30+ Things to Do in Hualien (besides Taroko Gorge!)

As you’ve most likely already heard, a massive earthquake struck Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan on April 3, 2024 and there have been hundreds of aftershocks since then.

The earthquake severely damaged Taroko Gorge, Hualien’s premier attraction. As I write this one week after the disaster, they are still conducting search and rescue, and the gorge will be closed to visitors for an estimated 6 months to 1 year.

Unsurprisingly, the news resulted in mass cancellations, as thousands of visitors tried to find alternative destinations in Taiwan to replace Hualien. This has already severely impacted many small businesses in Hualien, who are now asking visitors to still come.

I spend two days in Hualien in early May, a month after the earthquake. Things were very quiet, but everything I wanted to visit was still open. I only suggest that you continue to avoid any mountain areas around the city for the time being, as aftershocks continue (I experience three while I was there.

In this article, I’ll introduce over 30 things you can still do in Hualien despite Taroko Gorge being closed, including both Hualien city and across Hualien county.

Also check out the many Hualien tours offered by Island Life Taiwan and find out where to stay in Hualien in my Hualian travel guide.

An orange excavator with Pokemon designs on it with a damaged building behind it, shot at night
Pokemon excavator I saw cleaning up damaged building after the earthquake

Things to Do in Hualien City Center

Hualien city was moderately damaged by the earthquake. A few buildings toppled and are currently being removed. Some hotels have closed temporarily for repairs, while most remain open. The following are places you can visit in the city.

Dongdamen Night Market

The large entrance gate to Dongdamen Night Market at night with stalls and people visible at bottom, shot at night
Dongdamen Night Market

Dondamen is one of the coolest night markets in Taiwan. It is the best night market for sampling Taiwanese aboriginal foods – in fact, the Aboriginal Food Street here takes up a quarter of the whole night market.

Dongdamen is also less crowded than most other night markets (especially now with the drop in tourism), making it great for kids. It is also one of the few that features live music.

When I visited post-earthquake, the night market was very quiet but still open. On my first night (a rainy weeknight) it was almost totally dead, with only around 10-20% off stalls open and almost no on there. It was very sad!

However, the second night (a Friday and not raining) it was much better, with more than half the stalls open and more and more market-goers.

A Taiwanese woman in a cocktail standing in a night market, wearing mask but you can tell she's smiling, holding up a bottle of millet wine, and the photographer's hand in the shot holding a shot glass of the wine
Enjoying some aboriginal millet wine (小米酒) in a mini bar in the night market

Aboriginal Cooking or Hunting Class

Two bunches of steamed rice wrapped in leaves and tied with strings
Aboriginal steam millet and rice

Visitors rave about the aboriginal cooking and archery classes in Hualien, and this is one of the most personal ways that you can experience Taiwanese indigenous culture.

In the Karenko Cooking Class (book on Klook or on Cookly), you will visit local Hualien markets and a small garden on site, then learn how to cook Amis aboriginal dishes from a local person.

The class only needs a minimum of 2 people to run, with two time choices per day, and there’s a vegetarian option.

For a totally different aboriginal experience, you can learn how to use their traditional weapons in this hunting class, with aboriginal meal included. This one is located in Ji’an township, south of Hualien city center.

Coastal Parks & Cycling

Looking up a narrow coastal road and sidewalk with railing and rocky beach on the side, with coastal mountains in the distance
Walking or cycling along the coast of Hualien

There are some lovely coastal parks right in Hualien city. With kids, head to Taipingyang Park (太平洋公園), where there is a cool pirate-themed playground. You can play on the rocks down by the water, but swimming is not allowed here (or at any beaches or coastal parks around Hualien) due to the strong current.

Also check out Beibin Park (北濱公園) just north of the latter. This one has a cool pebble beach (like a mini version of Qixingtan – see below). For a sunset snack or drink in the park, head to 戶不閉 chill chill here.

There’s no YouBike in Hualien, but you can rent a bike here between the two coastal parks for cycling up and down the coast. I highly recommend cycling to Qixingtan and back!

Cool Temples and Shrines

Looking up a busy road with lots of motorcycles and vehicles, with a temple on a hill at the end of the road
Hualien Martyr’s Shrine overlooks the city

There are several cool temples and shrines worth seeing in Hualien city. In the city center, Hualien Martyr’s Shrine (花蓮忠烈祠) was a former Shinto shrine (from the Japanese colonial period) converted into shrine for “martyrs” of the Republic of China.

The shrine is overdue for repairs (even before the earthquake), but it can be lovely when lit up around golden hour / sunset.

A large gray Buddhist monastery with sloping roof and mountains in background
Tzu Chi Monastery in Hualien

Tzu Chi, one of the four major Buddhist organizations in Taiwan, is headquartered in Hualien city, where they run a huge Buddhist complex and university.

The best spot to visit is the Tzu Chi Cultural Park (慈濟文化園區), 15 minutes’ walk west of Hualien train station. The highlight is the large gray Meditation Hall, or Jingsi Hall (慈濟花蓮靜思堂), whose roof is shaped like the character for people (人).

The organization also has an even more beautiful temple here in Xincheng.

A stone stelae with characters and Japanese decorations on it and wooden Japanese shrine behind it
One of Taiwan’s best preserved Japanese shrines

In Ji’an township, south of Hualien city center, Ji’an Qingxiu Temple (吉安慶修院) is another temple worth visiting.

This is an original Japanese Shinto shrine which is one of the best-preserved in all of Taiwan. Visit it on the way to Starbucks Container Store, Liyu Lake, or road trips down Highway 9 (see next section for all of those).

Meeting Animals at Zhang Family Garden

Looking down at 4 cats, one of which is standing on the legs of the photographer, who is kneeling down
The cats were so cuddly!

Zhang Family Garden (張家の樹園, here) is a very typical attraction for Taiwan (you can find these all over the country) which combines animals, “Japanese” theme, and lots of selfie opportunities.

It’s not very big, but I still enjoyed my visit here. I met baby ducks, capybaras, meerkats, alpacas, sika deer, and a room full of cuddly cats. I do admit some of the cages were really small, so this isn’t the most ethical animal experience.

A hand petting a snoozing capybara on the gravel
Capybaras are surprisingly chill

Entrance of TWD 200 includes a free room full of kimonos/qipaos and accessories, so you can dress up for taking pictures in the garden or with the animals.

The 200 fee includes 100 which can be used towards coffee or a meal in the room overlooking the garden. It’s in Ji’an township south of Hualien city center, near Ji’an Qingxiu temple.

Here are other places to visit capybaras and wear kimonos in Taiwan.

Other City Attractions

A red statue that spells the words I heart Railways sitting on a railway line with two black locomotives behind
Old train station garage with original locomotives on display

Hualien Railway Culture Park (花蓮鐵道文化園區) is an old Japanese railway station on a decommissioned line. You can see the original station and some old locomotives on display. While it’s a little small and there isn’t much to see, it’s an easy stop just before you get to Dongdamen Night Market.

About 10 minutes north of there on foot, Old Railway Pedestrian Street (舊鐵道行人徒步區) is a street of cute cafés, shops, bars, and street art along the old railway line. It’s best to visit in the early evening.

A history house with arched windows on two floors and pine trees in the garden in front of it
Pine Garden

Pine Garden (松園別館) is a group of buildings which served as an administrative office for the Japanese Navy during WWII. The buildings include an air raid shelter, calm pine tree garden, and pine needle ice cream.

It’s not really a must-see, but an easy add-on if you’re visiting Martyr’s Shrine nearby. Entrance is TWD 60, and you can use 30 of that towards pine juice or pine ice cream from the cafe onsite.

A hand holding up a little cup of green ice cream with a swamp filled with greenery behind it
Pine ice cream at Pine Garden

Places to Visit around Hualien City

The following activities and things to do are located just outside the Hualien city center.

Qixingtan Beach

A person wearing all black and kneeling down on a gray pebble beach with coastal mountains in the background
My friend on Qixingtan Beach

Qixingtan (七星潭) is one of the most picturesque beaches in all of Taiwan. This is a long, pebble beach on the coast just north of Hualien city. When Taroko Gorge is open, most Taroko tours usually include a stop at it.

Like most beaches on the east coast, you can’t swim, but it’s still a gorgeous spot to suntan or enjoy the epic views looking up the coast.

You can also rent bikes here at Qinxingtan for riding the cycling paths up and down the coast. You can even ride to Hualien city and arrange for them to meet you and pick up the bike from you there, but you may need some Mandarin skills to make this happen.

A cycling path with beach viewing platform behind and a few palm trees in the grass
Cycling path at Qixingtan

If you like fish flakes (a common ingredient in Taiwanese and Japanese cooking), Chisingtan Katsuo Museum (七星柴魚博物館, official site) is a whole museum dedicated to them. You can learn all about kutsuo/bonito, how the are caught, and how they are processed into flakes.

There are also hands on activities for kids, including touching real starfish, and DIY activities like making takoyaki. Half of your TWD 100 entrance fee can go towards dried fish crisps or other products. It’s on the main road just before the beach.

Hualien tourist shuttle 310 (Hualien station to Taroko Gorge) normally stops at Qinxingtan on the way, but the bus is canceled for now due to Taroko Gorge closing. Take a taxi from Hualien or check GoogleMaps directions for other bus options.

ATV Riding on the Beach

A group of ATVs riding across a gray beach, creating dust around them, going past a couple walking, with mountains and cloudy sky beyond
ATVs on the beach in Hualien

Another popular adventure activity around Hualien city is ATV (quad) riding on the beach. This is the most popular one and includes some “sky tower” selfie spots on the beach.

It is located on Mambo Beach in Xincheng – you can take a taxi from Hualien city or ride the train one stop to Xincheng (the town at the entrance to Taroko Gorge) then walk (40 min) or take a short taxi ride to the meeting point.

Whale and Dolphin Watching Tours

A pod of dolphins jumping out of the sea, including a baby one
Dolphins off the coast of Hualien

Taiwan is one of the best places in this world for dolphin and whale watching, with 31 out of a total 90 species in the world. The best places to do this are off the coast of Yilan and Hualien.

This is the most popular whale watching tour in Hualien, but if you search around on Klook, there are several others. While it’s most common to see dolphins, you also have the chance to see humpbacks, killer whales, sperm whales, and pygmy killer whales.

The season runs from April to October, with summer being the peak and best time to see them. Tours run multiple times per day and the activity takes around 2.5 hours in total. The harbor is at the northeastern corner of the city.

One concern for the time being is that tours will only run if they get enough participants. But with locals and foreign tourists alike avoiding Hualien these days, this may happen. If your tour is cancelled, they will tell you only 1-2 days in advance.

Liyu (Carp) Lake

A green lawn in the foreground and raised wooden cycling path around a lake with mountains on opposite side
Cycling path around Carp Lake

Liyu Lake (鯉魚潭) is a small, pretty lake southwest of Hualien city center and Ji’an township.

You can hire a bicycle here to do the easy circuit around the lake. It only takes about 30 minutes to cycle or one hour to walk around the lake. You can also rent small paddleboats for padding on the lake.

It takes about an hour to get here by public transportation – use GoogleMaps for bus or bus + train options from Hualien city center.

In the past, I would also recommend that you visit nearby Emerald Valley (翡翠谷) and Mugumuyu (慕谷慕魚生態廊道) for scenery similar to Shakadang trail in Taroko Gorge. However, these areas were closed due to landslide damage even before the earthquake, so they are even less possible to visit now. There’s a police roadblock and they won’t let tourists through.

Three Cool Starbucks

A Starbucks made out of stacked white shipping containers
Starbucks container store

There are three very cool Starbucks in Hualien, two south of the city, and one on the coastal highway north to Yilan.

The nearest one to the city center is the iconic Starbucks Contain Store here in Ji’an township. The café is built out of 29 recycled shipping containers stacked at 90-degree angles. Make the trip just for the café, or include it as a stop when driving south to Highway 11 or 9.

Some stools and round tables inside a shipping container cafe with glass window at the end
Inside one of the containers
The front of a fairy-tale-like Starbucks
Starbucks Promiseland

Further south in Shoufeng township, Starbucks Promiseland is another unique Starbucks which is associated with Promiseland Resort nearby.

It has a fairy-tale design and overlooks a picturesque pond. National Dong Hwa University (國立東華大學) nearby features similarly beautiful scenery.

The side of a Starbucks looking over a lake with walking path in front
The Starbucks has a patio overlooking a lovely lake

Yet another cool Starbucks is located here in Xiulin township, on the coastal highway near the border with Yilan county.

However, this highway was severely damaged in the recently earthquake and the damaged spot is currently only open to small cars three times per day (8 to 9 AM, 12 to 1 PM, and 5 to 7 PM) – you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to drive between the two counties.

Swimming Spots

A man and woman jumping off a small cliff into clear green-blue water
Cliff jumping in Sanzhan River

If you want to go for a swim, here are a few natural or semi-natural swimming spots in Hualien worth seeking out. If you can’t drive, then let Island Life take you on this swimming-focused tour.

A remote swimming spot west of Hualien city center that can only be reached by scooter or small car is this swimming spot on Meilun River (美崙溪). River tracing groups also trace up the river from here. However, for the time being, I don’t really recommend this spot because it is in the mountains around Hualien, which are still subject to possible landslides as aftershocks continue.

A manmade waterfall on a small river
A popular swimming spot for locals in summer

Southwest of Hualien city, there’s a swimming spot here on the Baibao River (白鮑溪), which can easily be visited in combination with Liyu Lake or at the start/end of road trips down Highway 9. Locals love this spot for swimming and barbecues by the river in summer. It’s safe to visit as it’s not in the mountains.

On the opposite side of the river, there’s another swimming spot (only sizeable in summer after rain) and cycling trail to a waterfall starting here.

A woman floating with arms and legs outstretched in a turquoise colored pool of water with cliff on opposite side
My friend at a remote swimming spot in Hualien

Nearby, up a small road behind Chinan Recreation Area (see hiking section below) and even closer to Liyu Lake, there are similar swimming spots here and here on the Miyanwan River (米亞丸溪). The road up to them is very narrow – a scooter would be best, but a car can fit (barely!) The same road continues up to Rainbow Waterfall (彩虹瀑布) here. These are also safe.

Near Xincheng and the entrance to Taroko Gorge, there’s are a few great swimming spots on Sanzhan River here and here, in a small aboriginal village called Sanzhan (三棧). The water is extremely clear, there are rocks where you can jump in, and the scenery around the village is stunning.

Farglory Ocean Park

An amusement park on the coast, with ocean beyond, and castle and rides visible, with highway going across a bridge leading to it in the foreground
Farglory Ocean Park

At the start of Highway 11 down the coast south of Hualien, Farglory Ocean Park (遠雄海洋公園) is a marine-focused amusement park, with a few rides, marine mammal shows, and aquarium for kids.

A half-hour drive from Hualien city center, families can even consider to stay here at the connected Farglory Resort as their base for visiting Hualien. The resort also offers a sleepover in the aquarium and a glamping experience.

Selfie Spots & Capybaras

A woman sitting in an artistic swing facing the sky, with pool of water behind her that is reflecting her image
Reflecting selfie spot at 山度空間 (image from 山度空間’s Facebook)

There are a few places in Hualien designed specifically for taking selfies. These would also be fun for kids.

In Ji’an township just south of Hualien city, near Ji’an Qingxiu Temple, there’s a popular Japanese-themed village / animal zoo here called Zhang’s Tree Garden (張家の樹園). Like so many other places like it in Taiwan, it’s set up for visitors to take tons of selfies, with kimono rentals, Japanese-style shrines, and animals like capybaras, sika deer, and meerkats.

At the start of coastal Highway 11, just before Farglory Ocean park, there’s another selfie park called Mountain Space (山度空間) here. It features a variety of selfie platforms and reflecting pools with the ocean or coast in the background (see image above).

Five minutes’ drive past Farglory, there’s another Japanese-themed one called Yueywan Children’s Farm (月崖灣親子農場) here. This one has Japanese red torii gates, kimono rentals, capybaras, alpacas, and more selfie spots with ocean background. It’s just past Henan temple.

Here are other places to rent kimonos or qipaos and see capybaras across Taiwan.

Best Hikes that Are Still Open

Looking down on a small lake with mountains around it
View of Liyu Lake from Chinan Forest Recreation Area

To the west of Ji’an township, you can walk up to several viewpoints of the city. Marked Maplewood Trail (楓林步道, here) and White Cloud Trail (白雲步道, here) on GoogleMaps, these are actually narrow vehicle roads but with minimal traffic.

However, since these are on the side of the mountain, I don’t recommend them until the aftershocks have finished.

A small temple in the forest
Earth god temple in the forest in Chinan

A safer spot even now is Chinan National Forest Recreation Area (池南國家森林遊樂區, official site). This is a smaller version of the more famous Alishan and Taipingshan – a former logging area where you can still see many relics of the industry, including old logging trains.

There are short and easy trails suitable for families or a longer (60- to 90-minute) forest trail. It’s near Liyu Lake, and the longer trail offers views looking down on the lake (see above image).

Looking across a suspension bridge over a river in a verdant valley
Fuyuan “Butterfly Valley”

Further south in Hualien county, Fuyuan National Forest Recreation Area (富源國家森林遊樂區, official site) is known as Butterfly Valley for its many butterflies. It has a lovely riverside trail to two suspension bridges and a tall waterfall. Budget about two hours return. There’s also a hot spring spa near the start of the trail here.

This would be a small detour if you’re driving down highway 9. It’s an hour and 15 minutes’ drive from Hualien city center.

A suspension bridge across a small valley in the jungle
Badongguan trail in southern Hualien county

In Yuli township of southern Hualien county (also on Highway 9), you can even hike a little into Yushan National Park (Yushan is the tallest mountain Taiwan). The trail starts here, just past the impressive Nanan Falls. You can walk the first 4.5 kilometers, called Badongguan Ancient Trail (八通關古道).

The trail features stunning scenery, waterfalls, suspension bridges, and when we did it, lots of macaques. You can hike as far as the Jiaxin Stone House here.

After that, it becomes the Walami Trail, which requires a permit. You’d need a scooter to reach the trailhead or you can try to ride a bike there, but the road to it is uphill.  

Highway 9 to Taitung

An expansive valley filled with farms and rice paddies
The stunning East Rift Valley

The parallel highways 9 and 11 from Hualien to Taitung are both open and free to explore post-earthquake.

Highway 9 runs through the scenic East Rift Scenic Valley (花東縱谷). Flanked by mountain ranges on either side, the valley is filled with rice paddies and cute little towns.

One option is to join one of Island Life Taiwan’s tours down this highway or contact them to arrange a private driver and make your own itinerary.

A man climbing on rocks at the bottom of a tall waterfall
My friend below Nanan Falls in Yuli

Alternatively, rent a car in Hualien city and do it on your own. There are too many small stops for me to introduce on this route, so I recommend that you read my east coast road trip guide: Highway 9 section for planning your trip.  

Yet another option is to ride the train from Hualien to Yuli (玉里, see here), where you can rent a bicycle to cycle through the rice paddies in the area or ride a scooter to Nanan Waterfall, Badongguan Ancient Trail (see hiking section above), and Antong Hot Spring.

You could also ride the train further south to towns in Taitung like Chishang for even better cycling in rice paddies or Luye for exploring the countryside and tea plantations there.

Highway 11 to Taitung

Looking down the east coast of Taiwan from an elevated viewpoint, with tree covered mountains leading down to the sea
Baqi viewpoint on Highway 11

Another option for traveling south in Hualien is the coastal Highway 11. There are fewer “must-see” attractions on this route, but the coastal scenery is spectacular and there are several roadside stops with scenic views and cute artworks.

Once you reach Taitung, Sanxiantai is a must.

There’s no train down this highway, so you’ll either need to join a tour, contact Island Life to arrange a driver, or rent a car and drive yourself. See my guide to renting a car in Taiwan.

A bridge with multiple arches leading from the coast to a small island
Sanxiantai Arch Bridge

It is possible to see both highways in one trip – take Highway 9 down to Yuli, then cross Highway 30 to the coast for the remaining stretch down to Sanxiantai and Dulan surfing village in Taitung. You can even drive as far as Kenting National Park on the southern tip of Taiwan.

See my east coast road trip guide: Highway 11 section for all the info.

10 thoughts on “30+ Things to Do in Hualien (besides Taroko Gorge!)”

  1. Hi Nick, your site is so helpful. Wondering about the dolphin watch and if the cruises would be calm or nausea-inducing. Thanks!

  2. It will depend on the wind and ocean conditions on that day. But usually it’s a little bumpy, so for those who easily feel motion sickness, it might be better to take some motion sickness medication. You can buy some at any pharmacy in taiwan – ask for 暈車藥

  3. Hey Nick thanks for this very up to date article. Do you know if this is currently a good moment for the whale and dolphin watch tours?

  4. I’m not 100% sure. Surely the boat tour companies hope people will come. But unfortunately, because so many people are cancelling their trips to Hualien right now, they may not have the numbers to run the tours. Most of them will only run a tour if they have enough participants. If they don’t get enough, they won’t bother going out. So even if you purchase a tour say on Klook, they may message you 1-2 days before to say the trip is canceled. Another issue I’m not sure about is whether all the recent earthquakes (there have been hundreds in the last month) will scare off the marine wildlife. Someone asked about this in my group, and I don’t know enough about whale and dolphin behavior to know whether the vibrations would make them leave the area or not.

  5. This is so useful and helpful. I am currently looking into other activities to replace the day planned for Taroko. Will be looking forward to your May update

  6. Thanks for the article, really helpful! Do you recommend visiting Qingshui Cliff or is it unsafe?

  7. Hi Nick, thanks again for the updates. FYI, Farglory Ocean Park is closed until May 31 per website notice in case anyone asks.

  8. It’s tough to visit right now due to the road closures. The road is only open 3 times per day currently (6-8, 12-1, 5-7). And even during those times, I think some of the main pullovers/viewpoints are closed. I’m not sure whether there will be anywhere to easily stop and view the cliffs. They don’t really want tourists lingering there until the road is fully open and safe. But you could probably at least get some glimpses of the cliffs if you just drive through.

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