WHAT TO SEE & DO IN TAINAN
Tainan quickly became our favourite city in Taiwan, thanks to its meandering back alleys, varied architecture, rich history and numerous retro coffee shops and bars. While we’ve previously covered the delights of eating and drinking your way around Tainan, you may be wondering what else this southern coastal city has to offer? From temples to treehouses, here’s a rundown of the best things to see and do in Tainan. We’ve also hand-picked our favourite accommodation options and included info on how to get to Tainan and around.
OUR MAP OF TAINAN
Use the map below to find all the places mentioned in this guide
Tainan has a lot to offer. It’s the country’s oldest city, the former capital and first trading port, and is also home to the largest concentration of temples in any Taiwanese city. But, it’s so much more than that. Tainan’s charms run deeper, hidden in narrow alleys, twisting lanes and leafy inner courtyards. For every big ‘sight to see’, there’s another highlight sitting quietly down a charming lane. So, with that said, be sure to stray from the main streets and embrace the indirect route, allowing yourself time to get a little lost as you explore this unique city.
Tainan is very walkable. The main highlights are clustered in the city centre, west of the train station, and in coastal Anping District. We’d suggest a minimum of two days to explore the highlights, with some food and drink stops along the way. If you have three days, you can afford to wander at a more relaxed pace, check out a museum or two, and kick back at a few more cafes and bars.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN TAINAN CITY
Tainan Confucius Temple was the first of its kind in Taiwan, built in 1666. It’s currently undergoing a massive renovation, restricting access to the outer garden only. Despite this, it remains one of the most impressive of Tainan’s temples and a peaceful place for a stroll. Squirrels scamper about the tall trees, and birds provide a suitably relaxing soundtrack. The entire complex is surrounded by a striking red wall, punctuated by attractive stone windows. The street opposite the main entrance has a fantastic stone entrance gate and numerous shops and cafes.
Open 830am – 530pm daily
*Don’t miss the yummy steamed buns and crystal dumplings from nearby Klin Taiwan Baozi*
Tainan Art Museum Buildings 1 & 2
Only recently opened, the Tainan Art Museum buildings are a work of art in their own right. They are spread across two separate sites: the first is a historic Art Deco building, the second has a bold contemporary design. Completed in 1931, Building 1 is centred around the original Tainan Police Department. It now has additional modern exhibition spaces creating an interesting fusion of old and new. Building 2 is a spectacular creation, designed by Pritzker Award winning architect Shigeru Ban. The pentagonal glass roof is truly a sight to behold. Rotating exhibitions focus largely on Tawainese art, and both buildings house cafes in attractive settings.
Entry to both NT$200, open 9am – 5pm Tue – Sun (9pm Sat)
Tainan has plenty of other museums to visit, even if just to check out their impressive buildings. Two that we admired from the outside were the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, housed in the imposing former City Government building, and the Tainan City Fire Museum just across the road. Both buildings were constructed during the Japanese Colonial period (the former in 1916 and the latter in the 1930s) but in two very different styles.
Hayashi Department Store
Tainan is home to an eclectic range of architectural styles as a result of Dutch, Chinese and Japanese influences over the centuries. Taiwan was colonised by Japan between 1895 and 1945, a period of rapid construction and development of infrastructure. Many colonial-era buildings exist across Taiwan to this day, and the Hayashi Department Store is one of our favourites.
Designed by the same architect as the Tainan Police Department (now the Tainan Art Museum Building 1), it was completed in 1932. It was the second department store in existence in the whole of Taiwan, the first having opened just a few days before in Taipei. Known locally as the ‘Five Story House’ or Lin’s Department Store, it caused quite a stir back in the day. Home to one of only two elevators in the country at that time, people used to queue up to ride it. It’s a novelty that persists to this day.
The building changed hands and fell into disrepair over the years, until a 21st century restoration project returned it to its former glory. It reopened to the public in 2014, retaining many of its original design features (much to our delight!). Today, the department store showcases Taiwanese design, fashion, food and culture.
It’s a wonderful place to visit, even if you aren’t interested in shopping, and the view from the rooftop over the city is great. There’s a Shinto shrine up top, too.
Open 1030am – 930pm daily