Dear reader: This article contains links to products and services that I may be compensated for, at no extra cost to you.
Few people visit Hualien without falling completely in love with it. The vast east coast county is beloved for its wild scenery (including the star attraction, Taroko Gorge) and adventure activities. It is the largest county in Taiwan, though one of the least populated, and homeland of the Amis, the country’s largest aboriginal tribe.
Spend at least one full day at Taroko Gorge, but stay longer to enjoy the many cultural & culinary attractions Hualien City has to offer. Next, pick from coastal highway 11 or inland highway 9 to travel south to equally awesome Taitung County in the southeastern corner of Taiwan.
I’ve compiled this exhaustive list of places to visit in Hualien based on numerous trips made in my 10+ years of living in Taiwan. There’s no way you’ll be able to visit all these places on one trip, but feel free to pick and choose and create your ideal Hualien trip. To figure out the best way to piece the below sights, here’s my recommended Hualien itinerary.
For the ultimate east coast road trip from Hualien to Taitung & Kenting on the southern tip of Taiwan and back, make sure to also check out my two-part guide to the east coast of Taiwan, and for first-timers in Taiwan, make sure to read my guide to Taiwan travel.
How Long to Spend in Hualien
How much time do you have? It may never seem like enough!
Although I wouldn’t recommend this, you can even visit Taroko Gorge as a day trip from Taipei. Taking this flight from Taipei to Hualien and/or taking this organized Taipei to Hualien day tour can help, but you’re going to be extremely rushed.
At the bare minimum, I’d recommend traveling to Hualien and checking into your hotel on day one, then spending the whole next day at Taroko Gorge. A second night would give you a third day to explore more sights in the area or in Hualien City.
To travel down Highways 11 or 9 from Hualien City to Taitung, you can ride a scooter (one full day, including stops) or take the train (2-3 hours). But to really appreciate the area, I’d recommend adding at least two days for this, making four total days in Hualien.
On Highway 11, aim to reach chilled out Dulan Surfing Beach (Taitung county) and spend the night in one of its many guesthouses. On Highway 9, Ruisui (#32) or Yuli (#36) in Hualien or Chishang, Guanshan, or Luye in Taitung all make great stops to spend the night. See my east coast road trip guide part 2 for more info on each village.
With a full week, you could really do the area justice, traveling down one of the highways, spending some time in Taitung, and traveling back to Hualien via the other highway.
Getting to and Around Hualien
Taking the train or flying are the only ways to reach Hualien from Taipei. The ride takes three hours (regular train, standing tickets available) or two hours (Taroko Express, reserved seats only). These trains sell out really fast, so make sure to reserve two weeks in advance.
To visit Taroko Gorge, you can get off at Xincheng Station (also called Taroko Station), which is closest. There are far more amenities and hotels in Hualien City (Hualien Station), but it’s also further away from Taroko Gorge.
To get to Taroko Gorge, you can hire a scooter at Xincheng (7 minutes to Taroko entrance gate) or at Hualien Station (40 minutes). Alternatively, you can charter a car for the day, or join a popular Taroko Gorge day tour from Hualien like this one.
Going south of Hualien City towards Taitung, you’ll need to rent a scooter or hire a car in Hualien for coastal Highway 11. If you take Highway 9, you can travel between towns on the train. You’ll miss some of the sights in between as a result, but you can hire a scooter or bicycle at individual towns to explore each area.
Where to Stay in Hualien
Deciding where to stay in Hualien will be one of your toughest choices. Luxury travelers will likely consider staying at Silks Place (see prices / read reviews) or the wood cabins at Taroko Village Hotel (see prices / read reviews) right in Taroko Gorge. Budget travelers can stay at Liwu Hotel (see prices / read reviews) just outside the entrance to Taroko Gorge.
Xincheng is the closest town to Taroko Gorge and you can get off the train there. However, there are few amenities and hotel choices there. Yu’s Homestay (see prices / read reviews) and Taroko Lodge (see prices / read reviews) stand out as the best. If you’re going to Hualien for river tracing (see #11), then it makes sense to stay in this hotel in the aboriginal village of Sanzhan, where the best river tracing routes begin.
Most people stay in Hualien City, even though it is a 40-minute drive away from Taroko Gorge. Hualien has some of the best hostels I’ve stayed at in Taiwan, such Nin Hao Hostel (see prices / read reviews), Just Walk Backpacker Hostel (see prices / read reviews), and View Hostel (see prices / read reviews). It’s also got family friendly hotels with full-on themed rooms like Hualien Inn (see prices / read reviews).
If you travel south from Hualien City toward Taitung, I’d recommend spending the night somewhere along the way. On Highway 11, Dulan in Taitung County is the best place to spend the night, with loads of B&Bs to choose from.
For Highway 9, Ruisui has hot spring hotels, and Yuli is a great base for explore the local countryside. Chishang, Guanshan, and Luye in Taitung are all also great choices. See my east coast guide for where to stay in each village.
Things to Do in and Around Taroko Gorge
For more details about all the Hualien activities in this section, make sure to read my detailed guide to Taroko Gorge.
1. Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖)
The Qingshui Cliffs are a series of dramatic coastal bluffs on the Suhua Highway, which connects Yilan and Hualien counties. They are located a 10-minue drive north of the entrance to Taroko Gorge.
There are several lookout points where you can view the cliffs, while sea kayaking below the cliffs is one of the most popular things to do in Hualien. Many Taroko Gorge day tours include a stop at the cliffs, such as this one.
2. Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園)
Breathtaking Taroko Gorge is the number 1 reason people come to Hualien. The dramatic 19-kilometer gorge was carved by the Liwu River and features awe-inspiring vertical views, great hiking, and a secret hot spring.
You’ll want to budget a full day for Taroko Gorge to take in most of the following eight sights. It is best to join a day tour like this one to make that possible, or rent a scooter in Xincheng (the closest town) or in Hualien City to do it on your own.
3. Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道)
This easy in-and-out two hour-return hike features stunning sapphire blue waters of the Shakadang stream.
To access the hike, you’ll need to cross the bridge over the Liwu River (the main river that creates Taroko Gorge) at the Taroko Gorge East Entrance Arch Gate, then turn left at the National Park Visitor Center.
4. Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠)
The most iconic attraction in Taroko Gorge is the mighty Eternal Spring Shrine. The structure is built into a cliff with a waterfall pouring out in the middle of it. It was built to honor those who died while constructing the highway through Taroko Gorge.
5. Buluowan Aboriginal Center (布洛灣管理站)
Follow a side road to Buluowan, built on the former site of a Taroko (Truku) aboriginal village. There you’ll find a small Truku handicraft museum highlighting their history and culture.
You can also dine (we loved the buffet aboriginal meal when we visited) or spend the night in luxurious wooden huts at the Taroko Village Hotel on site.
6. Swallow’s Grotto (燕子口)
The next mandatory stop in Taroko Gorge is Swallow’s Grove (Yanzikou), named after the birds who build nests in the dramatic cliff faces there. Take a stop to admire the vertical bluffs, then walk or drive through a series of tunnels carved into sheer rock.
7. Zhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道)
One activity you’ll need to plan book in advancing is hiking the incredible Zhuilu Old Trail. This tough six-kilometer hike follows a precarious trail along a 500-meter cliff face – with no rail guards!
8. Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞隧道)
After being closed for many years due to typhoon damage, the breathtaking Tunnel of Nine Turns is finally open again. Take a stroll through several tunnels and admire quintessential Taroko Gorge scenery from a number of lookout points.
9. Baiyang Waterfall and Water Curtain Cave
Another of the best hikes in Taroko Gorge is Baiyang Trail. The first portion of the hike leads to mighty Baiyang Waterfall (1-1.5 hours return).
When open, a continuation of the trail brings you to Water Curtain Cave, a tunnel which you can run through while water pours down on your head. Prepare to get wet, or take this tour, which provides flashlights and raincoats.
10. Wenshan Hot Spring (文山溫泉)
One of the great “secrets” of Taroko Gorge is Wenshan Hot Spring. Once very popular, the creek-side hot spring was destroyed in a landslide then off limits for years.
There isn’t much left of it, but you can still sneak in for a hot bath in magnificent natural settings. Find out exactly how to find it here. I’ve also got this article introducing the most incredible Taiwanese hot springs, which of course includes Wenshan.
11. Sanzhan Village (三棧部落)
Sanzhan (Sanjan) is an aboriginal community of the Truku tribe on the Sanzhan River, about 10 minutes’ drive south of the entrance to Taroko Gorge. If you’ve been tempted by the turquoise waters of Taroko Gorge all day and want to finally jump in, come here to do it!
The Sanzhan riverside area (三棧溪戲水區) features numerous spots where you can jump into the river, while the legendary Golden Grotto river trace (see next entry) starts here as well.
Moon River Guesthouse is the only hotel in Sanzhan, and is a short walk from the river where the river traces begin.
12. Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷)
The Golden Grotto river trace is one of the most renowned in all of Taiwan. The route follows the Shakadang river upstream for a few hours then veers off into a series of pools and waterfalls in a narrow canyon.
This is a full-day affair (6-7 hours) that requires river tracing shoes and safety equipment (including helmets), as well as careful planning. Never go after rain, and sometimes local authorities decide to make it illegal to visit.
For beginners, you can sign up for a guided river trek on the Sanzhan River (not to the Golden Grotto).
Things to Do in Hualien City
Hualien City is low-key compared to other cities in Taiwan, but there is still a surprising amount of things to do there. You may want to consider adding one or more days to your Hualien visit after taking in Taroko Gorge if any of the below appeal to you!
13. Qixingtan Beach (七星潭)
Just north of the Hualien City limits, Chisingtan/Qixingtan Beach and Scenic Area (七星潭海岸風景特定區) is an incredibly scenic pebble beach. Like most beaches on the east coast, you can’t swim here due to strong currents, but you can surely admire the incredible scenery looking up and down the coast.
Since it’s only a short detour on the way from Hualien City to Taroko Gorge, most Taroko day tours have the option of stopping here. You can also hire bikes here and ride them to Hualien City, where they’ll pick it up for you.
14. Whale & Dolphin Watching Tours
Hualien City is the best place to organize a whale and dolphin watching tour. This includes the chance of seeing humpback, killer, sperm, false killer, pygmy killer whales, and dolphins; in fact, Hualien is home to 29 of the world’s 60 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins!)
The best time for viewing the whales and dolphins is April to October.
15. Aboriginal Cooking Course
One of the best ways to take a peek into Taiwanese aboriginal culture is through their food. In the course run by Amis aboriginals, you’ll get to tour their garden, learn how to cook wild plants, and sample aboriginal millet wine (小米酒).
16. Dongdamen Night Market (東大門夜市)
Every city and town in Taiwan has a night market (here’s my guide to the best ones), and Hualien City is no exception. You can find loads of local specialties that you would expect at any Taiwanese night market here. The market is set up into a games section, regional cuisine section, and aboriginal food street.
17. Hualien Martyr’s Shrine (花蓮忠烈祠)
Martyr’s Shrine is a quiet and picturesque shrine honoring martyrs of WWII.It is built on the site of a former Shinto shrine called Karenkō Shrine which was sadly demolished in 1981.
The shrine is located on the east side of the Meilun River from downtown Hualien.
18. Hualien Pine Garden (松園別館)
Near the Martyr’s Shrine, Pine Garden is a small collection of buildings that once served as an administrative office for the Japanese Navy and served as a command center during WWII.
The garden is a quiet place to explore and catch of glimpse of Taiwan’s Japanese colonial past. There are usually some kind of artistic or historical displays. Entrance is 50NT per person.
19. Hualien Railway Culture Park (花蓮鐵道文化園區)
Near Dongdamen Night Market, Hualien Railway Culture Park (Eastern Railway Site) is dedicated to railway culture in Hualien and Taiwan. The site repurposes an old railway station on the decommissioned East Coast line built by the Japanese.
See more pictures here.
20. Hualien A Zone Cultural and Creative Park (花蓮文化創意產業園區)
A Zone is Hualien’s answer to Huashan and Songshan Creative Arts Parks in Taipei. Originally a sake distillery built in the Japanese colonial era, the expansive 26-factory warehouse is now a public exhibition and creative arts space.
Take a stroll though the grounds, or check out the various markets and events often taking place on there from Wednesday through Sunday.
21. Starbucks Shipping Container Store (星巴克 – 洄瀾門市)
One of the coolest Starbucks in all of Taiwan is surely the Starbucks Shipping Container Branch in Ji An township, just south of Hualien City on Nanbin Road, near where Highway 11 leads of our town and along the coast going south.
The café is built out of 29 recycled shipping containers stacked on top of each other. It was built by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Order a latte and take a seat in one of the containers for this unique architectural experience!
The container store is included on this Hualien half day tour.
22. Mukumugi Valley (慕谷慕魚生態廊道)
Secluded Mukumugi Valley is just 20 minutes’ by car west into the mountains from Ji An township, but it feels worlds apart. Visitors come here to jump into the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Qingshui stream and experience local Truku aboriginal culture.
To preserve the area, visitor numbers are limited, and the valley was temporarily closed at the time of writing (last updated early 2021). Read more about it here.
Things to Do South of Hualien City: Highway 11
Several of the below sights are included on this full day tour from Hualien City.
23. Farglory Ocean Park (遠雄海洋公園)
Farglory is Taiwan’s only marine-focused theme park. It features a combination of amusement park rides and marine animal performances. Although very popular, I’m not a fan of this kind of facility, and I would recommend seeing marine animals in their natural environment by taking a whale and dolphin watching tour (see #14).
You can buy discounted Farglory tickets here. You’ll pass Farglory shortly after beginning your drive along Highway 11.
24. Baqi Observatory (芭崎休息區)
The coastal scenery starts getting especially grand around Baqi Rest Stop, where you’ll get a chance to pull over and snap some pics looking south down the coast.
25. Jiqi Beach (磯崎海水浴場)
I have to admit that Jiqi Beach in Fengbin Township is not what it used to be. My family and I once stayed in an A-frame cabin (no longer there) on this beach and enjoyed great swimming in the quiet bay.
Today, it’s a pay-to-enter spot and the beach is mostly rocky. Swimming is only sometimes permitted at “Chi Chi Swimming Resort” (磯崎海水浴場). It makes for an obvious stopping point, but isn’t a must.
26. Coastal Walks: Dashibishan Trail and Qinbuzhizi/Fengbin Skywalk
Heading south from Jiqi, keep an eye out for two epic coastal walkways: Dashibishan (大石鼻山步道) and further down, Qinbuzhizi (親不知子海上古道), also known as Fengbin Skywalk (豐濱天空步道).
Dashibishan is wooden stair cape walk that offers stunning views looking down on Jiqi Beach. Qinbuzhizi/Fengbin is a death-defying coastal skywalk with glass floors and bone-chilling views. Sadly, both walks are closed at the time of writing.
27. Xinshe Rice Terrace (新社梯田)
Xinshe Rice Terrace, a section of picturesque rice terraces backed by the sea, has quickly become one of the most popular stops along Highway 11 ever since the addition of some straw statues, huts, and swings. Perfect for your Instagram needs!
Xinshe is included on this day tour from Hualien City.
28. Shitiping (石梯坪)
To get right out on the rocky coast and explore its many pools and crevices, stop at Shitiping Scenic Recreation Area (石梯坪遊憩風景區). Admire the coastal scenery, and see what kind of creatures you can find in the rocky pools!
When you’re in the area, make a stop at Necklace Coastal Studio (項鍊海岸工作室), a small restaurant with creative cuisine using local ingredients and a cool swing facing the sea.
29. Jingpu Tropic of Cancer Landmark (靜浦北迴歸線界標)
The last stop on the Hualien coast before it meets Taitung County is the Tropic of Cancer Marker. It’s not as cool as the one on Highway 11, but still fun to say you’ve been!
Things to Do South of Hualien City: Highway 9
The second route from Hualien City to Taitung is the inland Highway 9 through the East Rift Valley. This will be your only choice if traveling by public transportation.
30. Carp (Liyu) Lake (鯉魚潭)
The first stop you may want to make when embarking south on Highway 9 is pretty Carp Lake. Take a stroll or cycle around the lakeside path, or get right out on the lake on a stand-up paddleboard.
Nearby Chinan National Forest Recreation Area (池南國家森林遊樂區) offers green space in a forest setting, with old train cars on display and views looking down on Liyu Lake.
31. Fenglin (鳳林)
Fenglin (Fonglin) township has been chosen by Cittaslow as one of the three “slow living, slow travel, slow food” spots in Taiwan (the other two are in Miaoli and Chiayi). Kick back in a local Airbnb to find out why!
Ironically, there are also some thrilling adventures to be had in Fenglin, including taking a scenic flight or paragliding over the East Rift Valley. You can also rent a scooter to explore the local countryside. Lintienshan Forestry Culture Park (林田山林業文化園區) is a worthwhile stop for anyone interested in local forestry history.
Heading south from Fenglin toward Ruisui, many people like to stop for ice cream at Ice Cream at Guangfu Sugar Factory (光復糖廠冰棒).
32. Ruisui Hot Spring (瑞穗溫泉)
Ruisui is a hot spring village with the usual assortment of hot spring facilities and hotels to choose from, where you can usually have your own private tub in your room. Coffee is also grown around Ruisui, so the cafes in town are a good place to try it.
You can rent a scooter here to explore the countryside around Ruisui.
33. Rafting at Xiuguluan (秀姑巒溪)
The Xiuguluan (Hsiukuluan) River in Ruisui is the most popular place to do white water rafting in all of Taiwan. It’s suitable for beginners but wild enough to be exciting. Day trips like this one include a packed lunch.
34. Fuyuan National Forest Recreation Area (富源國家森林遊樂區)
Featuring camphor trees, waterfalls, and swarms of butterflies in spring and summer, Fuyuan National Forest Recreation Area is surely an area worth exploring. We didn’t have much luck spotting butterflies when we visited in early April, though, so you’ll want to aim for late spring or summer for the best experience.
35. Tropic of Cancer Marker Park (北回歸線標誌公園)
It’s not often you get a chance to stand on the Tropic of Cancer, so stop and take a pic here to prove it!
Just down the street, Satokoay (掃叭石柱) features huge stone monoliths that are Taiwan’s only pre-historic cultural site.
36. Yuli (玉里)
Yuli is one of the best places to base yourself for exploring southern Hualien and the East Rift Valley countryside. Here you can get off the train and enjoy the conveniences of town, then rent a scooter or bicycle to visit attractions 37-40.
Also don’t miss the Kecheng Iron Bridge (客城鐵橋), one of southern Hualien’s most photographed, just south of town. Chike Mountain (赤柯山) next to town is an alternative to Sity Stone Mountain (# 40) for seeing seas of tiger lilies in summer.
37. Nan An Waterfall (南安瀑布)
Following Highway 30 up to the start of the Walami Trail, you’ll pass spectacular Nan An Falls. You can easily get here by scooter or bike from Yuli town center.
38. Walami Trail (瓦拉米古道)
Walami Trail is one of the most well-known hikes in all of Taiwan. It is the first section of an epic 10-day trek goes all the way to Yushan, Taiwan’s tallest peak.
Without a permit, casual visitors can ride a scooter or cycle to the trailhead and do the first two kilometers (budget two hours return) for a taste of the awesome scenery. We saw loads of macaques when we went!
39. Antong Hot Spring
Antong Hot Spring is a short drive east of Yuli on one of the handful of roads that cross the coastal mountain range between highways 9 and 11.
The facilities at Antong Hot Spring Hotel didn’t blow us away, but going for a soak is always a great way to finish a long day of exploration.
40. Sixty Stone Mountain (六十石山金針花海)
Sixty Stone Mountain (Liushishishan) is unforgettable for the fields of orange tiger lilies that covers its slopes in summer. You’ll have to drive to get there, and on busy days the small road up the mountain becomes a continuous traffic jam. Go super early if possible!
Well, that brings us to the end of this comprehensive list of things to do in Hualien, Taiwan. I hope you’ve found more than enough ideas for your Hualien trip! If I’ve missed something, or anything has changed, please let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading this far!