Just Passing Through: 5 Taiwan Urban Layovers

Visitors find themselves in Taiwanese cities for all sorts of reasons: Business, pleasure, or a mix of both. Sometimes though, folks are just passing through on the way to somewhere else. Taiwan Scene examines 5 Taiwanese cities that are commonly used as brief waystations on the way to somewhere else, and what these cities offer for those who take a few hours to explore.

#1 Taipei

Taiwan’s capital is easily the most visited city in Taiwan, but it’s also probably the most briefly visited city as well. Reasons for short Taipei visits range from business trips to half-day shore leaves from cruise ships to eight-hour layovers on international flights. (The combination of instant landing visas and a super-fast airport-to-city MRT makes staying in the airport for anything more than a 5-hour layover practically a crime!)

Panoramic of Taipei city at sunrise, Taiwan

So what is there to do with just a few hours in Taipei? The usual spots include Taipei 101, Longshan Temple, maybe a quick tour of the National Palace Museum. If, however, time is limited and you want to stick to one area (say, because you need to do your exploring inside of a few hours while still sticking within quick range of the MRT back to the airport), your best bet is to pick one area close to the Taipei Main / Beimen MRT station to explore. If it’s daytime and you’re looking for the maximum historical experience, head to Dadaodcheng for a taste of old Taipei. (Read more: 6 things to do in Taipei that should be on every visitor’s bucket list)

And If it’s past closing time and you’re looking for a sort of bright lights big city vibe (and maybe a foot massage), head to the Ximen pedestrian mall. And if you’re looking for the cultural trip, you’ll find it at 228 Park and the CKS Memorial.  (Check out MyTaiwanTour’s Taipei City Layover Tour)


#2 Kaohsiung

Taiwan’s southernmost city is possibly Taiwan’s second-most passed through quickly gems, with many visitors going from the terminus stop of the High-Speed Rail station at Zuoying straight onto a taxi or bus to Kenting or the Xiao Liuqiu ferry. (Read more: Visiting Kaohsiung, Southern Taiwan’s Largest City

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Lotus Pond & Dragon Tiger Pagodas

This is a shame, as there’s enough to see in Kaohsiung to warrant several days of exploration. (Don’t take our word for it: Ask  Lonely Planet, who named the city #5 on its top 10 cities to travel to in 2018, according to Lonely Planet) But even if you’re just passing through, there’s plenty to see in just a few hours. If you don’t mind hoofing it a bit, Lotus Pond is a 15-minute walk from the high-speed rail station. Though best known for the Dragon Tiger Pagodas (one of Kaohsiung’s most beloved icons), the lake is surrounded by equally wonderful temples, including the Kaohsiung Confucius Temple. Also within walking distance is the Botanical Garden.


Like Taipei, Kaohsiung also has a world-class metro that’ll bring you all over the city, putting the Liuhe Night Market (one of Taiwan’s best night markets) in easy reach for short-term tourists. And you don’t even have to leave the metro station to visit one of the city’s most scenic indoor spots, the Dome of Lights at the Formosa Boulevard Station.

Check out Five Things to Do in Kaohsiung!

#3 Chiayi

Though tons of visitors pass through Chiayi, very few spend much time exploring the city itself. This isn’t so much a reflection of the city itself as it is what lies just beyond. The people of Chiayi know their city is seen as the gateway to Alishan, as reflected by all the Alishan tea on the shelves in stores surrounding the train station. But this doesn’t mean there’s no reason to spend a few hours in Chiayi. Though not within walking distance of either the train or HSR station, the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum is an absolute must visit for art lovers. In addition to having exhibits not featured at it’s more well-known sibling in Taipei, the branch is much less crowded and thus more pleasant for a leisurely afternoon stroll (presumably before heading to the mountains for an early nights sleep).

taiwan scene_mytaiwantour_lalalocker chiayi.jpg

The neighborhood around the train station is pretty hip, with shops selling everything from funky clothing to local snacks to (of course) tea from Alishan. And if you’re in the mood for a quick meal before heading on, the local specialty is the deceptively simple-sounding Turkey Rice (Chinese), which many Taiwanese who are far too busy to go climbing in Alishan park come to Chiayi just to eat. (Read more:A Fine Pair – Siraya National Scenic Area and Chiayi City)


#4 Hualien

Like Chiayi in the west, the Eastern city of Hualien is overshadowed by the iconic landmark that most people pass through it to reach, Taroko Gorge National Park. While it’s totally understandable why most people would be in a hurry to reach the Gorge, there’s enough to experience in Hualien to make this small and thoroughly pleasant city a good spot to spend an afternoon (or even a full day). (Read more: Ways to Explore Taroko Gorge)

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Shakadang trail in Taroko Gorge

Simple and understated, Hualien Harbor is an excellent place to get a first-rate fresh off the boat Taiwanese seafood lunch. If you wind up spending the evening, Hualien’s Dongdamen Night Market is an especially chilled-out spot close to the ocean to eat great food and watch live music. And Hualien is pretty walkable, making it a good spot to wander before heading out to the Gorge. ( Visit Taroko in a Day)

#5 Yilan

The last on our list of Urban Layovers is a place often passed through without so much as a second glance by travelers heading down the east coast on the start of adventures to Taroko or Taitung. But though close to Taipei, Yilan exists in a world of its own and has more than enough attractions just off the main train line to create a happy delay. The stop before the main station is the town of Jiaoxi, home of some of Northern Taiwan’s best hot springs. While you could head to any of the small hot spring places just a few blocks from Jiaoxi station, you could just as easily stow your bag and walk just a few blocks north to Jiaoxi park to soak your feet in a series of natural hot spring pools of different temperatures for free.  (Read more: Taiwan’s Best Travel Spots for 2018)

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(source: 國立傳統藝術中心)

Reaching the city of Yilan itself (laid back and walkable, as are all three of the cities on Taiwan’s east coast), you’ll find enough close to the train station to make it worth a few hours, including the Yilan Museum of Art, the colorful Zhaoyinggong Temple and the Yilan Museum of Literature, all within half a mile of the station.  

Finally, if you love fine whiskey, take a taxi from the station to the Kavalan Distillery to do their one-of-a-kind Whiskey tour, followed – of course – by a whiskey tasting that’ll make you glad you stopped in Yilan even if you’d never heard of the place the day before. (Read more: Four Taipei Hot Spring Getaways)


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