Blown bubbles drift over disused railroad tracks. Behind this, a woman pushes a child in an oversized, slightly rusted swing and the sound fills the air. Two young lovers sit on grass that’s half dry from the summer sun, staring listlessly forward.
It could be the opening scene of a post-apocalyptic film.
Instead it’s the heart of the Taiwan’s cool hipster hangout you probably have never heard of: Pier-2 Art Center. A hub of Taiwan’s contemporary creative scene, the centre features great cafes, sculptures, museums, galleries, murals, and boutique shops.
To find Pier-2 Art Center, you’ll have to leave the bustle of Taipei and the culture of Tainan. These will be swapped for something a bit grittier, a bit more urban, and in its own way a bit more interesting: Kaohsiung. This skyscraper-filled city is Taiwan’s second largest. Its port is a centre of exporting, while industries like petrochemicals and oil dominate. In the evening, Kaohsiung’s urban streets light up with some of the best night markets Taiwan has to offer.
It’s here, in edgy Kaohsiung’s Yancheng District, that Pier-2 Art Center has sprung up. In 2001, a group of passionate Taiwanese artists converted disused warehouses into a hotbed of creativity. By 2006, the Kaohsiung City Bureau of Cultural Affairs became involved.
Today 25 warehouses line two port-side boulevards. Cars, boats, people and life bustles past. Yet strolling along the district feels calm and reflective. Divided into three clusters, you’ll find local products, a vintage shop and hip little eateries in the first; ice cream parlours, children’s theatres, bookstores and stationary shops in the second; and massive industrial art installations that echo the vibe of the city in the third.
In Pier-2 Art Center, the food options are plenty but the prices aren’t cheap. It’s worth stopping at Now & Then Cafe, a popular coffee bar with bare hanging light bulbs and chrome accents, for single origin coffees from around the world. Order the banana-topped French toast for a sweet treat or the ‘Fried Oyster Po’ Boy’ for a savoury lunch. You can also find good coffee in Eslite bookstore, nestled somewhere between adult colouring books and foreign reads.
For something fresh and new, check out Pier-2 Art Center’s events listing. Past functions have included a steampunk-focused contemporary exhibition, a youth design festival, and a talk paired with tea. Offerings change often and tickets are typically required.
If you’re after doing things on a budget, it’s best just to wander around, explore Pier-2’s many free outdoor art exhibits, then head toward the railroad tracks and claim your own grassy patch of land. From here you can watch the sun set over one of the most interesting art hubs in Taiwan, surrounded by young lovers and quiet dreamers.
Explore art and creativity around Taiwan at these five destinations
Focusing on the art and artefacts of Chinese heritage, the National Palace Museum in Taipei offers local treasures. The stunning facade and outdoor terrace provide a scenic view.
Only just established in the 1990s, this European-inspired museum in Tainan is fairly new on the art scene. Expect an impressive collection of musical instruments, ancient objects and classic paintings.
Definitely quirky, this interactive museum in Taoyuan illustrates both the history and the future of robots. Be prepared for quite a few dancing, singing robots, and a hands-on boxing display.
While not strictly an artistic stop, this theme park near Sun Moon Lake offers in-depth insight into Taiwan’s aboriginal past. Wander through multiple interactive displays detailing the region’s diverse cultural history.
This art village in Tainan combines pleasant walking paths and impressive drum music. Definitely book a spot into the live show to watch talented performers drum beneath pouring water.
Pier-2 Art Center is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 6pm; Friday to Sunday and holidays, 10am to 8pm. Opening hours for special exhibits vary.
Lockers are available at C5 Warehouse front desk for storage.
Emirates flies from Dubai to Kaohsiung several times a day with a transfer in Hong Kong.
British Airways flies from London to Taipei multiple times daily with a transfer in Beijing.