On the Pacific Ocean against a backdrop of green-blue mountains, Hualien is the perfect base for exploring Taiwan's rugged east coast. Just a few hours from Taipei by train, this seaside city is a peaceful break from the fast-paced capital. Fill your days hiking the misty trails of Taroko National Park, admiring the famous gorge, natural springs and rushing waterfalls. Try local dishes at dynamic night markets, lounge on the beach or visit a shrine where the air is thick with incense and the whispers of fortune tellers.
Breathe in the sea air at a Hualien hostel with a leafy outdoor terrace. Or get a taste of the city's history at an old hotel-come-hostel. For a little more privacy, choose a place with curtain-lined bunks for a snug night's sleep. Hop online at Hualien hostels with free Wi-Fi and mingle with other backpackers at spots with common rooms. Many hostels in Hualien have self-catering facilities so you can cook for yourself, though the mouthwatering takeaway options at food stalls and hole-in-the-wall eateries around the city will likely lure you out.
Downtown Hualien hums with everyday life. You can visit local markets, take in the calming atmosphere of a temple or sit with a coffee to watch groups of seniors practising Tai Chi in leafy parks and by the shore. Dongdamen is close to the sea; at night it comes alive with a traveller-friendly bustling market, brimming with the spicy scents of street food. You can watch the games and live music and try a local speciality like a mango shaved ice or steamed dumplings.
When in Hualien, visiting Taroko National Park is a must. Take the 3km Shakadang trail to dip your toes in crystal-clear water or lace up your hiking boots for rewarding treks past tumbling cascades and swinging bridges. Make sure to snap some photos at the Yue Fei pavilion, the famous drawbridge and the Eternal Spring Shrine. For more hiking trails, temples and stunning views, explore the Meilun neighbourhood which sits on a hill that towers over the city.
Getting to Hualien by air is easy. You can fly into Hualien Airport and catch the 1123 bus straight into the city centre. If you're coming from Taipei, trains run regularly and take from 2-4 hours. A scooter will get you around the city and into the mountains to see the famous gorges, though taxis are also very affordable.