Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s third-largest city and a great starting point for any itinerary around the island. The city is quite pleasant and boasts several interesting temples, Taiwan’s largest monastery, a beautiful lake, a river, a cool art center, and a futuristic metro station. In Kaohsiung everything is colorful and authentic! It’s easy to walk about, bike, and take the new fancy metro. Once again, we didn’t have enough time, so we couldn’t visit the historical Cijin Island. Nevertheless, we did have time to explore Taiwan’s old architecture in Tainan and Lugang.
Though Taiwan is increasingly becoming touristic, most tourists focus on its capital Taipei. Hence, Kaohsiung remains somewhat unexplored. We absolutely loved it and will come back soon to explore it deeply. As soon as we landed, we took the metro to the city center and got off at Central Park station with its hundreds of flowers. We walked to our lovely hotel through the Central Park, Kaohsiung’s green lungs. There is a nice like inside and contemporary sculptures everywhere.
Kaohsiung 2 Day Itinerary
Day 1: City Center and Lotus Pond
We spent our first day walking about the city center. There are several temples and churches to admire, such as the Holy Rosary Cathedral. Likewise, ultra-modern structures like 85 Sky Tower rise high above the city. In the afternoon, we went to the Lotus Pond and checked the surrounding temples, including the popular Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. The whole area is fascinating, so we spent hours walking and biking along. Be sure to check the super-cool Formosa Boulevard Metro Station, where Kaohsiung two metro lines meet.
Holy Rosary Cathedral
You won’t find many historical sites in downtown Kaohsiung. Actually, there are almost no old buildings left in the center. In fact, the majority of important Buddhist temples are away from downtown. To our surprise, the main historical site in Kaohsiung is the Holy Rosary Cathedral. The largest Catholic Church in Taiwan is also its oldest. Spanish missionaries came here from the Philippines right after China’s Qing dynasty allowed foreign missions and built the church. The elegantly decorated neo-Gothic and Romanesque church houses a Holy Rosary Statue brought from Spain. Today, it is the seat of the bishop of Kaohsiung and bears an honorary title of Minor Basilica Cathedral.
85 Sky Tower
The 85 Sky Tower is to Kaohsiung what the Petronas Towers are to Kuala Lumpur. Kaohsiung’s tallest building was also Taiwan’s tallest until the construction of Taipei 101 in Taipei. Its unique design has put Kaohsiung on the world’s list of cities with the coolest skyscrapers. Two tall towers joined to hold another tower in the middle, thus creating an opening between them. Its shape emulates the Chinese character gao, which means tall and is also the first character in the city’s name. Offices and apartments occupy the lower flowers, and a hotel the top ones.
Our favorite place in all Kaohsiung is the beautiful Lotus Pond, north of the city center. The manmade lake dates from 1951. Numerous temples and palaces dot the area, including the Confucius Temple, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, and the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. Every structure is colorful and done with the utmost detail. We climbed the two pagodas and admired both the views and the large statues of the tiger and the dragon. Next to the lake, you will find the remains of an old city wall that surrounded the old town of Zuoying. In addition to the wall, you can see three of the original four city gates.
Formosa Boulevard Metro Station
Kaohsiung’s metro system has two lines that intersect at the large Formosa Boulevard Metro Station in the city center. The station is underneath the junction of Zhongzheng and Zhongshan roads, two major boulevards. It is famous for its colorful artwork that covers the main hall. Made of 4500 glass panels, the 30 meter Dome of Light is the largest glasswork in the world. Renowned Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata used the four natural elements of earth, water, air, and fire to metaphorically express the rebirth of Taiwan.
Day 2: Fo Guang Shan Monastery and Yangcheng District
On our second day, we went to the monumental Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Taiwan’s largest. This humongous place seems like a movie set for a dystopian futuristic movie. In spite of the thousands of Buddhas and gardens, we felt in the middle of a religious cult in Kaohsiung’s grandest monastery. A surreal experience, but definitively not our thing. After getting back to the city, we crossed the pretty Love River and biked through the charming Yangcheng district. We passed by the imposing Kaohsiung Museum of History and ended our itinerary at the Pier 2 Art District. The District is an excellent example of how to re-purpose an industrial area with art.
Fo Guang Shan Monastery and Buddha Memorial Center
We knew of the large new Buddhist complex in Kaohsiung. What we didn’t know is that it is quite far and pretty impressive. The Fo Guang Shan Monastery is the central temple of the Fo Guang Shan monastic order. This international order promotes Humanistic Buddhism while modernizing Chinese Buddhism. The temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Taiwan and is easily recognizable by its main square with eight pagodas and a giant Buddha statue. Next to the temple, there is a large university with a thousand Buddha statues and a beautiful main shrine, one of Kaohsiung’s nicest. To get there, take a bus from the Xin Zuoying Train Station (the fast train station).
The Love River, Kaohsiung’s main river, divides the old town from the city center. Originally called Takao, the wide and flat river watered the surrounding farms. At the end of the 19th century, the Japanese governed Taiwan. They decided to dredge the river and build a canal to transport lumber. It became an industrial transport corridor and got more and more polluted over time. Fortunately, in 1979 local authorities began to clean it. Nowadays, it is one of the city’s top attractions. Everyone comes here to stroll about, have coffee in the adjacent cafes, and shop at the night market. Be sure to check for cultural activities that take place next to the river throughout the year.
Kaohsiung Museum of History
As mentioned above, there aren’t many historic buildings in downtown Kaohsiung. One of the few remaining ones from the 50-year Japanese rule is the Kaohsiung Museum of History, from 1939. The former Kaohsiung’s City Hall is a great example of Japanese Imperial Crown architecture. The symmetrical building has three towers with the traditional Japanese four corners on top. If you like the exterior, wait till you see the lavishly decorated interior, which combines eastern and western styles. The museum showcases the historical development of the city of Kaohsiung.
Pier 2 Art Center (District) Kaohsiung
Since we already said that the Lotus Pond is our favorite place in Kaohsiung, then Pier 2 Art District is our very close second favorite. This wonderful art area has taken over abandoned industrial warehouses in front of the sea. We are talking about railway tracks, art pieces everywhere, and a bunch of old industrial buildings. What makes this center completely different is its relaxed and authentic atmosphere, without the usual European grandiloquence. There are no shops, brands, and any other propaganda. It’s a place for art, recreation, and cheerful visitors. The district hosts several museums and galleries, including the Hamasen Museum of Taiwan Railway.
Where to Stay in Kaohsiung
We stayed at the fabulous FX INN – Kaohsiung Zhonghua Road, near Central Park. The hotel has great comfy rooms and a delish coffeehouse. There is even a covered roof terrace with wonderful views. If you are looking for something a bit more upscale, book a room at the Brio Hotel. This elegant hotel is right in front of Central Park, 500 meters from the Formosa Boulevard Metro Station. They offer design rooms and nice views. If you prefer staying in Yangcheng district, the OX Suites is your best bet. This charming little hotel is close to the Pier 2 art district.
How to Get to Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung has a relatively large airport with direct flights from China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. We flew to Kaohsiung from Macau with low-cost Tigerair. Fast trains connect Kaohsiung with Taipei through Tainan and Taichung, so you can continue your itinerary throughout the island. Since distances are not that long, Taipei is just 90 minutes away. There are also regular trains connecting the two cities, but the journey takes between 4 and 5 hours. You can also travel to Hualien and Taroko by train in about 5 to 10 hours. Please take note that different companies operate fast trains and regular ones. Also, bear in mind that the fast trains leave from the Zuoying Station in north Kaohsiung.