The most attractive city in eastern Taiwan, Hualien is the kind of place where you can dine on local delicacies at seafront night markets, stroll in riverside parks, and reflect in tranquil temples. With the Taroko Gorge on its doorstep, there are plenty of reasons to love Hualien.
Around 15 miles long, Taroko Gorge is absolutely breathtaking. Hike past scenic waterfalls, through cloud forests and rocky outcrops, cross dramatic rope bridges, and visit impressive religious shrines. It's a must-see attraction.
From gooey muaji sweets to delicately prepared wonton soup, the cuisine of Hualien should suit everyone's palate, and venues like the Dongdaemun Night Market are the perfect place to enjoy it.
With serene Buddhist shrines like the Abode of Still Thoughts and elegantly manicured parks like Meilunshan, Hualien offers an endless array of places to zone out and simply relax.
Hualien has a thriving arts scene. For instance, Fogstand is one of Taiwan's premier contemporary art spaces; the Art Zone fuses high-quality accommodation with regular art exhibits; while the Cultural Creative Industries Park is a great place to pick up artistic souvenirs.
Families will fall in love with the Ocean Park, a huge amusement complex complete with cable cars and Ferris wheels as well as exhibits on the wildlife of eastern Taiwan.
Heaven for history fans, the Pine Garden is much more interesting than it sounds. Located on Songyuan Street next to the river in downtown Hualien, the Pine Garden was once the headquarters for the Japanese colonial authorities, who ruled Taipei between 1895 and 1945. Well, it was only in use for two years at the end of the war, but it's now become a fascinating testimony to the colonial era and the years of conflict, as well as being an elegant mid-century building in its own right.
The busiest street in Hualien is a magnet for fun-seekers and foodies alike. Head over there at dinner or lunch time, and you'll be presented with a massive array of dining options. Whether you go for goose cooked in ginger, piles of Taiwanese dumplings, or light and sweet mochi cakes, there's something for everyone to devour along the street's length. And with Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese and western cuisine available, it's also one of Taiwan's most cosmopolitan entertainment neighborhoods.
Down towards the shore at the southern end of Zhongshan Road, you'll come to the Dongdamen Night Market. Retail fans and foodies be warned though - you might not want to to leave. Dongdamen opened relatively recently (in 2015) but it's become established as the place to be when the sun sets. Set over 9 hectares and featuring some 400 vendors, you can't try every morsel or peruse every clothes stall in one night, so repeat visits are recommended. For a bit of a kick, try the millet wine (a local specialty), and try your luck at the entertainment stands as well.
A short drive north of Hualien City, you'll come to Taroko National Park, which is certainly up there with Taiwan's most visually appealing scenic spots. Famous for its gleaming marble gorges and dramatic mountain scenery, photo opportunities abound in Taroko. The whole place covers a whopping 460 square miles, so seeing everything is unlikely, but you can get a great feel for the place by concentrating on the visitor center by the coast, and taking the bus to the sublime Taroko Gorge - which is clearly the park's standout sight.
For a complete change of scene during your stay in Hualien, head over to Shoufeng Township and the charms of Farglory Ocean Park. One one hand, this is a specialist marine attraction, offering dazzling dolphin shows and critters like sea lions across its 51 hectares of pools and tanks. On the other, it's also a family amusement spectacular, with thrills like the "Fly Across the Ocean" and the "Pirate of El Dorado". When the Taiwanese weather heats up, as it is prone to do, there's no better place to splash around and cool off. And the ocean views are pretty special, too.
Between late June and September, Hualien is hot - averaging almost 90 degrees. However, the shoulder seasons (March to June and October to November) can be mild and ideal for hiking through the gorge.
Hualien Airport (HUN) offers connections to Taipei and, by extension, the rest of the world. From there, take bus 1123 to the city center.
Trains run into Hualien from Taipei and are a great way to travel. Journey times vary from two to four hours and cost around NT$350.
From Taipei, simply follow Highway 9 along the eastern coast of Taiwan.
Buses run into Hualien from Taipei, Tainan, and Taichung. It's around four hours from the capital to Hualien.
High-class accommodation options in downtown Hualien include the Fullon Hotel, with its rooftop pool, and the Lakeshore Hotel, which offers excellent views.
Zhongshan Road - the best place to hunt down gourmet eateries, Zhongshan Road cuts through the heart of town, and also hosts most of the city's major stores.
Dongdaemun - located near the sea, Dongdaemun was set up as a tourist market, showcasing local foods and world cuisine, and it's been a fantastic success. There's no better place to shop for picnic items or hot meals to enjoy by the shore.
Meilun - Meilun is hard to miss in Hualien: this hill rises above the city center and offers hiking trails, temples, playgrounds, and wonderful views.
Hualien's local transportation network isn't extensive, although there are bus routes into and out of the center. Local buses also head out to Taroko Gorge, and you can catch them at Hualien Train Station.
Taxis in the city generally need to be booked ahead, and should charge around NT$200 for short journeys in the downtown area.
Car rental companies in Hualien include IWS and Formosa Car Rental, and prices will be around NT$2,500 per day.
Zhongshan Road is the place to go to snap up locally made fabrics and designer apparel. Dick's Workshop on Hai'an Rd is another excellent place to find gifts, in this case artworks and accessories carved from driftwood.
Supermarkets include Pxmart and TK Mart. To get a feel for prices, 12 eggs will cost about NT$65.
For top quality Taiwanese cuisine, head to Yuelu Restaurant (around four miles out of town, but it's worth the trip). More central options include Dou Sang and the Irrawaddy Myanmar Restaurant - a superb curry house. Prices vary, but expect to pay NT$200-300 for a good meal.