Jiufen & Shifen, Taiwan: unmissable old streets, waterfalls and mountains

Just 40 km outside of Taipei is the town of Jiufen, one of the highlights of a trip to Taiwan. It’s mainly known for its Old Street that attracts hoardes of day trippers in the daylight hours who mostly come here to eat the endless amount of street food. Off the bus, eat, and back on the bus.

That leaves the rest of Jiufen yours to explore.

Jiufen has one of our favourite Taipei hiking trails as well as easy access to many waterfalls in nearby Shifen and Sandiaoling. We decided to spend the night here and explore the area beyond its Old Street and we didn’t regret it. We’d argue that is better than most of the things to do in Taipei, so put it high on your list!

Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Jiufen and Shifen and why this area deserves more than just a day trip from Taipei.


About Jiufen

Jiufen is a town built on the side of a mountain on the North-East coast of Taiwan. It was created as a Gold Mining community and whilst the glory days are over, Jiufen continues to prosper from tourism, primarily from its Old Street that has retained a traditional Taiwanese appearance.

The town is made up of a couple of roads and a myriad of laneways between the houses and comes alive in the evening when the lanterns are lit up.

It is really easy to get lost here, but you’ll quickly find your way back again, no doubt with having found yet another glorious view of Mount Keelung and the East China Sea.

 

Jiufen Old Street

The undeniable highlight of a visit is Jiufen Old Street. We aren’t big market fans as they begin to be a bit samey after a while, but Jiufen’s Old Street is a really cool place to explore for a couple of hours.

These tight laneways are lined with hundreds of shops, restaurants and food stalls that give you sensory overload. If it’s not the noise of street sellers, or the mass of people, the smells will hit you (especially if you go past the stinky tofu stall!).

In the evening when the red lanterns are all lit up, the place becomes really special.

All of the streets are lined with red lanterns that give the traditional buildings a unique feel. Even if you have no intention of buying anything, make sure you visit Jiufen Old Street.

The food is all Taiwanese and there is a lot of different choice, most of which we had no idea what it was!

We weren’t the biggest fans of Taiwanese cuisine so we don’t feel qualified to give much advice, but it’s a great place to give some different dishes a go as most are affordable and in small portions.

Read next: Fenrui - a stunning hike through bamboo forests and An action packed 7 day Taiwan itinerary


Best time to visit Jiufen Old Street

The best time to visit Jiufen Old Street if you don’t like crowds is before 10am and after 7pm.

Most shops begin to open at 10am and most but not all start closing at about 6.30pm. There will be enough open for you to experience the buzz of Jiufen Old Street without getting elbows, people blocking and an intolerable touristy feeling.

However, if you don’t mind crowds then going from around 5pm will give you that bustling night market feel, and it definitely has atmosphere.

At night the lanterns also light up, giving it a beautiful, ancient feel. We really don’t like crowds but braved them to see what it was like at peak time and it is certainly an experience!

Timing is everything in Taiwan, but especially Jiufen Old Street. Avoid the weeekends at all costs. The narrow street is busy enough during the week, anymore would just be mayhem!

Read more: Teapot Mountain - An unmissable day hike from Taipei


Jiufen Opening Hours

Jiufen Old Street is always open as it is effectively a couple of atmospheric streets. However, the shops and restaurants all open around 10am and close around 7-8pm.

There are some exceptions but getting food anywhere other than 7-11 before 10am is difficult as we found when searching for breakfast.


Jiufen Teahouse

When you’re done with all the eating, head to one of the traditional teahouses, another reason a lot of people visit Jiufen. In terms of atmosphere one stands out above the rest: the Jiufen Teahouse is an institution in Jiufen. This is the oldest tea house in town and has been brewing up local varieties for decades.

You can sense the history as soon as you enter this traditional building with several teapots always on the boil and tea sampling a plenty.

Like we’ve stated before, Teahouses in Taiwan are - in our opinion - a complete rip off (a minimum of $600 TWD for the tea and $100 TWD per person for water -$27 USD for a pot of tea anyone?) but if you are going to experience it anywhere, make it here.

The people in Jiufen Teahouse are experts who know everything about every variety they sell. They also have a beautiful veranda that looks out to the sea so you can enjoy your tea with a view, although the atmosphere in the teahouse was so special that it’s the one place we would probably have opted to sit inside.

If we were on a holiday, we’d have probably taken the hit, but being on a long term trip $27 USD tea was just too much for us to stomach. We were still able to look around the tea house and sample some of the tea, so if you are on a budget then definitely still stop by. Otherwise sit and relax for an afternoon in tea heaven.

They also sell plenty of tea you can take away for gifts (the same prices apply as when drinking in you are essentially buying a packet of tea and then paying for the hot water).

The Jiufen Teahouse is open from 10.30am until 9pm and when you purchase some tea you can stay for as long as like.

 

Teapot Mountain

A hidden and often overlooked gem in Jiufen is Teapot Mountain. The hike to the top offers a really fun walk and some of the best views in the north of Taiwan.

Less than a 10 minute bus ride from the Old Street is the start of the trail to the top of a mountain with - surprise surprise - boulders that look like a teapot from a distance.

The start of the track begins at the far end of the Gold Museum and it takes about an hour to climb up to the top. The track is well formed, but always up hill.

At the top you can scale the rocks and ropes to get to the top of the teapot. The very top is a little precarious especially on a wet day so if you can save this one for good weather. The rest of the walk can be done in the rain, we can attest to that : )

You can read all the details about the walk in our blog on Teapot Mountain.


Take in the sea views

All around Jiufen you can take in beautiful sea views looking back to Taipei. There’s no single spot better than any other, but Teapot Mountain offers more of the East Coast of Taiwan whilst Jiufen faces the Northern coast.

Sea views in Jiufen

We didn’t have time (and it was cloudy when we visited) but we’ve read you can get beautiful sunset views from Mount Keelung. It’s a short hike to the top and you can face west to see the sun set over the horizon.

There is a viewing platform that offers a panoramic view just by the Old Street but to be honest you can get views absolutely everywhere, you won’t struggle for a good one.


Know before you go

Jiufen from Taipei

The easiest way to get to Jiufen from Taipei is to firstly get the TRA train from Taipei Main Station to Riufang .

There are express and local trains that run fairly regularly with the only difference being the local train takes 20 minutes longer than the express (50 mins as opposed to 30).

From Riufang station you can either get the bus to Jiufen or take a taxi. Taxis have a fixed fare of 200 TWD ($10 USD) to Jiufen or $250 TWD ($12) to a hotel in Jiufen.

The journey from Ruifang to Jiufen should only take 10 minutes.

Uber also works for this journey, though we had to wait for 30 minutes to get someone to except the fare and we only ended up spending around TWD $50 less!

Where to stay in Jiufen

Something Easy Inn


We actually stayed in Top Home 9 but we wouldn’t recommend it. Something Easy Inn is currently getting the most amazing reviews and it’s where we’d choose for a return visit. It has gorgeous views and is moments away from the old street.

Booking.com
Booking.com

Shifen

Whilst we rated Jiufen higher than Shifen we’d also recommend giving it a visit. It had a lot more character and didn’t feel like it was simply a tourist attraction. The Old Street in Shifen was unique with train tracks running through the middle of it, but having just seen the train street in Hanoi, Shifen Old Street seemed like a bit of a tourist trap.

The waterfall however is lovely, but a little touristy and can get very busy. Despite this, it is definitely worth visiting. Visiting early in the day would give you a better appreciation of just how big and amazing it is, without elbows flying around from Chinese tourists getting annoyed that you’re in their selfie.

Though they are not quite as grand, we preferred seeing the three wild waterfalls at the start of the Sandiaoling to Shifen walk, but - like a lot of things in Taiwan - the walk didn’t quite go to plan (more on that later). And luckily our misfortune means we can stop the same happening to you!


Shifen Waterfall

The main attraction in Shifen is the very wide and undeniably beautiful waterfall. It’s the biggest and most powerful we saw in Taiwan, but a little touristy and very manicured. The waterfall looks a little built up with concrete everywhere to ensure it’s tourist friendly.

There are several flat platforms to take it all in from every angle - including one where the spray will cover you!

Getting to Shifen Waterfall

It is really easy to get to Shifen Waterfall as you can walk from the train station to the falls in about 15 minutes. Head towards the Shifen Visitors Center where the short walk begins. From here you cross the large suspension bridge (pictured above) and straight to the falls on a paved, flat path.

If you have a motorbike, you can drive it to the bridge if you want as well (but we imagine there will be a parking fee).

 

One to avoid: Shifen Lanterns

Sadly, the most popular attraction is setting off lanterns from the Old Street into the nearby countryside.

While someone attempts to collect them, we saw a lot that were stuck on the tops of trees and we are pretty sure the lanterns were made out of plastic (or some non-biodegradeable material) so we chose not to participate in it.

As magical as the whole scene is we felt it was heartbreaking to see so many people trashing the nearby beautiful countryside just to have a few photos and a minute of seeing their lantern fly into the sky.


Itinerary for Jiufen & Shifen

We recommend staying overnight in Jiufen to see the Old Street without the crowds. On the second day you can then take in the epic Teapot Mountain as well as checkout the huge waterfall in Shifen and the Old Street there.

Day 1

Morning: Train from Taipei to Riufang, bus to Jiufen, check-in hotel.

Afternoon: Check out Jiufen Tea House (even if you don’t intend on buying anything) and wander around the town to see some of those beautiful views.

7pm: Wander the Old Street and find dinner.

Day 2

Early morning: Wander the Old Street before the crowds arrive.

Mid morning: Check out the hotel, get the bus to the Gold Museum for the Teapot Mountain track.

Early afternoon: Go to Ruifang station, taking the train to Shifen.

Mid afternoon: Walk to Shifen Waterfall.

Late afternoon: Take in Shifen Old Street before getting the train back to Taipei via Ruifang . It’s quite hard to get a seat on the first leg of this train so try and get to the front of that queue!

Jiufen to Shifen

The best way to go from Jiufen to Shifen is to take the train from Ruifang. Trains run every hour and it takes about 15-20 minutes to get there from Ruifang. Alternatively you can easily take a taxi or grab an Uber (noting that wait time is significantly longer than in a city).

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If you have an extra half day to spare or fancy taking a different route to Shifen give the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail a go!

A little adventure: The Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Distance: 5km (if you return to Sandiaoling from Pipa Cave Waterfall, 10km if you go onwards to Shifen)
Elevation:
396m

If you’re looking for a little bit of action with some wild jungle, then head to the little village of Sandiaoling. You can join this up with Shifen, but effectively you are walking along a road for a lot of the time and even briefly on the highway (granted it’s not very busy but still!) to complete the track. At time of writing a section of track was closed meaning you had to take the road and no one could tell us when or if it will open again.

We’d recommend heading back to Sandiaoling and getting the train to avoid a soul destroying walk on the road.

The start of the track

Starting at Sandiaoling station, head south along the tracks (away from Ruifang and towards Pingxi) before crossing over and following the track that forks right towards a small village. It will take less than 10 minutes to get to the trail head.

 

From here the path follows a wooden sign across the tracks and into the village itself. The path is pretty easy to follow as it continues through the village from the elementary school uphill and into the jungle.

The track on the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Waterfall 1: Hegu

The track soon flattens out and feels like you’re walking on the side of a mountain with some beautiful valley views. It’s a far cry from the urban sprawl of Taipei and the surrounding area! You should arrive pretty quickly at waterfall number 1: Hegu Waterfall. It was a pretty section of trail which reminded us a little of hiking in Hong Kong.

 

Sadly you can’t get very close to this one, but you can appreciate it from the viewpoint. The track undulates for a bit and crosses some epic bridges.

Waterfall 2: Motian

It’s not too long before you get to waterfall number 2: Motian Waterfall. You can take this in from a viewing platform much closer to the waterfall.

We saw some people walk closer to the falls, which requires walking across rocks that are quite wet from the spray. If you want to get up close to a waterfall, we’d recommend waiting for the next one where you can get a lot closer without the chance of slipping.

 

Here’s where the fun begins as the flat trail you were enjoying in all that humidity disappears. After Motian waterfall you’ll reach some metal steps (depending on your outlook this is either great news or disappointing as it was previously just you and a rope up the cliff!).

If you were sad that the rope had been replaced with the sedate steps, you won’t have to wait long. At the top of the stairs is a slippery rock section where you’ll need to grab onto the rope to pull yourself up.

There are footholes and is simple enough, but requires a bit more attention than the majority of the trail so far.

Waterfall 3: Pipa Cave

Once you’ve climbed this section, it’s a short walk downwards to the third waterfall: Pipa Cave Waterfall. This was my favourite and one you can jump in and explore. Take care as a lot of the rocks are smooth and slippery, but it is a refreshing break from the immense humidity of Taiwan.

 

If you thought that was it, you’re in for a surprise. There are two more rope climbs before getting to the top! The first is simple enough and is right by Pipa Cave Waterfall.


It is fine as the rock is dry, nicely defined and not too hard to climb up. The next one isn’t so simple as it’s a lot steeper and feels a lot less stable! A couple of the steps are rotten and there was some trepidation as to whether they could actually carry our larger than Asian weight! Luckily they held.

From here you’re at the top and the end of the trail that we really enjoyed walking. Next we followed someone’s instructions as we wanted to head to Shifen waterfall almost all of which took us along a lot of road. Don’t go to the Fushing Temple as this will just involve a 7.5km walk along road (some of it highway).

Either walk back to Sandaioling or if you want to carry on further a better route is to follow for Dahua station and take the train to Shifen instead. From the top of the ladder this would mean taking a left following the sign to Dahua, right takes you to the temple and is unsigned. We were later told that though you will hit the road that we walked on, it is much much later and therefore a better route than ours.


Getting to the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Sandiaoling is on the same train line as Shifen. You’ll need to get to Ruifang (30 minutes from Taipei, 15 minute taxi or bus from Jiufen) and it is a short journey on a local train. The trail starts from the train station.


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Are you planning a trip to Jiufen or Shifen? Have you been and have any extra tips for us? Let us know in the comments below!


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