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If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan during Chinese New Year, or you are living in Taiwan and starting to prepare for your upcoming holiday, there are some things you should know to help you have a smoother trip.
Some people feel strongly that Lunar New Year is NOT the best time to visit Taiwan. Moreover, despite being called the “Spring Festival”, it actually takes places in the middle of winter in Taiwan, a time that can be cold and damp, especially in Taipei and northern Taiwan.
Lunar New Year is the most important of Taiwan’s holidays and the longest break most people have from school and work. But the festival doesn’t offer much for visitors to enjoy, unlike some other countries in East Asia where the holiday is celebrated with parades and other events. Even cities in Western countries have more activities on Chinese New Year than Taiwan does. What’s more interesting for visitors is the Taiwan Lantern Festival, which comes on the 15th day of the lunar year.
Taipei and other major cities in Taiwan can feel like ghost towns during Chinese New Year. Public transportation still runs on holiday hours, but almost all shops, restaurants, and food stalls close. Moreover, the country’s highways, hotels, and attractions become overrun with domestic tourists on certain days of the holiday (I’ll explain which ones below). Getting train tickets or driving anywhere can be a nightmare.
However, things are changing. More and more of Taipei’s attractions are remaining open through most of the holiday, often only closing for one day. It’s still feasible to plan a trip around Taiwan and avoid the worst of the crowds using the tips I’ll provide in this article.
On the plus side, the weather during Chinese New Year is perfect for visiting these amazing hot springs, and depending on the dates, you may be able to catch some cherry blossoms! Therefore, Chinese New Year isn’t necessarily the worst time to visit Taipei.
- Visiting Taiwan during January
- Visiting Taiwan during February
- Visiting Taiwan during March
- Visiting Taiwan during April
- Visiting Taiwan during May
- Visiting Taiwan during June
- Visiting Taiwan during July
- Visiting Taiwan during August
- Visiting Taiwan during September
- Visiting Taiwan during October
- Visiting Taiwan during November
- Visiting Taiwan during December
In this article, I’m going to cover all the special activities coming before, during, and after Chinese New Year in Taiwan, including the various Lantern Festivals taking place around New Year. I’ll also discuss things to do during Chinese New Year in Taipei and other cities, how to plan a trip to Taiwan during Lunar New Year, and exactly which days you should avoid traveling during the holiday.
When is Chinese New Year in Taiwan?
Since the Chinese lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, the dates of Lunar New Year vary by year. Chinese New Year occurs on the new moon that appears anytime between January 21 and February 20.
The 2023 date for Chinese New Year in Taiwan is Sunday, January 22, 2023. This means it will be one of the earliest possible starting dates of the lunar year, meaning other festivals in Taiwan tied to the lunar calendar, like Dragon Boat and Moon Festival, will also be earlier than usual this year.
The 2023 date for the Lantern Festival in Taiwan is Sunday, February 5, 2023. However, Lantern Festival activities take place over the course of several weeks, which I’ll cover in detail below.
“Chinese New Year” vs “Lunar New Year”
When speaking English, most people in Taiwan (including locals and foreign residents) refer to the holiday as “Chinese New Year.” However, some people, mainly in the foreigner community, prefer the more inclusive “Lunar New Year,” because many countries and nationalities celebrate this holiday, not just Chinese-speaking ones. It’s also a way of moving away from calling things in Taiwan “Chinese” and recognizing that Taiwan is a country and culture of its own.
In Mandarin, the holiday is called Spring Festival (chun jie/春節) or guo nian (過年). I use all these terms in this article, but especially “Chinese New Year”, not as a political statement, but simply because that is what most people in Taiwan, including my friends, colleagues, and my Taiwanese family members always say.
Anytime around the holiday, you can say Happy New Year (xin nian kuai le/新年快樂) or Wishing You Prosperity (gong xi fa cai/恭喜發財) to locals and they will love it!
How Many Days Do People Have Off for Lunar New Year in Taiwan?
How long is the Chinese New Year holiday in Taiwan? Traditionally, in the past, Chinese New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year Day, and the following four days were national holidays in Taiwan. In other words, people technically only had 6 national holiday days.
However, the holiday is longer some years if it matches up nicely with weekends. Recently, the government has also been adopting a trend of giving people additional days off to avoid something like going back to work on a Thursday or Friday.
This is exactly what will happen in 2023. In fact, this year, they also gave people an additional Friday off at the start of the holiday. This Friday (Jan 20) will be the day before CNY Eve. I’m not sure why they did this, but my guess is to spread out the inevitable highway traffic jams at the start of the holiday as everyone rushes to the south to see their families.
The 2023 official holiday will go from Friday, January 20 to Sunday, January 29, for a full 10 days off. It’s a long one!
To “make up for” one of those extra days off, everyone in Taiwan will have to go to work or school on Saturday, February 4 of the following weekend.
What Do Locals Do During the Holiday?
So what do people in Taiwan do during Chinese New Year? Just about everyone gathers with their extended paternal (father’s side) family on New Year’s Eve (chu xi or 除夕) for a large meal, similar to Christmas Eve dinner in the west. They usually gather in their hometown or parents’/grandparents’ home, which is often located in the countryside or south of Taiwan. Thus, Taiwanese people often call this annual migration “going down” (下去).
This means there’s a huge rush of people driving out of the major cities, and especially driving south, on New Year’s Eve. Thanks to the extra Friday off this year, people will mostly be doing this drive on Thursday night, Friday all day, and early on Saturday. To beat the traffic jams and daytime highway tolls, some people try driving south in the middle of the night. By dinner time of CNY Eve, most people have already reached their hometowns and are staying in having dinner (usually foods that have auspicious sounding names), drinking, and playing mahjong.
On New Year’s Day (chu yi or 初一), they keep doing the above all day long. They may also visit with neighbors or pop in to their local temple to pray for a prosperous year. Children play together outside, and receive red envelopes (紅包 or hong bao) filled with money from elderly relatives. Because most of the country is at home, it can actually be a great day to travel.
On Day 2 of the lunar new year (chu er or 初二), families hit the road again to visit their maternal relatives (the mother or wife’s extended family), a day called hui niang jia (回娘家). This of course comes with more eating, drinking, mahjong, and hong bao.
If the father and mother have different hometowns, this day often requires driving for several hours, so the roads get busy again, though not nearly as bad as the days before CNY.
From Day 3 until the end of the holiday, families usually start getting bored sitting around with relatives. So this is when they start traveling around the island en masses. From Day 3 to the end of the holiday, highways are crazy busy again. The government even closes some access ramps and imposes a minimum of 3 passengers per vehicle on certain highways at certain times. Attractions also get crazy busy and virtually all hotels in the country sell out weeks in advance.
I’ve spent nearly a dozen Spring Festivals in Taiwan. Before I was married, I often used the time off to travel outside of Taiwan. But heads up – flight prices go way up at this time. If you can manage to fly out even just a few days before everyone else is off, it can make a difference of hundreds of dollars.
If I didn’t go abroad, I usually didn’t even bother trying to leave Taipei. I would just stay in the city and use the time to hang out with friends, go hiking, or do day trips to hot springs.
But since getting married and getting to know my wife’s family, I must say that I love Chinese New Year for the comfortable feeling of gathering with family to stuff myself with delicious homemade food and (to be completely honest) drink ridiculous amounts of beer with my in-laws.
The one thing I’ve learned, though: don’t say yes to the kaoliang (a distilled sorghum liquor that is usually 58 percent alcohol…) I did once, got drunker than I’ve ever been in my life, including several hours of blacking out. Never again! But if you’re willing to, the relatives will adore you for it.
Drinking in such a family setting is a highly competitive affair, and they love nothing more than trying to push a foreigner to his/her limits. If you are ever lucky enough to get invited to a local family gathering, chances are you will find out what I’m talking about (though not every local family is like this).
How Long is the Chinese New Year Holiday for Students in Taiwan?
Most students in Taiwan get 2-3 weeks off for lunar new year, while university students get a whole month. This doesn’t have a major impact on planning your trip to Taiwan, since most parents only get that one week off, and that’s when they do their family trips around the country.
But you might find a slight uptick in crowds at places that young taiwanese like to visit, such as night markets, Jiufen Old Street, and so on.
How’s the Weather During New Year in Taipei?
I’m sorry to break it to you, but the weather during Lunar New Year in Taipei, that is late January to mid February, tends to be pretty awful. January is the coldest month of the year (average 13.9°C) and February is the second coldest (average 14.4°C). The lowest it ever gets is around 6-10°C.
That may not seem that cold, but factor in the high humidity, gray skies, and drizzly rain for 14 days per month (on average), and it results in an icky, cold-to-the-bone feeling.
On the plus side, it’s still not THAT cold (depending on where you come from – I’m from a cold city in Canada, where it usually drops down to -30 or even -40°C during winter). But a notable difference is that most places in Taiwan don’t have indoor heating, so it can feel quite chilly when you’re just sitting around at home or in your hotel.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can be surprisingly warm (thank you global warming?) The weather is not going to stop you from doing what you want to do in Taipei, except you probably won’t be visiting one of Northern Taiwan’s beaches.
The best part is that it’s perfect weather for hot springs!
How’s the Chinese New Year weather in the rest of Taiwan?
The weather in New Taipei City, Taoyuan, and Hualien/Taroko Gorge are going to be pretty much the same as Taipei. But, generally speaking, the further south you go, the warmer it gets, and the less it tends to rain or be overcast.
Taichung and Miaoli are usually slightly warmer and have less rain than the capital. Tainan, Kaohsiung, Taitung, Pingtung, and Kenting can be quite a bit warmer, with temperatures often 5-10 degrees warmer than in Taipei. That’s practically beach weather! In Dulan, Taitung, people even surf year-round, while over on Xiaoliuqiu, they still go snorkeling with sea turtles at this time.
One exception is the Central Mountain Range. Obviously, the higher you go up, the colder it gets. If you plan on visiting Alishan or Cingjing Farm, for example, you should bring a jacket even in summer. During Chinese New Year, it can be really freezing up there! It is possible (although not normal) to see snow up there as well. If you plan to stand around in the early morning waiting for the famous Alishan sunrise, then make sure you wear some very, very warm clothing!
As for Sun Moon Lake, it sits at an elevation of 748 meters, so you can expect temperatures similar to Taipei, but not as cold as higher places like Alishan or Cingjing Farm. You’ll want to avoid visiting offshore islands like Orchid Island (which is mostly closed) and Penghu (which gets crazy windy) in winter.
Can I See Snow in Taiwan during Lunar New Year?
It’s possible, but not likely to see snow in Taiwan. If that’s your goal, then please read my guide to where to see snow in Taiwan.
It doesn’t normally snow around Taipei, but in early 2016, 2018, and again in 2021, snow fell in some parts of New Taipei City, such as on Yangmingshan, as well as Taipingshan in Yilan. When that happened, locals who had never seen snow before were super excited, driving up to see it and building little snowmen on their cars to drive back down to the city. This is definitely not the norm, though, and is unlikely to start happening on a regular basis, but who really knows?
If you really want to see snow in Taiwan, you’ll have to drive up to Hehuanshan (合歡山), which can be reached via a long, winding drive up Highway 8 from Taroko Gorge National Park on the east coast (when the road is actually open – it’s often closed due to landslides), or from Taichung/Puli/Cingjing on the west coast to the highest navigable pass in Taiwan, Wuling Pass (武嶺). Many years ago, there was even a ski resort at Hehuanshan!
But note that these are difficult and potentially dangerous drives. If there’s snow on the ground around Hehuanshan, the highway becomes crowded with locals trying to see it, and only cars with chains on their tires may be allowed to proceed.
You can organize a day tour to Hehuanshan from Taichung here.
Another way to see snow in winter in Taiwan is by doing some serious hiking, especially to the aptly-named Snow Mountain (Xueshan or 雪山, see photo above) or Jade Mountain (玉山 or Yushan).
Strawberry Season in Taiwan
While Taiwan can seem pretty chilly during CNY, the weather is perfect for growing strawberries, especially in Neihu District of Taipei and Dahu, a small rural township in Miaoli County. Both areas have tons of U-Pick strawberry farms, and Dahu even has a whole tourist center related to strawberries and strawberry flavored foods (including beer, wine, sausages, and noodles!)
Neihu is easy to get to from Taipei, but Dahu is a little more off the beaten track. If you plan to visit Dahu during Chinese New Year, you can expect crazy crowds and traffic, so try to carefully plan which day you visit. If you want to spend the night, nearby Tai’an Hot Spring has some great hotel spring hotels, but you’ll need to book early!
Flying to or from Taipei During Chinese New Year
If you haven’t booked your flight yet, be aware that flights departing from Taipei around the beginning of the holiday (especially on the first day that people have off) and flying into Taipei around the end of the holiday can be ridiculously expensive.
For example, return flights to Japan that would normally cost a few hundred dollars return might go up to $1000 return. The airlines know that this is the only days people can travel, so they jack the prices way up.
It can make a big difference if you book really far in advance, and more importantly, if you have some flexibility in your travel dates. Sometimes, just adjusting by a day or two can change the fares by hundreds of dollars.
My parents have actually flown to Taiwan from Canada a couple times during Chinese New Year, and both times they got some of the cheapest fares I’ve ever seen, so it’s always worth checking and comparing prices.
I recommend using WayAway to find cheap flights to Taipei.
Special Activities Leading Up to Lunar New Year in Taipei
In the same way that malls in Western countries get crazy busy leading up to Christmas, Taipei’s traditional markets get insanely packed in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year. Rather than buying gifts, locals go to buy traditional decorations, treats, and ingredients for preparing New Year’s feasts.
A few traditional markets in particular are associated with the Lunar New Year in Taipei City:
Dihua Street before Lunar New Year
Dihua Street (迪化街) is thought to be the oldest street in Taipei, dating back to the Dutch period in Taiwan (1624–1661). It has been a center of trade for centuries, and today its shops continue to sell all manner of goods, from dried seafood and herbal medicines to teas and traditional delicacies.
Dihua Street is located in historic Dadaocheng neighborhood, just north of the Old City of Wanhua (Monga). It’s a fascinating place to visit anytime of year, but in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, locals flock to Dihua Street en masse to purchase goods for the holiday.
The entire length of Dihua Street becomes clogged with people at this time, with the busiest days being the two weekends before Chinese New Year. At that time, shops set up additional displays out on the street, with samples and snacks galore. It’s a great place to get into the New Year spirit, if you can handle the crowds.
Once the New Year holiday begins, however, the street will almost entirely clear out and almost all shops will be closed (see more on that below).
Nanmen Market, Taipei
A lesser-known (to visitors at least) traditional market that has come to be associated with Lunar New Year is Nanmen Market (南門市場) near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
This large traditional market is one of Taipei’s best, and in the weeks leading up to the New Year, it became another go-to place for Spring Festival goodies that will make any Taiwanese person drool. The market’s narrow aisles got just as packed as Dihua Street at the same times.
The original location of Nanmen market officially closed on October 4, 2019, and is currently in a temporary location while the old one gets rebuilt above a new MRT line.
The original location of Nanmen Market was #8, Roosevelt Rd. Section 1, while the current temporary location is at #55, Hangzhou South Road Section 2, at the corner of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. You can see the location here on GoogleMaps. As of 2023, it is still at this location, but in the next year or two, when they finish rebuilding the old one, it should move back to the original location.
LNY Markets in Other Cities in Taiwan
In Kaohsiung, try Sanfong Central Street (三鳳中街).
What is Taipei like During Chinese New Year?
Everything is normal in the weeks leading up to the Spring Festival, besides the masses of locals flocking to traditional markets to pick up supplies. You won’t see it, but most company workers are attending year-end parties hosted by their companies to reward staff for their hard work. For business-people, these often involve consumption of huge amounts of liquor.
On New Year’s Eve and the day before it, (Jan 20 and 21, 2023), people start vacating the city and driving “to the south” (meaning pretty much anywhere south of Taipei), mostly to villages in the countryside in central and southern Taiwan. This is when all highways out of the city become totally clogged, and train seats are virtually impossible to reserve. In 2023, you can expect this to start happening on the night of Jan 19 after people get off school/work. By the evening of NYE, the roads will be quiet again, as everyone should be with their families by then for the big meal.
On New Year’s Eve (Jan 21), New Year’s Day (Jan 22), and Day 2 (Jan 23) of the New Year, Taipei City and other major cities in the country will feel like ghost towns. The streets will be practically empty and eerily quiet. Almost all food stalls, restaurants, and small businesses will be closed. Same thing with most bars and night clubs, except perhaps a few foreign-run ones.
Most of the bigger Taipei Night markets remain open, but with far fewer stalls operating. If you’re on a mission to try many of the 101 best street foods in Taipei, this won’t be the best time to do it! Note that convenience stores, supermarkets, department stores, and some fast food places remain open throughout the holiday, so you can still always find something to eat.
Around Day 3 and Day 4, things start gradually opening again, and by Day 5 and 6, they should be almost back to normal again.
Despite most people being gone and most establishments being closed, some things do remain open, and there are still plenty of things you can do. I’ll cover that in a different section further below.
What is it like traveling around Taiwan during Chinese New Year?
It is important to consider local people’s New Year holiday schedule when planning your trip around Taiwan during Lunar New Year.
In 2023, half the country will be on the road from the night of January 19 to the afternoon of January 21. Therefore, you should avoid traveling out from Taipei on those days. Trains will be fully booked as soon as they go on sale 28 days in advance (entire trains can sell out in minutes, even seconds). Highways will have stand-still traffic. A highway trip that normally takes 4 hours could take 8.
It’s the same story on the High Speed Rail (HSR), though it’s worth noting that you can always buy a non-reserved ticket at the last minute and squeeze into cars 10-12, if you have to travel on those days. It might take a while to get on a train, but we’ve done it!
By dinnertime on New Year’s Eve, almost everyone is already with their families and staying at home. As a result, it’s actually not a bad time to travel. New Year’s Day (Jan 22) is actually an excellent day to travel, as everyone will be nursing their NYE hangovers, and doing it all over again on NYD. Very few local people will on the highway, visiting attractions, or staying in hotels.
On Day 2 of the New Year, (Jan 23) many people hit the road again, because it’s the day to gather with the wife’s side of the family (called hui niang jia or 回娘家), which may be in a different city or county. It’s not as bad as New Year’s Eve though, and attractions around the country should still be crowd-free.
From day 3 to the end of the holiday, local families get bored of staying at home and start traveling around the island. These are the days when highways get super busy again, highway tolls and 3-passenger minimum rules are enforced on some sections of highway, trains are full, and especially hotels and attractions around the country are filled to the max.
If you are traveling around Taiwan on these days, you may have to book your hotel room really far in advance, and the prices may be much higher than usual. If you want to go to a popular place like Sun Moon Lake, Alishan, or Taroko Gorge, you may find that everything is sold out.
A safer choice is to plan to be in one of the bigger cities at this time, for example Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, or Kaohsiung, where there are loads of hotel choices, and most locals leave these cities (not come to them) at this time.
Things to Do in Taipei During Chinese New Year
Compared to other major cities around the world where Lunar New Year is celebrated, Taipei is surprisingly boring during the holiday. There’s no organized fireworks display (you will hear fireworks and firecrackers randomly going off all the time, especially if you get further away from the city).
There’s no public parade, and you won’t see dragon or lion dancing in the streets like I’ve seen in other major cities such as Hong Kong. Most cities in North America and other Western countries even have more activities than Taiwan does!
The only New Year-specific activity I’ve ever heard of in Taipei is the Chinese New Year Dragon and Lion dances at Grand Hyatt Taipei near Taipei 101 and Dayeh Takashimaya Department Store in Shilin.
I’m now going to give you a list of other ideas for things to do during Chinese New Year in Taipei. As you’ll see below, some of Taipei’s most famous tourist attractions actually stay open for almost the entire holiday. Many close or have reduced hours on Lunar New Year’s Eve only.
Dragon and Lion Dancing at Grand Hyatt & Takashimaya
One special activity that you simply can’t miss during Lunar New Year in Taipei is the Dragon and Lion Dance Performance held in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel near Taipei 101. The event almost always takes place of New Year’s Day (January 22, 2022) and usually starts at exactly 11:00 AM in front of the main entrance of the hotel.
The event using kicks off with an explosion of firecrackers, wild drumming, and dragon dancing outside (especially fun for kids, who get to touch the dragon). Next, the performance quickly moves inside to the lobby, where an impressive lion dance takes place and crowds fill up several floors of vantage points.
At the end, the lions go around tossing candies to children and people get a chance to pose with the lions for photos. It’s really a well-done performance, so kudos to the Grand Hyatt for putting on Taipei’s only public performance of this kind every year!
Also feel free to read about our luxury camping experience with kids at the Grand Hyatt Taipei, especially if you are visiting Taipei with children!
While you’re there, also consider enjoying a meal at the hotel’s excellent buffet restaurant. We loved it!
Dayeh Takashimaya Department Store in Shilin also holds a dragon dancing event, but I’ve never been, so I can’t say which one is better. It usually happens on New Year’s Day at 10:30 a.m. on the 1F. The department store also sells a variety of traditional Lunar New Year snacks in the weeks leading up to LNY.
Taipei 101 Observatory
The Taipei 101 observatory is open throughout the Chinese New Year Holiday. On New Year’s Eve, the hours are usually reduced to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission 5:15), while other days maintain the usual hours of 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. This varies a little by year, so it’s best to check before going.
I have visited Taipei 101 during Chinese New Year, and the crowds were moderate but not too bad. Remember to book your ticket online, and go for the fast track-entry option to beat the long lines. Taipei 101 Observatory is the most valuable item included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.
Taipei 101 also has the brand new Skyline 460. Book this and you can stand on the literal roof of Taipei 101, 460 meters above the ground! Access to the regular observatory is included with your ticket.
Hiking to Elephant Mountain beside Taipei 101 to enjoy postcard views of Taipei is a popular thing to do anytime of the year. Lunar New Year is probably one of the least crowded times to do this, and as always, it’s totally free!
Besides Elephant Mountain, there are several other Taipei hikes with views of Taipei 101.
Taipei Zoo is usually open every day of the year except for Chinese New Year Eve (still please double check before going all the way there).
Moreover, since most local families are out of town, it should be less crowded than usual. The Taipei Zoo is included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass.
Right beside the Taipei Zoo, the Maokong Gondola is usually closed on New Year’s Eve and runs regular, or close to regular hours on all the other days. Don’t forget to that Maokong Gondola is closed every Monday and sometimes randomly closes during poor weather.
Check out this Maokong Gondola and Taipei Zoo deal.
National Palace Museum
Like several of the above attractions, you can expect the National Palace Museum, Taipei’s most famous museum, to close its doors on Lunar New Year’s Eve. For the remaining days of the holiday, the museum usually adopts reduced holiday hours, usually closing around 4:30 p.m. (with the last ticket sold at 3:40 p.m.) It’s always best to double check in advance.
Because it is one of the few major indoor attractions open, the National Palace Museum can be a little busy during the holiday. Keep in mind that the museum limits daily visitors.
Taipei Children’s Amusement Park
Just like Taipei Zoo and Maokong Gondola, the Taipei Children’s Amusement Park is usually closed on New Year’s Eve and resumes normal hours on the other days. The Taipei Children’s Amusement Park is also included on the Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass (entrance fee only, rides cost extra).
Some larger theme parks in Taiwan, including Leofoo Village in Hsinchu, are open every day of the year.
Beitou Hot Springs
One of the best things to do in Taiwan in winter is soaking in hot springs, and Beitou is the only MRT-accessible hot spring village in Taipei.
Since most hot springs in Beitou are run by large hotels and resorts, these remain open any day of the year. See my guide to Beitou for the best ones.
However, several of the attractions at Beitou close on certain days during the New Year holiday. Many Beitou attractions are also closed every Monday.
- Beitou Hot Spring Museum: usually closes on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day, and the first three days of the year.
- Beitou Public Library: usually closed on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day, and the first few days of the year.
- Beitou Geothermal Valley: usually closed New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and any Mondays.
- Beitou Public Hot Spring: usually closed New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
Other hot spring options outside of Taipei include Tienlai Resort in Jinshan, Wulai south of the city and Jiaoxi Hot Spring Village in Yilan county. See all the details in my guide to the best day trips from Taipei.
Further afield, there’s also the super unique mud hot spring at Guanziling. All the hot springs in these locations are run by hotels, so they should be open every day of the year.
Most temples never close to the public, even during Chinese New Year. In fact, one of the things that most Taiwanese people do on New Year’s Day is pay a visit to their local temple.
Longshan Temple can be very lively at this time, making it a great time to visit. Depending on the dates, you may even be able to catch the cherry blossoms at some temples, such as Tianyuan Temple in Tamsui (image above). The first round of cherry blossoms there usually bloom in February, while a second round come in March.
See this guide to my favorite 30 temples in Taipei and New Taipei City for all the information.
Department Stores, Convenience Stores, and Restaurants
While it may seem like every small business in Taipei is closed, most of the large department stores remain open during Chinese New Year. For example, SOGO usually has reduced hours on New Year’s Eve (around 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), and then business as usual from New Year’s Day on.
Not only do department stores stay open, but many of them offer sizeable discounts during the holiday, mainly to entice shoppers to spend their red envelope (hong bao or 紅包) money (cash they receive as CNY gifts from relatives).
So where can you eat if all the restaurants in Taipei are closed during Chinese New Year? Well, if worse comes to worst, none of us will ever die (or run out of coffee & beer) because 7-Eleven, FamilyMart and all the convenience stores found on practically ever corner in Taipei NEVER CLOSE. Ever.
In the country with the second-highest ratios of “Sevens” in the world (South Korea now takes the top spot), there’s no shame in getting a meal or even hanging out with friends and having some drinks at your local convenience store.
Most major grocery store chains, such as Wellcome and Carrefour, also remain open during the holiday, some with reduced hours, while Costco has gone against the grain and usually closes for New Year’s Day.
In terms of restaurants in Taipei during Chinese New Year, most really do close for New Year’s Eve and the first 2-3 days of the New Year. If you look hard enough, though, you can still find a few open, including most fast food chains. You may also have better luck trying more international or foreign-run places. Just call first to find out, and don’t trust the hours posted on GoogleMaps, because they often aren’t updated by the restaurants.
One year we had a great meal New Year’s Day meal at the American chain Gordon Biersch, which serves some of the best Western food in Taipei and house-made craft beer.
Here are more popular attractions in and around Taipei with their closing dates:
- Shifen Waterfall: usually closed on New Year’s Eve
- National Taiwan Museum: usually closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
- Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum: usually closed on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the first few days of the year
- Din Tai Feng Restaurant: usually closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
- Ximending Red House: usually closed on New Year’s Eve
- Bopiliao Historical Block: usually closed on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the first few days of the year
- Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall: usually closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but the square is till open
- Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall: usually closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but the square is till open
If You Do Have to Travel During Chinese New Year in Taiwan
If you absolutely have to travel on the some of the busiest days of Chinese New Year, you’ll still survive!
You may not be able to get reserved seats on trains, but it doesn’t hurt to try. What you have to do is buy them the minute they go on sale, which is 28 days before the date of travel. But remember, the day starts at midnight or 12:00 a.m., so it’s actually the night of the 29th day before your trip. If you want a ticket for Feb. 28, then buy it on 12:00 a.m. on January 31, which is actually the night of January 30. And they can seriously sell out in less than a minute!
If you don’t manage to get a seat, keep in mind that you can always buy a standing ticket on regular trains in Taiwan, except for the express trains (Taroko Express or Puyuma Express). The train may be absolutely packed, but you can still usually squeeze on.
A far better choice if you can afford it is to take the High Speed Rail. You can try reserving HSR tickets 28 days in advance on the official website or here on Klook. Booking early allows you to get the early-bird discount. Keep in mind that when you book your ticket on Klook, you still have to make a seat reservation online or in person AFTER you receive the voucher – so just buying a voucher on Klook doesn’t guarantee a spot on your desired train.
If you don’t get tickets, not to worry! Cars 10-12 of every train are the non-reserved section, so you can show up at any time, even during Chinese New Year, buy a ticket, and get on. I’ve personally done this during Chinese New Year, and while it was pretty busy, we just had to wait in a line for a while, not making it onto the first train that came, then getting on the second one (even getting a seat!) They don’t get as packed as the regular trains.
And if you have to take a bus or even drive? Well, just double your traveling time, but it’s not the end of the world. We’ve done the drive from Taipei to Chiayi multiple times to visit my wife’s family during the holiday. We’ve even stayed in hotels on the busiest days – we just booked them several months in advance.
Awesome Festivals After Chinese New Year
For foreign visitors, it’s actually better to be in Taiwan a few weeks after Chinese New Year to catch the awesome Lantern Festivals around the island, not to mention a few more unusual festivals happening around the same time. Flights at this time should also be cheaper!
Foguangshan New Year Festival of Light & Peace
One incredible event that usually starts on New Year’s Day and lasts for several weeks after it is the New Year Festival of Light and Peace at Foguangshan, the largest Buddhist temple in Taiwan. The temple is located in Kaohsiung City in Southern Taiwan. It features beautiful lights and lanterns throughout the enormous temple complex. There is also usually one night with a major fireworks display.
The Fo Guang Shan New Year Festival of Light and Peace usually starts on New Year’s Day and lasts nearly a month. In 2023, the dates were January 22 to February 19.
Find more information about visiting Foguangshan Temple here.
Taiwan Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival (yuan xiao jie or 元宵節) is an ancient Chinese festival that takes place annually on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year (February 5, 2023). People across Taiwan celebrate it by eating tang yuan (little gelatinous balls served in hot, sweet soup) and attending a variety of lantern events.
Every year, a different city in Taiwan hosts the National Lantern Festival event. These enormous events take place over multiple days and feature concerts, hundreds of lanterns and other bright decorations on display, and usually one enormous lantern featuring the zodiac animal of the New Year (see pic above).
These events have become so big that they now usually take place at 2-3 different venues at the host city. Note that this event is NOT the same as the Pingxi Sky Lantern Release (see below for that). There are no sky lanterns at this one.
In 2023, for the first time in 23 years, the National Lantern Festival will be held in Taipei! The Taipei Lantern Festival official dates are Feb 5 to Feb 19, so you can see the lantern displays at any time during this period. They will also be testing the lights from Feb 1 to 4, so you may be able to see some of them already on those days.
The lanterns will be set up various locations in the city, including all around Taipei 101, 44 South Village, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and Taipei Arena.
Lantern Festivals in other Cities
Every year, all major and many smaller cities and towns across the country host their own smaller lantern festivals. Most of these consist of a collection of gorgeous handmade lanterns in a park or other public space. Many of the lanterns are huge, lit up, 3D art pieces, and some are made by children. It’s really a stunning thing to see, and my personal favorite part of the Lantern Festival.
Here are the dates and locations of all the lantern festivals across Taiwan in 2023. I will add the dates when they are announced, usually around a month before the holiday. For most cities, it starts 1 or 2 weeks before Lantern Festival and/or continues 1 or 2 weeks after it.
Taipei Lantern Festival 2023: As I mentioned above, Taipei will host the country’s main event this year, in locations throughout Eastern District (Dong Qu).
New Taipei City Lantern Festival 2023: Jan. 26 to Feb. 12 in New Metropolitan Park (新北大都會公園) in Sanchong.
Taoyuan Lantern Festival 2023: Feb. 1 to 12 at Fugang Railway Station (富岡車站), Fuguang Sports Park (富岡運動公園), Bogonggang Park (伯公岡公園)
Hsinchu Lantern Festival 2023: Jan. 6 to Feb 5 at Hsinchu Yingximen Gate Moat Park (新竹東門城/新竹護城河)
Taichung Lantern Festival 2023: Feb. 4 to Feb 12 at Taichung Central Park in Xitun District (中央公園), not to be consuded with Taichung Park in the Taichung city center near Taichung train station.
Tainan Lantern Festival 2023: Jan. 14 to Feb 12, called the Yuejing Harbor Lantern Show (台南市鹽水區月津港). Also check out the Puji Temple Light Display (台南四聯境普濟殿) on Jan. 16 to Feb. 11, cool lanterns at the Tainan Fire Museum (原臺南合同廳舍) from Jan. 14 to Feb. 15, and Huxingshan Park Light Display (虎形山公園) from Dec. 24 to Feb. 12.
Kaohsiung Lantern Festival 2023: Jan. 26 to Feb. 5 at Lotus Pond in Zuoying.
Taitung Lantern Festival 2023: Jan. 1 to Feb. 5 at Taitung County Office (臺東縣臺東市公所) near Railway Art Village. Taitung also has the Bombing of Master Dan event on the Lantern Festival (Feb 5, 2023).
Hualien Lantern Festival 2023: Jan. 14 to Feb. 13 at Nanbin Seaside Park (太平洋公園).
Yilan Lantern Festival 2023: Dec. 31 to Feb. 5 at Dongshan Riverside Park and Dongshan Station (宜蘭冬山舊河道/冬山車站廣場)
Pingxi Lantern Festival
The Taiwan Lantern Festival you are most likely to hear or know about is the annual Sky Lantern Release at Pingxi, New Taipei City. This festival features mass releases of sky lanterns at timed intervals. In 2023, the mass sky lantern releases will take place at Shifen Sky Lantern Square near Shifen train station on Feb 5 and Pingxi Junior High School (平溪國中) near Pingxi train station on on Feb 11. The events run all day, but the mass lantern releases are usually done every 15 minutes from around 7-9 PM.
I went to my first and only Pingxi Lantern Festival around 10 years ago, in one of my first few years in Taiwan. Although I’m glad I went once, I would never go again. There are no words that can describe how crowded this festival is (even by Taiwanese standards, it’s like a night market x 100). On top of that, local environmental and hiking groups have spoken out about how these sky lanterns get stuck in trees and pollute Taiwan’s natural environment
Because the event is so popular, festivities and mass lantern releases begin there a few days earlier, and continue for up to two weeks after. Usually, the main mass lantern releases are held on the one or two Saturdays closest to the Lantern Festival date. Because this year’s Lantern Festival is on a Sunday, it’s not clear what days they will choose for the main releases.
If you go, I would actually recommend avoiding the main day, as it is simply too crowded, and getting there and back home can be a nightmare, as all buses, roads, and the tiny Pingxi train get totally clogged. The time I went, I think I waited in a line for 1.5 hours to get on a bus to go back to Taipei.
You can actually release sky lanterns in the area on any day of the year, with the most popular spot being from the train tracks at Shifen station on the Pingxi railway line. See the details in my articles on the best day trips from Taipei and how to get to Shifen from Taipei.
Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
On the same night as the Lantern Festival, a far wilder event takes place in the south of Taiwan, called the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival (鹽水蜂炮).
Every year sleepy Yanshui district, a small town in Tainan City near the famous Jingzijiao Salt Fields and Cigu Salt Mountain, lights up with one of the world’s most dangerous festivals. There, crowds of people get willingly shot by hundreds of thousands of bottle rockets, often causing serious injuries.
The tradition began over 100 years ago as a way to ward off a cholera epidemic. My father and I attended the event a few years ago and survived, although my dad did catch fire once or twice. Read my guide to the Yanshui Fireworks Festival for all the details.
After being off-limits for non-residents for the last few years due to COVID, the 2023 event is on. The main event will be in the early evening of Feb. 5, 2023.
Bombing Master Handan and Bombing the Dragon Festivals
A lesser known but equally crazy festival called Bombing of Master Handan (台東炸寒單) takes place around the same time in Taitung City. In this case, the crowds throw firecrackers at a half-naked volunteer on a platform. See this article to find out why they do it.
Meanwhile, over in Miaoli, central Taiwan, a Hakka Festival called the Miaoli Bombing of the Dragon culminates with, you guessed it, throwing firecrackers at a dragon.
Final Thoughts: How to Plan a Chinese New Year Trip in Taiwan
Perhaps you booked it before you realized it, or maybe you work here and its your only time off, just like everyone else. Perhaps it isn’t the best time to travel around Taiwan, but it’s not terrible if you plan it right.
When booking your flights, remember that anything departing Taipei around the start of the holiday, or coming back around the end of it, could be significantly more expensive, but sometimes just changing your schedule by one or two days can make a huge difference.
If you can, try to be in Taipei for the busiest days, where at least there’s still quite a bit to do, or plan some hiking or beach time in the south if you can. Avoid traveling out from Taipei on Chinese New Year Eve and the evening before it, and traveling back to Taipei on the last day of the holiday.
For day 3 three of the New Year until the last day off, try to avoid visiting major tourist attractions around the island, and if you can’t avoid it, then remember to book your hotel room as far in advance as possible, or accept that you may not be able to get a room. Usually you can start booking hotels on booking sites about six months in advance.
I hope this article has helped you figure out how to make the best of your Lunar New Year trip to Taiwan. Thanks for reading, and let me know how your trip goes or if I could add anything to make this article more helpful!