Although it's one of Taiwan's largest cities, Kaohsiung tends to be underrated. This formidable port has towering pagodas and colourful temples, a thriving creative scene and lush green mountain views. After dark, night markets sizzle with the scent of street food. You can take a walk along the banks of the Love River, which winds serenely through the urban centre. Kaohsiung has excellent transport connections to other Taiwanese cities and it's the perfect jumping-off point to explore the island's southern tip.
Hostels in Kaohsiung are usually arty and design-led or chic and vintage. You can stay in a traditional Taiwanese-style house, a Japanese colonial building or boutique lodgings with an outdoor pool. The creative district has several hostels decorated with colourful murals. Some places offer free breakfast and most have free Wi-Fi. Look out for a Kaohsiung hostel with little luxuries like extra-large beds or a roof terrace with sunset views.
Downtown Kaohsiung takes in Qianjin and Xinxing Districts. This part of the city is a business hub and it's where locals go to spend their free time in gigantic night markets and neon-lit streets. Look out for city temples: Zuoying District has the Lotus Pond with its vibrant pagodas, while small Yancheng District has creative spaces and street art at the buzzy Pier-2 Art Centre. A popular day-trip destination for locals is Cijin Island, which has a lighthouse, the 17th-century Mazu temple and long stretches of beach.
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are iconic symbols of the city that you'll find at the Lotus Pond. The pagodas are entered through the gaping mouths of giant creatures. It's said that walking in through the dragon and out through the tiger will bring you luck. Another major attraction is the 85 Sky Tower. Before Taipei 101 was built this was the tallest building in Taiwan and it still commands sweeping views. For an authentic Taiwanese experience, explore Liuhe and Ruifeng night markets.
Kaohsiung International Airport is an easy 20-minute MRT (metro) ride from the city centre. High-speed trains take less than 2 hours from Taipei. Make the same journey by bus takes around 5 hours and lets you see Taiwan's forested hills and scenic landscapes. In Kaohsiung, an extensive MRT system and pedestrian-friendly streets make getting around simple. Taxis are metered and can be flagged down in most central areas.