Tainan may be an under the radar destination compared to its more popular counterparts up north – yet it’s a place that wields an undeniable charm. It’s rich in history and culture, and oozes a relaxed, laid back vibe. Plus, it’s also easily accessible from Taipei – whether you’re travelling by high speed rail, bus or train – and is a great option for travellers seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Take in Tainan’s myriad cultural and historical attractions

Chimei Museum. Image courtesy of Mershells.

Chimei Museum is a must-see for art lovers. Created to provide locals with easy access to Western arts and culture, the museum boasts a comprehensive collection of Western artworks, musical instruments, taxidermy, weaponry and more.

Next, make your way to the Ten Drum Cultural Village, an abandoned sugar refinery-turned-cultural park to discover all about traditional Taiwanese drumming. The highlight of the attraction is its twice-daily drum performance, but there’s much more to explore. Take a tour of the expansive 7.5-hectare compound, learn basic drumming techniques or watch the local drum makers at work. Feeling adventurous? There’s a bungee jumping facility on-site where you can experience a surge of adrenaline as you hurtle through the air.

Tainan Confucius Temple. Photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

At Tainan Confucius Temple, you’ll get a glimpse into life as a student back in the 17th century. Completed in 1666, the compound served as the country’s first university, and has been beautifully preserved through numerous restoration works over the years. As you stroll through the compound, keep your eyes peeled for architectural details like the tiered roofs and dragon sculptures, as well as important artifacts in the exhibition room.

Your visit won’t be complete without a trip to Anping District. It was the original Dutch port city, and was once the city center when Tainan served as the country’s capital between the 17th to 19th century. The district is home to numerous historical attractions, including the Anping Fort (previously known as Fort Zeelandia), Eternal Golden Castle and Chihkan Tower (also known as Fort Provintia).

Anping Tree House. Photo courtesy of Malcolm KooCC-BY-SA 4.0

Don’t miss out on Anping Tree House, a popular (and widely photographed) attraction. Originally a warehouse in the 1940s, a large banyan tree has grown over the building, creating a picturesque, otherworldly setting. Staircases and viewing platforms have been built within, allowing visitors to be up amidst the trees and view the warehouse from between the branches. Round out your visit with a stroll down Anping Old Street, where you can shop for handicrafts and sample a wide array of mouthwatering street food.

Go cafe-hopping

Tainan, like Taipei, has no lack of quaint cafes to explore. Just as its name suggests, the entrance to the Narrow Door Cafe is a blink-and-you-miss-it alleyway sandwiched in between two buildings. It gradually widens out further, and once inside the venue, you’ll find yourself in a rustic setting featuring vintage decor, Victorian-style windows and jazz music.

Photo courtesy of Paripari apt.

Then there’s antique store-cum-cafe Paripari. You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back to the 50’s the moment you step in, as the venue has been decorated to resemble a kissaten. Translating directly to mean “tea-drinking shop”, kissatens are traditional Japanese-style tea rooms and coffee shops widely frequented in Japan before the rise of the third-wave coffee culture.

Wander along a traditional street

The traditional streets of Xinmei, Shennong and Zhengxing offer an intriguing mix of old and new – hipster cafes, boutiques and art galleries line the streets along with traditional bakeries, toy shops and shophouses where local craftsmen can be seen working away at their crafts. It’s particularly atmospheric at night, when lanterns and street lamps cast a warm, amber glow over the alleyways.

Soak up the vibrant vibes at a night market

There’s no better way to discover the local food, shopping and lifestyle scene than to visit a bustling night market. Feasting is undoubtedly one the main highlights here; you’ll find endless stalls dishing out myriad delicacies – from the love-it-or-hate-it stinky tofu, to crowd favourites like fried chicken cutlet, oyster omelette and grilled seafood.

Photo courtesy of 范鈞傑, Wikimedia Commons

There’s plenty of fun to be had too – browse through the numerous souvenir stalls, or try your hand at games stalls featuring basketball hoops, pinball machines, dart boards and more.

There are multiple night markets to choose from, including Tainan Flower Night Market, Dadong Night Market, Wusheng Night Market, Tonghua Night Market and Lovers’ Night Market to name a few. Unlike in Taipei though, each venue is open just two or three days a week, so you’ll need to check the schedule in advance before making a visit.

Top Image: Wenchieh Yang