Keelung: New Sites in a Historic Harbor Town

Chris Stowers

Some suggested outings for those who enjoy museums, hiking, and ocean views. 

The port city of Keelung bustles with the currents of international commerce, but is also home to picturesque shores, scenic hills, museums, a fascinating history, and a colorful night market. And new attractions have been added in recent years, contributing toward a more tourist-oriented and greener environment. In particular, the National Museum of Marine Science & Technology (NMMST) and the associated ecological park in the eastern Badouzi District offer a new and different set of attractions, as does the new Yang Ming Marine Museum closer to downtown.

Getting there

Driving is the easiest way to get to Keelung, but mass transit services are also available. Local trains depart from Taipei Main Station to Keelung via the Hsinchu-Keelung Line every 30 minutes or so, and the trip takes about 47 minutes. Express train service via the Chaozhou-Keelung Line exists but is infrequent.

Yang Ming Oceanic Culture and Art Museum offers interesting items related to Taiwan's shipping history. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
Yang Ming Oceanic Culture and Art Museum offers interesting items related to Taiwan’s shipping history. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

Buses to Keelung are also widely available. From the Greater Taipei area, departure points include Taipei Main Station, as well as the major suburbs.

The main train station (Keelung Station) is very close to major inter-city bus stops and is a good starting point for a tour of Keelung. One reason is that the Keelung Visitor Information Center at 1 Gangxi Street (港西街1號) sits right outside Keelung Station. The Visitor Center, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., offers maps and is helpful in answering questions, including directions to the right bus.

We’ve divided our travel suggestions into four outing options, which can be mixed and matched depending on interests and available time.

Outing #1: Downtown Keelung

From the Visitor Center, walk north, passing in front of the train station. The first building on your right is the new Yang Ming Museum.

Yang Ming Oceanic Culture & Art Museum

Although rather small, the museum has some interesting items related to Keelung and Taiwan’s shipping history. It occupies the second and third floors of the building and admission is NT$100.

Keelung Harbour recently celebrated its 130th birthday. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
Keelung Harbour recently celebrated its 130th birthday. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

The building housing the museum is interesting in its own right. Dating back to 1915 during the Japanese colonial administration, it was once the offices of the Japanese shipping firm Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) – Keelung Branch. Heavy bombing by the Allies during World War II resulted in significant damage, including the loss of its notable tower. The museum contains photos of how the building looked during the Japanese colonial era.

The second floor is devoted to special exhibits, which change annually. The current exhibit introduces Taiwan’s wetlands. The third floor contains ship models, pictures of Keelung in the old days, historical items related to shipping company Yang Ming Marine, and a diorama of Keelung City. It also has a hands-on simulator of a container ship wheelhouse, which challenges you to pilot a ship safely out into the harbor.

From the museum, walk toward the harbor and the strip of stores that includes Starbucks and Burger King.

Keelung Harbor/Ocean Plaza

After passing the stores, take a left onto Zhong 1st Road, which passes by the end of Keelung Harbor. This area, called Ocean Plaza, is undergoing renovations but should soon again offer a comfortable location from which to view the ships moored in the harbor. The white letters of “KEELUNG” are visible spelled out on the hills to the west. To the right, in the distance, is the gleaming white statue of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin peacefully gazing over the harbor from the eastern hills.

Miaoko night market is popular with visitors and tourists alike. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
Miaoko night market is popular with visitors and tourists alike. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

Downtown Keelung has a somewhat unique system for naming its streets. Streets that run parallel to one another often share the same basic name, such as Ai, Yi, and Xin, and are demarcated by consecutive numbers – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. – indicating progression away from downtown.

To capture a little of the history of Keelung, wander down to Yi 2nd Road. To get there, continue east on Zhong 1st Road, then turn left on Ai 3rd Road, following it over the canal. Take a right and proceed on Xin 2nd Road until it intersects Yi 2nd Road.

Yi 2nd Road

The building at 290-1 Xin 2nd Road (on the northeast corner of the intersection of Xin 2nd Road and Yi 2nd Road) was a high-end clothing shop called Kishida Gofuku during the Japanese colonial era. An information board nearby enables you to picture the area as it was a century ago. After the end of the Japanese colonial rule, the second floor housed the restaurant/nightclub called “Little Shanghai Club.” The club was used as a setting for parts of the famous Taiwanese movie, A City of Sadness (悲情城市). Today, most of the street has been overwhelmed by modernity, but this building and the one next to it remain true to their roots. The building now hosts a bakery on the first floor and the Yun-Chen Italian Restaurant on the second.

The Guanyin statue area provides excellent panoramic views. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
The Guanyin statue area provides excellent panoramic views. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

Walking further down Yi 2nd Road brings you to the entrance of Zhongzheng Park (中正公園), with a Chinese gate and a long set of stairs. We’ll return here later for the start of Outing #2. Next door to the park is the Fo Guang Shan (佛光山) Buddhist monastery. From this point, we head south to the Miaokou Night Market.

Miaokou Night Market

For local Taiwanese, the Miaokou Night Market is Keelung’s most famous attraction. Larger and offering more variety than most night markets in Taiwan, it opens at around 4 p.m. and its broad slate of offerings include sushi, traditional Taiwanese oyster omelets, seafood, soups, and ice desserts.

The market occupies several blocks but is generally centered on the intersection of Ai 3rd and Ren 3rd Roads. The Dian Ji Temple (奠濟宮) at 27-2 Ren 3rd Road (仁三路27-2號) is the spiritual center of the market. “Miaokou” translates as “mouth (or exit/entrance) of the temple.” Land for the first temple at the site was donated in 1875, and the current structure was completed in 1923. Heavily damaged by Allied bombing in World War II, it has since undergone several restorations.

A nice place to stop and have coffee in the Miaokou area is Mr. Shinn Coffee, located at 3 Ai 5th Road (愛五路3號).

Outing #2: Zhongzheng Park Hike

The hike up and across Zhongzheng Park is strenuous but easily accessible and interesting, and includes visits to the Guanyin statue and Ershawan Fort. Be warned – the hike involves many steps and beverages are not widely available. Taxis are also not always available, so you may want to obtain a taxi contact number before you set off so as to more easily return to downtown Keelung. For those who don’t want to hike all of the way up to the Guanyin statue, you can go there directly by taxi and then walk around the area for some good views.

The Badouzi area offers splendid views. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
The Badouzi area offers splendid views. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

Zhongzheng Park and Guanyin Statue

At the Xin 2nd Road entrance to Zhongzheng Park, proceed through the Chinese gate and ascend the steps to the Martyrs Shrine. During the Japanese era, the gate was a torii arch, and the stairs led to a Shinto shrine. From here, continue up the hill. The trail to the Guanyin statue is not marked, but if you stay on trails and keep moving uphill, you should eventually arrive at it.

On the way up the hill, you’ll pass tennis courts and religious sites, such as the Ming Shan Temple and the large Chu Pu Tan Temple. The Guanyin statue area provides excellent panoramic views, although some of the lower areas that you pass on the way to the statue can offer a quieter setting. Visitors can walk up the stairs inside the statue, though that is not recommended for the claustrophobic.

If you wish to continue on to Ershawan Fort, exit out of the statue area and take a left onto Shoushan Road.

Yizheng Park and Ershawan Fort

Yizheng Park (役公園政) is relatively close to Zhongzheng Park. After leaving the Guanyin statue and walking about 500 meters along Shoushan Road, you’ll begin to see retired military equipment on the roadside – an indication that the main entrance to Yizheng Park is just ahead.

The park offers beautiful lookouts over Keelung Harbor, and one can easily understand what made it a strategic location for a fort. Ershawan Fort (二沙灣砲台), also known as Haimen Tianxian (海門天險), is built on several levels along the side of the hill. The stone steps are numerous and can be slippery, so walk carefully and wear appropriate shoes.

The fort was built in 1840 by the Qing government during the First Opium War with Britain. During the Sino-French War (1884-85), most of the fortifications were destroyed by French troops when they seized Keelung. The fort was rebuilt in 1885 after a truce was signed. Not a great deal remains of the original fort, but you’ll see several cannon batteries aimed out over Keelung Harbor, an old stone gate, as well as a small cemetery for the Qing soldiers who defended the fort, which was abandoned after Japan took control of Taiwan in 1895. Information boards provided throughout the fort provide a lot of interesting details about the history of the fort and related military history in the region.

Ershawan Fort, also known as Haimen Tianxian, is built on several levels along the side of a hill. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
Ershawan Fort, also known as Haimen Tianxian, is built on several levels along the side of a hill. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

Although not well marked, stairs descend down the back of the mountain toward the harbor, passing the occasional temple along the way. Eventually the stairs exit onto Donghai Street. Turn left on Donghai, which becomes Zhongzheng Road after about 200 meters. (If you don’t want all those stairs, just retrace your steps to the park entrance.)

The way back along Zhongzheng Road passes a small but interesting relic of the Japanese era, the Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa Monument, which is in a small area to the left of the building at 166 Zhongzheng Road (中正路166 號 ). The monument was built in 1933 to honor Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa, who led a Japanese expeditionary force to Taiwan during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and died in 1895 of malaria just outside of Tainan. Although the monument is related to the colonial period, it was declared an official historical building in 2003. While time has taken a toll on the monument, information boards provide pictures from the colonial era.

Zhongzheng Road then leads back to the end of Keelung Harbor and Ocean Plaza.

Outing #3: Badouzi District: A New Museum and Chaojing Park

Badouzi is an eastern district of Keelung. Until recently, it was home to a large coal-fired power plant. After the plant was removed, a new museum complex was built in its shell and the adjacent areas were turned into parkland. Badouzi is relatively uncrowded and provides an pleasant outing with picturesque views.

The easiest ways to get to Badouzi are to drive or take a taxi. Buses are also available from Keelung Station. A third option is to go by train from the Haikeguan (海科館) Station, which is not directly connected to the spur line from the eastern rail line to Keelung Station. To get there, take the eastern rail line to Ruifang (瑞芳) Station, then transfer to the northbound line of the Pingxi Rail line and get off at Haikeguan Station. Haikeguan literally means “Marine Science Museum.”

Rongxuan hike

Near the train station and parking areas are signs highlighting various trails and available facilities. The Rongxuan Trail (容軒步道) is short and scenic but steep. It begins close to Haikeguan Station and is about one kilometer in length, with a beautiful ocean view at the top.

National Museum of Marine Science & Technology (NMMST, 海科館)

Proceeding west from Haikeguan Station brings you to the new NMMST (Admission: NT$200. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Monday). This large complex was opened in 2014 and is one of the largest museums in Taiwan. Among the many display areas are a “Marine Science Gallery” and the “Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Gallery.”

The nearby Regional Exploration Center across the plaza from the museum has free admission and provides an interesting array of exhibits on the Badouzi area, including a large satellite picture of the Badouzi area on the floor by the entrance.

The N
The NMMST is one of the largest museums in Taiwan. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

Chaojing Park

A recovered landfill, Chaojing Park (潮境公園) is located on the east side of the Badouzi Peninsula. A short bridge connects the museum complex to the park. Chaojing Park has a nice natural feel. You may see people flying kites or walking the various trails. The main trail is a rather vigorous hike that goes uphill and down, but it offers some beautiful views of the ocean and the peninsula.

Outing #4: Heping Island Park

Heping (Hoping) Island Park (和平島公園) is north of downtown Keelung and attached to the mainland by a short bridge. The main walking trail in the park provides very good views of the harsh but interesting shoreline that forms its northern border. The park has a replica of an old fort that serves as a viewing place and venue for shops. One tip: you can avoid many of the tour buses by visiting during lunchtime.

The easiest way to get to the Heping Island Park is by taxi or driving. But another option is to take bus #101 from the train station to the “Hepingdao Park” (和平島公園) stop. You won’t see any signs for the park, but walking north on Pingyi Road (平一路) will lead you there.

Heping Island Park has a replica of an old fort that serves as a viewing place and venue for shops. (Photo: Chris Stowers)
Heping Island Park has a replica of an old fort that serves as a viewing place and venue for shops. (Photo: Chris Stowers)

In sum, Keelung is a large city that offers good walking trails, beautiful views of the north coast, an interesting history, and an excellent night market. Moreover, new museums, parks, and shops have been added in recent years that provide more options to visitors for enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of this unique corner of Taiwan’s northeast coast.