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As first time visitors to Tainan, we were totally bowled over by Taiwan’s oldest city. Steeped in history and located on the southwest coast of Taiwan, Tainan is revered for its ancient temples and fortresses – it was even the island’s capital for over 200 years until 1887 under the Qing dynasty. As well as beautiful buildings and many things to see and do, Tainan is home to some of the best food we tried in Taiwan (seriously, give me some of that coffin bread again right now!).
Although not as flashy or well known as Taipei or Kaohsiung on the tourist circuit, Tainan should definitely be a part of your Taiwan itinerary. If you are wondering what to do in Tainan, here is our top things to do in Tainan guide:
Things to do in Tainan
1. Anping Treehouse
As Taiwan’s national tourist board had declared the neighbouring (and historic town) of Anping as one of the ‘best small tourist towns’ in Taiwan, we had to go visit. Along with the Old Fort (see below), the main historic attraction here is the Anping Treehouse. The treehouse itself is actually a former warehouse that was abandoned for many years and allowed to go to ruin, overgrown with banyan trees.
Opened to the public in 2004, the best way I can describe it is ‘Angkor Wat’ meets ‘Shoreditch warehouse chic’ (seriously!) It doesn’t sound that cool but walking around the ruins with roots pushing through the foundations everywhere is fascinating. Think of Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap and you’ll see where we are going with this. To find out more about our visit to the treehouse and how to get there, read our full Anping Treehouse blog.
2. Anping Old Fort
A short walk from Anping Treehouse is Anping Fort (also known as Fort Zeelanda). The fort can be seen for miles around and was built in the 1620s by the Dutch East India Company, to act as an international business centre. As trade at the time depended on “military force to control the markets”, the value of the area to the Dutch was mainly in its strategic position.
As well as exploring the fort walls and original bastion, you can climb up some steep stairs to a viewing tower, giving you 360 degree views of the local area (although there are narrow stairs up so not great if you don’t enjoy heights). For more information on visiting, read our dedicated Anping Old Fort / Fort Zeelandia blog.
3. Grand Mazu Temple
Grand Mazu temple (aka the ‘Great Queen of Heaven temple) is Tainan’s most revered place to worship and is dedicated to Mazu, the patron deity of fisherman. It is open seven days a week (free admission) and you witness a great number of local people paying their respects when you visit – there are around 500 Mazu temples in Taiwan but this is one of the most visited in the country.
The statue of Mazu here is around 300 years old with the site dating back to 1664 (although the temple has gone through many renovations and changes over the years, including earthquakes and fires).
4. Blueprint Creative Park
Taiwan is famous for its creative parks and Tainan’s is no exception – home to independent, quirky shops, food stalls and pop up art installations and murals. Blueprint Creative Park came to be after local artists expressed a desire to be able to legally paint on walls somewhere in Tainan. Working with local artists, the local Government converted old Japanese Government dormitories into a cultural park (hence its ‘shabby chic’ appearance).
Most people talk of the actual original 3D blueprint installation here, and you can’t move for people taking selfies. However, whilst we can see it’s charm and clever use of perspective, this part of the park was our least favourite, as it was looking quite run down and shabby compared to other elements – time for a refurb or rethink perhaps? The other murals and installations were spot on though!
5. Tainan Park
Although not really on the tourist radar, we saw Tainan park on the map (still shown by its former name of Zhongshan on some older maps) and decided to walk there early one evening on the way back our hotel. We hadn’t done any research before visiting so we were blown away by the serenity and beauty of the huge floating pavilion.
As well as the pathways that arch around the lake, there are several arched footbridges, lily bonds and smaller pavillions to discover as well as one of the few Qing dynasty stone archways still remaining in Taiwan (it is incredible to find such a historic relic so unexpectedly and unannounced in the middle of the park).
The locals (especially the elderly population) make good use of the park, with large groups congregating to chat, play chess or perform tai chi / exercises.
6. Hayashi Department Store
The Hayashi Department Store is like stepping back in time, akin to visiting Selfridges or Liberty in London. Six stories in height and relatively compact (don’t expect a huge modern department store), the store was opened in 1932 during the Japanese occupation and to this day still has its original lift / elevator in working order.
The highlight for us was a visit to the rooftop where there are several food outlets (and a lovely tearoom), with a gorgeous gift shop and shrine dedicated to the owner. We coincided our visit at sunset and were treated to glorious views of the city.
7. Chin Men Movie Theatre
This is a historic movie theatre (a cinema, to us Brits) that famous Taiwanese film director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, Hulk) used to visit as a young boy. It is also the only theatre left in Taiwan that still displays hand drawn movie posters, many of which can be seen outside the theatre and on the surrounding streets. Created and lovingly hand-painted by Yan Jhen Fa for the last 50 years, his eyesight is now sadly starting to deteriorate so the tradition may soon die.
We visited when the film Bohemian Rhapsody was being shown (February 2019) and his huge Queen inspired canvas was hanging as the centrepiece above the theatre. We also saw large intricate hand painted posters for Logan (Wolverine) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
We had read online that you can sometimes see Yan Jhen Fa at work as he often paints his movie masterpieces on a vacant lot across the road from the Chin Men Theatre, but unfortunately he wasn’t there the day we visited.
8. Tainan Flower Market (Night Market)
Hmmmm – so we had read a few articles about how good and authentic Tainan Flower Night Market is. Chock full of street food fare and tasty Taiwanese tidbits, we were a bit underwhelmed by it compared to all the other Taiwanese night markets we had previously visited.
Essentially, there was a lot of stalls, but the food was all very similar plus it was so ridiculously busy that it was hard to move or even make it down some of the confined food alleys. When we eventually found quiet moments we were able to order ourselves some famous Tainan Coffin Bread, a bag of fried chicken and several other local snacks.
We aren’t saying it wasn’t worth a visit, but we just didn’t enjoy exploring here as much as other markets. We had more fun watching the amusement stalls, where revellers tried to pop balloons with darts or win prizes with children’s fishing rods.
FURTHER READING – 10 of the best night markets in Taiwan
9. Guohua Street
We loved exploring Guohua Street – it is a busy, narrow shopping road (watch out for the mopeds!). There is just so much to see (and eat) here, and it seems to be very popular with the students – we tried a few street food dishes (including a Korean pancake from Little Korea). We even saw a food stall that had such a big queue that they had a resident DJ complete with decks to keep the crowd entertained as they queued.
10. Shennong Street
Possibly the prettiest and most picturesque street in Tainan, Shennong Street used to be the main entrance for the river ports during the time of the Qing Dynasty – it used to be the busiest area in the whole of the city, as merchants and buyers would enter and exit from the port here.
These days, the historical street has a glut of gift-shops, but the overall aesthetic is still rather pleasing (although the arcade machines on the street by the main entrance are not so in keeping with the character of the local area).
We visited during Chinese New Year so the walls were adorned with red Chinese lanterns, and each shop was taking part in a decorative lantern competition, which they had proudly displayed outside their stores.
11. Tainan Street Art
Finally, don’t forget to keep your eyes out for any of Tainan’s creative and alluring street art. It is all around (from street furniture to road signs) as you roam the streets (some easier to find than others). There is also the Museum of Street Art that you can visit (the outdoor 3D mural reminded us a little of Super Mario).
12. Try Tainan’s local dishes
Our favourite place to eat during our stay in Tainan was the Taiwanese restaurant Chikan Peddler’s Noodle, which we found after searching for highly rated places to eat on TripAdvisor. This was a really great place to try many famous local Tainan specialities – the following dishes are ones you will find on their menu:
FURTHER READING – ultimate Taiwan food guide >
Coffin Bread – a snack made of a very thick piece of white bread that’s hollowed out and fried to make a crunchy box shaped ‘coffin’ – which is then filled with a creamy stew of either chicken, vegetables, mushroom or seafood.
Danzai noodles – a bowl of oil noodles in a broth with coriander, black vinegar and garlic, then topped with minced pork and prawns – a very popular dish in Tainan.
Milkfish – a Southern Taiwanese specialty, milkfish is flaky in texture and best served fried or steamed. There is even a museum in Tainan dedicated to the fish – the Milkfish Palace.
Oyster Omelette – this dish is super popular throughout the whole of Taiwan and is made with fresh oysters, eggs, sweet potato starch and bean sprouts, then topped with a sweet and sour sauce.
Chikan Peddler’s Noodle address: 118, Section 2 Minzu Road, Tainan
Other restaurants in Tainan
Whilst exploring the Anping district, we stopped for a quick snack/lunch at Anping Chou’s Delicacy (or Chou’s Shrimp Rolls) – a Tainan City institution which has been serving customers since 1965. We opted for two of their famous and tasty deep fried shrimp rolls, plus a pork rice noodle dish.
Address: 125 Anping Rd, Anping Dist, Tainan City 708
Although not authentic, we also made good use of the popular Taiwanese chain restaurant Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumplings. We ate several of our lunches here during our 3 weeks in Taiwan – tasty (if a tad too salty) and so crazy cheap they suit any backpacker’s budget. They have an English menu behind the counter so you just need to ask for it!
Address: 197 Chenggong Road, Tainan City
Tainan Historic Sites Pass
If you are planning on visiting all of the popular historical sites in Tainan then you might want to consider purchasing a Tainan Historic Sites Pass. The pass gives you one-time entry to the following historic sites: Anping Old Fort (Old Fort Zeelandia), Anping Tree House, Chihkan Tower (Fort Provintria) and Eternal Golden Castlealso. PLUS the pass also gives you unlimited rides on Tainan city buses for 24 hours. Order a pass online with Klook and pick up from Tainan train station.
Taiwan-a go back to Tainan again so if we missed anything out or you have any of your own Tainan tips, please do let us know…
How to get to Tainan
Kaohsiung is the nearest international airport and is served by the low cost airline Air Asia (get hunting for those bargain fares!). A taxi from Khaosiung airport to Tainan will take around 40 minutes, or you can take a combination of train and subway which will take around 1 hour 20 minutes. Plan your route in advance online using Rome2rio.
The best way to get to Tainan from other parts of Taiwan is by train. The Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) is super fast and arrives into HSR Tainan Station (Note: this station is a little bit out of the city, so you will need to take a bus or taxi to get to your hotel). You can book your high speed rail tickets online with Klook for convenience.
There is an alternative and much cheaper TRA train from that arrives at Tainan station (in the city centre) and is half the price of the high speed rail. However the journey time is over twice as long, but is a great choice for travellers who are on a budget and not time limited.
It is best to book your seats on these popular routes well in advance (especially during the Taiwan public holidays like Chinese New Year).
How to get around Tainan
There is no underground metro system in Tainan but they have a great bus network. The Tainan tourist shuttle bus (88 and 99) runs daily and takes you to all the major places of interest in the city. Fares are between 18 – 36 TWD one way, or you can buy an all day pass from Tainan train station.
The regular City bus covers most of the city and fares are 18 TWD one way. Most of the bus routes start outside the main Tainan train station. We used the city bus a handful of times, and found them very easy to use – using google maps on our phones to plan our routes.
If you are staying in the city for a while you might want to consider purchasing an iPass which you can use to pay for your bus rides in Tainan, and also in Taipei and Kaohsiung. These can be purchased and topped up in convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Family Mart.
Hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus
The city has recently introduced a new and fairly cheap double decker sightseeing bus which you can book online in advance with Klook here.
Pocket WIFI rental in Tainan
Having a pocket wifi device was super handy during our trip. We pre-ordered one online with Klook and collected the device at Taipei airport and dropped it off at Kaohsiung’s airport. The rental cost was pretty cheap at only £1.25 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it.
More Taiwan blog posts
- The best things to see and do in Taipei
- Kaohsiung travel guide, Taiwan
- Taichung travel guide, Taiwan
- Shoushan Love lookout and Pier 2 Art Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
- Houtong Cat Village – a fun day trip from Taipei
- Taiwan’s night time markets – a photo guide
- A guide to ‘7-Eleven’ in Taiwan
- The Modern Toilet – a poo themed restaurant in Taipei
- Tasting local Taiwanese dishes on a food tour in Taipei
Here are some highly rated accommodation suggestions for all types of budget in Tainan!
Some hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Tainan:
Words and photography by Neil Hassall and Caroline Keyzor. Did you enjoy our Things to do in Tainan blog post? Let us know in the comments or by sharing it on social media.