Tainan, the former capital of Taiwan surprised me in so many amazing ways and was the perfect city to end my month stay exploring the country. Located on the southwestern coastal plains, Tainan’s the oldest city in Taiwan. It’s history dates back more than 400yrs, influenced by the settlement of Dutch, the Qing Dynasty and Japanese rule.
Making the city home to some unique cultural experiences, impressive temples and stunning architecture. It is not hard to find interesting historical landmark sites to see in Tainan.
The name ‘Tai-wan was once used to refer to Dayuan which is Anping’s former name and a popular district in Tainan. Most of the historical sites are concentrated around the city centre and in Anping district. Both are compact enough to get around on foot or via local bus, you can even hire a scooter if you have the correct licence. Getting to Tainan is also very easy, as the high speed train from Taipei to Tainan in less than two hours.
Today, traditional culture continues to thrive in Tainan and the city offers a mix of old and new through its beautiful temples, historic landmarks and architecture. Not to mention all the colourful quirky alleys and streets filled with a variety of delicious food. I completely understand why it is such a popular getaway to visit and a perfect place for adding cultural exploration to your trip.
Tainan is one of those cities that I would happily go back to over and over again and undoubtedly, one of the most colourful historical cities I have been to in Asia.
⇒ Most of the city is walkable and the climate in Tainan City is tropical. Best to wear good light walking shoes
Top historical sites to see
Being Taiwan’s oldest city and full of rich history you can imagine Tainan has many amazing temples and historical landmarks. To help you get the most out of your trip to Tainan and hopefully learn a bit along the way, here are some tips and maps on the top historical sites to see in Tainan in no particular order.
Map of Tainan’s historical points of interest
I have highlighted in red Tainan’s historical points of interest for your ease.
Chihkan Tower (赤崁樓)
Eyecatching Chihkan Tower (previously known as Fort Provintia ) is considered to be one of the top historical landmark sites to see in Tainan city. Located downtown, it is one of 2 forts built during the Dutch colonial period in the 1600’s and was initially built as Fort Provintia. Since then there have been several restorations and refurbishments which give you the current appearance of the buildings and grounds. The only original feature now is the foundation.
Like a lot of historic sites, Chihkan Tower has had many owners over the years, as well as some interesting history. Which is documented and displayed inside the building, as well as artefacts that belong to the site. Just underneath the building, you can see the original entrance of Fort Provintia which was discovered in 1944 and sealed off.
Outside you can explore the courtyard where you can view the prominent 9 Bixi-carrying imperial steles set of stone turtles symbolising strength and longevity.
- Location: No. 212, Section 2, Minzu Road, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan 700
- Opening hrs – 8.30 am – 9.30 am (Closed Fridays, Mondays & Tuesdays)
- The entrance ticket of NT50 (Discount for the students and the elderly)
- There is a shop and a restroom just inside the entry gates.
Grand Mazu Temple (祀典大天后宮)
Next up on your historical sites to see in Tainan should be Grand Mazu temple, which is literally only a 5 minute walk away from Chihkan Tower. Grand Mazu temple was the first established Matsu temple in Taiwan and is also referred to as Datianhou or Great Queen of Heaven Temple. It was originally built as a mansion for Ming King Nig Jing the last king of the Ming dynasty. He wanted to win the hearts of the local people, so converted into a temple worshipping Mazu, according to his last wish before his death.
The temple is dedicated to the sea goddess, Mazu. There are several halls to explore and some of the main features to see is the 300-year-old Mazu statue and the shrine to Mazu’s parents where the king’s bedroom used to be. The roof beam in the room is where the king’s concubines hanged themselves all those hundreds of years before.
⇒ I used Lonely Planet Taiwan (Travel Guide) Paperback, as a reference while travelling around the country for a month.
- Location: No. 18, Lane 227, Section 2, Yongfu Road, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan 700
- Opening hrs – 6 am – 8.45 pm (Every day)
- Free to enter
- Grab a bubble tea or ice cream at Two corners of Yingu Zao 兩角銀古早味冬瓜茶, which is just outside the temple.
Shennong Street (神農街)
Less than a 15 minute walk away from Chihkan Tower is the colourful and fascinating Shennong street. It is a well known historical road worth seeing that was once the entrance to the Tainan five channels area. An important area during the Qing Dynasty, as all merchants would travel through this street making it the most prosperous business district in Tainan. Today, the waterways are long gone and have been transformed into a quirky city street. It is crazy to think boats used to come all the way up to the back of these buildings to drop off goods.
Now you’ll find old and new mixed together along the narrow streets and alleyways on both Shennong street and the sounding Tainan five channels area. You have shops selling local goods, fashion boutiques, charming cafes, art galleries and restaurants. Then wedged in between you still have the historical buildings, old shophouses, workshops as well as small temples.
Shennong Street would have to be by far one of the most enchanting but authentic streets that I have seen in Taiwan. Popular with both photographers and Instagrammers alike, especially just before sunset, when the colours of the sky make an amazing backdrop. It was one of my favourite spots to see, not just because there were so many photo opportunities but I loved the fact it has some cool history to go with it. Remember not to forget to take your camera.
⇒ Wanting to experience Taiwanese food? You might be interested in reading Best Night Markets to Visit in Taiwan
- Location: No. 18, Lane 227, Section 2, Yongfu Road, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan 700
- Opening hrs – All day long. If you want to explore the shops then go during normal business hrs
- Free to enter
- Another worthy street to take Instagrammable picture is Snail alley (蜗牛巷)
Confucius Temple (台南孔子廟)
Confucius Temple (also known as Tainan Confucian Temple or Quan Tai Shou Xue), sits in the historical heart of Tainan. Built in 1966 it is the first Confucius Temple, before the end of Manchu Dynasty. It is a historically important building in Taiwan because it is where education originated in the country. Confucian temples traditionally function as schools as well as places where the sage’s life and ideas were commemorated.
There are an amazing fifteen structures inside the Confucius Temple which offer a glimpse into the past. Undoubtedly the most popular temple to see in Tainan City and is visited not just by tourists but also locals. Walking around taking in the beautiful surroundings, you get a sense of peace and calm. Definitely, one of the historical sites to see in Tainan.
⇒ Get one of these great guidebook’s to help you explore Taiwan. They are full of good advice, maps, where to eat and stay, as well as how to get around the country.
- Location: No; 2號, Nanmen Road, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan 700
- Opening hrs; – 8.30 am – 5.30 am (Closed Fridays, Mondays & Tuesdays)
- Entrance ticket; NT25 (Discount for the students and the elderly)
Judicial Museum (台南市司法博物館)
Judicial Museum was formerly the old Tainan District Court and is one of the three classic buildings established during the Japanese colonial period. Built in 1912 and then refurbished by 2016 it is like no other that you see in Tainan, with its spectacular columns and round, baroque style roof. It was the only place that I saw a few couple’s having their wedding pictures taken at the front.
Today, the Tainan Judicial Museum has become a top interactive learning historical site to see in Tainan. In preserving the memories and history of judicial development in Taiwan, it also serves to promote judicial education. Inside there are lots of hands on experiences and areas to explore like the courtrooms, the jail, seated archive room and public art displays. If you are interested in the history of architectural buildings then read Architectural Guide Taiwan: Architectural Guide
- Location; No. 307號, Section 1, Fuqian Road, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan 700
- Opening hrs; 9 am – 5 pm ( Closed Mondays)
- Entrance ticket; Free
Blueprint Culture & Creative Park ( 藍曬圖文創園區 )
Blueprint Culture and Creative Park is a multi-purpose park located in South District, Tainan. It was once called “the First Judicial New Village.” because it was originally built as a former prison dormitory and detention centre with a high court branch and prosecutors office. In order to preserve the city’s legacy and to connect with the current cultural and creative industry, the area was revived in 2015.
Now it is one of the top cultural historical sites to see in Tainan that combines both old and new through creative with unique structures, quaint shops, art studios and food stalls. It is a great spot for trying the food, buying local souvenirs and for taking pictures, especially in front of the funky murals on the building facade. Another exhibit is a 3D blueprint nighttime art installation with sparkling lights.
While you’re in Taipei, before or after Tainan, how about taking a private historical walking tour to Ximending and Red House?
- Location: No. 12號, Lane 689, Section 1, Ximen Road, South District, Tainan City, Taiwan 702
- Opening hrs – 10 am – 9 pm (Every day)
- Free to enter
Anping old fort (安平古堡)
Built in 1634 Anping Fort is the oldest fort in Tainan and just like Chihkan Tower is another popular historical site to see in Tainan. Initially named Fort Zeelandia, it was an administrative centre and served as a defensive stronghold for the Dutch. Later when captured by the Chinese it was renamed, Anping Fort.
Today the only real trance of the Dutch period is the southern red brick walls of the outer fort that has old banyan trees growing on it. Most of the site including the Tower has now been reconstructed over the years.
Inside the building, you will find a museum filled with interesting insights into the past, especially about the history of the Dutch occupation of Taiwan. Outside you can climb up the tower and take in the views across Tainan and the Anping area. Dreaming of being in Tawin, how about these books suggests to make you wish you were there.
- Location; No. 82, Guosheng Rd, Anping District, Tainan City, Taiwan 708
- Opening hrs; 8.30 am – 5.30 am (Mon-Thur) – 8.30 am – 8 pm (Mon-Thur)
- Entrance Fee; 50NT
- There is a shop, coffee shop and a restroom inside the grounds
Anping old street (安平老街)
After exploring Anping Old Fort, head across the road to Anping old street (or also known as Yanping Street) the oldest street in the whole of Taiwan. Originally built by the Dutch over 300years ago solely for pedestrians and pushcarts due to the narrow street. Many tourists and locals alike, who come to Anping venture to the historical old street.
Wander around exploring the many stalls, shops or simply try some of Tainan’s famous specialities like beef soup or oyster omelettes, while taking in the bustling environment of Anping Old Street. The street has a great mix of locals and tourist, especially in the restaurants scattered along the street. It is also an excellent place to shop for authentic souvenirs.
- Looking for a restaurant on Yanping street then try A Xia Restaurant
Anping tree house (安平樹屋)
One of the most unique historical sites to see in Tainan is Anping tree house. Formerly the Tait & Co. Merchant House built-in 1867, it was originally established as a trading company involved in the export of sugar and camphor before being turned into a Japanese salt company. There are two parts to the area, the merchant house and the warehouse.
The merchant house has various exhibits across its rooms that highlights the lifestyle of the Dutch, Chinese and the indigenous families in Tainan. Undeniably though the main attraction is the warehouse that has literally transformed into a giant tree house over hundreds of years. The warehouse is intertwined with one giant banyan tree that looks like it’s strangling the building with its branches. It’s quite impressive to see and it reminded me of something out of the Swiss Family Robinson.
- Location; No. 108, Gubao Street, Anping District, Tainan City, Taiwan 708
- Opening hrs; 8.30 am – 5.30 am Everyday
- Entrance Fee; 50NT
- There is a shop, coffee shop and a restroom just inside the entry gates
Sicao Green Tunnel (四草綠隧)
Take a boat ride through the mangrove swamps on the Yenshui river to see the Sicao Green Tunnel, a canopy of mangrove trees forming a “green tunnel”. It is an impressive sight to see especially when it is reflecting off the moving water, making it look like something straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie. I found the best way to take pictures on the boat of Sicao Green Tunnel was with the GoPro.
Developed over 200 years ago, it is home to 50-plus year- old mangroves extending across the water on both sides of the river. Due to it being a lush dense forest it has been given the nickname “Little Amazon River”. You can sit back, relax, and admire the wildlife around you, as you take your boat ride along Yenshui river. The mangrove swamps is located behind Sicao Dazhong Temple and in Anping, so you can do this at the same time while in the area.
- Location: No. 360號, Dazhong Road, Annan District, Tainan City, Taiwan 709
- Opening hrs – 8.30 am – 5.30 daily
- Duration; 30 minutes
- You must wear a life jacket before getting on the boat but it will be provided to you by the tour company
- Entrance ticket; NT200 (Discount for the students and the elderly)
- The tour is in Chinese
If you have extra time and love temples, visit Sicao Dazhong Temple next to the boat tour company. There is some amazing history about the Dutch and it is pretty impressive especially inside.
Other historical sites in Tainan
If you have more time and want to explore more historical landmarks and temples; here are some other top sites to see in Tainan. Most are in walking distance of each other.
- National Museum of Taiwanese Literature
- West Gate of the old Tainan city
- Tian Tan, Tiangong Temple
- Eagle Hill restaurant – Ying Cuisine
- Hai’an Road – The busiest Art walking area
- Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple
- Tainan City Art Museum building 1
- Tainan Art Museum building 2
- Official War God Temple
- Koxinga’s Shrine
Getting to Tainan city via train
Tainan is situated on the southwestern coastal plains of Taiwan and the most efficient way to get there is via high speed rail (HSR). Taiwan has an excellent transit system, which makes getting from A to B with public transport extremely easy and frequent. Taipei to Tainan is just under 2 hrs and trains run every 30 mins. Kaohsiung to Tainan is only 15-20 minutes.
The high-speed rail (HSR) station is a fair distance from the city centre of Tainan, so the best option is either a local train or bus. A taxi ride is roughly 45mins on a good day. If you want a hassle free trip by HSR that goes to Kaohsiung, Kenting, Taitung and Taian, then I would suggest taking the Southern Taiwan 3-Day Tour.
Quick tips for seeing the sites in Tainan
- The currency used is Taiwanese dollar
- Tainan is a very popular destination, especially on weekends. If you are travelling over these days, best to book your accommodation in advance.
- Get Pocket wifi to keep in contact, it gives you access to the internet and maps while travelling. You can book one before you leave and pick it up at the airport when you arrive. I used a company called iVideo for the month I was travelling around Taiwan.
- Tainan uses the same power outlets as USA and Canada
Other places in Asia to visit
Looking to discover other amazing places in Asia? You may also like the following articles for inspiration.
- Hiking Routes of Niigata & Nagano Japan – Japan
- Best things to do in Bohol Philippines – The Philippines
- A brief encounter with the city of Bandar Seri Begawan – Brunei
⇒ You can check for free if you require a visa for Taiwan and if there are any special requirements.
Thank you for reading this article and I hope it helped to answer any questions you may have about Historical sites to see in Tainan. If you have been or know of any other historical places, please let me know in the comments.
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Disclaimer: Even though I was there with Taiwan Tourism UK. All views are my own and based on my own experience.