Is Taiwan worth visiting? Yes! Taiwan has long been a hidden gem in Asia. Before COVID, however, that was starting to change. The country surpassed 10 million visitors in 2015 and reached nearly 12 million by 2019.
While this may be just a third of what Japan received in a year, it’s an impressive feat considering Taiwan is only one-tenth the size of Japan!
Taiwan’s tourism industry has yet to fully recover from COVID. In fact, the country is still receiving less than half the tourists that it did before. So now, more than ever before, is the time to find out if you need a visa, decide which month to visit, buy your travel insurance, book your flight, and visit Taiwan!
If you’ve been to Taiwan or live there, then you already get it. You may even wish I weren’t publishing this article, because you don’t want too many others to know. But the secret is already out! So, here are my 30 reasons to visit Taiwan as soon as possible!
Taiwan is visually stunning.
There is no possibility of disagreement here. Taiwan is simply gorgeous.
She’s so beautiful that, the story goes, Portuguese sailors dubbed her Ilha Formosa or “Beautiful Island” when they first laid eyes upon her. The name Formosa stuck for centuries and is still sometimes used today. For example, Taiwan’s most iconic animal is called the Formosan black bear!
Taiwan is a tropical island shaped by volcanoes and the collision of tectonic plates, with towering peaks, dramatic valleys, thick jungles, and sweeping beaches.
Taiwanese food is really, really good.
Taiwan’s food is a tourist attraction in itself.
Picture this medley: hearty aboriginal foods, traditional cuisine imported from Fujian province (where most Taiwanese trace their ancestry to), regional Chinese dishes brought over later from other provinces in China, authentic Japanese food after 50 years of Japanese colonization, and modern Taiwanese innovations fueled by a thriving night market and street food scene.
In fact, by tourist numbers, Taipei’s night markets collectively are the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Sampling foods on the street is a way of life in Taiwan. No matter where you go, no matter what time (see these 24-hour restaurants), there’s always something cooking, and it always smells good.
Taiwanese people have a reputation for hospitality.
Taiwanese people are famously welcoming. They simply love foreigners and go out of their way to make tourists feel welcome.
I’ve heard so many stories of people losing a wallet, passport, or other valuable item, only to later find that an unnamed stranger had returned it. Or that a local person went totally out of their way to make sure a visitor found the way.
These stories prove time and time again that Taiwan is one of the friendliest countries in the world. It’s no wonder the Taiwan Tourism Bureau has dubbed Taiwan the “Heart of Asia”.
It is extremely safe.
Taiwan also has a reputation for being unusually safe. No matter what time of day or night, there’s no neighborhood or area in Taipei (see my Taipei city guide) or other major cities that is unsafe to stroll around, even on your own.
It is LGBTQ+ friendly.
Taiwan is one of, if not the most LGBTQ+ friendly country in Asia. And I say this as a member of the LGBTQ+ community who has lived in Taiwan for over a decade.
In fact, so far, Taiwan is the ONLY country in Asia that has legalized same-sex marriage. This ground-breaking change came in 2019, after several major protests in its favor. These saw hundreds of thousands of Taiwan residents take to the streets. The law was passed under Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s first female and unmarried president.
Taiwan also has an openly transgender, high-profile member of government, Minister of Digital Affairs Audrey Tang.
Every year on the weekend closest to Halloween, Taiwan hosts the largest Pride Parade in Asia. The Red House Theater in Ximending is the focal point of the city’s gay scene, with its large collection of LGBTQ+ bar patios and businesses. There’s even an LGBT walking tour of Ximending.
LGBTQ+ visitors can feel safe to be themselves when traveling around Taiwan and safely stay in any accommodation.
It is a vibrant democracy.
Given the last point, it will come as no major surprise that Taiwan is considered a beacon of democracy in Asia. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2022 Democracy Index, Taiwan took the 10th spot globally.
You can compare that to some of its neighbors: China (156th spot), the Philippines (52nd spot), or South Korea (24th spot).
What does this mean for everyone? Free and fair elections, high voter turnout, freedom of press, low levels of corruption, and a plethora of civil society organizations. For the casual visitor, you can be proud of your decision to spend your tourist dollars in this country.
You can visit the Presidential Palace (see image above) on one of these free walking tours of Taipei.
It has amazing beaches.
Taiwan tourism ads usually focus on Taiwanese people, culture, food, and mountains. It’s a shame that they often leave out the country’s plethora of postcard-worthy beaches!
Taiwan’s beaches are as varied as they are numerous. You can find stunning white sand, golden sand, or black sand beaches, not to mention unbelievably gorgeous pebble beaches.
There isn’t as much of a beach culture in Taiwan as, say, the Philippines or Thailand. But this means that you can easily find beaches in Taiwan with few to no people on them!
The offshore islands are incredible.
Speaking of beaches, you’ll find some of the best ones on Taiwan’s offshore islands, especially the Penghu archipelago.
Try Xiaoliuqiu for snorkelling with giant sea turtles, Green Island for scuba diving and salt water hot springs, Orchid Island to meet Taiwan’s most isolated aboriginal tribe, or Kinmen for phosphorescence in the sea.
Paying a visit to any of these islands is like a trip within a trip. Few visitors make time in their Taiwan itinerary for them. But those who do often find that it is the highlight of their Taiwan visit.
It has over 100 hot springs.
One of Taiwan’s biggest draws is its abundance of thermal hot springs. Because the country lies at the meeting point of tectonic plates, it is geologically active. It even has a few active volcanoes, one of which is partially in Taipei City (the Datun Volcanic Group in Yangmingshan National Park).
There are at least 100 major hot springs in Taiwan and many more smaller ones. Facilities range from ultra-luxurious spas to traditional bathhouses to wild hot springs only reached via long hikes in nature.
It is a paradise for hikers.
Do you love hiking? Then you’ll love Taiwan.
Taiwan is unusually vertical for an island. In fact, there are more than 268 mountains above 3000 meters (9800 feet) in Taiwan. High mountains take up 2/3rds of the island!
These include mighty Yushan (Jade Mountain), which is 176 meters taller than Mount Fuji in Japan. Some sources even call Taiwan the most mountainous island in the world.
This equates to a whole lot of awesome hikes! Even Taipei City is replete with hiking opportunities, many of which feature views of the city’s most famous landmark, Taipei 101. Taipei’s best hikes range from quick and easy jaunts like Elephant Mountain, for the classic postcard view of the city, to multi-hour treks to waterfalls, hot springs, and volcanic fumaroles.
Casual hikers will be spoiled for choices around the island. More often than not, these hikes are accessible by public transportation.
For serious hikers, the list of 100 Peaks of Taiwan should keep you busy for a while. Often these need permits and advance reservations, so some advance planning will be necessary.
You can see snow in a tropical country.
With the Tropic of Cancer running right through it, Taiwan is considered subtropical in the north and tropical in the south. It may come as a surprise, then, that you can even see snow there! In fact, the possibility of seeing the fluffy white stuff attracts thousands of travelers every winter, mostly from other Asian countries where there is no snow.
To see snow in Taiwan, you’ll need to visit in the coldest months, January or February. What’s more, you’ll need to make your way to the high mountains, which is not so easy to do.
Hehuanshan (which you can drive to on a tour like this), Taipingshan, Snow Mountain, and Jade Mountain are reliable spots, though the latter two require permits and overnight hikes.
On a few very rare occasions, it has even snowed in the mountains around Taipei City. This happened once in 2016 and again in 2018. This caused hysteria, with excited locals driving up to see and touch snow for the first time in their lives.
The adventure activities are endless.
High mountain hiking is just the beginning when it comes to adventure activities in Taiwan. Here are just a few other popular ones.
- Cycling, including the KOM challenge, considered one of the most difficult bike races in the world! Cycling around the island or down the west coast are also considered rites of passage in Taiwan.
- Scuba diving and snorkelling: The best spots include Xiaoliuqiu, Penghu, Green Island, Orchid Island, Kenting, and Longdong.
- River tracing: Also called river trekking, this involves walking up rivers, jumping in pools, sliding down rock slides, and so on. Try it in Yilan, Hualien, or Taitung.
- Hot air balloon riding: There is a major annual hot air balloon festivals in Luye called the Taitung International Hot Air Baloon Festival.
- White water rafting: Xiuguluan River in Hualien is the go-to place for white water rafting in Taiwan, but you can also go tubing in Yilan.
- Cliff diving and rock climbing: Longdong in northern Taiwan features both of these activities.
- Windsurfing: If interested, head directly to Penghu, especially in winter when the winds pick up.
- Surfing: Try Wai’ao beach in the north or Dulan in the south.
Its temples are a kaleidoscope of colors.
Most of Taiwan’s temple’s belong to the Southern Chinese style of Qing Dynasty architecture, also called Hokkien (Minan) style, from Fujian province.
This temple style is characterized by colorful and ornate decorations, including swallowtail roofs and cut porcelain carvings. They are incense-filled places of active worship, free for all to visit, and subtle photography is permitted.
Visit any temple in Taiwan and you can see locals praying or even try out some of their unique temple customs.
These temples often combine Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, and folk religious elements. However, Taiwan also has specifically Confucian temples (in fact, the descendants of Confucius himself live in Taiwan!) and Buddhist monasteries (the most famous is Fo Guang Shan in Kaohsiung).
It has excellent public transportation.
Taiwan is a poster child for excellent public transportation. This makes living in or getting around the country a breeze.
Taipei’s MRT system is considered one of the best of the world, while Taoyuan, Taichung, and Kaohsiung have growing systems of their own. The High Speed Rail (HSR) connects Taipei in the north to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in the south in a mere two hours, while regular (TRA) trains do a full loop around the country.
The ultra-handy EasyCard allows you to swipe in and out from almost all public transportation in the country (with the exception of express TRA trains and the HSR). These cards can even be used for taxis, some ferries, convenience stores, and YouBikes.
Even getting to Taiwan is a breeze, with more budget airlines flying to Taiwan than ever before!
It is clean.
Taiwan industrialized rapidly, leading to it being called one of the four “Asian Tigers”. However, this also resulted in a sudden explosion of pollution and trash. At one point, things got so bad that Taiwan was even dubbed “Garbage Island”.
Taiwan has come so far since then. With a lot of light industry leaving the country (remember “Made in Taiwan” products?), the introduction of the MRT and other public transportation networks, the growing popularity of electric scooters, and other government initiatives, Taiwan has cleaned up a lot.
In fact, Taiwan has the world’s second highest recycling rate, after Germany. Taiwanese garbage trucks, famous for playing Beethoven’s Für Elise as they approach, ply every neighborhood in the country twice per day. Generally speaking, Taiwanese people take pride in their neighborhoods, keeping the streets around their homes tidy.
It has abundant wildlife.
Taiwan has a surprisingly wealthy abundance of wildlife. Mammals on the island include black bears, wild boars, flying squirrels, pangolins, leopard cats, sika deer, and more.
You’re more likely to see some of Taiwan’s 100+ reptile and amphibians species or 500+ birds. These include the rare black-faced spoonbill and the Chinese crested tern, once thought to be extinct.
Another amazing wildlife viewing opportunity is snorkelling with giant sea turtles on Xiaoliuqiu, a small island with nearly 1000 of them. Yet another is the annual arrival of around 1 million purple crow butterflies in Maolin, Kaohsiung.
You can see cherry blossoms.
Move over, Japan and South Korea. Taiwan also has some of the best cherry blossom viewing opportunities in the world!
Taiwan’s cherry blossom season runs from January to April, with the peak months being February and March. Generally speaking, it starts in the north and at lower altitudes, with many great spots in and around Taipei.
The sakura then move south and to higher altitudes. Major hot spots are in the mountains, including Wuling Farm, Qingjing Farm, and Alishan. The exact times vary every year. But cherry blossom madness is real, so you’ll need a bit of luck and careful planning.
There is flower viewing throughout the year.
Cherry blossoms are just the tip of the iceberg. Flower lovers can enjoy many other flower-viewing opportunities throughout the year in Taiwan.
Some highlights on the annual calendar include lavender (January to February), calla lilies (March to April), tung blossoms (April to May), hydrangeas (May to June), tiger lilies (July to August), and autumn foliage season (November to December).
There are also specific festivals dedicated to roses, tulips, chrysanthemums, and more. Zhongshe Flower Market in Taichung has flower viewing year-round, while the Taichung International Flower Carpet Festival in November and December draws big crowds.
It is kid friendly.
Taiwan is one of the kid-friendliest destinations in Asia. Some contributing factors include its reputation for safety, great public transportation, helpful locals, and plethora of family friendly activities.
Children under 6 ride most public transportation for free in Taiwan. My kids absolutely love riding he MRT and HSR! They also typically enjoy big discounts at attractions, while kids under 2 are often free.
Fun activities for kids include Taiwan’s many amusement parks, including the Children’s Amusement Park in Taipei, museums, aquariums, zoos, leisure farms, gondolas, snorkeling, river tracing, and so much more!
It has ancient traditions with modern comforts.
Taiwan is often described as a repository of Chinese culture. This is because many ancient Chinese traditions that were nearly wiped out when the communists won the Civil War were brought over to Taiwan and survive there to this day.
Some ancient Chinese traditions you can observe or participate in while in Taiwan include traditional arts, music, opera, puppetry, religious carnivals and parades, temple customs, fortune telling, knife massage, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), acupuncture, Tai Chi and Qigong, and the list goes on.
At the same time, Taiwan has all the comforts of a modern and efficient society. These include phenomenal public transportation, convenience stores at every corner, smart card payments, comprehensive food delivery networks – you get the point!
Taiwan also has a burgeoning modern arts scene. Kaohsiung is the country’s street art capital, where most of it is legal. There are also numerous contemporary art museums, festivals, and craft markets throughout the year.
It’s a mishmash of cultures.
While several East Asian countries are known for their homogenous cultures, Taiwan is surprisingly mixed.
The original inhabitants of Taiwan are the Taiwanese aboriginals, with 16 officially recognized tribes today. They make up 2.3% of the population, but many Taiwanese have some aboriginal blood. Around 70% of Taiwanese trace their ancestry to Fujian province in China, while another 15% are Hakka, and 10% come from other parts of China.
Historically, the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and British all left marks on Taiwan. But the biggest influence came from the Japanese, who colonized Taiwan for 50 years (1895 to 1945). Today, you can find Japanese food, architecture, and other cultural traits across the island. Some Japanese words have entered the Taiwanese language and are still used today.
Last but not least, Taiwan is home to nearly a million foreign residents, or 3.5% of the total population. The majority of them are from Southeast Asia (there’s even a Little Indonesia in Taipei and Burma Street in New Taipei), with smaller numbers from Japan, USA, South Korea, India, and more.
It is casual and open-minded.
Taiwanese are known for their open-mindedness and acceptance of different cultures and customs. This is evident in the country’s religious tolerance, LGBTQ+ rights, freedom of press, and so on.
In terms of dress code, you can wear pretty much whatever you want. In summer, sandals, shorts, and tank tops are fine for men, while local women can be seen sporting the shortest of shorts, mini skirts, or belly shirts. There is no culture of cat-calling in Taiwan. One rule to stick to, though, is to keep your shirt and shoes on unless at the beach, and going topless at the beach is not normal.
Even while working, Taiwanese professionals can get away with slightly more casual attire than in other East Asian countries. Teaching English in Taiwan, I could even wear shorts and a tank top, though that is not the case with every school.
Taiwan has no open liquor laws, meaning you can buy a cold beer at 7-Eleven and drink it anywhere you want. Traffic laws are often lax and loosely followed, too (not exactly a good thing, so be careful on the roads!)
There are countless festivals and events.
In Taiwan, the calendar is dotted with fun events and festivals. Traditional ones tend to follow the lunar calendar, so their exact dates change every year, while others are tied to the Gregorian (solar) calendar.
The big three annual traditional festivals are Lunar New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival. Others include Lantern Festival, Ghost Month, Tomb Sweeping Festival, the Matsu Pilgrimage, aboriginal harvest festivals, and local temple carnivals and parades.
Modern events include flower viewing festivals, music festivals (several of these fall in April every day), an increasingly popular Christmas festival, New Year’s Eve fireworks and other fireworks festivals, hot air balloon festivals, and sand castle festivals.
It has the world’s best oolong tea.
While bubble tea (invented in Taiwan!) gets most of the attention nowadays, did you know the country also produces some of the highest quality oolong tea?
After tea was brought over from China, it was found to grow particularly well in Taiwan’s misty mountains. Taiwanese tea farmers noticed that they higher they grew the tea, the more delicious it tasted.
Today, artisanal Taiwanese oolong teas are prized around the world. Some of the best include Alishan High Mountain tea, Oriental Beauty, Baozhong, Tieguanyin, Dong Ding, and Dayuling. They are comparatively expensive due to their high demand and low volume. You can buy these teas or experience gongfu tea ceremony at traditional teahouses in Taipei.
It is possible to visit many picturesque tea farms in Taiwan, especially in Pinglin (New Taipei City), Shizhao (Alishan region in Chiayi), Lugu (Nantou), and Luye (Taitung). In Shizhao, you can even spend the night on a tea farm.
Here’s my guide to tea in Taiwan.
It is vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Vegetarians and vegans will be in luck when visiting Taiwan. Vegetarian culture is widespread, with many people (especially elderly and Buddhists) abstaining from meat on certain days or all the time.
Taipei alone has more than 300 vegetarian and vegan restaurants listed on Happy Cow. Every neighborhood has at least one. Here are my 20 favorite vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Taipei and 90+ vegetarian food stalls in night markets across Taiwan.
To help vegetarians and vegans get by in Taiwan, I wrote this Taiwan vegan and vegetarian food guide.
Its convenience stores are something else.
You’ll probably visit 7-Eleven (and FamilyMart, Hi-Life, Simple Mart, OK Mart) more times during your Taiwan trip than you could imagine. These little miracle stores seem to have everything.
Cold drinks, take-away meals, delivery and recycling services, tickets for events and public transportation, made-to-order coffees and teas, office and household supplies, paying bills – there’s hardly any service or thing that you can’t buy at them.
These stores are super air-conditioned (a savior in summer) and often have cozy seating areas and restrooms. The ding-dong sound they make when you walk in the door is part of the familiar soundtrack of Taiwan.
It has super-fast WiFi.
Taiwan has long been known for having crazy fast Internet. In fact, Taiwan even boasted the world’s fastest Internet as recently as 2022.
Since then, several other countries have caught up with and surpassed Taiwan, but the fact remains that you can still expect very fast Internet in Taiwan.
Taiwan is also extremely well connected. As a relatively compact nation, you’ll have Internet access almost everywhere you go. The only exceptions will be some high mountain hikes and those super long tunnels on the train.
Visitors can also enjoy free WiFi in many public places, including MRT stations, Taipei 101, and many popular attractions. Cafes, restaurants, Taoyuan International Airport, and even airport buses also have it.
You’ll never forget riding a scooter in Taiwan.
Taiwan is a nation of scooters. Based on my own research, there are approximately 14 million scooters in Taiwan, which equates to 1 scooter for every 1.7 people!
One of my personal favorite things to do in Taiwan is to ride a scooter around. I mostly avoid riding in the biggest cities, where the traffic can be overwhelming. But the East Coast and any of the offshore islands are blissful. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend visiting some of these islands if you can’t drive a scooter there.
In order to rent a scooter (or an electric Gogoro!) in Taiwan, you’ll need to have a Taiwanese motorcycle license or an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). The latter can only be issued in your home country. Some rental shops may also ask to see motorcycle endorsement on your home country license, but other will not.
Tourist numbers are still way down.
Circling back to what I said in the introduction, Taiwan’s tourism industry still has a long way to go to fully recover from COVID.
Several businesses in Taiwan were destroyed by COVID. A few examples that didn’t survive were Modern Toilet Ximending and the Starbucks that used to be in Taipei 101 (it was the highest Starbucks in the world – but now Taipei 101 has an even higher cafe) Owners of tour companies catering to foreigners have had to find other jobs.
Popular night markets in Taiwan, such as Shilin Night Market in Taipei, Miaokou Night Market in Keelung, Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung, and Liuhe Night Market in Kaoshiung also took a major hit, with fewer stalls than they used to have.
Not only do these businesses need more tourists to come back, but also you can enjoy some of Taiwan’s top attractions with much smaller crowds than before. This may not last much longer, so visit soon before it’s too late!
It’s still relatively off the beaten path.
While Taiwan is undeniably popular, it is still nowhere near the likes of Thailand, Bali, or Japan.
There are actually more tourists in Taiwan than you may realize at first glance. In part this is because many of them are from nearby places such as Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, and you may not even realize they are non-local.
Besides Asian tourists, though, the tourist numbers from other parts of the world remain very low in Taiwan, in stark contrast to the three places I mentioned above.
As long as you avoid the tourist hotspots (or, some might say, traps) like Jiufen Old Street, Sun Moon Lake, and Alishan, you will find that Taiwan still very much feels like an off-the-beaten track destination.