Looking for the best things to do in Hualien City, Taiwan? This adventurous yet laid-back Hualien itinerary includes local gems and activities beyond Taroko Gorge you won’t want to miss!
In just a few days, you can experience a Taiwanese aboriginal cooking class, bike along the scenic Hualien coastline, eat at the Dongdamen Night Market, and more.
Hualien is the second largest county in Taiwan. The city also has the highest indigenous population (9,000/source), which makes its aboriginal cuisine even more of a must-try when visiting!
And while most of Eastern Taiwan is wild and full of cultural and natural gems, it’s Hualien that steals the show.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that may earn me a small commission should you decide to click through and make a valid purchase (at no extra cost to you). Thanks so much for your support!
Many tourists will pass through Hualien because it’s the jumping-off point, or gateway, to visit Taroko Gorge inside Taroko National Park.
But Hualien is worthwhile visiting on its own. It has a rich aboriginal culture, a long and storied history, and plenty of street food delicacies.
Not to mention, its unique location pinning it between the rugged mountains and the beautiful blue sea brings a slew of outdoor adventures to your doorstep.
So how many days do you need in Hualien to really soak up the atmosphere?
With three days or more in Hualien, you’ll have the chance to visit Taroko on a day trip, bike along a scenic coastline or through farmland, take an aboriginal cooking class, chomp your way through Taiwanese night markets, and have plenty of opportunities to get outside and explore nearby hot springs, waterfalls, and hiking trails.
Simply stated, anything less than three days in Hualien would be too fast-paced to really enjoy the city’s gems and its surroundings.
Basically, don’t sleep on the opportunity to visit Hualien beyond Taroko! (But you should definitely spend a day doing that too.)
This guide covers everything you need to know about visiting Hualien City in 3-4 days. Read more below for an adventurous yet easy-going Hualien itinerary!
The Perfect Hualien City Itinerary, Taiwan
Quick Resources to Know Before Visiting Hualien
- 🏡 Accommodation: The best area to stay in Hualien is downtown as it’s easy to get around on foot. Search the best hotels in Hualien here.
- 📱 Data: If you need data while in Taiwan, you can very easily get it by using Airalo’s Taiwan/Asia eSIM. This literally saved me on my Asia trip and it was so simple to set up!
- 🚗 Renting a car: Foreign visitors with international driver’s permits can rent a car in Hualien (you must have a valid international license).
- 🧿 Travel insurance: I used SafetyWing’s nomad insurance to cover my trip to Taiwan. Costs only $40/4 weeks!
Easiest & Best Ways to Get to Hualien City
The two best ways to reach Hualien City from Taipei are:
- By train from Taipei Main Station to Hualien Station (2-4 hours, cost NT $440 per person or about $28 USD)
- By rental car (160km, 3-4+ hours)
We booked the Tze-Chian Ltd. Express, train # 408. Our total travel time only took 2 hours and 10 minutes. It’s wise to purchase train tickets in advance since many locals and tourists travel between Taipei and Hualien to get to Taroko.
You can also fly or take a bus to Hualien, but the comfort and relatively low cost of traveling by train make it more enticing in my opinion.
I would only recommend going by car if you want to take a scenic, slower road trip from Taipei to Hualien. Otherwise, you risk hitting traffic which can increase how long it takes to get there.
There are lots of twists and curves as well, so the train will provide a smoother journey! Bottom line: Train travel in Taiwan typically is faster, simpler, and cheaper.
What to Do in Hualien in 3 Days (or More!)
Day 1 in Hualien: Exploring the Heart of Hualien
If you travel to Hualien from Taipei, it’s likely you will arrive by late morning or just past lunch.
For your first day in the city, I highly recommend getting your bearings and not jumping at the chance to visit Taroko Gorge (like we did!).
Instead, there are plenty of things to do in Hualien’s city center that are fun and won’t tire you out right after your journey.
- Drop off bags at your hotel
- Grab food/coffee in a cozy cafe (Seedson Cafe was really good!)
- Explore around Hualien Cultural and Creative Industries Park and Zhongshan Rd
- Try the 3:30 pm Taiwanese Aboriginal Cooking Class
- Head out for Taiwanese street food and mini fair games at Dongdamen Night Market
As I mentioned above, the best place to stay in Hualien for your itinerary is downtown.
Hualien is super navigable on foot, and by staying downtown you will have most attractions, markets, shops, restaurants/bars, and cozy coffee shops within a 10–15 minute jaunt.
We stayed at Boy Apartment boutique hotel and loved it!
P.S. Right around the corner from Boy hotel is a very cute and homely brunch restaurant called Wei Sen (葳森早餐) (no English menus but don’t let that deter you). The owners were so welcoming and happy to see a young “foreign” couple dine at their place!
Depending on what time you arrive in Hualien on day one, I recommend taking it easy, checking into your hotel, and exploring at your own pace.
Whatever you can’t do on day one, you can tuck into days 2-4 based on your interest!
Stroll Hualien’s Cultural and Creative Industries Parks
The Cultural and Creative Industries Park was once a wine factory but has since been restored into an artsy industrial park featuring handicrafts, exhibitions, and artistic performances. This activity is great for your first day in Hualien and it’s an easy walk from your hotel downtown.
There is also the super cute YouYiTsun Cultural and Creative Industries Park (it’s more of a one-lane alley with shops and food stalls) which is located slightly further north. Visit both or just one based on your time!
Afterward, you can explore the shops and galleries sprinkled down the popular Zhongshan Rd.
Take a Taiwanese Aboriginal Cooking Class
The aboriginal cooking class by Karenko Kitchen is a fun, no-pressure activity for your first day in Hualien. There are two times to choose from — 10:30am or 3:30pm.
We didn’t have time for this activity because of our Taroko trip, but it was on my Hualien bucket list!
Eat at the Dongdamen Night Market
Dongdamen is the best (and largest) night market in Hualien.
It’s huge and you can find anything from glazed strawberries and bubble tea to fried squid and stinky tofu, and beyond (eek!).
Eating in a Taiwanese night market for the first time can be a little intimidating though.
What are you supposed to order? What’s really local, what’s fresh, what’s responsible?
If you’re like me, you’ll ask yourself these questions too!
After walking around, we decided to eat in one of the little back-tent “food courts” — the tables were full of locals so we knew it was a good spot. We took photos of the menu with our translation app to get an idea of what we were ordering.
We shared an oyster omelet, fried rice, vegetable greens, and salt-fried milkfish.
If I went back, I’d try the “coffin toast” (search for ‘Jiang’s Bread Coffin’), a fried scallion pancake, grilled corn on the cob, and Hualien’s famous mochi sweets.
Day 2 in Hualien: Taroko Day Trip
Visiting Taroko Gorge is a must-do when in Hualien. You should plan on spending one full day here (or more if your itinerary allows).
We stayed overnight in Taroko and I talk about all the things to do there in my Taroko Gorge guide!
While I detail everything you need to know in that guide, I will say here that I wish we had taken a day tour of Taroko instead of going on our own (because we didn’t have a car).
If you do have a rental car, you’ll be free to explore at your leisure. But if not, hopping around from attraction to attraction by bus is not ideal!
And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can do a cycling tour of Taroko Gorge.
So keep this in mind when you plan your day trip to Taroko.
There are so many things to do and see, plus scenic hiking trails to enjoy, that a full day dedicated to Taroko is your best best. It will be jam-packed, certainly, but you can still take it slow and see the best of Taroko Gorge in one day from your base in Hualien.
Day 3 in Hualien: Biking Around Hualien
For your third day in Hualien, I recommend taking it easy since you will have just spent a big day in Taroko the day before.
We found that doing a leisurely DIY bike tour around Hualien City was the perfect way to see some more of the city’s attractions including the Pine Garden and the Martyr’s Shrine.
Start your day by renting a bike in town ($200 NT) and then head to the Hualien coastline and beaches.
Nanbin Park is the perfect starting point from downtown Hualien for this ride.
From Nanbin, cycle along the coast to Beibin Park.
Keep going and cross the red Jinguang Bridge to reach the other side of the river, where you’ll find the Pine Garden—a former Japanese military site that’s now an important historical point of interest in Hualien.
The grounds of the Pine Garden offer unhampered views over Hualien Port and the Meilun River. On site is also a restaurant and souvenir shop.
From the Pine Garden, the next logical pitstop is Hualien’s Martyr Shrine.
While there isn’t much “to do” here but you will be treated with one of the prettiest shrines in Hualien. You can read more about its history and see a preview in this wonderful write-up here.
Visiting all of the above should take up a full morning!
That said, with your free afternoon and evening, you might consider doing a whale-watching tour, going on a fun river rafting adventure, or simply relaxing back at the hotel.
Day 4 in Hualien: Hot Springs, Hikes, & Falls
For your last day in Hualien, I would recommend hitting up the nearby natural gems.
Hualien’s unique location between the mountains and sea makes it a great spot for waterfall hikes, beaches, and even hot springs.
And yes, soaking in a Taiwanese hot spring is right up there with visiting a Taiwanese night market.
According to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, the top three hot springs to soak in in the valley surrounding Hualien are Ruisui, Hongye, and Antong Hot Springs.
However, do note that Ruisui Hot Spring is a 1-hour drive south of Hualien. This would be ideal if you are heading south after Hualien anyway.
If you do visit Ruisui, make sure to make the most of your time down there by visiting the once Japanese-owned Wuhe Tea Plantations. (Yep, probably the third-most Taiwanese “must” beyond night markets and hot springs is tea!)
If your last day in Hualien doesn’t work out as you plan to go back north and not south, maybe an adventure closer to Hualien would be more worth your time.
In that case, the suburban Saguer Trail is ideal for quick cityscapes out in nature. It is an easy 1.3km loop that features a waterfall and isn’t too difficult, so the whole family can enjoy it!
Another one is the Maplewood Trail which features multiple platforms for panoramic views over Hualien City.
A final recommendation for what to do in Hualien in 3-4 days is to visit the Qixitang (Chishingtan) Scenic Area which features a lovely pebble-speckled bay and arched beach. This scenic area is possible to reach by bike as well (21km) from Hualien (in case you haven’t biked enough!).
I hope this adventurous, slow travel guide to Hualien helps plan your trip! Please feel free to reach out with questions if you have them!