23 May 2024

The perfect Taiwan itinerary for 2 to 3 weeks

Taiwan is one of those destinations where you really feel that you’re traveling. I don’t speak the language, you won’t run into Western tourists all the time, there’s delicious food on every street corner, and it has the most stunning nature. I have 2,5 weeks to explore this beautiful island and have put together a Taiwan itinerary to get the most out of my time here.

Front gate at the Chiang Kai shek memorial hall in Taipei. Must see on your Taiwan itinerary

One of the advantages of Taiwan as a travel destination is that the island is quite small. It’s approximately the same size as The Netherlands (even slightly smaller). If you have two to three weeks and want to travel around, you can see a large part of Taiwan. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can see everything, but I’m very happy with the itinerary I’ve chosen for my first time in Taiwan.

Getting around Taiwan: car or public transport?

To travel around Taiwan, you can rent a car or choose public transport. Public transport is excellent in Taiwan and very affordable. However, be aware that the high-speed rail (similar to Japan) only runs along the west coast of the island. If you want to see more of the east coast or travel around the entire island, then renting a car is probably your best option.

Since my Taiwan itinerary focuses mainly on the west coast, I’m doing everything by public transport. This was much cheaper than renting a car and worked out perfectly. Train tickets can be purchased online and then collected at a machine or ticket counter at the station. There’s also an app to get train tickets on your phone, but it only works in Chinese. With almost all trains, you can reserve your seat when booking your ticket.

Days 1-4: Taipei

View of Taipei from Elephant Mountain. Taiwan itinerary for 2-3 weeks

I’m leaving Amsterdam with KLM the day before, but day 1 is the day I arrive in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. It’s technically a direct flight, but with a short stop in Seoul. We have to disembark the plane briefly to then continue our flight with the same aircraft.

With a time difference of 6-7 hours (summer time-winter time), you need some time to adjust to the new time zone. Which is why I decide to start my Taiwan itinerary by staying in this city for 4 days to gradually get over my jet lag. Plus, there’s so much to do in Taipei that you won’t get bored easily. At the end of my trip, I also have a few more days in the city. So, if there’s something I don’t get to do now, I’ll still have time to do it later.

Where to stay in Taipei: Kimpton Da’an Hotel

Whenever you visit a big city for the first time, it’s always difficult to determine which neighborhood is the best to stay in. While I was preparing my Taiwan itinerary, I noticed that many beautiful, modern hotels and restaurants are located in the Da’an district. I’m staying at the Kimpton Da’an Hotel. A super nice hotel right around the corner from Zhongxiao Fuxing metro station. Ideal for getting over my jet lag.

Don’t miss

  • Get a real taste of authentic Taiwanese dishes during a Taipei food tour with Taipei Eats
  • Hike up Elephant Mountain for the best view of the city
  • Taste the best soup dumplings at world-renowned Din Tai Fung
  • See the changing of the guards at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
  • Go back in time at Dihua Street, Taipei’s oldest street

Days 5-6: Hualien & Taroko Gorge

After these first days in Taipei, I take the train to Hualien. This city is located on the east coast of the island. As I mentioned above, high-speed trains (High-Speed Rail – HSR) don’t run there, but the regular trains (Taiwan Railway – TRA) are perfectly fine. The travel time from Taipei Main Station to Hualien is 2 hours and 10 minutes. From the station, I take a bus to my hotel.

There’s not that much to do in Hualien, but from here it’s easy to get to Taroko Gorge National Park. If you have a rental car, you can visit the park on your own. Since I don’t have my own transportation in Hualien, I book a tour with Island Life Taiwan. They pick you up from your hotel in the morning and drop you off afterwards. Taroko Gorge National Park is one of the highlights of my Taiwan itinerary. The nature is spectacular, and I’m glad I booked a tour so that I can see the most beautiful spots in a day.

Where to stay in Hualien: Just Sleep ZhongZheng

I’m staying two nights at the Just Sleep Hualien ZhongZheng hotel. In terms of design, it’s not a particularly special hotel, but my room is very spacious and its central location is perfect.

Don’t miss

  • Taroko Gorge National Park (obviously)
  • Restaurant Fuzi for excellent Japanese food (and the largest oyster I ever saw)
  • Dongdamen Night Market
  • Have a cup of coffee and homemade cake at Soave Plan

Days 7-8: Taichung

To get from Hualien to Taichung, I first take the same train back to Taipei, and from there, I transfer to the high-speed train to Taichung. The journey to Taipei takes 2 hours and 15 minutes, and from Taipei to Taichung, it’s only 47 minutes.

However, what I didn’t realize is that the high-speed trains don’t stop at the same stations in a city as the regular trains (except for Taipei). The high-speed rail stations are usually located outside the city center. So, while the journey is shorter, you then spend more time getting to your destination. In Taichung, it takes a 20 minute taxi ride to get to my hotel.

Taichung is the second largest city in Taiwan. If you also want to visit Sun Moon Lake, Taichung is a good base. There’s a bus from here to Sun Moon Lake, so you can go back and forth in a day or spend a night at the lake. Originally, Sun Moon Lake was also on my Taiwan itinerary, but I decide at the last moment to add Alishan National Park and therefore have to skip Sun Moon Lake.

Where to stay in Taichung: Explore hotel

My hotel in Taichung is the Explore hotel. The hotel itself is fine and very affordable, but in terms of location, it’s not fantastic. It’s within walking distance of the Feng Chia Night Market, one of the largest night markets in Taiwan, and I probably chose it for that reason. However, the city center of Taichung is a bit further away, and there’s no metro. So to get to the city center from my hotel I take an Uber or the bus.

Don’t miss

  • Feng Chia Night Market (try takoyaki – deep fried Japanese batter balls with grilled octopus)
  • The beautiful interior of Miyahara where people are lining up for its famous ice cream and traditional desserts
  • Beautiful cakes at Lenka, the best place to escape the crowds
  • The best coffee and milk tea of Taichung at Ritrovare coffee plus

Days 9-10: Chiayi & Alishan

Although the high-speed rail also stops in Chiayi, I’m taking the regular TRA train. It stops in the city center, which allows me to walk to my hotel. The travel time is only 1 hour and 10 minutes.

There’s not that much to do or see in Chiayi, but the main reason I’m here is that I will take the bus to Alishan National Park the next morning. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m actually very charmed by Chiayi. The city center mainly consists of these narrow streets where you can wander around. It was also praised in an episode of Street food: Asia on Netflix for its culinary traditions, such as fish head stew. I don’t want to miss that!

To get to Alishan National Park, I take one of the first buses departing from the train station in the morning. I’ll write a separate post later about this beautiful park and how to get there. But one thing is for sure: I’m so happy that I added this to my trip at the last moment. Alishan should definitely be part of your Taiwan itinerary!

Where to stay in Chiayi: Lan Kwai Fong Garden Hotel

There aren’t many options in Chiayi if you’re looking for a modern boutique hotel. I stay two nights at the Lan Kwai Fong Garden Hotel. The room feels a bit dated, but it’s spacious (with a gigantic bed) and has everything I need. And the location is perfect.

If you want to experience the famous sunrise in Alishan, you’ll have to spend the night at a hotel in the park. Unfortunately, that’s incredibly expensive (for a hotel that’s not that special). Also, I read that there’s a pretty big chance that there won’t be a sunrise to watch, so I’m not doing that.

Don’t miss

  • Alishan national forest recreation area
  • Moku Sho: coffee and waffles (!) in a traditional Taiwanese house
  • Taste the fish head stew, a Chiayi specialty, at SMARTFISH (from the Netflix show Street food: Asia)
  • Breakfast at Good morning (there are 2 restaurants with this name, go to the one on Heping road)
  • Visit the old wooden Japanese houses at Hinoki Village (and have a drink at Hit Cat Café)

Days 11-13: Tainan

From Chiayi, I continue to the southernmost point of my Taiwan itinerary: Tainan. Tainan is the oldest city in the country and was also once the capital. It’s one of the few places where you can find traces of the time when Taiwan was a Dutch colony (1624-1662). Oh, and did I mention that it’s also called the food capital of Taiwan?

I take the regular TRA train from Chiayi to Tainan, which only takes 34 minutes.

You could certainly visit Tainan in less than 3 days, but I like that I can take my time. Many sights and nice cafes or restaurants are within walking distance of my hotel. Only the Anping district is a bit further away, but you can easily reach it by bus or Uber.

If you have enough time and want to add another city to your Taiwan itinerary, you can take the train from Tainan to Kaohsiung, which takes less than an hour.

Where to stay in Tainan: U.I.J. Hotel & Hostel

In Tainan, I stay at the nicest hotel on my Taiwan itinerary: U.I.J. Hotel & Hostel. Some floors have hotel rooms, where I’m staying, and other floors are a hostel. A perfect combination. I have a beautiful, luxurious room to myself. But I can also use the cozy ‘living room’ where you can get free tea and coffee, and access the spacious terrace.

Don’t miss

  • Arrive early to get one of the 10 available seats at Zyuu Tsubo for a delicious, fresh Japan-meets-Taiwan meal
  • Learn more about Taiwan’s Dutch history at Fort Zeelandia
  • Visit Anping Tree House to see what happens to a warehouse when nature takes over
  • The charming Shennong street, one of the best preserved historical streets in Tainan
  • The many beautiful temples, such as Confucius Temple

Days 14-16: Taipei

Taipei sign at the Songshan cultural and creative park

Because several people had told me how much they loved their time in Taipei, I made sure to add a few more days in Taipei at the end of my Taiwan itinerary. As I said before, there’s so much to do and see in Taipei and with a few extra days I don’t need to feel rushed at all.

From Tainan, I do take the high-speed train this time, which takes me to Taipei in 1 hour and 46 minutes. So, I need to take an Uber to the HSR station in Tainan, but in Taipei, you arrive at Taipei Main Station, where you can take the metro to your hotel.

I’m considering leaving the city for a day to visit tourist spots like Jiufen. Or pampering myself at one of the hot springs north of the city. But I still have plenty to do in Taipei, so I decide to save these places for another time.

Where to stay in Taipei: Hotel Proverbs

I round off my Taiwan itinerary in style at Hotel Proverbs. This design hotel is also located in the Da’an district, within walking distance of the Kimpton Da’an hotel. I even take the same metro again. You could, of course, choose to stay in two different neighborhoods, but Da’an is very central, and you can reach everything by metro.

My room is wonderfully luxurious, and it really feels like a treat to sleep here for three more nights before I have to fly back.

Days 17-18: Traveling back home

My flight to The Netherlands departs in the evening, so I can spend most of the day in Taipei. Unfortunately, my KLM flight is canceled due to bad weather in The Netherlands. Luckily, there’s a Cathay Pacific flight around the same time with a layover in Hong Kong, so I arrive back in Amsterdam around the same time the next day as I had originally planned.

Would I change anything about this Taiwan itinerary?

228 Peace memorial park in Taipei, Taiwan

If you have two to three weeks, I still think this Taiwan itinerary is perfect for seeing most of Taiwan’s highlights. The distances between the different locations are short, so you don’t have long travel times, and everything is easily accessible by public transport (if you choose that option).

I found the natural parks in Taiwan incredibly beautiful, so I would love to see more of it next time. However, the big cities do start to look a bit alike at some point. They are all definitely worth a visit, and you won’t be bored. But if you’re not going to Sun Moon Lake (like me), then you could skip Taichung, for example. I found this city to add the least to the trip. And if you have less time, you can, of course, spend fewer days in Taipei.


12 Useful Taiwan travel tips for first-time visitors

12 Useful Taiwan travel tips for first-time visitors

Taiwan is an amazing country to visit. It is quite modern, so you don’t have to worry much about getting from A to B or finding places to sleep. However, for many of us it’s a country on the other side of the world with from time to time its own ‘instructions’. Are...