Yes, Hualien is a city, but it’s also a place where – if you’re prepared to travel the wider county – nature can steal the show. After all, it’s here that you’ll find one of Taiwan‘s most beautiful National Parks, Taroko. Indeed, many visitors choose to skip town altogether and disappear into the countryside. Yet this relaxed coastal city offers plenty of attractions to make for a memorable stay. So the next time you find yourself on Taiwan‘s East Coast, hang out in Hualien City for a while, using our guide to help you get the most from your stay.
Wander around Hualien Railway Culture Park
There’s a fascinating history to train travel in Taiwan: in 1887, little more than a decade after the first commercial railway opened in Shanghai, mainland China, its first tracks were in business, built under the watch of Qing Dynasty governor Liu Ming-Chuan. The section reaching Hualien was completed under the Japanese rule of the island, in 1911. What’s amazing about the Railway Culture Park, apart from your chance to learn the whole story, is the presence of preserved Japanese steam locomotives, including a hulking Nishia, made in 1936.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Drink tea at Miao Kou Red Tea
Famous for its hearty snacks and brass tubes – through which piping hot cups of tea are dropped from the first-floor kitchen – Miao Kou is open 24 hours and always attracts a crowd of devotees. Expect to queue and don’t expect delicate Chinese brews – this is as close as Hualien gets to a greasy spoon, but it’s an unmissable Taiwan experience. Your brew will be presented to you on a paper cup; meanwhile, irresistibly kitsch floral-pattern crockery is used for serving the omelette sandwiches, peanut soup and Taiwanese macarons, a shop favourite with a gooey marshmallow centre.
Sample street food at Dongdamen Night Market
Taiwan’s diversity of street food is dizzying: you’ll encounter delicious flavours and combinations you probably won’t have ever tasted before: there’s peanut ice-cream roll; syrup-smothered (potato-like) taro balls; jet-black garlic and chilli iron eggs (hard-boiled, in soy sauce); and chicken stew-filled ‘coffin bread’ (hollowed loaf). More than 400 stalls sizzle with woks and bubble with broths at Dongdamen Night Market, in the old Hualien railway station on the eastern edge of town. It might just be the best spot in the region to fill your face.
Check out local art at Fogstand
This joint Taiwanese and American art gallery and studio (with an artist-in-residence programme) showcases contemporary work by emerging creatives, runs workshops and encourages international art exchange. There are two galleries – in Hualien and in Hamline-Midway in St. Paul, Minnesota. Shows have included conceptual pieces by Aberdeen artist John Nicol and Singapore artist Kaifeng Chun and films focused on memory and place by Taiwanese artist Jin Da Lin. It is a thought-provoking and memorable place for anyone interested in notions of identity and belonging.
Visit the Martyrs Shrine
Here used to stand a Shinto temple, built in 1915 by order of Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa, ruler of Japanese Taiwan. It was demolished in 1981 and replaced with the current Taoist building, which remembers local martyrs who died resisting invasion. Among them: Koxinga, a Ming loyalist who fought against the 17th Century Qing conquest and the Dutch invasion of Taiwan; also Liu Yongfu, who resisted the first Japanese and became president of the short-lived Republic of Formosa. Aim to spend an hour or so in this meditative, peaceful place.
Relax at Pine Garden
Set within a lawned garden overlooking the city and the Mei Lun River, this ivy-festooned mansion is the best-preserved Japanese military building in Taiwan. Built in 1942, it served as the regional headquarters of the Japanese Navy. Kamikaze pilots were blessed here with cherry wine, sent especially by their Emperor, before embarking on suicide missions. In 1945 it became a resort for vacationing US troops and in 2000 it opened in its current location as a historical attraction. Come to enjoy the swoony Pacific Ocean views.
Walk the old railway lines
This short stretch of Hualien’s abandoned old railway has been repurposed as a hipster shopping street. You can still see the tracks in the cobbles, overlooked by fashionable clothing boutiques and cafes. The area is a honeypot for teenage and twentysomething Taiwanese revellers who gather in the cafes of an evening. Mingle with them as they swap stories over barista-prepared cappuccinos and be sure to wander the street before heading for food at nearby Dongdamen Night Market.
Browse the Hualien County Stone Sculpture Museum
Naturally sculpted stones have been venerated in China since ancient times and were classified according to their beauty as far back as the 7th century, during the Tang dynasty’s reign. It’s still common to see Gong Shi or “scholars rocks” outside temples and smaller stones in family shrines, often sitting on a bespoke-carved rosewood pedestal. This modern museum and garden are devoted to Gong Shi and to artificially carved stone, including hardstone carving (which is one of China’s oldest arts) and contemporary work.
Chill at Nanbin Park
With its oceanside location, its running path and its cycleway, central Nanbin Park is a godsend for locals seeking recreational downtime. Top tip: it’s at its best early in the morning, when the sun rises golden over the sea. The park, dotted with sculptures depicting daily life and marine animals, is bordered by a long grey beach, with coarse sands perfect for ambling along, making those calf muscles work. For more sunbather-suitable sands head north of town, near the Qingshui Cliffs.
Head to Taroko Gorge for river trekking
The Taroko Gorge is a canyon measuring 3km (2mi) deep, forged by the foaming Liwu river through the mountains west of Hualien. Speckled with shrines and temples, it’s a beautiful place for a drive-by visit or a more adventurous river-bed hike. It’s a fun challenge, clambering over boulders, wading through smaller streams, swimming in icy pools and hot springs and disappearing into the beauty of the landscape. Top tip: come without valuables, as you’ll get wet. In winter months, it pays to overpack warm clothes, as things can get chilly here.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.