Tainan is the oldest and historically most interesting city in Taiwan. In this extensive city guide, we’ll explain what you need to know about visiting Tainan and why we think that the city is definitely worth doing a trip to!
While Taipeh is the capital and most important city in Taiwan, Tainan might actually be the cultural capital. Even though the city has lost importance in the last decade, it still remains an interesting spot for those who are visiting the beautiful island in Asia as a tourist. I had the chance to visit Tainan for a weekend and must admit: It’s really the most interesting city in Taiwan!
The western part of Tainan is one of the two most important areas in the city when it comes to tourism. Not only are there lots of cute little streets.
There are also a couple museums like the nice little salt museum (no entrance fee). You can also see some older temples and old courtyard houses, which I think are interesting as well.
This area also has three highlights that are worth mentioning. The first we explored was the Former Merchant House, which is a traditional colonial building.
Not only is it nice walking through the building, but particularly the gardens are quite interesting as they are a mix of nature and arts.
The main sight in this area of Tainan though is the Fort Zelandia, which is the former fortress of the emperor from the Netherlands, who were the first to occupy ‘Formosa’.
There is quite a bit of history here and some of the fort is still intact, but you should also be aware that this is not comparable to visiting a castle in Europe.
Nevertheless, I liked the atmopshere and thought that the fort is definitely an area worth visiting when in Tainan!
Right next to the fort, you can also find the Grand Mazu Temple, which was one of the most important temples in town.
I’d generally recommend just strolling around in this area for a while as there are really a couple of nice places to see and lots of interesting street vendors as well.
If you happen to visit the Western part of Tainan, you should also walk along the water for a while. That’s particularly nice in the charming Ganbinlishi Park.
Here, you can not only find some interesting art, but also monuments.
Plus, the park is on the way to the Golden Fort, which is yet another historic monument in town.
The fort as such is quite a green spot and feels much more like a park than a fortress. That’s mainly because there is hardly anything left but a few walls and some canons here and there.
Nevertheless, having a look at this fortress is interesting as well, so I would recommend checking it out.
You might be wondering why I haven’t once spoken about the city center of Tainan, yet? Well, I think you should combine the above two on one day and then go on to explore the city center.
It’s not like there would be so much to see in the actual city center when it comes to tourism, but there are a couple real highlights anyway, including the beautiful Tainan Park.
The other main sight in the city center sure is is the Fort Provincia – yep, yet another fort!
This one is much less spacious then the others and personally feels much more like a historic temple or mansion than a fort.
It’s sort-of a museum today, but you can also just walk through and have a look at the historic parts of the building that are still fully intact. I’m not sure whether you really have to visit all three important forts in Tainan, but they are all somewhat different.
Tainan is a really interesting city in so far as the city feels very Asian in the city center, very colonial in the Western parts and quintessentially European in the Museum Quarter.
My personal favorite definitely is the National Museum of National Literature, which is an incredibly beautiful building.
Then there are also some more historic buildings like the observatory, which isn’t as impressive as the interesting observatory in Melbourne, for example.
Another highlight in my opinion is the Fanhua Temple, which is also located in this area of Tainan and a really nice space with beautiful gardens.
It was being renovated during my visit, but even like that it looked quite nice. If you happen to be in the area, I would also recommend visiting the Nanmen Park, which comes with another little fort of-sorts, which you can enter for free.
There are a couple more noteworthy buildings in Tainan, including the City Gate a little further from the city center.
Generally, I think that you can easily spend half a day or even a full day (if you end up visiting some of the museums) in the city center of Tainan without getting bored.
Tainan is one of the most interesting cities in Asia, in my opinion. It’s hardly known compared to Seoul, Tokyo or even Beijing and defintely doesn’t have the same crazyness as these cities. But Tainan feels quintessentially different and that’s what makes the city interesting. It feels like a version of Asia with lots of culture, history, but without the rapid transformation into modern mega cities like in other parts of the continent – definitely an experience I can recommend!
Do you have any questions about Tainan? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!