When it comes to tourism, the colorful and crowded island nation of Taiwan is known for its bubble tea, themed restaurants, nationwide free WiFi, fascinating night markets, and obsession with Hello Kitty.
What should really top this list is their bicycle culture. Taiwan is a world leader in cycle tourism, with one of the most extensive cycling infrastructures in the world. Their bike friendly attitude—embraced by the locals and promoted for tourists—makes the entire country a premier destination for a bicycle touring.Just how bike friendly can a nation of 23 million living on an island the size of Maryland be, you ask? Police stations and 7-Eleven convenience stores double as cyclist pit stops, offering free water, and often times, bike maintenance for travelers. (Can it get any friendlier than that?!)
In 2015, the nation launched an impressive 968-kilometer (600-mile) bike network that features 122 rest stops along the route, highlighting everything long-distance riders need from hotels and hot springs to restaurants and gear shops. Experienced cyclists can easily complete the 1,200-kilometer (800-mile) journey around the entire island of Taiwan in only 9 days!
The great thing about biking in Taiwan, though, is that enjoying the country on two wheels can be as easy or as challenging of an experience as you like. And you don’t need any previous cycling training to enjoy the bike scene! With hundreds of different routes to discover, there’s no limit to your ride.
Ready to hit the road? Here’s a quick-start guide to inspire your own bicycle adventure and tailor an unforgettable tour of Taiwan:
CYCLE THE CITY
Cruising the country on two wheels doesn’t mean you have to hit the highway and spend days in the saddle. Some of the country’s most intriguing cultural sites and tourist hot spots are located within or near the capital, making for great day trips after you land in the bustling capital of Taipei.
Taipei Riverside Bike Trail: Over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of bike-only paths run along the three main rivers within Taipei’s city limits, passing through both urban and rural landscapes and connecting over 28 parks along the way. A popular route leads riders along the Danshui River to a boardwalk in New Taipei City lined with food stalls, restaurants, and shops. Another option is to bike along the same river from Tienmu (with panoramic city views) towards the vibrant town of Danshui, ending at the ocean on Shalun Beach.
Keelung Riverside Bikeway: This leisurely bikeway provides two routes along each side of the river’s banks, connected by the beautifully lit Zhongshan and Dazhi Bridges, and winding 22 kilometers (14 miles) past parks and cultural sites, including the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and historical Taipei Story House.
TRAVELER TIP: Free maps detailing designated cycling paths and bicycle rentals are available from metro stations. Spend more time exploring the city streets and less time tracking down available bikes for rent with the BikeFriend app. The application provides a map with YouBike bicycle rental sites in Taipei and Kaoshiun, and shares both the number of bikes available for rent and empty slots for return at each site.
PEDAL THE PARKS
Venture out of the giant metropolis of Taipei and you’ll find Taiwan is a natural wonderland. Nearly twenty percent of the country is occupied by 9 national parks and 13 national scenic areas that serve to preserve Taiwan’s ecological diversity.
Yuetan Bikeway: A great place to start your bike journey is circling around Sun Moon Lake, located in the heart of Taiwan in Nantou County. The Yuetan bike path was listed as one of CNN’s best cycling routes of the world, and for good reason. The trail circling the famous sparkling blue waters takes riders past the indigenous village of the Thao tribe and is home to the majestic Wenwu Temple, a Daoist shrine perched high in the mountains. You can leisurely bike a 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) section of the trail, or opt to cycle the entire 30 kilometers (18 miles) circling the lake.
Taroko Gorge: After a leisurely ride at Sun Moon Lake, kick up your pedal power continuing on to Taroko National Park via Central Cross Highway or along the strenuous Highway 8. The gorge for which the park was named after is the area’s main attraction and is a stunning natural landmark of carved marble, jade, and other minerals. Within the park, cyclists can ride around the perimeter of the gorge via Swallow Grotto Trail, or can challenge their strength by climbing to the park’s highest point accessible by bike, Wuling, reaching 3,275 meters (10, 745 feet) above sea level. If you’re looking to see the stunning stone of Taroko, Baiyang is a relatively relaxing trail that takes you into the gorge itself.
Northern Cross Highway (Hwy 7): Pedaling the peaks of the island’s central mountain range is a surefire way to catch the ride of your life in Taiwan. There are actually three highways that cross the range (hence their names), bridging Taipei in the west to the island’s east coast. Of the Southern, Central and Northern Cross highways, the latter is a fan favorite among cyclists for it’s relatively moderate uphills compared to the gruesome (at times) climbs of the of the other two highways.
DON’T MISS: the famous Beitou Hot Spring complex, a park of thermal baths, natural hot springs, and resorts located in a volcanic and geothermal valley of the central mountain range. Also known as Qinshui Park, the hot spring facilities were developed during the early 1900s under Japanese rule, who constructed the baths with the belief that thermal waters have the power to cure diseases and heal physical pains. After crisscrossing through the mountains of Yangmingshan National Park, there’s no better way to relax sore muscles than with a soak in the springs!
CIRCLE THE SHORES
Beaches and bicycles are a match made in heaven, as there is no better way to cool down from a long ride than with a quick dip in the water and stretch on the sand. Taiwan’s east coast is a cycling paradise as the designated bike route winds past pristine parks, rice paddies, rural farms and hugs the Pacific Ocean.
DON’T MISS: For a tour of the best beaches, hit the eastern coastal trail of the Cisingtan Scenic Area in Quixingtan, Hualien County. The 16-kilometer (10-mile) ride along Highway 9 and combines beach views of the Pacific Ocean with backdrops of the lush floral and fauna of the nearby local parks. The trail also features numerous art installations along the ride and a section of the path is made completely out of bright colored marble. You can rent a bike for about $5 for the day at the parking lot of the trailhead.
GO THE DISTANCE
Bikes rental in Taipei is not limited to just sightseeing around the city. Sturdy bicycles equipped for long distance rides are plenty available, so you don’t have to be a cycling expert outfitted with your own equipment to take an island tour.
DON’T MISS: Many tour companies offer week-long trips around the island that combine the best of the beaches, jungles, mountains and countryside. If possible, don’t miss an opportunity to visit tea country on the island’s west end. Riding from Douliu to Zhushan is a great 165-kilometer there-and-back along Route 158. Further north, the rolling hills of the country roll into gentle climbs before dropping down into coffee country off Route 149.
TAIWAN CYCLING FESTIVAL
Perhaps the most enjoyable time to hop on a bike in Taiwan is during November when the country devotes an entire month to the sport of cycling. Biking events pop up nationwide, including organized group rides, races, parties and challenges for cyclists of all skill levels.
The aptly named King of the Mountain challenge is one of the most exciting and coveted challenges that takes place at the aforementioned Taroko Gorge. Riders race to the top of Hehuan Mountain climbing an astonishing 3,275 meters from sea level to the highest point in Taiwan in five hours! The Come! Bikeday event held at Sun Moon Lake is another festival highlight where thousands of cycling enthusiasts of all ages come together to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of one of the world’s most beautiful bike paths and enjoying local games and shows along the way.
For more info on the 2016 Cycling Festival and travel to Taiwan, be sure to check out the Taiwan Tourism Board for the most up-to-date details.