Wondering what to do in Taiwan’s oldest city, Tainan? This guide highlights everything you need to know about visiting Tainan for the first time and includes all the top things to do in Tainan. I’ll also be sharing useful tips and tricks to help you thoroughly enjoy your visit to this dreamy gem.
If you’re planning a trip to Tainan, chances are you’re probably wondering what to do in the city. Like most Taiwanese cities, Tainan is jam-packed with amazing things to do. The town has all the makings for a perfect quick getaway, from great food and colorful temples to historic landmarks and the great outdoors.
With a rich history dating back nearly 400 years, and deep roots influenced by the Dutch and Japanese, Tainan seamlessly epitomizes Taiwan’s unique history. As Taiwan’s very first city, Tainan offers visitors the perfect mix of old-world charm accompanied by a laid-back vibe.
Ready to discover the best things to do in Tainan? Read along to get handy tips like when to visit, where to stay, how to get to Tainan and what to do!
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Tainan Itinerary Pre-Travel Tips
It’s not hard to find amazing things to do in Tainan. The city is home to plenty of historical sites, great foodie experiences, and nature escapes within easy reach. However, before you set off on your Tainan trip, these top planning tips will help you explore Tainan hassle-free.
- Search the best hotel rates in Tainan. Tainan has excellent accommodation options (more of this later). Still, if you’re traveling over weekends or special holidays, it’s best to book accommodation well in advance as rooms fill up quickly and prices might be steeper.
- Grab a local sim card upon arrival at TPE airport to help you stay connected, access maps, and enjoy a stress-free trip. Pocket wifi is also easy to pick up, but if you want to use the biking system in Taiwan (which I highly recommend by the way), you’ll need a local number to register.
- The fastest way to get to Tainan from Taipei is by High-Speed Rail. Buying a single journey ticket is a great way to keep your schedule flexible, but if you’re planning on making good use of Taiwan’s efficient rail network, I highly recommend grabbing this 5 Day Joint Rail Pass. This will allow you to travel onwards by HSR or TRA easily and save some money.
- Don’t forget travel insurance. As with the rest of Taiwan, Tainan is a very safe city, even for solo female travelers. But as you simply cannot predict the future, it’s always better to be covered in case of medical emergencies, loss of goods, or damage to your camera gear. You can get comprehensive cover with World Nomads online, which has a bunch of travel cover options no matter your needs. The process is straightforward, and you’ll be covered in a jiffy.
- Grab this awesome guidebook to help you travel onwards in Taiwan. It’s packed with excellent advice, and insights into the culture, history and much, much more.
For a stress-free Tainan trip, here are a few extra essentials that will help you make your trip a success.
- Get a Tainan Historic Sites Pass upon arrival at TPE airport that will allow you to visit most of the city’s top sights at a discounted rate.
- Grab Taiwan’s local top-up card, the Easy Card, to tap-and-go on trains and buses. You can also use it to rent a T-Bike, and even buy goods at convenience stores without worrying about having the right chance.
- Tainan is a very walkable city, albeit quite spread out. If you aren’t comfortable navigating the bus system, opt for a private driver to help you get around the city and explore the top attractions without the headache.
- The double-decker sightseeing tour bus is another excellent way to get to the city’s top attractions with little effort.
- Want to see all the top spots without worrying about the nitty-gritty planning details? Then, this tour is just for you. Get to see all the highlights in the comfort of a bus.
- If you are looking for a unique experience while exploring Tainan, consider joining this excellent mountain village cooking class.
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Best Things to do in Tainan, Taiwan
No visit to Taiwan would be complete without stopping by the island’s former capital city, Tainan. Today, Tainan offers a unique glimpse into bygone days, while packing the perfect mix of history, architecture, culture, and fabulous food.
Seeing that there are so many amazing things to do in Tainan, it might be hard fitting everything in, especially if you only have a few days in this dreamy gem. Therefore, feel free to adjust this Tainan itinerary to your own needs and traveling style.
Here are the best things to do in Tainan when you only have a short amount of time.
Shennong Street (神農街)
Shennong Street is one of the most colorful streets in Tainan and a must for photographers. Here you’ll find quirky cafes, cute shophouses selling handmade crafts, and plenty of photo opportunities.
Despite its unique aesthetic appeal, Shennong Street has quite a unique history too. During the Qing Dynasty, it was the most prosperous business area in Tainan and served as the entrance to the city’s river ports. Today, you can still see some of the shophouses built during the Qing and Japanese eras. Although most of them are broken down, a visit here offers an exciting glimpse into the past.
Nearby, there is also a bustling day market where you can get a closer look at the locals going about their daily life and take instagram-worthy pictures. Browsing the market and wandering through the maze of alleyways, while snapping photos of authentic Asia scenes was a huge highlight for me.
More adventurous travelers are in for a real treat, too! This vibrant market is the perfect place to sample some of the local specialties on offer in the city.
Snail Alley (蜗牛巷)
One of the best things to do in Tainan is to explore all the cute alleyways. There are tons of nooks and crannies to discover, and seeing that Tainan is an extremely walkable city, it’s a great way to get to know the city and all its charms.
If you enjoyed Instagram-worthy Shennong Street, you might also want to consider stopping by Snail Alley (see map here). The alley consists of several alleyways tucked away in a residential neighborhood, a short stroll away from the Grand Mazu Temple. Dotted with cute snail artwork, colorful street art, and cozy cafes, it’s the perfect spot for a leisurely walkabout.
Insider’s Tips: If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss the mindblowing sweet potato donuts at Yu Shih Donut on nearby Minsheng Road. They are amazing! Also, as this is a residential area, please be respectful and considerate while exploring the little winding streets.
Chihkan Tower (赤崁樓)
One of the top historical landmarks not to miss on your Tainan trip is undoubtedly Chihkan Tower. Initially built as Fort Provintia by the Dutch in 1652, it served as an administrative center in the city.
Although the building has changed many hands since then and later on served as a governor’s mansion, and even an army hospital, today, the original building structure is still intact. Since then, several restorations and add-ons have been done to complete the look of Chihkan Tower as we see it today.
Besides exploring the beautiful courtyard where you can spot the set of nine stone turtles symbolizing strength and longevity, and the broken legged stone horse, walking through the temples and towers are a must. Inside you’ll find interesting artifacts and the tower’s rich history documented on display. Oh, and don’t forget to make a wish on the upper floor of the second tower!
Anping Tree House (安平樹屋)
Another must-visit attraction in Tainan is the jaw-dropping Anping Tree House. The grounds are home to several points of interest, such as the former Tait & Co. Merchant House, Zhu Jiu-Ying Residence, a coffee shop, a quirky souvenir shop, as well as beautiful grounds that boast with a pond, pedal-powered water wheels, and a sky bridge. However, the star attraction is undeniably the abandoned salt warehouse surrounded and intertwined with one giant banyan tree.
It’s quite a mind-boggling sight to see all the roots and branches coiled around the building, so be sure not to miss it on your Tainan trip. There are many lookout points within the warehouse, as well as a permanent art exhibition.
Anping Old Fort (安平古堡)
Anping Fort is the oldest fort in Tainan and filled with unique insights into the past. Initially named Fort Zeelandia, it‘s one of the most famous Tainan attractions and a huge must on your Tainan itinerary.
Built in 1634, Fort Zeelandia served as the administrative center of the Dutch and played a significant role as a trading base. Things took a turn in 1661 when the Dutch were driven out of Taiwan by Cheng Cheng-Kung, and the fort was renamed Anping.
Years later, during the Japanese Colonial Period, much of the fort’s interior was destroyed. Although some parts were reconstructed, the 70m long red brick walls of the outer fort are the last remnants of the original fort.
Anping Old Street (安平老街)
A short stroll away from Anping Old Fort, you’ll find Anping Old Street – a mecca for foodies and those looking to sample some of Tainan’s famous specialties. Some of the most notable dishes to try are shrimp cakes, tofu pudding, candied fruit, shrimp rolls, oyster rolls, fish ball soup, and oyster omelets.
Besides the many delicious local foods on offer, Anping Old Street is also an excellent place to shop for souvenirs, knick-knacks, and tasty snacks to take home.
Seeing that Anping Old Street is one of top things to do in Tainan for locals and tourists alike, it’s best to time your visit here. If you want to skip the crowds, visit during the week or before the dinner rush.
Grand Mazu Temple (祀典大天后宮)
Known as the city of temples, Tainan boasts more than 1000 temples. In fact, turn a corner, and you’re likely to spot one!
A short stroll from Chihkan Tower, you’ll find Taiwan’s first Mazu temple – the Grand Mazu Temple. Built in 1684, the temple is dedicated to the sea goddess, Mazu, and is also often referred to as Datianhou or Great Queen of Heaven Temple.
There are several halls to explore, while the giant Mazu statue dating back nearly 300 years is a testament to Taiwan’s intricate sculpting practices.
Confucious Temple (台南孔子廟)
The oldest and most revered temple in Tainan is undoubtedly the Tainan Confucius Temple. With roots dating back to 1666, it offers a glimpse into the past and scenic surroundings where you can marvel at the place where education originated in Taiwan.
The City Gates
During the Qing dynasty, fourteen city gates were built to protect Tainan, ultimately forming a walled city.
Although most of the walls and gates were destroyed during the Japanese Colonial era, today, you can still see and explore 4 of the remaining barriers. These include Duiyue Gate, Great East Gate, Great South Gate, and Little West Gate.
While you won’t need to much time here, it’s a fun add-on to your list of things to do in Tainan.
Chimei Museum (奇美博物館)
History and culture enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Chimei Museum. The museum houses extensive collections of Western art, musical instruments, weaponry, and natural history. In the main hall, you’ll find several permanent exhibitions and well as many sculptures worth admiring. Besides the treasures within, one of the biggest draws to Chimei Museum is its unique architecture representing a Greek-style castle.
However, since Chimei Museum is quite a popular spot among locals and tourists alike, it may be a good idea to grab the permanent exhibition ticket online first. That way, you can spend less time waiting in long lines and tick off more things do in Tainan!
How to get to Tainan
When planning your Tainan itinerary, one of the very first things you’re probably trying to figure out is how to get to Tainan. Thankfully, Taiwan has an excellent transit system, which makes getting from A to B with public transport extremely easy. If you’re coming from Taipei, read my detailed guide on getting to Tainan from Taipei for more tips.
There are several ways to get to Tainan, ranging from buses and trains to the highly efficient high-speed rail.
However, if you want to maximize your time in Tainan, I highly recommend hopping on the HSR. (If you’re a tourist, grab a discounted ticket online here). Trains running to and from Tainan HSR station are frequent and affordable. The city is a quick 15-minute HSR ride from Taiwan’s third-largest city, Kaohsiung, and less than 1.5 hours from Taipei.
From here, you can catch a taxi at Exit 1. But, you should also know that the city center is about 45 minutes away from the station and taking a cab is not the cheapest option. We paid just over NT$400 for a single ride to our hotel.
Budget travelers, on the other hand, might want to consider taking the bus or the local train to the city center instead. Head to Exit 2 of the HSR station to access the local city bus or catch a train to the city’s central station.
When to visit Tainan
Tainan is a great city to visit all year round. Located south of the Tropic of Cancer, it has a subtropical climate, with a small amount of rainfall throughout the year. Expect warm sunny days and average temperatures of 24°C.
In general, the south of Taiwan is considerably hotter and more humid than the rest of the island. Therefore, if you aren’t used to high humidity levels, it’s best not to visit Tainan during summer (Jun-Aug).
For more bearable temperatures, visit Tainan during spring or autumn instead. You should, however, also keep in mind that typhoons aren’t uncommon in Taiwan, especially during typhoon season (Jun-Oct).
Furthermore, there are also several exciting seasonal events nearby worthy of your time. In spring, you can visit the International Orchid Show. While summer is the perfect time to watch fireflies or see the blooming lotus flowers at Baihe. In autumn, temperatures start to dip slightly, but you’ll see fewer crowds and enjoy reasonable hotel prices. If you are looking for a unique experience while visiting Tainan in winter, relaxing in the mud hot springs nearby might just be the answer.
Where to stay in Tainan
Tainan has a great selection of hotels and hostels from which to choose. However, when visiting Tainan, I highly recommend staying in the city center. This way, most of the attractions, as well as the train station, will be within walking distance.
Here are some of the best ones:
- Hua Hotel is at a perfect central location, housed in a beautiful modern building, and offers excellent value for money. Since you’ll have the top attractions in Tainan right on your doorstep, it’s a great base.
- FX Hotel is another excellent choice for travelers looking for an affordable, modern hotel, which is centrally located.
- If you’re looking for a posh 4-star hotel/hostel with an amazing vibe and cool interiors, check-in at U.I.J Hotel & Hostel.
- Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel is a stylish 5-star hotel close to some of Tainan’s main attractions. Chihkan Tower and The Grand Matsu Temple, as well as a good selection of restaurants, are all a short stroll away.
- Those looking for slightly cheaper accommodation without sacrificing style and comfort might find P Inn an excellent option, whereas shoestring travelers could opt to stay at the stylish 158Hostel instead.
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What to eat in Tainan
When in Tainan, you’ll want to try out some of the local specialities. Tainan has a distinct gastronomical food scene and is well known as the foodies capital of Taiwan. Deeply influenced by several cultures over centuries, Tainan’s food scene is diverse and unique in all senses imaginable. Most dishes are super cheap and quite small, allowing you to sample a bunch of the city’s must-try local snacks
Here’s a quick look at all the mouthwatering snacks you simply have to try on your Tainan trip.
Beef soup is a popular delicacy in Tainan and packed with natural flavor. The dish consists of a clear broth served with fresh, thinly sliced beef and fresh ginger.
Rice bowl cake is a traditional Tainan delicacy. The chewy dish is topped with dried fish floss, braised pork meat sauce, spring onion, and garlic.
Danzai noodles is a must on your Tainan trip. This tasty bowl of yellow noodles is served in a broth and topped with minced meat and shrimp.
Eel noodles consist of chewy eel, a thick-based sauce, served on yellow noodles.
Almond tofu pudding has a strong almond flavor but is a refreshing snack on a hot day.
Gua Bao is the Taiwanese version of a hamburger. A soft steamed bun is stuffed with pork and pickled vegetable, and then topped with peanut sauce or powder.
Congee is a popular rice soup dish islandwide. In Tainan, milkfish congee is a firm favorite among locals.
Coffin Toast is a thick slice of sweet fried bread filled with a thick soup. It’s quite an oily dish, so if you are health conscious, you might want to give it a skip.
Tainan Night Markets
Besides all the great restaurant options near the historical hub, don’t forget to visit some of the local night markets. You can sample some of the city’s best eats at Tainan’s three top night markets; Da Dong Night Market, Tainan Flower Market, and Wusheng Night Market. Before you head out, though, it’s best to check each market’s opening hours first as some do not open every day.
Need more help planning your Taiwan Travels?
Whether you’re extending your Taiwan travels or looking for more options to explore nearby, I’ve got you covered. Get more insider’s tips on southern and central Taiwan’s top attractions here:
That wraps up this first-timer’s guide to Tainan. Have you visited Tainan yet? What tips do you have for fellow travelers looking for the best things to do in Tainan? Drop your comments below.
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