Taichung, Taiwan (CNN) — Pop quiz: Name one city in Taiwan.
Taipei is probably the first -- maybe the only -- place that comes to mind. The capital is famous for its large night markets and lively club scene. It's home to one of the tallest buildings in the world, definitely an attraction for many of the 7.5 million tourists who visited the island last year.
But ask any Taiwanese local where the best destination and you may be surprised. A 2013 survey revealed the majority of Taiwanese think the most livable city is Taichung. Taichung is less than an hour south of Taipei on the High Speed Rail. It doesn't have the energetic vibe of Taipei. It doesn't even have a subway system. So what's the big attraction? Here are a few things you'll find when you travel here:
Taiwan's best restaurant
The modern French restaurant, which snagged 30th place at this year's awards, also offers one of the best wine lists on the island.
If you don't want to splurge on a meal there are lots of cheap eats in Taichung. From street-front shops selling Taiwan fried chicken, to outdoor markets offering everything from barbecued octopus to fresh fruit, to noodle stands serving the island's signature beef noodles -- food is everywhere. Japanese ramen noodle shops and curry houses also dot the city.
Arts and culture
Taichung's home to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.
Taichung is Taiwan's cultural center. The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts is one of the biggest in Asia, showcasing paintings, sculptures and installations from Taiwanese artists. The city has an outdoor jazz festival every October, attracting international acts.
Another stunning attraction is Rainbow Village, an old settlement for ex-soldiers, preserved by a 93-year-old man who's now the village's last resident. He hand-painted the buildings with colorful murals featuring children and animals, thereby saving it from demolition.
Awesome night markets
Taiwan's night markets are wildly popular.
Open-air night markets are the heart of nightlife here. Food stands offer noodles, stinky tofu, desserts and barbecued everything. There's no better place than Taichung to try bubble tea, where the popular drink was invented.
Want something sweet? How about a giant ball of cotton candy, made into the shape of a duck.
There are game booths where you can throw darts, shoot basketballs or even play mahjong in the hope of winning giant stuffed toys. Vendors sell a wide range of clothes, accessories and toys -- all at negotiable prices.
The Feng Chia Night Market is Taichung's most famous. It's open from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. nightly and is packed with a lively mix of locals and tourists.
Locals will tell you summer isn't a great time to visit Taipei. It's hot, humid and stormy as the city often gets clobbered by typhoons. Taichung, on the other hand, enjoys sunny skies and moderate temperatures almost all year round. The mild weather is because of its position just above the Tropic of Cancer.
The city's annual average temperature is 23 C (73 F), according to the city government. As a result, you'll often see locals outdoors at parks, markets, on patios and at festivals.
Taiwan is famous for its hot springs, but there's a special story behind the Guguan hot springs in the mountains near Taichung. It's widely believed that a soak here helped Japan's Emperor Meiji impregnate his wife with a son. The temperature of this naturally heated river water ranges between 48-60 C (118-140 F).
Guguan is about two hours from Taichung, so many visitors opt to spend a night in one of the resort hotels, which all have hot spring pools. Some offer private hot spring suites.
Wind, water, wildlife
Gaomei: Wildlife and walking.
About an hour from the city center, the Gaomei wetlands lie south of the mouth of the Dajia River. It's an ideal spot for bird-watching or enjoying the sunset.
Visitors walk along a boardwalk, looking at the birds, crabs and other wildlife. At the end of the boardwalk, many kick off their shoes and walk into the shallow water.
The giant wind-power generators lined up on the other side of the wetlands make a great backdrop for photos. Street stands near the boardwalk entrance serve hot squid balls, locally grown mushrooms and other items.
You don't need to head to Taipei to find a great shopping destination.
The latest clothes, bags and accessories by local designers are found in shops throughout Taichung at reasonable prices.
There are also plenty of shops behind the food and game stands at the night markets. If you're looking for something stylish yet wallet-friendly, NET is a Taiwanese mid-range budget clothing chain store. There are multiple locations in Taichung.
Hsuehshan Forest Recreation Area is a great place for a walk.
Courtesy Taichung City Government
People in Taichung don't take the sunny weather for granted. Hiking trails at the Dakeng Scenic Area, just 30 minutes from downtown, provide spectacular views of the city below.
Most of the trails are easy -- you'll see families with toddlers on the wooden staircases that go up and down the hills. There are more challenging trails, along with vendors offering fruit and drinks along the way.
Taking friendly to a new level
Imagine standing outside a department store on a winter morning waiting for it to open. Or simply just standing at the bus stop outside the store.
About an hour before the doors open, staff members from the store come outside to offer you candy and hot drinks. This actually happens at one Taichung department store -- an example of how locals in this city take "friendly" to another level.
Staff at restaurants and shops are noticeably attentive, without pressurizing you to buy. Many taxi drivers see foreign tourists as the perfect opportunity to practice their already impressive English.
From Taipei, take the High Speed Rail southbound from Taipei Main Station. A one-way ticket with no reservation costs NT$675 (US$21). Several airlines fly directly into Taichung International Airport from Hong Kong, several locations in Mainland China, Seoul and Osaka, Japan.