Taiwan’s capital is packed with endless options for dining, exploring, and entertainment, but there are many day trips worth taking outside the city. From Wulai’s waterfalls and aboriginal culture to Jiaosi’s hot springs to Pingxi’s lanterns and charm, there is much to see and do just beyond Taipei’s city limits.
All the day trips listed here are accessible via public transportation and can be completed in one day (although, once you arrive at any of these destinations, you may decide to stay for the night, which is relatively easy to do). Your biggest challenge? Deciding where to go first.
Enduring shivering temperatures to watch the dawn break at Alishan National Park in the southern town of Chiayi is a quintessential Taiwanese experience. This isn’t a typical fiery sunrise, but one in which the pitch-black horizon, 6,561-plus feet above sea level, instantly erupts in rays of dramatic light that pierce a sea of fog and fluffy clouds. Blink and you’ll miss the spectacle.
The sunrise is best viewed from Bihu Observation Deck, Eryanping Trail, and Duigaoyue Lookout, which are accessible via the Zhushan train line. Meanwhile, the equally enchanting sunset is best seen from Mount Erjian Trail, Eryanping Trail, Ciyun Temple, and Provincial Highway 18. To catch a glimpse of Alishan's famous sea of clouds, head to the Taiping Suspension Bridge, Eryanping Trail, or Ciyun Temple.
Getting There: Take the High Speed Train from Taipei to Chiayi HSR Station (90 minutes). Then, transfer from Chiayi HSR Station Exit 2 to the express bus BRT to Chiayi Train Station (about 25 minutes). From there, board the high-altitude Alishan Forest Railway, which winds its way through Alishan and stops at key lookout spots.
If you take the Alishan Forest Railway, you’ll need to plan in advance; tickets are only sold the day prior to departure, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the second floor of Alishan Station. Note that departure times change daily and the number of train passengers is limited.
Travel Tips: For two weeks each March or April, throngs of visitors flock here to see the sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms) in bloom. The best time to visit, especially during peak periods, is during the week when the crowds are fewer. The temperature changes dramatically from sunrise to day and day to sunset, so dress warmly in layers.
Jinguashi & Jiufen: Gold, Tea, and Sunsets
The former gold-mining town of Jinguashi and neighboring Jiufen are a retro respite from bustling Taipei. Visit Gold Ecological Park in Jinguashi, which offers a retrospective of the area’s history, from a Prisoner of War camp during the Japanese Occupation, to the epicenter of Taiwan’s brief gold rush, to an increasingly popular tourist spot after decades of dormancy. Carve out time to visit the Gold Museum, which has exhibits on the history of Jinguashi and a 485-pound gold brick. From here, visitors can opt to take an easy two-hour hike or a 10-minute bus ride to Jiufen.
If you opt for the hike, begin at Shanjian Road Tourist Trail, which offers stunning views and a moderate trek through a former Japanese POW mining camp. The scenic route ends at the top of Jishan Street in Jiufen. Meander the cobblestone road all the way down Mt. Jilong until it intersects with Shuchi Street, a laddered lane of 362 steps flanked by tea shops, cafés, and shops. Stop for a steaming pot of tea and admire the sunset; as the sun dips behind the mountains, red lanterns illuminate the street, creating a memorable nod to yesteryear that earned Jiufen the nickname “Little Shanghai.”
Getting There: Take a train (45 minutes) from Taipei Main Station to Rueifang and transfer to a bus headed for Jinguashi. When you get to Jinguashi, take a bus to Jiufen or hike along the Shanjian Road Tourist Trail.
Travel Tips: The museums are closed on Mondays. Gold Ecological Park has a gold panning experience, but it’s an extremely remote chance to pan more than gold dust or fools’ gold.
Pingxi & Shifen: Launch Lanterns and Get Lucky
The small village of Pingxi and its neighboring hamlet of Shifen have become synonymous with paper lanterns ever since its coal mines were shuttered at the end of the 20th century. While the Shifen Waterfall and Taiwan Coal Mining Museum are popular attractions, it's the lantern-making and launching that annually attracts thousands of visitors. Take time to stroll the shops along Shifen Old Street. While some shopkeepers will demonstrate how to make one, all of them sell colorful lanterns in which you write your wishes before launching yours into the sky.
Getting There: Take the East Line local train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station, then transfer to the Pingxi Line (one hour). Having once transported coal and miners, this small rail line transports tourists today using the same century-old track and switches along 8 miles of railway.
Travel Tip: During the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival (in January or February, depending on the lunar calendar), there are special buses from Taipei to Pingxi. While most folks visit the village during the Lunar New Year, visitors can launch lanterns any day of the year.
Arguably the most romantic place in Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan is the country's largest freshwater lake. It gets its name thanks to an island in the center of the lake that separates it into two parts: one shaped like a crescent moon and the other like the sun. Located 2,454 feet above sea level, the alpine lake is best explored by boat and bike. Start with a boat tour before renting a bicycle to navigate the 2-mile Xiangshan Bike Trail that borders the lake.
Getting There: Take the High Speed Train from Taipei Main Station and alight at Taichung HSR Station (one hour). From there, go to the first floor, Exit 5, and wait at the third platform for the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle to Sun Moon Lake.
Travel Tip: Autumn brings the most visitors to Sun Moon Lake with festivals and events like the Sun Moon Lake International Fireworks Festival. Cherry blossoms bloom in the spring and fireflies are abundant in the summer.
Jiaosi: Coastal Hot Spring Escape
Located on the fan-shaped Lanyang Plain, Jiaosi is an idyllic township in Yilan on Taiwan’s northeast coast. The main draw here are the odorless sodium bicarbonate hot springs. Unlike the smelly sulfuric hot springs in Beitou and Wulai, the springs here are used to grow vegetables and produce mineral water, and the geothermal heat warms the groundwater that creates Jiaosi’s therapeutic soaks. Several luxury hotels offer hot springs, some en suite.
Getting There: Take the Capital Bus from Taipei City Hall Bus Station or Kamalan Bus from opposite the Technology Building MRT station to Jiaosi (50 minutes).
Travel Tips: Stay longer than a day to take a dolphin- or whale-watching tour and explore nearby Turtle Island, an active volcanic island and ecological park 5.5 miles from Taiwan’s coast. It's open to visitors from March to November; advance reservations are required. Other popular attractions in the area include the Lanyang Museum and black sand beach in Toucheng, and the National Center for Traditional Arts and Luodong Night Market in Loudong.
Established in 1986, Taroko National Park boasts one of Taiwan’s most popular natural wonders: the Taroko Gorge, a 11.8-mile marble gorge. The 227,33-acre park is easily traversed via the Central Cross-Island Highway by car, bus, or scooter. Start with a park orientation at the Visitor Center, which features exhibition halls and offers maps.
Don’t miss walkable routes like:
- Swallow Grotto Trail: This 0.85-mile path features the famous Indian Head Rock formation.
- Tunnel of Nine Turns: The 1.18-mile tunnel route offers breathtaking views of the marble gorge, river, and limestone cliffs.
- Eternal Spring Shrine Trail: A loop trail that starts at the Central Cross-Island Highway Changchun Bridge and meanders past Miluo Cave and Changchun Shrine, devoted to the 226 men who died building the Central Cross-Island Highway. From there, you'll take a steep, Z-shaped trail known as the Stairway to Heaven; it leads to Guanyin Cave, Taroko Tower, and the Bell Tower, which affords a bird’s-eye view of the Liwu River. The trail ends at the Changuang Temple Arch Gate.
- Suspension Bridge: A vertigo-inducing suspension bridge leads to a steep and treacherous hike up the Zhuilu Cliffs, 1,640 feet above the Liwu River. The white-knuckle path takes you to Zhuilu Old Road. Access is limited; folks wishing to trek along the treacherous 6.4-mile route must apply for a park entry permit from Taroko National Park and a mountain entry permit from the Taroko National Park Police (03-862-1405).
Getting There: Take a train from Taipei to Xincheng (Taroko) Station (two to three hours). From there, buy a one-day Taroko shuttle bus ticket.
Travel Tip: Most visitors find it easiest to join an organized tour or rent a car or scooter. If you drive, be aware that from Suao to Hualien, the highway runs along precipitous cliffs. Watch out for rock falls, which are more frequent after typhoons and earthquakes.
Wulai: Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Aboriginal Culture
Wulai is the northernmost settlement for Atayal, Taiwan’s second largest Aboriginal group who have called Wulai home for more than 7,000 years. Take in the splendor of Wulai Waterfall before strolling the Wulai Aboriginal Culture Village, where members of the Atayal tribe outfitted in traditional, red, two-piece argyle dresses sell woven handbags and clothing and perform song-and-dance shows. Get a bird’s-eye view of Wulai from the cable car that whisks travelers to the top of Wulai Waterfall.
Head back down the mountain to Wulai Street, an old road populated with the Wulai Atayal Museum; souvenir shops selling pastel-colored mochi; and restaurants serving Atayal cuisine like mountain boar, zhútong fàn (rice steamed in bamboo tubes), and delicacies made of millet. End the day with a free soak in the Wulai hot springs off Wen Quan Road.
Getting There: Take the Xindian MRT line to Xindian; then, transfer to bus 1601 or take a 20-minute taxi ride. Alternatively, take a specially-marked bus directly from Taipei Main Station or Xindian MRT station to Wulai. Buses stop at the edge of Wulai Village’s old street (30 minutes).
Travel Tips: Bring your bathing suit for the roadside hot springs. The area is unlit at night and the unmarked path is uneven, so it’s best to arrive before nightfall.
Hikers can follow in the footsteps of Chiang Kai-shek who crisscrossed Yangmingshan’s bucolic peaks and floral fields. Located above the Taipei basin, city slickers flock here for the fresh air and hiking. Each of Yangmingshan National Park’s 30 peaks afford panoramic views of the capital. Volcanic gasses that fuel the 18 hot spring areas are a reminder that this is technically an active volcano, although the last eruption was 300,000 years ago.
There are a multitude of hikes in the 28,305 acres of Yangmingshan National Park. Get oriented at the Yangmingshan National Park Headquarters and Visitor Center, which has displays on the park’s geology, flora, fauna, and maps. Hiking options include:
- The Bird Watching Trail: Glimpse more than 20 species of birds like the Taiwan blue magpie and the Formosan whistling thrush during this two-hour, mostly flat, forested hike. It begins at Erziping Recreation Area in the western part of Yangmingshan and ends at the camping area at Qixingshan.
- Qixingshan Summit: The vigorous hike to the rock-strewn summit, northern Taiwan’s tallest peak at 3,674 feet, takes three to four hours. Start at Xiaoyoukeng on the mountain’s northwest side (take minibus 15 to the last stop).
- Butterfly Corridor: A family-friendly, 1.2-mile trail that begins on the outskirts of the 864-acre Datun Nature Park (a volcanic basin) and ends two hours later at Erziping Recreation Area. Butterflies flutter year-round but especially in May and June.
After a day of hiking, take a dip in Lengshuikeng (cold water pit); the mildly alkaline water, containing iron oxide, is cool year-round. Or, soak in scalding hot springs at one of the bath houses dotted along Yang Jin Highway.
Getting There: Take the Taipei Metro to Shilin Station and then transfer to red bus 5. Or, take Bus 260 from Taipei Main Station to Yangmingshan. Bus 108 makes a loop around the center of the national park’s most popular attractions.
Travel Tips: Weekdays are the ideal time to visit as it’s less crowded. Azaleas, the official flower of Taipei City, can be seen in February and March in the northwestern section of Yangmingshan.
Located on a cape in Wanli in northern Taiwan, Yehliu Geopark looks like something out of a trip to Mars. Strong winds are what's behind the trippy formations of random yet familiar shapes: mushrooms, a drumstick, a candle, and a lion’s head. The most famous of the amber-hued volcanic rock and shale formations here is the one that resembles a queen’s head. The strong winds that batter the cape seemingly threaten to overturn this iconic piece.
Getting There: Hop on the Kuo-Kuang Company Bus 1815 (adjacent to Taipei Main Station) bound for Jinshan Youth Activity Center, and get off at Yehliu (45-60 minutes). Or, take the Jinshan-bound express bus from Tamshui station (near the Tamshui MRT station), and get off at the Yehliu stop. You can also take the express bus at National Taiwan University bound for Jinshan and exit at the Yehliu stop.
Travel Tip: The park is divided into three areas, so save time to explore each one. It’s extremely windy: Dress accordingly.
Yingge: Admire Art and Make Your Own Pottery
Local artisans have been making pottery in Yingge for more than 200 years. Start at New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum; Taiwan’s first museum dedicated to ceramics, it examines the development of the material in Taiwan through its permanent collection. After, stroll the pottery shops along Yingge Old Street where you can try your hand at making your own handicrafts.
Getting There: Take the local train from Taipei Main Station to Yingge Station (35 minutes).
Travel Tip: The New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum is closed on the first Monday of each month. Audio guides are available in English.