Taipei may be the culinary and historical heart of northern Taiwan, but if you have the time, shake up your itinerary and take a short drive out to the surrounding areas. Eat more, hike more, and see more: the region has a wealth of activities and sights worth exploring!

Best for R&R: Yilan 宜蘭

Eastern Taiwan is nearly unbeatable when it comes to natural geography, and Yilan County, with its many streams and islands, is no exception. Start out in Jiaoxi and its famous hot springs, regarded as “beauty soups” for its natural minerals. These hot springs can be found either at the two public bathhouses or for a fee at any spa hotels.

Then, shake off any post-spa sleepiness and walk up to the lush, magnificent Wufengchi Waterfall. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, take the train to Luodong, home to one of Taiwan’s biggest night markets. Yilan specialties include onion pancakes, mutton soup, bu rou (deep fried pork meat), and gaozha (a deep fried mixture of chicken, pork, and prawn).

Get there: From City Hall Bus Station, take Capital Bus to Jiaoxi Station (around 90 minutes pending traffic). From Jiaoxi to Luodong, take the train from Jiaoxi Station southbound to Luodong. Fare is NTD$39 and takes about 20 minutes.

Best for Nature Buffs: Yehliu 野柳

This stop along Taiwan’s northeast coast is one of the premier destinations for exploring sea-eroded landscapes. Erosion, weathering, crustal movement, and other factors here have produced some of the strangest, rarest, and weirdest rock formations around.

The most famous is the Queen’s Head, named after its resemblance to the profile of Queen Elizabeth. Walking around the three areas of Yehliu Geopark is the best way to see the most of this bizarre side of nature - and it’s a good way to escape the throngs of tourists as well.

Get there: From Taipei Main Station, take Kuo-Kuang bus 1815 to Yehliu. The fare is NTD$96 for the 80-minute-long trip.

Best for Photographers: Jiufen 九份

Once a prosperous gold mining town, Jiufen is now most known both for being an eating destination and as the inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

Lined with glowing red lanterns, Jiufen Old Street’s famously narrow, winding cobblestone stairs mostly run parallel to one another. Along with the sprawling mountains and the sea that encircle the town, these create endless opportunities for photographers.

Jiufen's food is equally notable, covering a range of traditional snacks like taro balls, peanut ice cream rolls, and more.

Get there: From Taipei Main, take the northbound train to Ruifang. Catch Bus 1062 outside of Ruifang for a 20-minute ride into the mountains, or take a taxi from Ruifang (set fare of NTD$180). Alternatively, take Bus 1062 from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT outside Exit 1.

Best for Couples: Pingxi 平溪 and Shifen 十分

These two old towns have a unique history tied to their most popular tourist attractions. Pingxi is known for its historical shops and distinct architecture, where train tracks cut through the middle of the bustling Pingxi Old Street.

Nearby Shifen, accessible by train or cab, is home to the 20-meter-tall Shifen Waterfall, and in town visitors can release sky lanterns along the railroad tracks that cut through the center of town. Don’t forget to use a calligraphy brush to write your wishes on the lantern!

Get there: Take a northbound train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station, and transfer there to the Pingxi Line for Shifen Station and Pingxi Station . Trains depart once an hour. Pick up a Pingxi train timetable in advance.

Best for Outdoorsy Travelers: Longdong 龍洞

Among locals, Longdong is known as the top rock-climbing spot in the north. Running up to a height of 30 meters, its cliffs feature a wide range of surface forms and, from the top, breathtaking views of Bitou Cape, Sandiao Cape, and Aodi Bay.

Alternatively, venture underwater for a glimpse of marine life. Tropical fish abound, and the dazzling array of their colors might be enough to persuade you to stay for hours if you don’t get distracted by the swimming and diving available. However, do note that the waters are closed to snorkeling during the winter months.

Get there: From Taipei Main Station, take bus 1811 to Longdong Harbor (NTD$110), about 70-90 minutes. The bus departs only at 8:20, 9:20, and 10:20 daily.