While most people stop into this city in order to visit Taroko Gorge, there are so many cool things to do in Hualien, stay a few days to fully enjoy the area!
I’m actually quite smitten with this area and think about it often (more than Taipei or Jiufen which is saying a lot).
Because I really wanted to see Taroko Gorge but didn’t want to be rushed on a quick trip from Taipei, I decided to stay in Hualien for about five days to give me time to work from cafes while doing some sightseeing. In retrospect this was a very good move because it gave me five chances to see Taroko since it rained a lot more than I expected it to.
Anyway, Hualien itself is worth the visit as it’s full of cool things to do and has its own unique history. Situated on Taiwan’s east coast, it’s part of why the island’s nickname is “Formosa,” or Portuguese for beautiful. Apparently, while sailors were traveling by in 1590, they were so enraptured by the beauty of Taiwan’s eastern coast, they nicknamed it Ilha Formosa. If you were a fan of Taiwanese Pop music in the mid-2000s, you’ll always recognize that name from this promotional song. Or maybe it’s just me that hears “Ilha Formosa” and starts humming the tune!
Hualien probably started looking as we know it today around the mid-1800s when the Han Chinese began settling in the county. Since the Japanese had control of Taiwan from 1895 and 1945, there are still quite a few structures in the city that reflect this influence.
If you’re ready to eat well and see some serious beauty, then here’s your guide to all the best things to do in Hualien!
11 Things to Do in Hualien That I Did
1. Of course, plan to visit Taroko Gorge
Taroko Gorge has to be one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in person. Do not skip it on your visit. I like to think I take some pretty nice photos, and even my shots pale in comparison to seeing it for yourself.
This marble gorge is around 1,200 square kilometers of lush, mountainous scenery. Trust me, the minute you enter the area, you’ll be glued to your window taking it all in. While I only had one good day of sightseeing, I recommend at least two in my Taroko Gorge itinerary guide. This way you have time to see everything and even hike the many trails.
Taroko Gorge Tours:
2. Don’t miss out on the café scene
Taiwan, like Vietnam and Korea, has a pretty robust coffee shop scene! You guys know I’m such a sucker for cute cafes, so as I was looking up places to grab a drink, I starred far too many fun places for my five-day stay. Here’s a quick list:
- 浮室 soave plan
- 留海 Stay Here
- 半寓咖啡- KHIBO
- KOHI 宅
- Maytree Coffee
3. Eat at all the delicious restaurants
Of course, cafes in Hualien have food but it’s more Westernized stuff like sandwiches or desserts. Which is fine, but Taiwan has so many delicious dishes, you’re not going to want to miss out on them.
Autumn gave me a tip once which paid off big time here: simply ask someone local what their favorite places to eat are. Not what they think tourists want but what they go to with their friends. I asked my hostel host expecting him to give me one or two restaurants, and he actually took my phone and started starring away on Google Maps! The best is after he starred far more places than I’d be able to visit during my stay, he said, “I can recommend more if you’d like.”
Anyway, I highlighted all the cafes and restaurants I visited as well as the ones he recommended in my Hualien food guide. Some of them don’t really have English or even Romanized names, so just use the Google Maps link to help you navigate! Also definitely use the photos people share there to help you order at some of these places.
4. Stop by Manor House
There’s not that much info on Manor House, and really the only reason I stopped by is that it was marked as an attraction on Google Maps and on my way over to see Pine Garden.
From what I’ve found online, it was once the residence of Colonel Nakamura, which is why it looks more like it belongs in Japan and not Taiwan! It’s a historic area and I have a feeling if I’d been visiting in-season, there’d be more going on. Off-season, though, it’s just a little spot to pop in and see some Japanese architecture.
5. Check out Pine Garden
Dating back to 1942, Pine Garden is built over Meilun Creek with views out to Hualien Harbor. Its name comes from the garden of hundred-year-old pine trees surrounding what was once the Naval Administration under Japanese control. Apparently lots of kamikaze pilots came through here to be blessed with wine from the Heavenly Emperor.
Today it’s designated “Special Historic Attraction Zone,” and you can visit the grounds to see what it would’ve been like during WWII. There’s even an underground bunker you can go into. I honestly don’t remember much about this place besides popping around and being able to see out to the sea!
6. Visit Martyr’s Shrine
I didn’t make it over to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Taipei, but I did pop over to Hualien’s sister shrine. It’s a beautiful area and the whiteness of the ground really makes it stand out even in the cloudy weather.
The martyrs in question are to honor the Kuomintang soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Chinese Civil War. I had this whole place to myself when I visited!
7. Enjoy Jinghua Bridge + Meilun Xi Riverside Park
Nearish to Pine Garden is Meilun Xi Riverside Park, which was a nice stop on my massive walk around the city. Its big feature is the orange Jinghua Bridge, and since no one was around, I thought it was a good place to practice using my tripod and remote!
8. Hangout around Nanbin Park
If you’re looking to be oceanside, Nanbin Park is your best bet. You can see one of the lighthouses as well as spot the fun sculptures or statues as you walk or bike along the different paths. I’m sure in the summer it’s probably filled with people but in February with rainy, cool weather, it was also pretty empty!
9. Also check out Qixingtan Beach
Qixingtan Beach is a spot on the Taroko Gorge shuttle bus trail and it’s pretty close to Hualien. I’d recommend coming here at the end of one of your Taroko days to enjoy the views and maybe bike over to Qilaibi Lighthouse.
10. See the different shades of blue at Qingshui Cliff
When I was planning my trip to Taiwan, I actually saved a photo of Qingshui Cliff because the water and its multiple shades of blue were so eye-catching. The cliff itself is over 1,000 meters high and the whole area is about 20km long. I saw the area on a tour from Hualien to Jiufen that no longer seems available, but you can most likely figure out a car hire to see it for yourself. If you’re going in warm weather, you can book a kayaking or SUP experience to see the cliff from the water!
11. Say hi to all the cats!
Am I sorry for having six photos of cats in a row? Nope.
Editing these photos, I realized how many cute kitties I met in Hualien! Not super friendly like the ones in Morocco but still adorable enough to hope they could be.
12 Things to Do in Hualien that I Missed
Like I said multiple times above, I had pretty awful weather. Actually about two days after I left, there was a massive 6.4 earthquake that injured or killed almost 300 people, so…
Anyway, there are a lot of things I’d like to do in Hualien on a return trip, especially as much of this requires, at minimum, a non-rainy day to do!
12. Try a cooking class
Love a good cooking class! This one deals with Taiwanese aboriginal cuisine, so you’ll get to know more about the culture and different tribes from Hualien as well. You can book either just the cooking class or the cooking class and a market tour.
13. Visit Beibin and the 3D Park
Further along the coast from Nanbin is Beibin and this 3D Park. I actually think I may have stopped by on my walk, but I’m not 100% sure… Anyway, looks like a fun, quirky spot!
14. See more of the lighthouses
As expected from a port city on an island nation, Hualien has quite a few lighthouses along its coast! While there’s the Port Lighthouse and White Lighthouse (which is.. red?), the big one to see the Qilaibi Lighthouse, which goes back to 1931.
15. Shop around Sunward Plaza
A little farther from where I stayed on an inlet is Sunward Plaza, which looks like a fun, little area to visit. There are some shops, restuarants, and, of course, cool art all around.
16. Eat around the Dongdamen Night Market
I know, I know.. How on earth could I miss a Taiwanese night market? Weather! The one day I would’ve gone was the day I spent at Taroko Gorge, so by the time I dragged myself back, I didn’t want to walk over.
However, night markets are like the number one reason to visit Taiwan and I fell in love with the delicious, cheap food at the markets in Taipei, so 10/10 would visit the Dongdamen one in Hualien. I did see some of it during the day, but of course, everything was closed.
17. Go hiking near Hualien
Besides the many trails in Taroko Gorge, there are a few gorgeous mountains in Hualien county, including Yushan and Liushishi, which looks gorgeous for the summer daylily flower, Hehuan, Pinfeng, and Qilai.
18. See the butterflies at Fuyuan National Forest
So apparently, the nickname for Fuyuan National Forest is “Butterfly Valley” because you can see them flying around from March through August. The forest is also home to camphor trees and waterfalls, and it’s only an hour from Hualien City!
19. Soak in one of the hot springs in Hualien
So… I actually did not visit a single hot spring while in Taiwan. I know! Night markets are probably the number one reason and hot springs are a close number two. I didn’t think about visiting them in Hualien and I was sick for most of my time in Taipei, so that’s my excuse… The most famous one seems to be Ruisui Hot Spring an hour away. However, there’s also the Wenshan ones in Taroko Gorge that aren’t technically open to to the public. Next time!
20. Visit the Wuhe Tea Plantation
Also about an hour away from the city and near the hot springs is the Wuhe Tourist Tea Plantation. Tea planting is actually fairly new as the Japanese used the area for coffee, and it was only in 1973 that they started growing tea leaves. A day of exploring green fields and then soaking in a hot spring sounds pretttty good to me.
21. Bike around Liyu Lake
Another nice day trip from Hualien is Liyu Lake. Again, another planned trip that I skipped because of rain. It’s only about a 30-minute drive and in nice weather, it just looks so blue and beautiful with the mountains in the background! I’d rent a bike and do the 5km loop or in hotter weather try one of the water sports, like SUP. Apparently if you go in April, you can see thousands of fireflies at night which just sounds so romantic.
22. Learn some history at Hualien Railway Culture Park
For something in the city, the Railway Culture Park is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Once the Hualien office for the railway department, the park goes back to 1932 and now acts like a gallery to showcase the history of Taiwan’s Eastern Line history.
23. Visit Hualien Culture & Creative Industries Park
So over a century ago, this area was used for wine-making. Today the old warehouses have been converted into a public exhibition space, similar to the Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei.
Hualien Travel Tips
How to Get There
I got to Hualien by train from Taipei. It’s super easy and I just grabbed a taxi to my hostel when I got off at the station.
If you’re flying into Taiwan, there’s nothing I found from the airport directly to Hualien (tried asking around). Instead I had to get a shuttle to the main Taipei train station and then got tickets there.
There’s also this shuttle option from Taipei if you’d prefer that!
Where to Stay
I got a private room at Hualien Dropby Hostel and loved it. The owner is the one who gave me all the great recs, and the place is really nice and clean. My private room was huge with its own sitting area! The hostel is really nicely located too; I could walk pretty much everywhere.
By foot! It’s easy to get a taxi when you need it, but Hualien is a pretty small, walkable city. If you do need help getting around, you can easily hire a private car or rent your own (heck you can even rent a fancy car).
Weather & Safety
If you’re going during the winter, Hualien is still pretty cold. I’d say 60F? Colder than I anticipated!
As for safety, I felt quite safe during my entire trip. Taiwan is pretty similar to Korea in that it’s a very safe country compared to the rest of the world. I’m not sure of medical issues, but it’s always a good idea to have some sort of travel insurance just in case. I recommend Safety Wing as I have business insurance that covers my tech gear, but if you need something to cover both medical and tech, I’d look at World Nomad rates too.
And there you have it! All you need to know for visiting the beautiful city and county of Hualien. Can’t wait to go back and explore more!
for more taiwan travel
Over all, I spent a little over 2 weeks slow traveling through Taiwan from Hualien to Jiufen and Shifen Waterfall to Taipei. If you’re just starting, check out my trip planner guide which has all the logistics in one spot!