Traveling During Chinese New Year in Taiwan 2021

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If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan during Chinese New Year, whether you did it intentionally or by accident, there are some things you should know to help you have a smoother trip. Some people feel strongly that Lunar New Year is NOT the best time to visit Taiwan. Moreover, despite being called the “Spring Festival”, it actually takes places in the middle of winter in Taiwan, a time that can be chilly, especially in Taipei.

Lunar New Year in Taiwan is the country’s most important holiday for locals, but the festival doesn’t offer quite so much for visitors to enjoy (unless you are lucky enough to get invited to a Taiwanese family gathering!) In the past, Taipei practically became a ghost town during Chinese New Year. Public transportation still runs on holiday hours, but almost all restaurants and shops close. Moreover, the country’s highways, hotels, and attractions become overrun with domestic tourists on certain days.

However, things are changing. More and more of Taipei’s attractions, which I’ll cover below, are remaining open through the holiday. It’s still feasible to plan a trip around Taiwan and avoid the worst of the crowds using the tips I’ll provide. On the plus side, the weather during Chinese New Year is perfect for hot springs, and depending on the dates, you may be able to catch some cherry blossoms! Therefore, Chinese New Year isn’t necessarily the worst time to visit Taipei.

The information and dates in this article are mainly from CNY 2020, but I will update the article once we are nearer to CNY 2021.

 

Also read:

In this article, I’m going to cover all the special activities coming before, during, and after Chinese New Year in Taiwan, including the popular Lantern Festivals two weeks into the New Year. I’ll also discuss things to do during Chinese New Year in Taipei and other cities, how to plan a trip to Taiwan during Lunar New Year, and exactly which days you should avoid traveling in Taiwan during the Spring Festival.

If you’re in the middle of planning your trip to Taiwan, see my recommended Taipei itinerary, best day trips from Taipei, Taiwan itinerary, and where to stay in Taipei.

Use this link to sign up for Klook and get discounts on travel activities in Taiwan. You may also want to consider getting a Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.

 

Note about Terminology When speaking English, most people in Taiwan refer to the holiday as “Chinese New Year,” but some people, especially expats and non-locals in Taiwan, prefer the more inclusive “Lunar New Year.” In Mandarin, the holiday is called Spring Festival (chun jie or 春節) or guo nian (過年). I use all these terms in this article, but especially “Chinese New Year” simply because that is what most people in Taiwan, including my Taiwanese family members, say.

Anytime around the holiday, you can say Happy New Year (xin nian kuai le or 新年快樂) or wishing you prosperity (gong xi fa cai or 恭喜發財) to locals and they will love it!

 

Table of Contents

When is Chinese New Year in Taiwan?

Since the Chinese lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, the dates of Lunar New Year vary by year. Chinese New Year occurs on the new moon that appears anytime between January 21 and February 20.

The 2020 date for Chinese New Year in Taiwan was Saturday, January 25, 2020. The Lunar New Year Eve was the day before, Friday, January 24.

The 2021 date for Chinese New Year in Taiwan is Friday, February 12, 2021. The Lunar New Year Eve is the day before, Thursday, February 11.

The 2022 date for Chinese New Year in Taiwan is Tuesday, February 1, 2022. The Lunar New Year Eve is the day, Monday, January 31.

 

How Many Days Do People Have Off During Lunar New Year in Taiwan?

Me having a Lunar New Year's Eve meal in Taiwan with my Taiwanese relatives
That’s me enjoying Lunar New Year food and drinks with my wife’s relatives in a small town in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan

 

How long is the Chinese New Year holiday in Taiwan? Generally speaking, Chinese New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year Day, and the following four days are national holidays in Taiwan. In other words, people technically have 6 national holiday days.

However, because of weekends, the holiday sometimes lasts longer. For example, in 2020, New Year’s Eve was on a Friday, New Year’s Day was Saturday, plus four more days brought us to Wednesday. That’s a total of six days off. Some people, if they were lucky, got the final Thursday and Friday off because their companies let them.

The situation will be similar in 2021, but look at the dates for 2022: New Year’s Eve falls on a Monday. That’s means people get a normal weekend, Monday to Saturday are the official holidays, plus another Sunday at the end, making for a total of nine days off. Make sense?

The Taiwanese government also sometimes does something called compensation days. If people had to go back to work on a Friday, the government would just give them that Friday off to extend the holiday to the weekend. Then everyone would have to work on a following (or preceding) Saturday to “make up for it”. This often happens when a national holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday in Taiwan.

So what do people in Taiwan do during Chinese New Year? Just about everyone gathers with their extended paternal (father’s side) family on New Year’s Eve (chu xi or 除夕) for a large meal, similar to Christmas Eve dinner in the west. They usually gather in their hometown or parents’/grandparents’ home, which is often located in the countryside or south of Taiwan.

On New Year’s Day (chu yi or 初一), they eat (and for some families drink) all day long, visit with neighbors, play mahjong, and perhaps pop in to their local temple. On day two of the lunar new year (chu er or 初二), families travel to visit their maternal relatives (the mother or wife’s extended family), a day called hui niang jia (回娘家). From day 3 until the end of the holiday, they usually start getting bored sitting around with relatives and go on trips around the island.

I’ve spent nearly a dozen Spring Festivals in Taiwan. Before I was married, I often used the time off to travel or just relax and hang out with friends in Taipei. But since getting married and getting to know my wife’s family, I must say that I love Chinese New Year for the comfortable feeling of gathering with family to eat loads of amazingly delicious homemade food and (to be completely honest) drink ridiculous amounts of beer. The one thing I’ve learned, though: don’t say yes to the kaoliang (a distilled sorghum liquor that is usually 58 percent alcohol…)

 

How Long is the Chinese New Year Holiday for Students in Taiwan?

Most students in Taiwan get 2-3 weeks off for lunar new year, while university students get a whole month. This doesn’t have a major impact on planning your trip to Taiwan, since most parents only get that one week off, and that’s when they do their family trips around the country.

 

I never travel without my favorite travel guidebook (see on Amazon Singapore here)

 

How’s the Weather During Chinese New Year in Taipei?

Normal weather during Chinese New Year in Taiwan
Typical overcast weather in January and February in Taiwan

 

I’m sorry to break it to you, but the weather during Lunar New Year in Taipei, that is late January to mid February, tends to suck. January is the coldest month of the year (average 13.9°C) and February is the second coldest (14.4°C). The lowest it ever gets is about 8-10°C.

That may not seem that cold, but factor in the high humidity, gray skies, and drizzly rain for 14 days per month (on average), and it results in that icky, cold-to-the-bone feeling.

On the plus side, it’s still not THAT cold, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can be surprisingly warm (thank you global warming?) The weather is not going to stop you from doing what you want to do in Taipei, except maybe hitting up one of Northern Taiwan’s beaches. And the best part is that it’s perfect weather for hot springs!

 

How’s the Chinese New Year weather in the rest of Taiwan?

Generally speaking, the further south you go, the warmer it gets, and it doesn’t rain as much as in Taipei. Taichung and Miaoli tend to have better weather than the capital. Kaohsiung, Pingtung, and Kenting can even experience near-summer like conditions, with temperatures often 5-10 degrees warmer than in Taipei. That’s practically beach weather, and in Dulan Taitung, people surf year-round.

One exception is the Central Mountain Range. Obviously, the higher you go up, the colder it gets. If you plan on visiting Alishan, for example, you should bring a jacket even in summer. During Chinese New Year, it can be really freezing up there! It is possible (although not normal) to see snow up there as well. If you plan to stand around in the early morning waiting for the famous Alishan sunrise, then make sure you wear some very, very warm clothing!

Taroko Gorge isn’t much better than Taipei, and being close to the coast it can be windier as well. All I can say is bring lots of layers, and consider visiting Wenshan Hot Spring while you are there!

 

Can I See Snow in Taiwan during Lunar New Year?

Snow Mountain, one of the places to see snow in Taiwan during Lunar New Year
Me on the top of Snow Mountain in winter

 

It’s possible, but not likely to see snow in Taiwan. If that’s your goal, then please read my guide to where to see snow in Taiwan.

It doesn’t normal snow around Taipei, but I remember in early February 2016, and again but a lesser amount in 2018, snow fell in several places around New Taipei City, such as on Yangmingshan, and locals who had never seen snow before were super excited, driving up to see it and building little snowmen on their cars to drive back down to the city. This is definitely not the norm, though, and is unlikely to start happening on a regular basis, but who really knows?

If you really want to see snow in Taiwan, you’ll have to drive up to Hehuanshan (合歡山), which can be reached via a long, winding drive up Highway 8 from Taroko Gorge National Park to the highest navigable pass in Taiwan, Wuling Pass (武嶺). Many years ago, there was even a ski lift up there! You can organize a day tour to Hehuanshan from Taichung here.

Another way to see snow in winter in Taiwan is by doing some serious hiking, especially to the aptly-named Snow Mountain (Xueshan or 雪山, see photo above) or Jade Mountain (玉山 or Yushan).

 

Flying to or from Taipei During Chinese New Year

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, be aware that flights departing from Taipei around the beginning of the holiday (especially on the first day that people have off) and flying into Taipei around the end of the holiday can be ridiculously expensive.

For example, return flights to Japan that would normally cost a few hundred dollars return might go up to $1000 return. The airlines know that this is the only days people can travel, so they jack the prices way up.

It can make a big difference if you book really far in advance, and more importantly, if you have some flexibility in your travel dates. Sometimes, just adjusting by a day or two can change the fares by hundreds of dollars.

My parents have actually flown to Taiwan from Canada a couple times during Chinese New Year, and both times they got some of the cheapest fares I’ve ever seen, so it’s worth checking out the fares.

 

Special Activities Leading Up to Lunar New Year in Taipei

In the same way that malls in Western countries get crazy busy leading up to Christmas, Taipei’s traditional markets get insanely packed in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year. Rather than buying gifts, locals go to buy traditional decorations, treats, and ingredients for preparing New Year’s feasts.

A few traditional markets in particular are associated with the Lunar New Year in Taipei City.

 

Dihua Street before Lunar New Year

Dihua Street at Chinese New Year in Taipei

 

Dihua Street (迪化街) is thought to be the oldest street in Taipei, dating back to the Dutch period in Taiwan (1624–1661). It has been a center of trade for centuries, and today its shops continue to sell all manner of goods, from dried seafood and herbal medicines to teas and traditional delicacies.

Dihua Street is located in historic Dadaocheng neighborhood, just north of the Old City of Wanhua (Monga). It’s a fascinating place to visit anytime of year, but in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, locals flock to Dihua Street en masse to purchase goods for the holiday.

The entire length of Dihua Street becomes clogged with people at this time, with the busiest days being the two weekends before Chinese New Year. At that time, shops set up additional displays out on the street, with samples and snacks galore. It’s a great place to get into the New Year spirit, if you can handle the crowds.

Once the New Year holiday begins, however, the street will almost entirely clear out and almost all shops will be closed (see more on that below).

 

Nanmen Market, Taipei

Nanmen Market in Taipei at Chinese New Year
Giant CNY steamed buns at Nanmen Market

 

A lesser-known (to visitors at least) traditional market that has come to be associated with Lunar New Year is Nanmen Market (南門市場) near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, although the market currently in the midst of being rebuilt.

This large, two-story market was one of Taipei’s best, and in the weeks leading up to the New Year, it became another go-to place for Spring Festival goodies that will make any Taiwanese person drool. The market’s narrow aisles got just as packed as Dihua Street at the same times.

Nanmen market officially closed on October 4, 2019, and is currently in a temporary location while the old one gets rebuilt above a new MRT line. The new one is slated to open in 2022 or 2023.

The original location of Nanmen Market was #8, Roosevelt Rd. Section 1, while the current temporary location is nearby at #55, Hangzhou South Road Section 2, at the corner of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

 

What is Taipei like During Chinese New Year?

Everything is normal in the weeks leading up to the Spring Festival, besides the masses of locals flocking to traditional markets to pick up supplies. You won’t see it, but most company workers are attending (sometimes wild) year end parties hosted by their bosses.

On the night before New Year’s Eve (January 23, 2020), and all day on New Year’s Eve (January 24, 2020) starting extremely early in the morning), people start vacating the city and driving “to the south” (meaning pretty much anywhere south of Taipei), mostly to villages in the countryside in central and southern Taiwan. This is when all highways out of the city become totally clogged, and train seats are virtually impossible to reserve.

On New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day (February 25, 2020), and Day 2 (February 26, 2020) of the New Year, Taipei City can feel like a ghost town. Almost all food stalls, restaurants, and businesses are closed. Same thing with most bars and night clubs. Most of the bigger Taipei Night markets remain open, but with far fewer stalls operating. The streets are practically empty and eerily quiet. Around day 3 and day 4, things start gradually opening again, and by day 5 and 6, they are practically back to normal again.

Despite most people being gone and most establishments being closed, some do remain open, and there are still plenty of things you can do. I’ll cover that in a different section below.

 

What is it like traveling around Taiwan during Chinese New Year?

It is important to consider local people’s New Year schedule when planning your trip around Taiwan during Lunar New Year.

On New Year’s Eve, half the country is on the road, mostly driving from Taipei towards the south, and from other large cities toward the countryside. Therefore, you should avoid traveling out from Taipei that day. Train tickets will be impossible to secure, and highways will have stand-still traffic. A highway trip that normally takes 4 hours could take 8.

On New Year’s Day, almost everyone is already with their families and staying at home. As a result, it’s actually not a bad day to travel. Very few local people are on the road, visiting attractions, or staying in hotels.

On Day 2 of the New Year, many people hit the road again, because it’s the day to gather with the wife’s side of the family (called hui niang jia or 回娘家), which may be in a different city or county. It’s not as bad as New Year’s Eve though, and attractions around the country should still be relatively crowd-free.

Days 3-5 (or longer when the holiday ends with a weekend) are when local families get bored of staying at home and start traveling around the island. These are the days when highways get super busy again, trains are full, and especially hotels and attractions around the country are filled to the max.

If you are traveling around Taiwan on these days, you may have to book your hotel room really far in advance, and the prices may be much higher than usual. A safer choice is to plan to be in one of the bigger cities at this time, for example Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, or Kaohsiung, where there are loads of hotel choices, and most locals leave these cities (not come to them) at this time.

 

Things to Do in Taipei During Chinese New Year

Compared to other major cities around the world where Lunar New Year is celebrated, Taipei is surprisingly boring during the holiday. There’s no organized fireworks display (you will hear them randomly going off, more so if you get further away from the city), there’s no public parade, and you won’t see dragon or lion dancing in the streets like I’ve seen in other major cities such as Hong Kong. Even American cities like San Francisco probably have more public CNY-related activities than Taipei!

The only New Year-specific activity I’ve ever heard of in Taipei is the Chinese New Year Dragon and Lion dance at Grand Hyatt Taipei. Besides that, I’m now going to give you a list of other ideas for things to do during Chinese New Year in Taipei. As you’ll see below, some of Taipei’s most famous tourist attractions actually stay open throughout the holiday, but many close of have reduced hours on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

The below dates are mostly from Lunar New Year 2020. I will update the dates when Lunar New Year 2021 approaches, but these should give you a good idea for what to predict in 2021.

 

1. Dragon and Lion Dancing at Grand Hyatt Taipei

Lion Dance at Grand Hyatt Taipei, one of the best things to do in Taipei during Chinese New Year

 

One special activity that you simply can’t miss during Lunar New Year in Taipei is the Dragon and Lion Dance Performance held in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel near Taipei 101. The event will take place on day 1 (Friday, February 12, 2021) of the new year and usually starts at exactly 11:00 AM in front of the main entrance of the hotel. I will confirm this time and date when CNY 2021 is closer.

The event using kicks off with an explosion of firecrackers, wild drumming, and dragon dancing outside (especially fun for kids, who get to touch the dragon). Next, the performance quickly moves inside to the lobby, where an impressive lion dance takes place and crowds fill up several floors of vantage points.

At the end, the lions go around tossing candies to children and people get a chance to pose with the lions for photos. It’s really a well-done performance, so kudos to the Grand Hyatt for putting on Taipei’s only public performance of this kind every year!

Also feel free to read about our luxury camping experience with kids at the Grand Hyatt Taipei, especially if you are visiting Taipei with children!

 

2. Taipei 101 Observatory during Chinese New Year

Is Taipei 101 open during Chinese New Year? You bet!

 

The Taipei 101 observatory is open throughout the Chinese New Year Holiday. On New Year’s Eve (January 24), the hours are reduced to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission 5:15), while other days maintain the usual hours of 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

I have visited Taipei 101 during Chinese New Year, and the crowds were moderate but not too bad. Remember to book your ticket online, and go for the priority pass option if you are concerned about long lines. Taipei 101 Observatory is the most valuable item included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.

 

3. Elephant Mountain during Chinese New Year

View of Taipei from Elephant Mountain, a great free thing to do in Taipei during Lunar New Year

 

Hiking to Elephant Mountain beside Taipei 101 to enjoy postcard views of Taipei is a popular thing to do anytime of the year. Lunar New Year is probably one of the least crowded times to do this, and as always, it’s totally free!

 

4. Taipei Zoo during Chinese New Year

Is Taipei Zoo open during Chinese New Year? Yes, it is!

 

Taipei Zoo is open every day of the year except for Chinese New Year Eve (January 24, 2020). Moreover, since most local families are out of town, it should be less crowded than usual. The Taipei Zoo is included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.

 

5. Maokong Gondola during Chinese New Year

Maokong gongola, which is closed on Chinese New Year Eve, but open other days of the Lunar New Year holiday

 

Beside the Taipei Zoo, Maokong Gondola is usually closed on New Year’s Eve and runs regular, or close to regular hours on all the other days. Don’t forget to that Maokong Gondola is closed every Monday and sometimes randomly closes during poor weather.

Check out this Maokong Gondola and Taipei Double Decker Bus deal. The gondola is free for Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass holders.

 

6. National Palace Museum during Chinese New Year

Is the National Palace Museum open during Chinese New Year? Yes, but with reduced hours on Lunar New Year's Eve

 

Like several of the above attractions, you can expect the National Palace Museum, Taipei’s most famous museum, to close its doors on Lunar New Year’s Eve. For the remaining days of the holiday, the museum usually adopts reduced holiday hours, closing around 4:30 p.m. (with the last ticket sold at 3:40 p.m.)

Because it is one of the few major indoor attractions open, the National Palace Museum can be a little busy during Spring Festival. Keep in mind that the museum limits daily visitors. Therefore, as always, it’s a good idea to book your National Palace Museum ticket online before you go. The National Palace Museum is also included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.

7. Taipei Children’s Amusement Park during Chinese New Year

Taipei Children's amusement park is closed on Lunar New Year's Eve but open other days of the Chinese New Year holiday

 

Just like Taipei Zoo and Maokong Gondola, the Taipei Children’s Amusement Park is closed on New Year’s Eve and resumes normal hours on the other days. The Taipei Children’s Amusement Park is also included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass (entrance fee only, rides cost extra).

 

8. Beitou Hot Springs during Chinese New Year

Planning to visit Beitou Hot Spring during Chinese New Year? Most spas remain open, but some of the attractions are closed for a few days

 

One of the best things to do in Taiwan in winter is soaking in hot springs, and Beitou is the only MRT-accessible hot spring village in Taipei.

Since most hot springs in Beitou are run by large hotels and resorts, these remain open any day of the year. See my detailed guide to Beitou for the best ones.

However, several of the attractions at Beitou will be closed on certain days, as follows. Also keep in mind that most things at Beitou usually close on Mondays.

Beitou Hot Spring Museum: closed January 24 to 28, 2020
Beitou Public Library: closed January 24 to 27, 2020
Beitou Geothermal Valley: closed January 24 and 25, 2020
Beitou Public Hot Spring (Millennium Hot Spring): closed January 23 and 24, 2020

Other hot spring options outside of the city include Wulai south of the city and Jiaoxi Hot Spring Village in Yilan county. See all the details in my guide to the best day trips from Taipei.

 

9. Visiting Temples during Chinese New Year

Tianyuan temple, where you can sometimes see cherry blossoms during Chinese New Year

 

Most temples never close to the public, even during Chinese New Year. In fact, one of the things that most Taiwanese people do on New Year’s Day is pay a visit to their local temple.

Longshan Temple can be very lively at this time, making it a great time to visit. Depending on the dates, you may even be able to catch the cherry blossoms at some temples, such as Tianyuan Temple in Danshui (image above).

See my guide to my favorite 30 temples in Taipei and New Taipei City for all the information.

 

10. Department Stores, Convenience Stores, and Restaurants in Taipei during Chinese New Year

The Miramar Ferris Wheel is even open during Chinese New Year

 

While it may seem like every small business in Taipei is closed, most of the large department stores remain open during Chinese New Year. For example, SOGO usually has reduced hours on New Year’s Eve (around 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), and then business as usual from New Year’s Day on.

Even the giant Ferris Wheel at Miramar Shopping Mall (pictured above) usually remains open until around 6 p.m. on Lunar New Year’s Eve, and is included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.

Not only do department stores stay open, but many of them offer sizable discounts during the holiday, mainly to entice shoppers to spend their red envelope (hong bao or 紅包) money (cash they receive as CNY gifts from relatives).

 

Taiwan 7-11 and FamilyMart. At least you can count on convenience stores in Taiwan staying open during Chinese New Year

 

So where can you eat if all the restaurants in Taipei are closed during Chinese New Year? Well, if worse comes to worst, none of us will ever die (or run out of coffee & beer) because 7-Eleven, FamilyMart and all the convenience stores found on practically ever corner in Taipei NEVER CLOSE. Ever.

In the country with the highest concentration of “Sevens” in the world, there’s no shame in getting a meal or even hanging out with friends and having some drinks at your local convenience store.

Most major grocery store chains, such as Wellcome and Carrefour, also remain open during the holiday, some with reduced hours, while Costco has gone against the grain and closes for New Year’s Day.

In terms of restaurants in Taipei during Chinese New Year, most really do close for New Year’s Eve and the first 2-3 days of the New Year. If you look hard enough, though, you can still find a few open, including most fast food chains. You may also have better luck trying more international or foreign-run places. Just call first to find out, and don’t trust the hours posted on GoogleMaps.

One year we had a great meal at the American chain Gordon Biersch, which serves some of the best Western food in Taipei, on New Year’s Day!

A few more spots to note that will closed during Lunar New Year:

Shifen Waterfall (closed Jan. 24)
National Taiwan Museum (closed Jan. 24 and 25)
Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum (closed Jan. 24 to 28)
Din Tai Feng Restaurant (closed Jan. 24 and 25)
Ximending Red House (closed Jan. 24)
Bopiliao Historical Block (closed Jan. 24 and 27)
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (closed Jan. 24 and 25, but square is still open)
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (closed Jan. 24 and 25, but square is still open)

 

If You Do Have to Travel During Chinese New Year in Taiwan

If you absolutely have to travel on the some of the busiest days of Chinese New Year, you’ll still survive!

You may not be able to get regular train tickets, but it doesn’t hurt to try. What you have to do is buy them the minute they go on sale, which is 14 days before the date of travel. But remember, the day starts at midnight or 12:00 a.m., so it’s actually the night of the 15th day before your trip. If you want a ticket for Feb. 15, then buy it on 12:00 a.m. on February 1, which is actually the night of January 31. And they can seriously sell out in less than a minute!

If you don’t manage to get a seat, keep in mind that you can always buy a standing ticket on regular trains in Taiwan, except for the express trains (Taroko Express or Puyuma Express). The train may be absolutely packed, but you can still usually squeeze on.

A far better choice if you can afford it is to take the High Speed Rail. You can try reserving HSR tickets 28 days in advance on the official website or here on Klook, which often comes with a discount.

If you don’t get tickets, not to worry! Cars 10-12 of every train are the non-reserved section, so you can show up at any time, even during Chinese New Year, buy a ticket, and get on. I’ve personally done this during Chinese New Year, and while it was pretty busy, we just had to wait in a line for a while, not making it onto the first train that came, then getting on the second one (even getting a seat!) They don’t get as packed as the regular trains.

And if you have to take a bus or even drive? Well, just double your traveling time, but it’s not the end of the world. We’ve done the drive from Taipei to Chiayi multiple times to visit my wife’s family during the holiday. We’ve even stayed in hotels on the busiest days, we just booked them many, many months in advance.

 

Awesome Festivals After Chinese New Year

For foreign visitors, it’s actually better to be in Taiwan a few weeks after Chinese New Year to catch the awesome Lantern Festivals around the island, not to mention a few more unusual festivals happening around the same time. Flights at this time should also be cheaper!

 

Taiwan Lantern Festival

The main Taiwan Lantern Festival event, which takes place in a different city every year

 

The Lantern Festival (yuan xiao jie or 元宵節) is an ancient Chinese festival that takes place annually on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. People across Taiwan celebrate it by eating tang yuan (little gelatinous balls served in hot, sweet soup) and attending a variety of lantern events.

Every year, a different city in Taiwan hosts the national Lantern Festival event. These enormous events take place over multiple days and feature concerts, hundreds of lanterns and other bright decorations on display, and usually one enormous lantern featuring the zodiac animal of the New Year (see pic above).

These events have become so big that they now usually take place at three different venues at the host city, and a lot of advanced technology is used to put on wild displays on the ground and in the sky.

The 2020 Taiwan Lantern Festival Main Event will the held in Taichung at Houli Park, the same place where the 2018 Taichung World Flora Expo was held, from February 8 to 23. 15 million people in total are expected to attend. Read more about this part of Taichung, famous for its bikeways, in my article on the best Taichung day trips, and learn more about this year’s festival here.

I’ve been to a few of these national lantern festival celebrations before, and personally speaking, they aren’t my favorite. They can be really, really crowded, and I prefer the more peaceful city events (see below), where there isn’t a stage with loud music and announcements at all times.

 

Taipei Lantern Festival and Other City Festivals

Taipei Lantern Festival

 

Every year, Taipei, other major cities, and many smaller cities and towns across the country host their own smaller lantern festivals. Most of these involve a large public display of gorgeous handmade lanterns, many of which are more like huge, lit up, 3D art pieces, and some are made by children. It’s really a stunning thing to see, and my personal favorite part of the Lantern Festival.

Cities that host such displays of lanterns include:

 

Taipei Lantern Festival 2020: February 8-16, 2020 in Ximending and Nangang, see more details here.

New Taipei City Lantern Festival 2020: Two locations. One is in Sanchong district (三重區) at New Taipei Metropolitan Park (MRT Sanchong Station) from February 7 to March 1. See the official page here. Another one is in Shulin District (樹林區) at Shulin Rear Station (樹林後火車站) with various activities from December 14, 2019 to February 10 2020, with the main lantern event happening on Feb 8 and 9. See lanterns already set up there. There are also a variety of tradition non-lantern activities happening in other parts of New Taipei City; see the website devoted to them (Mandarin only).

Taoyuan Lantern Festival 2020: January 31 to February 12 at Xinshi Park (桃園平鎮新勢公園). See official website.

Hsinchu Lantern Festival 2020: February 6 to 16, 2020 at Hsinchu Moat Park (護城河親水公園). Hsinchu will also have a series of lantern-related activities and concerts from February 6 to 16 and Zhubei Cultural Park (Bamboo Shoot Park) (文化公園(竹筍公園), with the main concert happening on February 8 (see the official activities line-up).

Taichung Lantern Festival 2020: December 21, 2019 to February 23, 2020 at Wenxin Forest Park (文心森林公園). See official page.

Tainan Lantern Festival 2020: Called the Tainan Yue Jin Lantern Festival, January 18 to February 16, 2020 at Yuejin Harbor in Yanshui District of Tainan (also see the Yanshui Fireworks Festival below)

Kaohsiung Lantern Festival 2020: January 29 to February 9, as usual to be held along the banks of the Love River in Central Kaohsiung. See all the details here. Here’s some info on other smaller Lantern Festivals in Kaohsiung, including one at Foguangshan, the largest monastery in Taiwan.

Taitung Lantern Festival 2020: January 31 to February 9 at Taitung County Taitung City Office (臺東縣臺東市公所), near the Taitung Night Market. See official page. The event culminates with the Bombing Of Master Han Dan (see below).

Hualien Lantern Festival 2020: January 18 to February 16 at Dongdamen Night Market (東大門夜市) and Liyu (Carp) Lake (鯉魚潭). See official page.

Yilan Lantern Festival 2020: February 1 to 16 at Yuanshan Park (員山公園). See official page.

 

Pingxi Lantern Festival

Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival

 

The Taiwan Lantern Festival you are most likely to hear or know about is the annual Sky Lantern Release at Pingxi, New Taipei City. This festival features mass releases of sky lanterns at timed intervals. See loads of details about the Pingxi Lantern Festival here.

I went to my first and only Pingxi Lantern Festival around 10 years ago, in one of my first few years in Taiwan. Although I’m glad I went once, I would never go again. There are no words that can describe how crowded this festival is (even by Taiwanese standards, it’s like a night market x 100). On top of that, local environmental and hiking groups have spoken out about how these sky lanterns get stuck in trees and pollute Taiwan’s natural environment. Learn about Taiwan’s first eco-friendly lantern festival here.

The main lantern releases take place on the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the Lunar New Year (February 8, 2020). However, because the event is so popular, festivities and mass lantern releases begin there a few days earlier, and continue for two weeks after. The government recently announced that the two major mass releases this year will be February 1 and 8 (both Saturdays). The February 1 release will be at Pingxi Junior High School (6:00 to 8:30 p.m., Pingxi Station) and the February 8 one will be at Shifen Sky Lantern Square (5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Shifen Station), though you can expect there to be a lot of people and lantern releases on all the days between the main events.

If you go, I would actually recommend avoiding the main day, as it is simply too crowded, and getting there and back home can be a nightmare, as all buses, roads, and the tiny Pingxi train get totally clogged. The time I went, I think I waited in a line for 1.5 hours to get on a bus to go back to Taipei.

You can actually release sky lanterns in the area on any day of the year, with the most popular spot being from the train tracks at Shifen station on the Pingxi railway line. See the details in my articles on the best day trips from Taipei and how to get to Shifen from Taipei.

 

Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

Yanshui Beehive Festival, one of the craziest things to do in Taiwan during Chinese New Year

 

On the same night as the Lantern Festival and mass sky lantern release in Pingxi, a far wilder event takes place in the south of Taiwan, called the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival (鹽水蜂炮).

Every year sleepy Yanshui district, a small town in Tainan City, lights up with one of the world’s most dangerous festivals. There, crowds of people get willingly shot by hundreds of thousands of bottle rockets, often causing serious injuries.

The tradition began over 100 years ago as a way to ward off a cholera epidemic. My father and I attended the event a few years ago and survived, although my dad did catch fire once or twice. Read my detailed guide to the Yanshui Fireworks Festival for all the details.

 

Bombing Master Handan and Bombing the Dragon Festivals

A lesser known but equally crazy festival called Bombing of Master Handan (台東炸寒單) takes place around the same time in Taitung City. In this case, the crowds throw firecrackers at a half-naked volunteer on a platform. See this article to find out why they do it.

Meanwhile, over in Miaoli, central Taiwan, a Hakka Festival called the Miaoli Bombing of the Dragon culminates with, you guessed it, throwing firecrackers at a dragon.

 

Final Thoughts: How to Plan a Chinese New Year Trip in Taiwan

Perhaps you booked it before you realized it, or maybe you work here and its your only time off, just like everyone else. Perhaps it isn’t the best time to travel around Taiwan, but it’s not terrible if you plan it right.

When booking your flights, remember that anything departing Taipei around the start of the holiday, or coming back around the end of it, could be significantly more expensive, but sometimes just changing your schedule by one or two days can make a huge difference.

If you can, try to be in Taipei for the busiest days, where at least there’s still quite a bit to do, or plan some hiking or beach time in the south if you can. Avoid traveling out from Taipei on Chinese New Year Eve and the evening before it, and traveling back to Taipei on the last day of the holiday.

For day 3 three of the New Year until the last day off, try to avoid visiting major tourist attractions around the island, and if you can’t avoid it, then remember to book your hotel room as far in advance as possible, or accept that you may not be able to get a room. Usually you can start booking hotels on booking sites about six months in advance.

Remember also to check for Airbnbs in Taiwan if all the hotels seem full.

I hope this article has helped you figure out how to make the best of your Lunar New Year trip to Taiwan. Thanks for reading, and let me know how your trip goes or if I could add anything to make this article more helpful!

– Nick

 

I never travel without a guidebook! I recommend these (to see on Amazon Singapore, click here!)

 

4 thoughts on “Traveling During Chinese New Year in Taiwan 2021”

  1. Great article about traveling during the CNY! Have you heard any information about this year’s Dragon and Lion Dance at the Grand Hyatt Taipei? We’d love to take our little one!

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Kelly, I’ve just called them to confirm, and the event will take place on Saturday, January 25, starting at exactly 11 AM. It begins outside the front door, then quickly moves inside to the lobby.

      Reply
  2. “On the night before New Year’s Eve (February 23, 2020), and all day on New Year’s Eve (February 24, 2020)…” February? Don’t you mean January?

    Reply

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