As the fifth-largest county in Taiwan, Yilan is home to roughly half a million people. Modernity and tradition fuse and flourish in this fascinating county, creating authentic experiences. Yilan is filled with delights and quirks that will entice your imagination and excite your senses. You will be spoilt for choice on both things to do and see in Yilan.
Yilan is located in the northeast of Taiwan and is where you’ll find the main cities of Luodong, Jiaoxi, Su’ao and Yilan City. Being roughly only an hour from Taipei to Yilan (depending on the city), makes it the perfect place to experience the local culture. Some of the major area’s of interest are the rice-paddy-covered Yilan Plain, Jiaoxi hot springs and National Centre for Traditional Arts.
Top Things to Do in Yilan
This county’s historical and cultural wealth means there are plenty of things to see. Your visit will be filled with tribal day trips, traditional tea ceremonies, and tempting night markets. As well as adventures outdoors to Guishan Island and Taipingshan national forest recreation area.
To help you plan your trip, I’ve put together a list of tips and interesting things to do.
⇒ I used Lonely Planet Taiwan (Travel Guide) Paperback, as a reference while travelling around the country for a month.
Visit the Aboriginal Bulau Bulau Village
The best way to understand a country is through its people. This is why you should visit the Aboriginal Bulau Bulau tribe and see their way of life. Located near Lo-Tong City, this Aboriginal Bulau Bulau tribe can be found in the hills above Hanxi Village in Datong Township. Visiting the Aboriginal Bulau Bulau village, was by far one of the best experiences that I had in Taiwan.
Heading to Bulau Bulau Village
The community uses an appointment system and you need to reserve a spot to visit the village. Guests can drive to the Hanxi Suspension Bridge, the longest and highest of its kind in Taiwan. From this pickup point, you will take a ±15-minute shuttle ride to the village.
‘Bulau Bulau’ means ‘to gallivant’ or ‘to idle’ in Atayal. It’s fitting as singing, dancing, eating and drinking are just some of the things you can expect on a trip here. Book a tour directly to Bulau Bulau Village to mingle with this tribe.
- You can not take any plastic to the village which includes bags and bottles. You can, however, take stainless steel water bottles with you.
Taste Yilan Food at the Night Markets (夜市)
One of the top things I wanted to do in Taiwan was visit the local markets either during the day or at night. What better way to get in touch with the locals and try traditional Taiwanese food. Yilan has some great food markets and if you happen to be staying the night in Yilan, this is a good option for something to do at night.
If you are using Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, as a base, Yilan night markets are easily accessible to get to. Check out the best night markets in Taiwan for other great suggestions.
- Best to take out Taiwanese dollars before heading to the night markets. As most places only take cash and not all ATM’s accept international cards.
Luodong Night Market (羅東夜市)
In Luodong Township, just 320 metres from the main train station, you’ll find the popular Luodong Night Market. This is the ideal spot for food enthusiasts to visit as the stalls are overflowing with delicious Taiwanese delicacies. Keep an eye out for famed local dishes like milkfish soup and smoked duck. If you can get over the smell then you will have to try stinky tofu (fermented beancurd), you’ll either love or hate it.
Address: 265, Taiwan, Yilan County, Luodong Township, Xingdong Road, 與號 民權路口
Dongmen Night Market (東門夜市)
Another option is Dongmen Night Market, located in Yilan city and in walking distance from Yilan station. Dongmen night market was my first experience of Taiwanese night markets and I loved it. There was so much colour and variety everywhere we walked.
Even though this is a smaller night market by Taiwanese standards, Dongmen Night Market, is less touristy. Meaning that it feels more like an authentic experience surrounded by all the locals. Apart from local food/snacks, drinks, they even had games to keep the children entertained. Some of the popular local dishes to try at Dongmen night market are mutton soup and spring onion pancake.
Address: Shenghou Street, Yilan City, Yilan County, Taiwan 260
Highlights of street food in Taiwan
Lanyang Museum (蘭陽博物館)
If you’re interested in history and want to know more about Yilan, then head to Lanyang Museum, located in Toucheng township. It is a good starting point for your Yilan itinerary. This modern museum design looks like it is literally sinking into the water and ground, depending on your viewpoint.
You can explore the museum and check out the exhibits on the area’s history, culture and the indigenous Kavalan people. All exhibits have descriptions in both Chinese and English, which helps a lot. With a constantly shifting array of exhibits and expertly-founded displays, the Lanyang Museum is worth a visit.
Address: No. 750, Section 3, Qingyun Road, Toucheng Township, Yilan County, Taiwan 261
⇒ Here are some suggestive readings on the history and culture of Taiwan; Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan or The History of Taiwan (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)
Take a Traditional Cooking Class Yilan City
If your love of food goes further than simply eating it, a food tour in Yilan with a DIY element will pique your interest. You’ll learn more about local cultures and make your own authentic Taiwanese meals.
Using fresh, local ingredients bought at the market you’ll cook up creative dishes in the Yilan style. Depending on your tastes, you can choose between urban and village themed cooking.
Cooking class and local market visit
I highly recommend booking Traditional cooking Class with Farm and Market tour with Leo. It is rated as one of the top things to do in Yilan city and after my experience, I know why. You will learn about the culture from a real local and meet some interesting vendors when exploring the Yilan market. Then you will prepare a traditional meal with the local ingredients you purchased while with Leo. Once the class is over and you have eaten your delicious food, don’t forget to take your handmade bag as a souvenir.
Go on a Kavalan Distillery-Whisky Tour (噶瑪蘭威士忌酒廠)
You don’t have to be a whisky lover to enjoy visiting Kavalan distillery. Kavalan is located in Yuanshan Township, which is a 10-minute drive from Yilan Station by taxi or car. The distillery was named after the indigenous Kavalan people.
Kavalan whisky has its own story. If you stop by, you’ll hear the history of the first whisky distillery in Taiwan. You’ll also sample some different types of whisky.
Kavalan Distillery ages its whisky by combining intense heat and humidity with mountain and sea breezes. It even uses mineral-rich waters sourced from the meltwaters of Snow Mountain. This adds to the quality of the whisky’s character.
The free distillery tour offered is only in Mandarin. However, if you want to experience Taiwanese whisky for yourself. Book a tour in English at Kavalan Distillery.
Su’ao Cold Springs (蘇澳冷泉)
Head to Su’ao cold springs, located in Su’ao township and only 300 meters from the train Station. Su’ao cold springs are a rare type of cold mineral springs that are only found at a few places around the world.
The Su’ao cold springs have a temperature of less than 22°C and the water from these springs is clear, colourless and emit no smell. As the water contains high levels of carbon dioxide, it is both bathable and drinkable. The water is also used for the production of Su’ao’s famous jelly cake.
Alisli cold spring
Another cold Spring in Su’ao that uses the same water source is Alisli Cold Spring. Which you can also visit, however, It is more local and smaller.
- Don’t forget to take your own towel to dry your feet off afterwards. I use a microfiber towel, it is small, light and quick drying. They are great for using when you are travelling.
⇒ Do you know there are hot springs on Green Island in Taiwan? Read more on What to see and do on there.
Travel to the National Centre for Traditional Arts (國立傳統藝術中心)
A delightful mixture of folklore and history awaits at the National Centre for Traditional Arts. I loved the crafts and puppetry on display – I felt like I got up close and personal with old Taiwan.
The centre is located by the banks of Dongshan River in Wujie Township. From Luodong Train Station, you can take the Capital Bus that is bound for the National Centre of Traditional Arts straight to your destination. You can also take a transfer from the train station to Dongshan River Route Shuttle Bus Green 21 and get off at the National Centre stop.
You can purchase an entry ticket in advance online for National Centre for Traditional Arts.
Address: No. 201號, Section 2, Wubin Road, Wujie Township, Yilan County, Taiwan 26841
Learn to Make Traditional Green Tea
It’s not only the British who take their tea seriously. In Taiwan, tea forms a large part of the culture. It encompasses traditional tea ceremonies, social etiquette, and tea arts. Taiwanese tea culture has its origins in its Chinese counterpart.
When in Yilan, you’ll see many tea houses where you can try the Taiwanese oolongs like Lishan, and black and red teas. Yilan Xiangyu Farm allows you to pick, fry, and knead your own tea. It’s located in Dongshan Township, which is easily accessible by train.
⇒ Looking for other cultural experience in Taiwan, how about visiting the Historical sites to see in Tainan.
Experience a Scallion Farm and Pancake-Making
Yilan is famous for its scallion pancakes, so how about getting hands-on and learn how they are made? Seeing the rural side of Taiwan is an unforgettable food experience. I spent a few hours in the shoes of a farmer at the Onion Liao Experience in Sanxing Township.
I discovered things about different agricultural products and also had fun getting dirty, pulling and washing onions. Visitors can also take part in pancake-making and create some special scallion pancakes and fritters. The best bit is we got to eat our scallion pancake that we made at the end.
Make sure you take a good-quality camera to get some great pictures of you out in the Taiwanese countryside.
Take Part in a Traditional Taiwanese Tea Ceremony
The Taiwanese tea ceremony has been a part of the country’s culture for over 400 years. Besides its Chinese roots, the tea ceremony has also been influenced by Western and Japanese traditions.
The ceremony is separated into several stages and can vary depending on the type of tea being served. The thing that struck me most was the importance placed on simply savouring the brew.
Everything about it is observed; the aroma, appearance, and taste. The preparation is conducted carefully. You’re also instructed to drink the tea in a specific way so you appreciate it in full.
Feng Chun Villa offers traditional tea ceremonies and is a wonderful place to stay in Taiwan.
Meihua Lake and Sanging Temple (梅花湖)
Combine outdoors and history together by heading to Meihua Lake (Plum Blossom Lake) and Sanging Temple in Dongshan Township. Enjoy a bike ride around the lake, while taking in the scenery before heading up to Sanging Temple perched on the side of a hill overlooking Meihua Lake.
It was such fun experience riding a themed electric motored bike around Meihua Lake. We went at our own pace stopping to take pictures and to go over the bridge to the little island. You can hire a two seater, a family size electric motored bike or just a normal bike. They don’t go very fast at all, so great for all the family to enjoy. It is not a big lake so you can even stroll around it, if you like.
Beware of the monkeys and snakes in the area. You are not allowed to go near them, as they can bite!!
Book a tour
Meihu Lake is near Luodong Railway Station and easily accessible by public transport. Or you can book an organised tour that picks you up directly from your hotel or train station.
- Add Jhongshan Waterfall to your list, when you are in the area.
Other things to do in Yilan County
If you’re staying in Yilan and looking for more suggestions while visiting this beautiful county. How about these other authentic things to do in Yilan County;
Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area (太平山國家森林遊樂區)
Take a day trip to the mountainous Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area, known as Taiwan’s ‘fairyland’. Marvel at the Yilan Plain, explore the lakes & trails. If you are not comfortable doing it on your own, you can book a tour.
Guishan Island 龜山島 (Turtle Island)
Take an unforgettable boat tour with a professional guide to Guishan Island to go whale and dolphins watching. You also have the option of going onto the island and hiking to the summit.
Jimmy Square (幾米廣場)
One of the things to do with kids is to go take some fun and cute pictures at Jimmy square. Located next to the Yilan train station, this fanciful art park is a popular area for taking pictures.
Jiaoxi Hot Springs Park (礁溪温泉)
Enjoy dipping your feet into the Jiaoxi Hot Springs Park foot pools. It is a public hot spring, open for free to the public with a cafe. You will see lots of locals soaking their feet in the hot springs around the park.
Nanfang’ao Fishing Harbour (南方澳漁港)
Check out Yilan beach and try some fresh seafood at the popular Nanfang’ao Fishing Harbour. Before heading up to the lookout point to get a panoramic view of the entire Nanfangao harbour.
How about these 3,4 and 5 day tours around Taiwan
Final Thoughts on Cultural & Authentic Things to do in Yilan
Similar to the wealth of history offered in Tainan, Taiwan, Yilan is also shaped by an impressive past. This county has been touched by Spanish, Dutch, and Chinese influence as well as the Qing Dynasty.
With so many authentic cultural experiences to discover, Yilan is the ideal place to visit for your Taiwan trip. Not to mention everyone was so welcoming and friendly.
⇒ Here are some amazing activities you can book in advance before visiting Yilan Taiwan.
Tips to know before visiting Yilan County
- The currency used across Taiwan is the Taiwanese dollar
- Obtain 24hr access to the internet to be able to keep update with maps and things to do while in Yilan. You can purchase a 4G Sim in advance and pick it up at the airport in Taiwan when you arrive.
- Looking for a tour like no other? Try the Travel the Unknown in Yilan, where every stop is an adventure.
- Taiwan uses the same power outlets as USA and Canada
- I used this Taiwan Travel Guide to help me navigate around this incredible country.
- The main languages spoken in Taiwan is either Taiwanese or Chinese. English is not frequently used by the locals. Download google translate, it’s free and it is very handy.
- Lonely Planet Taiwan (Travel Guide) Paperback, was my reference while travelling around the country.
Other countries near Taiwan
If you’re wanting to explore other amazing countries near Taiwan, then please feel free to read the following. Or you can head to my Taiwan page for more articles on this stunning country.
- Japan: Hiking Routes of Niigata & Nagano
- Taiwan: Green Island Things to do
- The Philippines: Best things to do in Bohol Philippines
- Brunei: What to do in a day in Bandar Seri Begawan
⇒ Check for FREE if you require a visa and if there are any special requirement restrictions before you go to Taiwan.
Have you been to Yilan county before, I would love to hear your experiences below. Or if there is anything else you like to know about the area? Just drop me a line and I will drop to help.
Disclaimer: Even though I was there with the Taiwan Tourism UK. All views are my own and based on my own experience.