Taiwan was once named Illha Formosa (the beautiful isle) for a reason – it really is. The country is carpeted in a spectacularly colourful and mountainous landscape, with lively cosmopolitan cities dotted up the West coast. Taiwan isn’t on the radar for most families planning a holiday, and it certainly wasn’t for us. But we were won over by Taiwan’s natural beauty, its vibrant culture and the sheer variety of things to do. You can put your head above the clouds climbing one of Taiwan’s hundreds of 3000 m peaks, relax on the shores of its expansive coastline, or taste world-class food in one of its bustling cities. The best part is that because it’s roughly the size of Belgium, it’s quick and easy to get around and you can experience a huge amount in a short period of time. It’s also relatively cheap compared to comparable destinations such as Japan or South Korea, and you’re guaranteed warm weather all year round (except in the mountains!).
You may want to consider what time of year you visit; the summer brings with it typhoons and thunderstorms, while March to May can be very humid. We visited in April when the weather was nice and warm, but not too humid. It is also in April that the Taiwanese celebrate the birth of Mazu, the Chinese Goddess of the sea. It is one of their most extravagant festivals, and is celebrated on the 23rd Day of the lunar month in April. The festivities saw processions marching through the streets, which was magical for the children; its well worth catching if you can! However if you can’t, Taiwan is steeped in Chinese culture so there are plenty of other opportunities to experience its rich history.
Top 10 family friendly activities in Taiwan
When we visited Taiwan we went to three cities: Taipei, Taichung and Hualien, as well as surrounding rural areas. There are many other beautiful and interesting spots in the South, but those in the North are the most common tourist destinations. If you’re taking the kids then you’ll need to plan activities that will keep them occupied and entertained. However, this doesn’t mean you have to forgo all things cultural as Taiwan has a large number of attractions that will please all members of the family.
Situated in Taroko National Park on the East coast, this 18km marble-walled gorge provides a stunning place to walk and hike. The nearest city is Hualien, which you can get to by train from Taipei. From Hualien you can get a bus or taxi to the Gorge. There are various trails around the park, as well as rivers, a suspension bridge, a temple and cave. The park also hosts 144 species of bird, as well as large mammals such as dear, boar and bear. Unfortunately we didn’t see any when we visited, but you never know! The walking isn’t too demanding and most paths will be suitable for children, as long as sturdy trainers are worn. I would highly recommend visiting Taroko, it’s nice to get away from the bustle of cities and see some of Taiwan’s beautiful nature.
The food in Taiwan was insane, and the best and cheapest way to experience this is by visiting its night markets. You’ll find these night markets in all major cities and probably most towns. The night markets are more than just a place to find great street food after dusk; they are events in themselves. It’s at these markets that you feel the pulse of contemporary Taiwanese culture, and we found the ones in Taipei particularly vibrant. If you want to visit Keelung (close to Taipei), then there is an excellent night market at the temple.
I have already mentioned the Mazu festival that we were lucky enough to catch, but Taiwan has plenty more. Taiwanese festivals are typically very colourful affairs, with flowers, music, fireworks and lanterns. Make sure to check if your stay coincides with any of these events!
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
This is a great thing to do if in Taipei, and is one of Taiwan’s main attractions. It is a monument built in traditional Taiwanese style, and was erected in memory of Chiang Kai-shek, a former president of the People’s Republic of China who passed in 1975. You may not want to visit all the exhibition halls if you’re with the family, but it’s definitely worth seeing.
This is a fantastic one for the kids. It’s the largest zoo in Asia and has pandas which are a must see. Due to its size, it’s worth devoting an entire afternoon to the visit. The animals are also kept in good conditions that resemble their natural habitat. The zoo is located some distance outside the city so you will need to use public transport or a taxi to get there.
National Palace Museum
Whether you go here probably depends on whether you have young children, but it has the largest collection of ancient Chinese artefacts in the world and so deserves a mention!
This is an absolutely stunning spot from which you can view the whole of Taipei. It doesn’t take long to get there via bus or metro from central Taipei, and it takes only around half an hour to climb to the top at a leisurely pace. It’s best to go late in the afternoon so you can watch the sun set over the city. The hiking trail is near the famous Taipei 101, the world’s eighth tallest building (it was the tallest between the times 2004-2008) which was designed to resemble a bamboo stick.
Most visitors to Taiwan stick to Taipei and the surrounding area, but we visited the city of Taichung for a couple of days and would highly recommend it. It has a slightly different feeling to Taipei and is a lot less touristy. It’s very accessible by the high speed rail link from Taipei (as are all the cities on the West coast). One of the things we enjoyed the most was the Feng Chia Night Market, which is one of the biggest in Taiwan. There aren’t so many big attractions, but if you’re happy soaking up the atmosphere then it’s a great place to go.
Kenting National Park
If you’re after beaches and hotel resorts, Kenting is by far the best you will get in Taiwan. Due its geography, most of Taiwan isn’t particularly suitable for beach holidays; but Kenting has sandy beaches and swimming, as well as beautiful scenery and coral reefs. Most of the hotels are located in and around the town of Hengchun.
Family Friendly Places to Stay
Of course, Taiwan has a huge selection of hotels, but finding the right hotel is especially important with kids. Here I’ve listed some recommendations, as well as others that we considered or found out about when we were there:
- Howard Plaza Hotel Taipei – this five star hotel in central Taipei is family friendly and one child can stay free in the parent’s room. It is within walking distance of all the main attractions. It is at the more expensive end of hotels in Taiwan.
- Hotel Riverview Taipei – This four star hotel in is slightly cheaper than the Howard Plaza, but also provides a very comfortable base and central location from which to explore the city.
- Hotel Bayview – Situated on the coast, you can hear and see the Pacific Ocean from your balcony. A double room is approximately 3000NT per night.
- Kindness Hotel – The Kindness Hotel is luxurious and gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor. It’s known for high quality service and is frequently used as a base from which to explore Taroko National Park.
- La Vida Hotel – This modern hotel is highly popular with those wanting to explore Taichung. It is family friendly and while not in the centre of the city, it’s not far out either.
- Caesar Park Hotel – This picturesque hotel is situated among the palm trees and faces on to the beach. It also has a large swimming pool. It’s a top recommendation if you plan on visiting Kenting.
There are of course many other activities to do and places to stay in Taiwan, but hopefully this gives you a flavour of what this little country has to offer. It is steeped in a rich cultural history and is a fascinating place to experience. It is definitely a suitable place to take children, and people are very friendly and accepting of them. It is a lot less demanding to travel in than some other Asian countries, and while most people do not speak English, the younger generation and those in tourist facing roles generally do. I recommend you use my suggestions as a starting point, but some of the most magical things about Taiwan are the things not listed on travel websites. Explore!