Taipei is an amazing city that reminds me of a mini-version of Tokyo, but I knew there was much more to see in Taiwan than its capital city. I also knew that since it’s an island, there had to be some nature to see instead of just buildings!
So I did some research, and found a private tour that would take me up to the Northern Coast of Taiwan where there’s tons of hidden gems. From quaint, culturally rich towns famous for tea and floating lanterns, to a seemingly gold colored waterfall, there’s so much to see that’s definitely worth leaving the city for!
Here’s some of the places that can’t be missed:
1. Elephant Rock of Taiwan
The newest tourist attraction in Northern Taiwan is a massive rock archway that steps out into the ocean and resembles a massive elephant! Hence the name, but you already knew that!
It requires a short but scenic hike over a slippery rock shore, then up a gravel pathway surrounded by aloe plants, and finally onto the rocky cliffs. You can take photos from the cliff side, but don’t get too close to the edge! You’re also currently allowed to climb up and walk on the top of the elephant rock, but be super extra careful if you do!
2. Golden Waterfall in Jioufen
Did you know that there was a gold rush in Taiwan similar to the California Gold Rush? It was in the 1960’s, and the ghost of that era is still evident in several ways.
First there is the old, abandoned Japanese gold mining station that’s creepily perched on the mountainside.
Then there’s of course the gold colored waterfall and river that exist only because miners exploded the area to look for gold. They found the gold, but never repaired the land, so the water from a nearby river flowed into the hole, creating a beautiful waterfall.
3. Shifen Old Town
At the top of the mountain past the Golden Waterfall is an adorable little, old little town called Shifen. This town is most famous for the Oolong tea house, which is massive and a huge tourist attraction. That being said, try to go in the back entrance of the city because the front is always crowded!
Stop for lunch at one of the restaurants at the top of the steps, which have great food and an amazing view of the city below, all the way to the coast! I had steamed bamboo that was delicious, and a local pineapple flavored beer.
After lunch head to a smaller tea house where you can do a tasting of the different types of Oolong tea. The flavor and strength of the tea varies based on the altitude which it grows at.
Meander around the cobblestone steps and narrow streets to also find a popular Boba Tea shop, quirky souvenirs, the massive three story tea house, and an old-fashioned movie theater. You can even slide into a nook in the middle of the city to see where an old mine used to be!
4. Lantern Flying in Pingxi
You know you’ve always wanted to set off a flying paper lantern! You can do it in Pingxi with massive biodegradable lanterns that you paint wishes on, then fire off over train tracks that run through the old mining town.
It’s actually a very interesting process; first you choose the colors on the lantern based on their meaning (i.e. red is luck, white is health, pink is love, and blue is success). Then the shop staff pins it onto an easel , and provides you with calligraphy paint brushes and paint to write your wishes that pertain to each color.
Then they’ll help you light the fuel platform and up your lantern will go into the sky! Many people try to do it on the train tracks for photos, but sometimes the police comes to keep it clear. To be fair, you probably shouldn’t stand on or near train tracks regardless.
There’s tons of shops that sell the lanterns, but I’d recommend the one I went to because the owner was just so sweet and excited to have me there! It’s called ((((( and it’s the second shop on the left after the first area you can cross the tracks.
5. Hot Springs in Beitou
I mentioned this in my Top Things to do in Taipei guide, but since it’s technically a bit north, I’m adding it here too.
There’s an area called Beitou where the hot springs are, and you can book day passes to go relax in them! There’s a public hot spring park called Beitou Public Hot Springs that kind of looks like an amusement park which is the cheapest option.
Or you can splurge a little and book a day at one of the hot spring hotels for a more relaxing, private experience. I booked the high tea and day pass at The Gaia Hotel for only $50, and it was a wonderful experience! There was also hardly anyone there which was ideal…since you go in the pools naked.
If you’re heading to Taipei, be sure to check out my 15 Top Things to do in Taipei! Including a very important warning about Stinky Tofu and flying drones. 😀