One of the most common questions I get from my readers is how to plan the perfect Taiwan travel itinerary.
It’s a common story: people don’t know too much about Taiwan, they look at the map and see that it’s a pretty small country, so they think 7 days in Taiwan will be enough.
Once they start planning their Taiwan trip itinerary, they realize one week is not enough because there are SO MANY things to do in this compact island nation, so they book 2 weeks in Taiwan.
Then, the more they plan the finer details of their Taiwan itinerary, the more they wish they had actually booked 3 weeks in Taiwan or even one month in Taiwan, and they can’t figure out how to cram it all in!
That’s exactly why I wrote this article. If you want to know exactly how to plan a trip to Taiwan, you’ve come to the best free online resource currently available. Throughout the article you’ll find links to over 20 of my more specific articles about traveling in Taiwan so you can find the finer details for each place.
I’ve been living in and traveling around Taiwan for over 10 years, and I’ve written a book and numerous articles for CNN, National Geographic Traveller, and more about how to travel in Taiwan.
Still, if you want to add anything I missed or that you disagree with, feel free to comment at the end of the article. I’m also happy to answer any questions!
How to Get Around Taiwan
Arriving at the Taoyuan International Airport, the cheapest way to get to Taipei is by bus, which costs around NT125 ($4) and takes about an hour.
The new airport MRT takes 35-50 minutes and costs NT160. Buy an EasyCard when you arrive or order one in advance with a 4G SIM card included to swipe before boarding the MRT. The MRT system is the lifeline of Taipei; you’ll take it to get everywhere, and using an EasyCard is makes each ride cheaper and more convenient.
The EasyCard can also be used on various other types of transportation and services in Taiwan.
Also consider getting an Unlimited Fun Pass, which includes unlimited MRT rides and entrance fees to numerous Taipei attractions. It can save you a chunk of money if you use it to enter enough of the sights included.
Booking a private transfer from the airport online is usually 100-500NT cheaper than grabbing a taxi when you arrive, so I would really recommend this, especially for families or groups of people. Child seats are available upon request.
If you follow my two-week or three-week Taiwan itinerary below, you’ll notice it goes around Taiwan in a clockwise direction. It can just as easily be done in the opposite direction if you prefer.
For most of the route, you’ll be relying on the regular (TRA) trains and a few buses. It is important to book the trains in advance because they almost always sell out. This is especially true for weekends, and on long weekends or holidays like Lunar New Year, entire trains can sell out in minutes.
Make sure you book your tickets online as soon as they go on sale (here’s a guide for how to do it), at midnight exactly two weeks before your trip (for example, for a trip on Feb 16, book right after midnight on the night of Feb 1, technically the early morning of Feb. 2, which is 14 days before your trip.)
There are different types of trains, and for the express ones like Puyuma and Taroko Express, you can’t buy a standing ticket. These ones tend to sell out really fast.
For all other types, you can buy a standing ticket, even at the last minute, and stand somewhere or sit on the floor between cars. I’ve done this a lot, even with kids, and it’s not terrible for 1-2 hour trips. If you see any empty seats, you can sit in them until someone with a ticket comes along.
The west coast has the High Speed Rail (HSR), running from Nangang in Taipei to Zuoying in Kaohsiung. It costs quite a bit more and doesn’t save much time for short trips, especially since the HSR stations are located outside of the city centers for most stops outside of Taipei, while TRA stations tend to be right in the city center.
I would only suggest using the HSR for longer (multi-stop) trips up or down the west coast. For example, if you decide to skip a few stops on my itinerary and gun it from Kaohsiung, Tainan or Chiayi back to Taipei, then I’d say it’s worth the money.
Also note that the Taoyuan HSR stop has a shuttle bus connecting to the Taoyuan International Airport, if you want to go to the airport directly at the end of your trip instead of connecting through Taipei.
You may also use the HSR for getting from the last stop on this Taiwan itinerary (Taichung) back to Taipei, which cuts travel time in half, or for doing a day trip from Taipei to Taichung.
Taiwan 1 week itinerary
If you’ve only got 7 days in Taiwan, obviously you aren’t going to tour the whole country, but it’s still enough time to get a very good taste of it.
What most likely will happen is that you’ll finish your trip and start thinking about when you can come back again to see more of the country. I’m only repeating what many, many travelers say!
With only one week in Taiwan, I would suggest that stick to the greater Taipei area, including a day trip or two, and do ONE longer trip out of the city, perhaps for 2-3 nights.
I’ve got several separate articles to help you plan your time in Taipei. Start with my two day, three day, or four day itinerary for Taipei, guide to where to stay in Taipei, list of 50 best things to do in Taipei, guide to Taipei’s night markets, and the best temples in Taipei. The four-day itinerary includes some suggestions for the best day trips from Taipei.
So where should you go for your 2-3 night trip out of the city? For nature lovers, my number one suggestion would be Taroko Gorge in Hualien County. For all the details you need to plan this part of your Taiwan trip, see my detailed Taroko Gorge guide.
Located in Hualien County on the wild, stunningly beautiful East Coast of Taiwan, Taroko Gorge is the Taiwan’s #1 scenic attraction. If you’re looking for a Taroko Gorge tour, Island Life Taiwan offers the best.
Two nights in Hualien is just the right amount of time, allowing you a full day to explore the gorge. Three nights would allow you to see more of the area or at a more relaxed pace, but since you’re doing Taiwan in one week, I would recommend just sticking to two nights, as there are so many other great places in and around Taipei that you can use that extra day for.
In fact, you could even do Taroko Gorge as a day trip from Taipei, which is a little crazy, but is possible. For example, this tour company offers a day tour to Taroko Gorge, which includes a return flight from Taipei, or there’s this day tour from Taipei by train.
If you’re more of a city person or into the arts, then I’d suggest heading down to Taichung for a few nights. There you can take in sights like Rainbow Village, the Totoro bus stop, Animation Lane, Feng Chia Night Market, and more.
I know that some travelers only spend 1 week in Taiwan and manage to squeeze in a trip to Sun Moon Lake or Alishan, but I don’t recommend doing that; it’s possible, but I think it’s too rushed.
See more about visiting these two famous Taiwan attractions in the Taiwan 3-week itinerary below.
Taiwan 2 week itinerary
If you’ve got 2 weeks in Taiwan, it is feasible to do a full trip around Taiwan by train.
Many people ask me about whether its necessary to rent a car in Taiwan, to which my answer is ‘no’. This country is blessed with an amazing transportation system, both in the main cities and between them.
Driving in big cities can be stressful here and it’s easy to get lost (we even have a car, but only my wife drives it because I’m too nervous to…)
The one place you might want to consider renting a car or scooter is the east coast of Taiwan; see part 2 of my guide to the east coast to see how to plan this awesome road trip from Hualien to Taitung or Kenting.
While it’s easy to do it without a car, you can definitely see more in this part of Taiwan with your own set of wheels.
I don’t want to make this article repetitive, so I’m going to share the detailed Taiwan tour itinerary below, in the Taiwan three-week itinerary section.
To plan an itinerary for two weeks in Taiwan, simply follow the same route I describe for the Taiwan 3 week itinerary, but cut out 2-3 stops and pass by them on the train. Don’t worry; the traveling times are not too long in Taiwan!
*Use the TRA website to check the traveling times between the above stops.
Taiwan 3 week itinerary
OK, now I’m going to get down to some serious day-by-day details. The following is precisely how to plan 3 weeks in Taiwan.
As I said above, simply shave off one or more stops to suit the exact number of days you have in Taiwan.
I’ll also sprinkle the itinerary with ideas for additional stops along way, including off-the-beaten-track attractions. These options will help if you prefer to avoid the major tourist sights, or you’ve got one month in Taiwan or more.
This proposed itinerary involves traveling to a new place every 2-3 days. Some people may not like traveling like this. It depends what kind of traveler you are!
If you are the type of traveler who enjoys spending more time in one spot and getting to know it better, feel free to add extra days to any of the stops, and cut out other stops to make up for it. I will add extra ideas on things to do for each spot in case you stay longer.
I just want to show you what is possible, and how to cover all the main stops in Taiwan in three weeks, for those who want to. This is exactly how I travel, but I know others are different!
Day 1: Arrive in Taipei
Check in to your hotel, and start exploring. See my Taipei accommodation guide for the best hotels in Taipei covering all budgets and types of travelers.
Day 2: Explore Taipei City
Day 3: More of Taipei, or do a day trip
See more details on the best day trips from Taipei at the end of my Taipei 4-day itinerary.
Some popular day trips from Taipei include Jiufen & Jinguashi, Pingxi (including Houtong Cat Village, Shifen Waterfall, and lots of hiking opportunities), Keelung (especially for the great night market), or Jiaoxi (for hot springs and hiking).
If the weather is right, here’s my article on the best beaches within 1-2 hours of Taipei.
Day 4: Take the train to Hualien
Check in to your hotel and begin exploring the area.
If you’ve got time, consider taking this highly recommended aboriginal cooking course.
*See my recommended hotel and hostel choices for each of the above places in my detailed Taroko Gorge article.
Day 5: Taroko Gorge
See my complete Taroko Gorge article for everything you need to know for planning a trip to Taroko Gorge. If you’re looking for a tour, I recommend Island Life Tours, which specializes in Taroko Gorge.
You will want to wake up early for this one, and you’ll probably spend a long, full day visiting the various attractions, views, shrines, and hikes in the gorge, not to mention beautiful Qixingtan Beach and the dramatic Qingshui Cliffs nearby, which can also be included in your Taroko Gorge tour if you plan it right.
Day 6-7: Taitung
Your next stop is one of the most remote and beautiful corners of Taiwan, Taitung County. Also called the “rice basket of Taiwan”, Taitung is known for its clean air, fresh water, quaint rural scenery, and the stunning East Rift Valley.
Spend day 6 to get there. It only takes 1-3 hours to get there on the train from Hualien, depending on which town you decide to stay in, and what speed of train you catch. And of course, spend day 7 exploring the area.
There are four great towns I recommend you can spend a few nights in; each one is beautiful and worthwhile for different reasons. Each of them is on the main train line, and I’ll list them in order of closest to Hualien.
For all four towns, the most beautiful areas to explore tend to be around (not right in) the town center, so it’s ideal to get around by bicycle (rental shops are plentiful), or if you want to explore further afield, by scooter (international driver’s license usually required).
Don’t bother stopping in Taitung city, as there isn’t much to see there. There are direct flights from Taipei’s Songshan airport to Taitung if you want to access the region faster.
Want to Stay in Taitung Longer?
Taitung might just end up being your favorite part of Taiwan, as it is for many expats who live here.
If you’ve got more time or want to focus your trip mainly on this part of Taiwan, hop on a ferry and spend a few days at Green Island (Lu Dao). This small island has more of a tropical feel, with great snorkeling/scuba diving, and has one of only three salt water hot springs in the world. Book your Green Island ferry tickets here.
Another choice is Orchid Island (Lanyu), home to Taiwan’s most remote aboriginal tribe. A trip there involves more planning, so you’ll definitely want to consult my detailed guide to Orchid Island.
If you want to check out the surf and hang with artists and hippies, see my guide to Dulan, a small surf town on the coast near Taitung City, or drive all the way up/down the coastal highway using my Taiwan East Coast road trip article.
Day 8-10: Kaohsiung
Depending on which town you chose in Taitung, it will take you 2.5-4 hours to reach Kaohsiung on day 8.
Spend all of day 9 exploring Kaohsiung, the largest port in southern Taiwan. Street art enthusiasts will find some of Taiwan’s best street art in Kaohsiung, and the newly renovated waterfront around Pier 2 Art Center is a must.
Other things to do include hiking on Shoushan and connecting Chaishan mountains, where you can spot loads of wild macaques, or visiting the restored British Consulate at Takow, which offers beautiful seaside views, or heading to Cijin (Qijin) Island for a few hours.
On day 10, take your pick from a number of great day trip possibilities from Kaohsiung.
Xiao Liuqiu (sometimes called “Little Okinawa”) is a pretty island worth exploring, while Foguangshan, Taiwan’s largest Buddhist monastery and home to the country’s largest Buddha, and Meinong, a quaint Hakka village famous for its bamboo umbrellas, are also in greater Kaohsiung.
Day 11-12: Tainan
A quick hop on the train (30 min to 1 hour) going north will bring you to Tainan, Taiwan’s former capital. History buffs will find great forts and some of Taiwan’s oldest temples to explore (and don’t miss Anping Tree House!) Get the Tainan historical sights pass if you plan to visit many of these sights.
Meanwhile, art lovers should make their way to Blueprint Cultural & Creative Park and 321 Art Alley Settlement.
Most Taiwanese people regard Tainan as the cultural and food capital of Taiwan, so don’t miss the city’s famous street food!
Day 13: Chiayi, Fenqihu, or Shizhuo
Chiayi city itself is nothing special, but it is the gateway to Alishan National Scenic Area, which lies in the Central Mountain Range directly inland. Chiayi is about one hour north of Tainan by train.
There is however one reason you may want to stay overnight in Chiayi: if you want to guarantee a spot on the famous Alishan Forest Railway the next morning. Taking the highly scenic Alishan train ride from Chiayi up the mountain to Alishan is one of the great highlights of visiting Alishan.
It is important to note, however, that for several years now, the train only goes halfway to Alishan, because the second half was destroyed in a typhoon. Now, you can only take the train from Chiayi to Fenqihu, which itself is a worthwhile stop (see below), and then take the bus the rest of the way (another hour).
It is notoriously hard to book online tickets for the Alishan train. To find out how to do it, read my complete guide to getting to Alishan.
However, if you have trouble booking in advance, what a lot of people do (including us when we last went), is just show up in Chiayi and buy a ticket for the train at the Chiayi train station the day before, then spend the night in a hotel near the train station. They seem to keep a quota for last minute ticket sales, and we had no trouble getting one.
If you don’t care about taking the train (note: you can also ride portions of the Alishan train that still operate within the Alishan scenic area at the top), or perhaps you were out of luck and couldn’t get a ticket, then you can always catch the bus from Chiayi up to Fenqihu or Alishan.
See all the bus times in my Alishan transportation guide linked to above.
So back to the itinerary…On day 13, you will catch a train up from Tainan, then either spend a night in Chiayi or catch a bus up the mountain. Most people go directly up to Alishan, but I would recommend stopping halfway in Fenqihu.
Fenqihu is a cute, tiny train station village surrounded by gorgeous mountains and bamboo forests with hiking opportunities. It’s a one-street town famous for its train station lunchboxes, and you can see fireflies here in spring.
We stayed at Fenqihu Hotel (see prices / read reviews), which serves the original (supposedly) and most famous lunchboxes, and I loved the cute woden bathtubs in the rooms when we stayed. It’s literally connected to the town’s only 7-11.
Near Fenqihu, another great option is to stay on a tea farm in Shizhuo, where Alishan High Mountain tea (the most famous tea from Taiwan) is grown. The area has about a dozen local guesthouses run by tea farmers, with rooms offering amazing views over terraced tea fields.
We stayed at Cuiti Guesthouse (see prices / read reviews) and loved it. I’d also recommend Longyun Leisure Farm (see prices / read reviews), which we hiked to in the daytime (with two young kids!) and was also incredibly beautiful.
Staying in Shizhuo was one of my top experiences in 10+ years of living in Taiwan. The scenery is fantastic, as are the sunsets, and there is a network of hiking trails among the terraced tea fields. The farmers will even pick you up at Fenqihu train station, but you may need to bring some food to cook for dinner as there are no restaurants.
Also heads up, they mostly speak little to no English, and you may be the only foreign tourist staying in the area during your visit!
For all the information about staying in Chiayi, Fenqihu, or Shizhuo, see my detailed Alishan guide.
Day 14-15: Alishan
On day 14, make your way from Chiayi, Fenqihu, or Shizhuo up to Alishan National Scenic Area, Taiwan’s most famous mountain resort.
Alishan is famous for Alishan High Mountain tea (you won’t see the tea farms unless you stop in Shizhuo), hiking trails though old growth forests with enormous and oddly shaped cypress trees, the small train lines still operating in the park, and the breathtaking phenomenon of sunrises over seas of clouds.
For all these reasons, Alishan does attract tour group masses, but it’s still one of my favorite places in Taiwan. My complete guide to Alishan offers more information than you’ll find anywhere else, including how to get away from the crowds at Alishan.
If you happen to be coming when the cherry blossoms are blooming at Alishan (March to April), you’ll need to book a room way, way, way in advance.
On the day you arrive, spend the afternoon doing the main tourist hiking loop around the scenic area, which only takes a few hours. Here you’ll have a chance to ride a few short legs of the Alishan Forest Railway, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get one of the train cars made entirely of wood like we did. They smell amazing inside!
On the morning of the 15th, wake up disturbingly early to take the small train line to the famous sunrise viewing point. The train is usually packed with notoriously loud tourists, so you can also consult my Alishan guide to find out how to hike up to the viewpoint, or to find other sunrise viewpoints with no tourists.
Spend the rest of the day exploring some of the lesser-known trails of Alishan, or catching up on sleep.
Don’t forget to bring warm clothes, even in summer. Although rare, you may even see snow at Alishan in winter!
Day 16-17: Sun Moon Lake
The next stop is another touristy but worthwhile scenic attraction: Sun Moon Lake. Like Alishan, you’ll have to battle with some tourist crowds here, but I don’t personally find it that bad and I really love Sun Moon Lake.
See my (as always) extremely detailed guide to Sun Moon Lake here.
If you decide to skip Sun Moon Lake, you can take a bus from Alishan back to Chiayi train station, or from Alishan to Chiayi High Speed Rail station (approximately 2.5 hours).
There are two minibuses per day from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan, departing at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. It’s best to buy your tickets the day before to secure a spot, and the winding ride takes about three hours.
I would advise trying to get the 1 p.m. bus from Alishan so that you can arrive at Sun Moon Lake before dark, though it’s not a big deal to arrive later.
There are two main villages on Sun Moon Lake. The main tourist village is called Shuishe. It’s more convenient, because it’s where your bus will arrive, and where you will catch a bus out from when you leave.
However, I personally prefer Ita Thao, the aboriginal village on the other side of the lake. It’s a tourist town as well, but has a more local and less resorty feel.
Ita Thao’s best part is that it has great night market filled with delicious foods. This may be your best chance in Taiwan (if you are following my Taiwan itinerary) to try aboriginal foods and millet wine! It’s also walking distance from the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.
Ita Thao is a 30-minute ride on the round-island bus from Shuishe, or you can catch ferry across the lake. Cycling or riding a scooter is another option to get there.
On Day 17, spend the whole day exploring the lake. The top attractions include Wenwu Temple (a huge temple complex with a phenomenal lake view), Ci En Pagoda, and the Sun Moon Ropeway to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Park.
Day 18-19: Taichung
The final stop of your Taiwan tour itinerary is Taichung, the second largest city in Taiwan by population (#1 is New Taipei City, #3 is Taipei City).
Regular tourist shuttle buses from Shuishe on Sun Moon Lake to Taichung take about 90 minutes. If you decide to skip Taichung, take the bus from Sun Moon Lake to the Taichung High Speed Rail station to get back to Taipei the fastest, or take a cheaper but slightly longer direct bus from Sun Moon Lake all the way back to Taipei.
When I first came to Taiwan, Taichung was a place that most travelers avoided. Nowadays, it is becoming one of Taiwan’s most popular cities for visitors, thanks mainly to its interesting mix of (especially art and food-related) attractions.
Rainbow Village is the star of the show, while Taichung Cultural Heritage Park, which makes use of an old beer factory, Painted Animation Lane, Totoro bus stop, and Guangfu New Village are other quirky attractions.
921 Earthquake Museum is an eye-opening sight, built in a junior high school that was totally destroyed by the deadliest earthquake in Taiwan’s history. Also don’t miss Feng Chia Night Market, one of the biggest in Taiwan.
Day 20-21: Back to Taipei
Sniff, sniff. It’s time to go back home. I left an extra day on the end here for you to work with, which you can add to anywhere else, or spend your last day seeing anything you missed in Taipei at the start of your trip.
If you want to squeeze is as much of the island as you can, you could even take a bus or private transfer directly from Taichung to the Taoyuan International airport to catch your flight out of Taiwan. Then you won’t have to go back to Taipei, and can add another day or two somewhere else.
Good luck with your trip, and let me know if you have any questions!
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