I must admit. The only reason I was in Hualien was the marble paradise to the north: Taroko Gorge. Hualien being the gateway to this incredible national park was the only thing I knew about the city prior to this trip. But Hualien was such a pleasant surprise. And it seems like I’m not the only one captivated by it. Many consider Hualien one of the most delightful cities in all of Taiwan.
Sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and the Central Mountain Range, Hualien harbors fantastic landscapes. Its natural beauty is undeniable. Much of my time in this charming city was spent just feasting my eyes on impressive scenery while strolling — Hualien is such a walkable city — and just taking in as much fresh air as I could. Despite its city status, it is quiet, not daunting. Quirky dessert shops and cafes bookend its blocks. Small diners flank its windswept streets. The best part: cost. Hualien’s low cost of living makes it one of those places I would seriously consider moving to for good.
If you ever find yourself in this wonderful city, here are some things you could enjoy for free.
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Get cultured at Pine Garden!
The Pine Garden is perched atop the city’s highest point, allowing a great view of Hualien’s coast. Being here is like being out of the city. It fosters a very different atmosphere, thanks to the towering pine trees that rise from a bright carpet of grass and its colonial history.
Built in 1943, the Pine Garden is the best Japanese military facility in Taiwan. From its construction until 1945, it housed Japanese military offices. “Its vantage point makes it the best location to control both air and sea traffic in the area,” Hualien’s tourism website explains, “while still camouflages well in the forest. This is why it was selected as the Japanese military control center.”
When World War II ended, it became a retreat and leisure house for American soldiers. Today, it is a cultural center, boasting local arts and crafts.
Opening Hours: 09:00-18:00
Contact Number: +886-3-8348777
Address: No.26, Shuiyuan St., Hualien City, Hualien County 970, Taiwan
Price: TWD 50
Take a relaxing stroll around Nanbin Park.
Hualien’s coastline is fringed with several verdant parks. One of them and probably the most popular is Nanbin Park. Facing the mighty Pacific, this 20-acre greenery is dotted with statues of marine animals and lined with walking and bike trails. Locals sometimes use the area to fly kites, something I wanted to do during my visit. At night, the place comes even more alive as it transforms to a night market, where food and Taiwanese folk games entertain kids and kids-at-heart alike.
Address: Haibin St., Hualien City, Taiwan(R.O.C)
Contact Number: +886 38 322141
Enjoy the view at Martyrs’ Shrine.
Karenkō Shrine (花蓮港神社) is a Shinto structure built on August 19, 1915. It used to enshrine Prince Yoshihisa and the Three Kami Deities of Cultivation (開拓三神): Sukunahikona no Mikoto (少彦名命), Ōnamuchi no Mikoto (大己貴命), and (Ōkunitama no Mikoto (大国魂命).
After the Second World War, Karenkō Shrine was converted as a tribute to some of the country’s heroes. It was demolished in 1981 and in its place the current structure was erected.
Address: Shangzhi Rd., Hualien City, Hualien County 970, Taiwan
Opening Hours: 09:00-17:00
Contact Number: +886-3-8227171
Stone Art Avenue
Check out stone art and ethnic dance at Stone Art Avenue!
Stone Art Avenue is best known for, well, stone art. Located in the corner of Boai Street and Chongqing Road, it features around 40 boutiques displaying and selling stone artworks including jewelry, figurines, and stoneware. Two of the city’s biggest industries are marbles and cement. You might also want to pay a visit to the Stone Art Cultural Museum, for a quick 101 on the history of stone carving in this side of Taiwan.
At the center of the site stands a stage, where locals perform short ethnic dance routines. It’s a great way to learn about the culture of the many indigenous tribes of Taiwan. The show is free.
Address: No. 326 Guangdong Street, Hualien City
Opening hours: 14:00 – 22:30
Contact Number: 03-8353730
Pig out at a Night Market!
Taiwan is regarded as Asia’s Night Market Capital. Hualien alone has more than its share. Local Taiwanese favorites are ubiquitous (spring rolls, coffin bread, and stinky tofu), but the city’s colonial past manifests itself in the form of Japanese dishes (ramen, sushi, maki, Japanese fried rice). Western influence is also clearly visible; wide steak and pasta selections are also available. My favorite: candy-coated strawberries on a stick.
Where to Stay: Hualien City Hotels