Kaohsiung is a major city on the south coast of Taiwan – and it’s fantastic. If you love street art, tiny winding streets full of traditional old shops, amazing food and fantastic temples shaped like dragons, tigers or people, it’s your dream destination! So, without further preamble, check out our guide to 16 of the most fun and unusual things to do in Kaohsiung.
1. Geek out at the Street Art
I’ve seen a lot of street art on my travels but the Lingya district of Kaohsiung blew my mind. Entire walls of multi-storey housing blocks team with colour – goldfish swirl around the windows, jellyfish float up the side of the building, giant stags stand guard from ten storey’s above the street – and all around these major works of brilliance, you’ll find smaller murals tucked down alleys and colouring the doors of garages or the backs of restaurants.
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It’s the work of a mix of local artists – particularly a group called the Wallriors – and famous international street artists and if you’re into street art it has to be one of the first things on your Kaohsiung sightseeing list.
For the whole story with way more pictures, plus some other good places to spot street art, and other art, in Kaohsiung that I don’t talk about in the rest of this post, check out this bigger post on the art of Kaohsiung.
2. Then Admire the Sculptures
There’s also plenty of street art around the Pier 2 Art District – one of the main Kaohsiung attractions – but the thing I loved here the most was the sculptures – again, they are everywhere.
Highlights for me were the circle of chairs in Dayi Park at the Love Pier end of the complex, the giant monsters close to Dayi Pier-2 Station and, the entire park of huge swings and other made for Instagram sights that fill Hamasen Railway Cultural Park.
While you’re in the Railway Park, grab a grapefruit tea from the stalls at the entry of the park – it started an addiction for the stuff that lasted my whole trip.
A short ferry ride away from Pier 2 is another of Kaohsiung’s top attractions, Cijin Island where you’ll also find a few sculptures on the seafront. These are super popular photo posing spots so get there early, or expect to queue if you want your photo taken with them.
You catch the ferry to Cijin from Gushan Ferry Pier.
3. Visit The Dinosaur Theme Park
The Dream Mall is one of Kaohsiung’s biggest shopping malls and worth a visit if you’re after some retail therapy on your trip, but I went because on top of it is a theme park.
Most people who write about this talk about the big wheel which gives an amazing view over the city, but I was more fascinated by the animatronic dinosaurs all over the place – not least because I visited just before Xmas and many of them were wearing Santa hats and singing!
The Dinosaur Park is free to get in, you just pay if you want to go on any rides or play any of the games that line the rooftops.
4. Be Wowed by CornerCone.
CornerCone are famous for their super ornate ice creams.
When I visited they had a small store close the Kaohsiung water tower – but now, they’ve moved and now they have a store smack in the middle of Pier 2 – by Banana Pier.
You choose a flavour, they add the decoration. Many photographs must be taken before it melts.
Designs change all the time so check out their Instagram to see what they are doing this week – they definitely are one of the most fun things to do in Kaohsiung.
From what I’ve seen queues at the new store can be long – so, if you can, go during the week or as early as possible on weekends.
5. Climb The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
The temples that circle Lotus Pond are probably the biggest Kaohsiung tourist spot. Normally, I steer clear of mentioning big sights like this on this blog, but these deserve a place on the list of the most unusual things to do in Kaohsiung because they are frankly bonkers and totally fabulous!
I mean why make a temple a normal shape when instead you can have people enter or exit it through the mouth of a giant dragon or tiger. Or have it overseen by a giant god.
Of course, there is a reason for the design and it is that entering a dragon’s mouth and exiting a tiger’s mouth is lucky – and as such, it’s important you go into the temples the right way round – there are signs in case you forget when you get there..
You’ll also get a second chance to wander through a lucky dragon’s mouth at the Summer and Autumn Temples a bit further to the North.
Then, you’ll come to this fella – the Zuoying Yaundi Temple with its imposing statue of the High Heavenly Xuan God renowned for his healing – and monster killing – powers.
This whole area is just wonderful. There’s so much detail inside and out of the temples and the area around them teams with life – not just tourists. We loved watching the outdoor karaoke session at the entrance to Zuoying Yaundi.
There’s also the less ostentatious, more traditionally beautiful, Confucius Temple at the far end of the lake.
The Lotus Pond is clearly marked on all Kaohsiung maps and is in the Zouying area in the city’s North West.
The downside is, that despite being one of the main places to visit in Kaohsiung, it’s not that near the metro or light rail and we found the best way to get there and back was the local bus.
If you’ve got google maps (if need a local SIM to access this then do as I do and order one from Klook to pick up at the airport) and an iPass (or Easycard if you started you trip in Taipei) – which is like the Oyster card in London, Rabbit in Bangkok, Opal in Sydney – the buses are actually pretty easy to use. They have English signs to tell you the number and a lot of them also had English signage inside.
Just hop on, tap your card and follow the google map, or on bus announcements to your stop.
Top tip: You can pick up an iPass or Easycard at shops at the airport, or order your Easypass ready to pick up here. We didn’t have any problems using our Easypass in Kaohsiung, but to be sure, the iPass is the Kaohsiung local version. If you prefer the idea of that, you can order one here.
6. Hit Up The Antique Bar
If you love all things vintage – or small, cute dogs – then a visit to TimeS Antiques and Bar has to be on your list of things to do in Kaohsiung at night.
It’s full of trinkets of days gone by. Oh, and don’t panic if you hear frantic barking as you arrive – that’s Mojo.
He’s about five inches tall and within five minutes of you entering the bar he’ll be on your lap or eating out of your hands, literally, owner Peter will give you snacks to feed him!
The bar has apparently moved since we visited so, check them out at their new location. You’ll find details, current opening hours and a map on their Facebook page. Peter speaks excellent English and you’ll be made very welcome by both him and Mojo.
7. Throw All Your Plans Out of the Window
It was Saturday morning and after a busy morning doing many of the Kaohsiung must-see sights included in this post our plan was to rest our feet for a bit and just sit on the Light Rail system and see where it took us.
As we neared the stop for the Kaohsiung Exhibition Centre though I started seeing something odd.
A lot of dogs.
As we went past the Centre we saw the sign Pet Show. You’ve never seen two people with sore feet recover so quickly.
For a small entry fee we entered what could only be described as pet madness.
Row after row of stalls was selling pet paraphernalia – and among the people buying endless goodies for their fur babies were actual dogs – and cats – on a day out. Most of who were wearing their Sunday best.
Admittedly, some of them were not quite so happy about it!
I actually ran out my phone battery taking photos.
Which is proof that while guides like this are great for planning your Kaohsiung trip you should always keep your eyes open for something completely unexpected going on around you. Taiwan is like Japan in that respect, you never know what you’re going to stumble upon next.
If you are now desperate to add the pet show to your holiday experience and are travelling to Kaohsiung in December it seems to be an annual thing. Here’s the website to check the dates.
8. Pop Past the Batmobile
It’s not really worth a massive detour, unless you’re a huge Batman/car fan, but if you happen to be in the area, parked outside the JCafe in the middle of Central Park is a lifesized Batmobile.
The cafe belongs to Taiwanese Mandopop star Jay Chou, and it seems he has a thing for cars.
The cafe wasn’t open when we walked past early in the morning, but apparently there are other cars inside – and also lots of his memorabilia.
We went through the park on the way to Formosa Boulevard…which appears next on our list of unique Kaohsiung attractions.
9. Check out the Huge Glass Artwork
Formosa Boulevard is a major interchange in the Kaohsiung metro system, but it’s also home to the world’s biggest artwork made from glass.
The Dome of Light by artist Italian artist Narcissus Quagliatais consists of 4500 glass panels, covers over 2000 square metres and took over four years to complete. It also has a light show that flickers across its ceiling at 11am, 3pm and 8pm – with an extra show on Saturday and Sunday. Check the details here just in case they make any changes to the timings.
Find it by the main ticket concourse.
10. Try Ootoro
Is it milkshake or is it ice cream? I’m still not completely sure, but whatever it is, this dairy dessert from Ootoro Milk in the Siziwhan district was the perfect pick up after an afternoon of exploring.
Siziwhan, just a little bit to the west of Pier 2 Art District doesn’t have many big sights, but it is a fascinating mix of traditional old businesses interspersed with quirky shops and cafes. If there’s a list of ‘hipster Kaohsiung’ areas, then I’d say this is definitely on it!
Other cool stops in the area include the Mottainai Plant-Based Cafe and Canteen with their Eat, Drink and Have Fun Motto but there were heaps of cafes and dessert shops opening up. In fact, TimeS Antique and Bar also picked the edge of this area when deciding on their new premises.
There’s also a branch of DanDan Hamburger near here – I didn’t get time to try it, but, if you like trying local fast food when you’re away this is the place to stop in Kaohsiung as it originated here.
The name is a bit misleading as they specialise in chicken burgers, fried chicken and noodles rather than hamburgers but apparently, they’re pretty good!
11. Visit the (other) Dragon Temple
It’s not quite as impressive as the pagodas, but the dragon design snaking around the steps of the Wanxing Palace temple is pretty impressive.
I’ve also seen pictures of bear statues and amazing hedge carvings at this temple. I’m not sure if they are there all the time but the staircase definitely is (sorry, about the pic – my iPhone is rubbish at night!)
The temple is at 325 Chenggong 1st Road
12. Nibble Your Way Through Yancheng
I first headed to Yancheng as it’s apparently home to Kaohsiung’s best bao (a sort of squishy steamed bun filled with meat).
If it is I didn’t try it as the stall was never open – but I soon realised I wasn’t going to go hungry.
The streets and alleyways are full of places to eat – steaming pans of soups, noodles or buns. Wander the tiny covered alleys and you’ll come across endless independent food stalls, shops and traditional tea sellers. I think it was my favourite area for meandering. And prices are super reasonable so you can just try whatever catches your eye.
I followed the lead of a monk and picked up one of the freshly-cooked flaky, not stodgy, doughnuts from the doughnut bakery in Lane 151 Daren Street.
I got my dumpling fix sitting at one of the street side tables at Yonghe at 35 Yancheng Street.
I also downed a firey noodle soup at a shop around 119 Qixian 3rd Road – look for the place with the map on the wall.
Duck Zhen on Wufu 4th road also comes highly recommended.
13. Visit the Alien Art Centre
I’m pretty sure this place wasn’t listed on the map when I went to Kaohsiung as the name would have jumped out at me (from what I can work out it opened just before my trip) – and then one look at the exhibits and the pictures of the dishes in the cafe would definitely have seen me adding it to my list.
Located in an old military hostel it displays modern art – including a permanent work by James Turrell. I’m still sulking that I didn’t get time to see his work when I went to Naoshima art island in Japan for the day so to miss out here too is, erm, frustrating!
Make up for my mistake and go check it out. You can see more, including a current list of exhibitions, on their website.
14. See the Giant Buddha
Fo Guang Shan is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. And if that wasn’t enough to add it to your list of what to do in Kaohsiung, it’s towered over by a giant gold Buddha, that stands 108m high, flanked by pagodas and hundreds of gold statues.
Fo Guang Shan is not in Kaohsiung itself. To get there you need to take a bus from the Zuoying High-Speed Rail Station. The best option is the EO2 which takes a little over an hour.
Or, if you’d prefer not to tackle the bus you can easily book a tour that visits Fo Guang Shan. Have a look at this half day tour via Klook.
15. Have a Bowl of Soup
Beef noodle soup is the unofficial national dish of Taiwan – and it’s said it was invented in Kaohsiung.
You’ll find bowls of the scented broth bubbling all over the city, but Gang Yuan Beef Noodles make some of the best.
There are two branches of these in the city, but we picked the branch at 248 Ziqiang 3rd Road as it was a) near our hotel b) comes with a pretty impressive set of collectibles displayed on the shelves inside.
16. Get Lost in Kaisyuan Flea Market
This market simply known locally as the Junk Market, takes place on a Sunday morning at 758 Kaixuan 4th road (also home to the Kaisyuan Night Market once the sun goes down) and it’s huge.
The stalls range from new items stacked high to the more interesting individual sellers that might have everything from secondhand watches to collectible plastic figures.
If you have a home full of kitsch souvenirs from your travels, this could be the perfect place to pick up your Kaohsiung addition!
You might not walk away with anything useful – although you can pick up everything from an antique doll to a new toothbrush – but it’s a fun, if hot, place to wander for an hour or two as the stalls contain all manner of oddities – and it’s a good thing to do in Kaohsiung in the morning.
15. Head Up High at 85 Sky
85 Sky Tower is Kaohsiung’s main observation point and while it’s not Taipei 101, it’s a fun place to get an overview of the city.
Standing 378m high, the building used to be the tallest in Taiwan, until it’s sassy Taipei cousin usurped it and is designed to mimic the Chinese character ‘gao’ for the word tall. Gao is also the first character in the word Kaohsiung – yep, it’s actually pronounced Gao-shung not anything to do with a K.
The observation deck is on floor 74 – and when we went at 10 am on a Tuesday we had the whole place to ourselves!!!
It’s fun, but I wouldn’t say it should be the first thing to do on your trip – and, if you’re only in Kaohsiung for a day or two, you can probably skip it.
On which note…
How Long Do you Need In Kaohsiung
We arrived by train from Taipei on a Friday morning and then flew back to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia (check out the review of their Quiet Zone service here) lunchtime on Tuesday and that was long enough to see everything on this itinerary – although there were still a lot of sights I didn’t see and areas of Kaohsiung I didn’t get to explore.
I, however, love to wander aimlessly around cities peering down alleys and into every shop and so could easily spend two weeks here and not get bored, if you’re more of a ‘get the sights done and get out’ type of person, you could definitely see the main sights in 3 days, 2 nights.
However, areas like Pier 2 get very busy on Saturday and Sunday so, if you do only have a short time in the city I would say not to book your trip over a weekend – or at least go there as soon as you arrive on a Friday afternoon where the crowds were notably smaller.
The biggest issue we found was finding things to do at night. There are a lot of night markets, but Mr Differentville is not a fan of street food or crowds so, they were’t our natural home.
There are a lot of expatty-style bars that we tried, but we didn’t love them – we did find a row of izakaya-type bars up by the river which were okay – but check your bill carefully, the one we went to tried to charge us for a dish we didn’t order and that we sent back. There did look to be some fun places on the other side of the river, but they were closed the night we had free to investigate.
Next time I go, my mission will be to find some more cool bars and things to do in the evening.
Where to Stay in Kaohsiung
We chose to stay in the Kindness Hotel Guang Rong Pier.
Kindness Hotels are a huge budget chain in Kaohsiung but I admit, we choose this one because it was close to most of the bars we found on the map, as we’ve learned that after a day’s sightseeing we don’t tend to want to go that far at night.
In hindsight that might not have been the best plan as the bars weren’t great and I think we’d have found better ones if we’d just gone wandering and looked for places with people, but they were there and they had beer so…
The location worked out brilliantly for other reasons though. It was walking distance to most places we wanted to go, and very close to a Light Rail stop for trips further afield.
It was a nice large room, it was clean (although a bit tired decor wise) and quiet and the hotel does a good breakfast, offers free sweet snacks which were great when we got in at night – and even throws in buffet dinner which I admit we gave in to one night!
If you’re looking for a safe, budget choice, then this is a good one. It also gets excellent reviews on Booking.com Click here to check for prices and availability.
I’d had a bit more money though, I’d have stayed at Hotel Dua which looks lovely and is close to Formosa Boulevard.
Or, now I’ve visited, I’d also consider staying around Yancheng and so for my next trip I might think about the Chateau de Chine.
Prefer to try AibBNB – then search for what’s available here.
So, there you have it. My guide to some of the fun and unusual things to do in Kaohsiung. I admit, I only touched the surface in the city and I’d love to go back and explore more – if you know it well, please give me some suggestions of things I shouldn’t miss next time in the comments.