of the Tainan City Center, Chimei Museum (奇美博物館) is one of the most interesting, if unexpected, museums in Taiwan. The museum looks like the White House in Washington D.C. with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with the Fountain of Apollo from Versailles in front.

The museum houses the extensive private collection of a local billionaire, include an amazing display of violins and ancient weapons. Buy your tickets online here.

A green tunnel or canopy of trees over a canal
Sicao Green Tunnel

Right next to Chimei, Ten Drum Cultural Village (十鼓文創園區) occupies a former sugar refinery. You could spend a whole day exploring its skywalk, rides, art installations, cafés, second-hand bookstore, and more. It was created by the 10 Drum Percussion Group. Get your tickets here or visit it as a part of this tour.

Just north of Anping District in Annan District, Sicao Green Tunnel (四草綠色隧道) is the best way to experience the coastal wetlands of Taijiang National Park (台江國家公園). Although the green canopy of trees over canal is a little artificial, it’s undeniably beautiful.

Looking up from the courtyard of a huge red temple, with temple halls on every side
Luerhmen Matsu Temple

Also in Annan, Luerhmen Mazu Temple (正統鹿耳門聖母廟) is the world’s largest temple dedicated to Matsu, goddess of fishermen and the sea. National Museum of Taiwan History (國立臺灣歷史博物館) is excellent but out-of-the-way.

Continuing north from Anan District will bring you to a few salt-related attractions on the coast. Cigu Salt Mountain (七股鹽山 or Qigu Yanshan) is a literal mountain of salt that you can climb. You can also taste salt ice cream, salt douhua, and other snacks. Learn more about Tainan’s salt history at the Salt Museum (七股遊客中心) nearby.

A staircase leading up a mountain of salt, with a blown up deer head statue at the top
Qigu Salt Mountain

Further up the coast, almost in Chiayi, Jingzijiao Wapan Salt Fields (井仔腳瓦盤鹽田) is an extremely photogenic collection of salt fields on the coast. You can even try raking some salt or climb the tower for an especially good view. It’s free to visit and included on this tour.

If you’re in the area, might as well add Beimen Crystal Church (水晶教堂), reminiscent of the High Heeled Shoe Church in neighborhing Chiayi.

Some pyramid-shaped mounds of salt in water water fields
Jingzijiao Wapan Salt Fields

In the north, Laohutang Art Village (老塘湖藝術村) is an atmospheric art village, although not super easy to get to.

Guanziling (關子嶺溫泉) in the northeast is where you’ll find Taiwan’s best mud hot spring. There you can soak in silty hot spring water or even rub the mud on your body, which is good for the skin. King’s Garden Villa (景大渡假莊園) is the best place to try it.

A girl floating in a small pink tube in a muddy hot spring
My daughter in Guanziling Mud Hot Spring

Also in the hills of northeastern Tainan, Dongshan Coffee Road (175咖啡公路) is a great place to coffee plantations and cafés with beautiful surroundings. Just a few examples are here, here, and here. It’s a popular road for cycling. If you’re interested in Taiwanese coffee regions, also don’t miss Gukeng area in Yunlin.

Find a way to remote Erliao Sunrise Pavilion (台南二寮觀日亭) for sunrise. Head to Caoshan Moon World Grand Canyon (草山月世界大峽谷) for cool landscapes. Last but not least, families will enjoy Zhuozhen Fossil Museum (臺南左鎮化石園區).

Best Tainan Tours and Deals

Exterior of the large white Tainan Art Museum 2
Tainan Art Musem is one of several attractions in the Tainan Klook Pass

The Klook Tainan Pass can save you a little money. It lets you choose 2-4 attractions in the city and you have 30 days to use it.

You can visit Tainan’s top attractions on this day tour from Kaohsiung. To see the salt attractions plus Ten Drum Cultural Village, try this tour. You can also hire a private driver to make a custom schedule for your Tainan trip.

Discounted tickets for Sicao Green Tunnel, Ten Drum Cultural Village, Chimei Museum, and more are available on Klook.

How to Plan Your Tainan Itinerary

An old building in Tainan with red lanterns hanging in the street
An iconic building in Tainan (see the Xu Feng Hao in the “where to ear” section below)

When checking travelers’ Taiwan itinerary in my Taiwan Travel Planning group, I usually recommend that they spend one night in the Tainan city center and one night in Anping District to best enjoy this city.

For Chimei Museum and/or Ten Drum Village, it makes sense to visit them either on the way to or from the Tainan HSR station, which they are close to. Otherwise, you could visit these two attractions together as a day trip from Tainan city center.

If you are want to visit off-the-beaten track spots like the salt attractions north of the city, you’ll need to the better part of a day to reach them by bus – consider to hire a driver for the day to speed things up.

If you want to visit Guanziling Hot Spring, it’s easiest to do it as a day trip or overnight trip from Chiayi City, perhaps before of after going to Alishan.

What to Eat in Tainan

Tainan has its own distinctive cuisine, which has earned it a reputation as the culinary capital of Taiwan. Some classic Taiwanese dishes started in Tainan and spread around the island, but others are still largely only found in Tainan and neighboring areas like Chiayi and Kaohsiung.

Looking down at a bowl of noodles with slices of eel
Eel noodles, a Tainan specialty

Some classic and modern Tainan dishes to watch out for include eel noodles (鱔魚意麵), fried shrimp/oyster rolls (蝦 / 蚵捲), danzai noodles (擔仔麵), coffin bread (棺材板), rice pudding (碗粿), milkfish soup (虱目魚湯), and Spanish mackerel stew (土魠魚羹).

To find any of the above while exploring Tainan, I suggest that you copy-paste their Mandarin name to GoogleMaps to find vendors near you.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, here’s my guide to finding vegetarian foods.

A busy, crowded night market in Tainan
Night market hopping in Tainan

Tainan’s night markets are a great place to try the above, and the full gamut of Taiwanese street foods. But there’s something important to know: unlike most night markets in Taiwan, each night market is open on a different night of the week.

Go to Ta-Tung Night Market on Mon/Tues/Fri, Wusheng Night Market on Wed and Garden Night Market on Thus/Sat/Sun. All are a little outside the city center. See my guide to Tainan’s night markets for all the details.

In the daytime, check out the traditional Shuixian Gong Market (水仙宮市場) in the morning and the connected Yongle Market (永樂市場), which has lots of food stalls on its east side, and excellent sushi shop right next to the temple inside Shuixian Market.

An orange cantaloupe cut in half and filled with scoops of orange and purple ice cream
Traditional Taiwanese ice cream + fruit at Tai Cheng

For amazing ice cream, don’t miss these two shops on the same street. Tai Cheng Fruit Shop (泰成水果店) does amazing ice cream and fruit combinations. Quan Wei Jia Ice Cream (蜷尾家甘味處散步甜食) has interesting Japanese flavors of soft serve, like oolong tea and genmaicha (brown rice green tea).

Near Tainan Station, Xu Feng Hao (旭峯號) does ice cream and fruit juices in a very Instagrammable and iconic old building. For something more peculiar, there’s even a capybara café in Tainan, called Mogu Kabi – here are other places to see capybaras in Taiwan.

On Anping Old Street, try the oyster rolls here and buy some prawn crackers and dried fruits to take home.

A white plate with four pieces of deep fried oyster rolls with spicy red and green sauce on them
Oyster rolls in Tainan

If you visit Cigu Salt Mountain, you can try salty douhua (豆花 or dessert tofu) and ice cream, while the Salt Museum has salty coffee in its café.

When traveling to Guanziling, no local visitor would miss stopping for a whole urn-roasted chicken (甕缸雞) on the way. Just a few possible ones are here and here. They’ll give you plastic gloves to rip the chicken apart yourself.

Tainan Events

An elaborate lantern shaped like a boy doing a lion dance
Lantern Festival

In 2024, Tainan is hosting the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch and founding of the city.

This will start with the 2024 Lantern Festival National Event, with festivities taking place in Anping district and around Tainan HSR station. See my Lantern Festival guide for all the details.

In other years, when it isn’t hosting the national event, Tainan will still have several lantern displays throughout the city, including the Yuejin Harbor Lantern Festival.

Fireworks being shot at a crowd of people who are wearing helmets and other protective gear
Yanshui Fireworks Festival

On the same day as the Lantern Festival, the annual Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival also takes place in Yanshui District of Tainan city. It is considered one of the most dangerous festivals in the world, with fireworks and bottle rocks being shot directly at crowds of people.

The Tainan Arts Festival usually falls in spring (March, April, May). Music lovers can watch for the Tainan May Jam and Tainan Summer Music Festival. For Dragon Boat Festival, Tainan’s races are usually help in Anping Canal. On Confucius’ birthday (September 28), expect festivities at the Confucius Temple in Tainan.

Close up of the head of a dragon boat in Taiwan
Dragon boat in Tainan

Winter is the best time to visit Sicao Green Tunnel and Taijiang National Park, where the rare migratory black faced spoonbill and other birds are best seen.

Last but not least, there are countless small temple fairs and parades throughout the year in Tainan, often in celebration of various gods’ birthdays. Don’t be surprised if you happen to stumble upon one. Follow the sound of firecrackers!

Read about other holidays and festivals in Taiwan here.

Leave a Comment