6 Things Every Visitor Should See And Do In Kaohsiung, Taiwan
As I’ve traveled to various places over the past months and years, I’ve come to realize something: I really like cities that don’t have a lot of name recognition. That was especially true of Kaohsiung (高雄), a city on Taiwan’s southwestern coast that was the most calm and relaxing place I’ve been in a long time.
Despite looking like a metropolis, Kaohsiung feels more like a large town, and some of its streets are so quiet that there aren’t even crossing signals or traffic lights. That incredibly chill vibe was exactly what I needed after a whirlwind tour of some of Vietnam’s most renowned destinations, including Sa Pa, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Cat Ba Island.
I decided to check out Kaohsiung for about five days because I wanted to visit Kenting National Park, a lush piece of land on the Taiwan’s very southern tip that is about two hours away from the city by bus. Kenting was beautiful, and you can read more about it here.
I originally thought Kaohsiung would be a nondescript mid-sized city that would be boring after a day or two. However, I ended up liking the city’s attractions so much that I extended my stay there three extra nights! If you happen to be headed for Kaohsiung, you’re in for a treat. And if you happen to be headed to Taiwan but aren’t sure where to go yet, consider options beyond Taipei! In this post, I’ll share six of the best things to see and do in this underrated Taiwanese city!
1. Walk Around the Lotus Pond
The Lotus Pond is actually a pretty massive lake located in the northern district of Zuoying. If you take the subway, you should get off at the Ecological District Station and you’ll still have to walk about 20 minutes to reach the lake. However, it is worth the journey to get there. Lotus Pond is home to a bunch of incredible temples, many of which are built right over the water. The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are the most impressive, and you can even climb up them to get a panoramic view.
I also really liked the Zuoying Yuandi Temple, which had this incredible statue shown below. Perhaps the coolest part is that all of the temples around Lotus Pond are free to visit!
2. Get Something to Eat at a Night Market
Night markets are one of Taiwan’s most famous attractions, and you should be sure to visit one no matter which city you go to! There’s so much to do: eat, drink, buy clothes, hang out, or play a wide variety of carnival games. Night markets are a year-round activity in Taiwan and provide an important social outlet for locals and visitors alike.
Kaohsiung has multiple, but I visited two in the city as well as one in the area of Qijin (more on that below). The first one I tried was Rueifong Night Market (瑞豐夜市), located right outside the Kaohsiung Arena metro stop. According to Google Maps, they’re not open on Mondays or Wednesdays, so try to go any other day of the week.
Ruiefong was nice because it wasn’t a street converted into a market. Businesses had their own stalls and permanent fixtures, so you won’t have to worry about motorbikes weaving between pedestrians. It was pretty crowded when I went, but the food options were plentiful and it was so much fun to see!
The other night market I went to was more centrally located. The Liuhe Night Marke (六合夜市) is set up on a street that is blocked off in the evenings. I preferred Ruiefong, but if you have time, check out both! They offer similar food choices, but I personally liked the setup of Ruiefong a little bit more.
3. Take the Ferry to Qijin to Hang Out with the Surfers
The area known as Qijin (also sometimes spelled in English as “Cijin“) is relatively close to the city center, but it feels like it’s a world away. Walk along some of the streets and you’ll feel like you’re in a small fishing village. There’s also an expansive black sand beach on its western side that is popular among surfers. Even if you don’t partake in the sport, you can still enjoy the beach bars, all of which have a fun vibe!
I especially liked Cijin Sunset Bar, where I stopped for a few drinks and wings one night during happy hour. They have an oceanfront view and friendly staff all of whom seemed to speak fluent English.
Another one I liked was QQ Surf Club, which wasn’t directly on the water but appeared to offer surfing lessons. The owner is friendly and he even sat down and chatted with me while I drank my beer.
This little park-like area on the peninsula’s edge is so worth a visit for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that it offers a stunning view of the sunset over the ocean, so be sure to go in the late afternoon!
Qijin Old Street
How to Get to Qijin
Qijin is located on a long, narrow island that hugs the coast of Kaohsiung. It’s connected to the city by road at its southern end, but the easiest way to get to it is via a public ferry that runs every few minutes. The dock you’ll get on at is located here; the nearest subway stop is Sizihwan (西子灣站). The ferry terminal in Qijin is located here.
The ferry ride only takes about 10 or 15 minutes, and costs 30 NTD (approx. 1 USD) each way. There’s no need to book in advance because the ferry runs so frequently.
4. See the Entire City from the 85 Sky Tower Observatory
Kaohsiung’s skyline is dominated by one massive building, the 85 Sky Tower, which has the distinctive appearance of being supported by two “legs” that come together roughly at its midpoint (as you can see here). Being the tallest building in the city, it’s the obvious choice for anyone who wants a panoramic view of Kaohsiung.
I was surprised to find that Kaohsiung looked like a proper metropolis from the observation deck on the 75th floor of this 85-story building. From street level, Kaohsiung usually feels more like a town due to its peaceful vibe and lack of traffic.
Since the tower was completed over 20 years ago, you won’t have to wait in line and the observatory will probably only have a few other visitors there. The interior of the building is clearly a bit dated, but it’s a pretty large space. Views are 360 degrees, and the price of admission is reasonable. You can buy coffee, snacks, and gifts before heading back down to the lobby.
5. Visit the Dome of Light, A Massive Public Art Installation
This item on the list is quick, easy, and free, so there’s no reason to miss it! The Dome of Light is a truly massive work of glass art that’s installed on the ceiling in an area of the Formosa Boulevard (美麗島) metro station. This station serves as the transfer point between Kaohsiung’s two metro lines, so it’s about as centrally located as you can get.
The Dome of Light is located in the “free” portion of the station (i.e., before the turnstiles to pay and get on the train), so you don’t even have to buy a metro ticket to see it if you are arriving on foot. Be sure to go around and check out some of the detail in the art. Much of it is really interesting and it seems to have a a cosmic theme.
6. Explore the Quirky Attractions at the Pier 2 Art Center
Last but not least on the list is another artsy attraction. Pier 2 is an area of the city that’s been transformed from what looks like an industrial warehouse district into a hip, young area where artists live, work, and display their creations. Now I know what you’re thinking: every city has one of those! And that may be true, but as someone who’s visited a number of hipster neighborhoods, I still enjoyed what Pier 2 Art Center had to offer.
On top of that, Pier 2 is home to a number of cafes, restaurants, and shops. One is a store specializing in beautiful, small wooden gifts. I got a burger at a restaurant called Lab for dinner one night (which was fine but not spectacular). I also saw a street market one day in this area where vendors appeared to be selling homemade crafts among other things.
Hamasen Railway Cultural Park is also an interesting site nearby that appears to be an old railway station that they’ve let slowly turn into a grassy field. The tracks are still there (be careful not to trip on them), but the area is now home to a few bronze statues. To complement the park, there’s also a train museum next to it which I didn’t have a chance to check out.
Pier 2 Art Center is located in the larger district of Yancheng (鹽埕區), which feels mostly residential but seems to have a cluster of low-key bars on and around its central avenue, Wufu 4th Road (五福四路). One such bar was Marina Pub (航海家), which I popped into to try a martini before dinner one night. Other bars nearby looked similar but each seemed to have its own theme.
A Truly Authentic City
That concludes the list! Kaohsiung is definitely not a touristy city, but that’s part of the reason I liked it so much. Since the area doesn’t attract a ton of vacationers, everything I visited felt like it was infused with authenticity. Nothing I saw really felt like a tourist trap or a rip-off; in fact, points of interest felt like they were meant for both locals and visitors to enjoy.
Four Bonus Facts
In case you’re headed to Kaohsiung, here are four quick bonus facts you should know about this unique city.
1. It's a really quiet town.
It’s incredibly quiet! For a city this size, Kaohsiung is surprisingly relaxing. Traffic is almost nonexistent, and even very centrally located neighborhoods feel barely suburban.
2. The cafes are great.
As a coffee enthusiast, I was surprised at how big and open cafes are in Kaohsiung. They were great for sitting down, relaxing, or getting a thing or two done online. I especially liked Cuiqu Drip Coffee, where I got breakfast and a cold brew one morning.
I also liked Jessicafé, which is connected to a hotel lobby but had a wide open dining room and friendly baristas.
My other favorite was RÊVE Café. It wasn’t huge like the places mentioned above, but they had some really good drinks. It was another good place to sit down for a while.
If you’re headed to the Lotus Pond, check out Pamma Coffee on its northern side, which has modern yet artsy decor both inside and out.
3. Food is... whatever (except for Japanese).
Outside of the night markets, food in Kaohsiung was good but nothing to rave about. It’s pretty standard as far as Asian cuisine goes, and prices are generally cheaper than what you’d find in the States.
The one thing I’d note is that Japanese food seems common, and the one place I tried was really good.
4. It's convenient and easy to get around.
Although the Kaohsiung metro system only has two lines (right now, it looks like they’re building a third), I highly recommend you use it to get around the city. It’s cheap, it goes directly to the airport, and it’s not overcrowded. This might’ve been a bit of luck and circumstance, but I never had to use a taxi or Uber while in Kaohsiung, which was a pleasant surprise.
A Great First Impression
Since this was my first trip to Taiwan, my first impressions of the island came not from Taipei but Kaohsiung, which I’d guess is not the case for most visitors. However, I have to say: I’m thoroughly impressed. The city was clean and organized, I felt safe the entire time, and people were friendly and welcoming. Taiwan is a destination I’d recommend wholeheartedly to other travelers, and it’s a place I hope to become even more acquainted with eventually.
After spending about five days in Kaohsiung, I took a bus down to Kenting National Park to see the southernmost peninsula in Taiwan and its beautiful beaches. To read about that, click here! Thanks for checking out this guide, and if you have any questions about Kaohsiung or what to do there, leave a comment below!