Comparing Taipei vs Kaohsiung isn’t something you’ll see done a lot online—at least not in English. Most opinions I’ve heard on this rivalry have been in Chinese.
On the other hand, I do think this topic—which is best city in Taiwan?—is an important one to discuss. Including the possibility that neither of these two places deserves that title.
To be sure, once I get done directly comparing Taiwan’s most popular cities for travelers, I’ll expand the destination about where to go in Taiwan more generally. Let’s get to it!
How I Came to Know Taipei (and Kaohsiung)
Before I dig into specific comparisons of Taipei vs Kaohsiung, I’d like to explain my own process of getting to know each city. For me and Taipei, it was love at first sight. This was several summers ago, in the mid-2010s, a few years after I ceased being an expat the first time, and two years before I expatriated myself again. My fondness for Taipei deepened every time I visited, and has (mostly) continued during the year I’ve now lived here.
I liked Kaohsiung quite a bit the first time I visited as well, but as you’ll see reading this Taiwan travel blog, it had less to do with the city itself than the respite it offered. Namely from the torrential rain drowning the northern half of the island during that entire trip. Which is not to say I don’t genuinely love Kaohsiung—I do, though I doubt I could ever live there.
How Taipei and Kaohsiung Compare
Attractions and Day Trips
On the whole, I would say that are more things to do in Taipei than there are in Kaohsiung, and many more day trips. To be sure, while some of Kaohsiung’s offerings are singular (the Tiger and Dragon Pagodas, and Fo Guang Shan Monastery), they don’t really compare to the quality of Taipei attractions, from mainstream ones like Taipei 101, to treasures off the beaten path like Guandu Temple.
Another way to compare Taipei vs Kaohsiung? With your tastebuds, of course. As the capital of Taiwan, you can find just about every type of Taiwanese cuisine in Taipei, whether that’s xiaolongbao (either at Din Tai Fung or one of its local competitors) along Yongkang Street, or beef noodle soup in Ximen. Food in Kaohsiung is also somewhat diverse, but my favorites are local specialties such as Shan Zhou Rou Fan, or wild boar rice.
Although looking at a Taipei MRT Map seems more complicated that one for Kaohsiung, which has only a couple of lines to Taipei’s serpentine system, Taipei’s underground is easy to use. Moreover, it can take you basically anywhere in the city, especially combined with the easy-to-use city bus network, and that’s more than can be said about Kaohsiung’s transportation situation.
I’ve spoken often and vocally about my distaste for my Taiwan accommodations. With this being said, hotels are a clear area of the Taipei vs Kaohsiung where I actually prefer Kaohsiung. However, I do prefer staying in Taipei overall, both due to its more interesting and well-defined neighborhoods, as well as the selection of quality Airbnb apartments in each.
Weather and Seasons
I’ll be honest: The weather in Taiwan is always terrible somewhere. On the other hand, while it’s true that the north is usually sunny when the south is rainy (and vice-versa), I generally find Taipei to have worse weather (i.e. more rain, not to mention colder winters) than Kaohsiung. Of course, Kaohsiung also has more air pollution, both because it’s an industrial city, as well as due to its proximity to China.
Other Cities in Taiwan
When it comes to places to visit in Taiwan, Taipei and Kaohsiung are only the beginning. Generally speaking, I divide this topic into two halves: Taiwan’s urbanized west coast; and its rural east coast. Traveling by train from Taipei down to Kaohsiung, major destinations include the cities of Taichung, Chiayi and Tainan, as well as day trips from each—Sun Moon Lake from Taichung and Alishan from Chiayi, most notably.
The Taipei vs Kaohsiung debate becomes even less relevant, to be sure, along Taiwan’s east coast. Here, you’re unlikely to spend much time in cities such as Yilan, Hualien or Taitung. Instead, the highlights along the aptly-named East Coast Scenic Route are much wilder, from the rice fields of Yuli, to the beach scenery of Taimali, to famous (but somewhat overrated, at least in my opinion) Kenting National Park.
Plan Your Trip to Taiwan
Regardless of which Taiwan destinations end up being your priority (you will almost certainly visit Taipei, but Kaohsiung—I wager—is still up in the air), stringing them together into an executable trip can be a challenge. This is in spite of Taiwan’s small size and the efficiency of its public transit, which in many ways is the easiest to use in the world (and, certainly, Asia).
The Bottom Line
The only realistic way to resolve the Taipei vs Kaohsiung debate is to visit both for yourself. Absent this, I do hope my post has helped inform you about fundamental differences between the two. Which is not to say these are the only cities you should visit while in Taiwan—many others are worthy of your time, to say nothing of all the rural areas within day-trip distance of them. Taiwan is a small destination, geographically speaking, but it punches far above its weight in most other regards. This is something I imagine you’ll find to be true, whether you visit Taipei, Kaohsiung or anywhere else on the island.