Grand rivers, great lakes, a vibrant city, historic attractions, a food paradise — Wuhan has a lot going for it.
The capital city of Hubei Province in central China is divided by the Yangtze River and Hanjiang River into three major districts. Wuchang District features historic, scenic attractions and culture; Hankou District has flourishing retail stores and high-end malls; and Hanyang District is industrial and agricultural.
The city of 10.12 million people is growing at a breakneck pace. It’s filled with construction sites and even locals are amazed.
With abundant rainfall, Wuhan has four distinctive seasons. It is sweltering in summer and is commonly known as one of the three furnaces in China, along with Nanjing and Chongqing.
The national transport hub is another sprawling Chinese urban forest of traffic, noise, high-rises and neon lights. The magnificent Yangtze River is just another river flowing through the maze. Visitors forget the river originates in the glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai.
Fortunately, there’s another side, many other sides, to Wuhan.
There’s a lot to explore. Let’s start our tailor-made trip of history, culture, scenery and cuisine.
Day 1 Wuchang District
2pm: Yellow Crane Tower
For an overview of Wuhan City, its culture and history, the landmark Yellow Crane Tower is the place to start. Standing on Snake Hill at the bank of the Yangtze River in Wuchang District, the tower overlooks the three city districts and two rivers.
Built in AD 223 and rebuilt in 1981, the tower is described in the verse of famous poets such as Li Bai and Cui Hao in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Yellow Crane Tower with 51.4 meters high is considered one of China’s four great towers, along with the Pavilion of Prince Teng in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province; Yueyang Tower in Yueyang, Hunan Province; and Penglai Pagoda in Yantai, Shandong Province.
4pm: Wuchang Marshland
Fifteen minutes’ walk from Yellow Crane Tower are marshes of the Yangtze River, Asia’s longest river in Asia and the world’s third longest after the Nile and Amazon. The area is delightfully unspoiled, though there are viewing platforms and paths along the banks, paved with hexagonal bricks. Rusted chains and an anchor from an old river boat lie along the path.
Large swathes of reeds wave in the breeze. Lovers walk along and girls play hide-and-seek.
The double-deck and rail Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge is imposing at sunset. When night falls, the bridge lights go on and are reflected in the river. There’s a striking view of the river with its other bridges.
7pm: Hubu Alley
The view of Yangtze lets us forget the hour, but it’s time for dinner. From the marshes, it’s only a 10-minute walk to Hubu Alley, which is known for Wuhan specialties, from breakfast to late-night snacks, and everything in between.
Specialties include roasted Wuchang fish; chou dou fu or fermented bean curd; ci ba or glutinous rice cake; and shao mai or steamed pork bun.
Dozens of stalls offer a bewildering and tempting variety of food, and it’s hard to stop tasting. Known as Wuhan’s first local food lane, 150-meter-long Hubu Alley has been serving traditional breakfast for more than 20 years. Popular dishes include steamed dumplings, rice noodle roll and shredded potato. Breakfasts are available from 5am and can be eaten until late at night.
Day 2 Donghu Lake and Hubei Provincial Museum
7am: Hot dry noodles
Start the day with the most popular breakfast in Wuhan — re gan mian (hot dry noodle). It is so popular that it’s common to see locals holding a cup of hot dry noodle as they walk along, ride the bus or pedal bicycles. They stir as they move along and the steam rises.
The noodles are not in any soup. When they are fully cooked in boiled water, the noodles expand to fill the cup or bowl. Then a “secret recipe” sauce of sesame and other ingredients is added, making it sticky and slightly spicy. The dish is typically mixed with dried shrimp, spicy pickles and other ingredients.
8am: Donghu Lake
Early morning on Donghu Lake is not to be missed. The calm mirror-like lake reflects vivid autumn colors of nearby trees. It’s so quiet you can hear your own breathing. Fallen leaves are scattered on the surface and on the path.
On the bank, fishermen are trying their luck. Art students from nearby Wuhan University have set up easels and are painting the scene.
“I feel as though I am standing in a harmonious water color painting,” said one young woman.
Many restaurants along the lake shore serve freshwater fish, such as longsnout catfish and silver carp. The freshly caught fish is braised, steamed or boiled. Winter is the best time for pork chop soup with lotus root because the lotus roots have become glutinous. Simmering for several hours makes the lotus melt in the mouth; the soup is slightly sweet. The soup is popular because herbalists consider it a good tonic, especially for a weak stomach. According to traditional Chinese medicine, lotus root is good for women, especially during menstruation, because it nourishes the blood. Lotus root with pork chop soup is said to be good for the complexion and general health.
3pm: Hubei Provincial Museum
Ten minutes’ drive from Donghu Lake, the provincial museum provides a musical and visual experience in culture and history. The collection includes more than 200,000 items, including the sword used by the King of Yue, Gou Jian, in the late Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), an ancient set of bronze bells (bian zhong) and many artifacts from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). Ancient porcelain and bronze is also exhibited. Musicians in traditional Han costume play a replica set of bronze concert bells and stone chimes.
The ferry is a popular transport. Shuttling between Zhonghua Road Dock in Wuchang District and Hanjiang Road in Hankou District, it runs every 20 minutes and costs 1.50 yuan (20 US cents) per person. It connects the two most popular sightseeing, shopping and dining areas in two districts. There are many ferry lines.
Taking the ferry is the best way to enjoy the night view of Wuhan. The colorful light show of Tortoise Mountain TV Tower in Hanyang District adds a romantic feeling. The Qingchuan Bridge on Hanjiang River is like a red ribbon connects Hankou and Hanyang districts.
Disembarking in Hankou District, visitors can tour Jianghan Road Night Market filled with small booths selling snacks, clothing, accessories, pet animals, furnishings and many other items. Locals say there’s nothing you cannot find on Jianghan Road.
On Yanjiang Avenue there are many trendy cafes, bars and restaurants serving Wuhan specialties and Western cuisine. For club goers, the bars with open-air terraces are good places to chat and enjoy a splendid night view of the city.
Unwinding at quiet Hankou Bund Park is relaxing at night.
Day 3 Guiyuan Temple and Yuehu Lake Park
10am: Guiyuan Buddhist Temple
One of the four major Buddhist temples in Hubei Province, Guiyuan Temple was built in 1658 and renovated in 1973. The other famous temples are Baotong, Gude and Zhengjue.
Guiyuan Temple takes its name from Buddhist scriptures and the words “returning to the origin.”
Covering 4.7 hectares, the temple includes Daxiong Palace, the Sutra Collection Pavilion and the most famous Saints Hall. It contains 500 lifesize clay statues, each with different poses, gestures and facial expressions.
1pm: Yuehu Lake Park
After a vegetarian lunch in the tranquil Guiyuan Temple, visitors can visit bustling Yuehu Lake Park. At the foot of Hanyang Bridge, the park square has the capacity of 8,000-10,000 people. It’s buzzing with people dancing, practicing tai chi, walking dogs, strolling and relaxing. On the way to the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, you will pass Hanjiang River Bridge and take a last look at this diverse city.
How to get there:
Long-distance buses, trains and flights leave Shanghai regularly. The flight takes around two hours.
Where to stay:
For budget travelers, Wuhan has a range of economy hotels and hostels in downtown Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang districts.
The Puyu Hotel and Spa offers a relaxing, luxury environment. Nestled in Wuhan Optical Software Valley in Wuchang District, the hotel is a 15-minute drive from Donghu Lake Scenic Area. It welcomes domestic and international travelers, MICE groups (meetings, incentives, conferences and events). The decor is traditional Chinese Art Deco with distinctive wooden furniture. The hotel exhibits ancient bronze ware and paintings by noted local artists. The hotel has 332 elegant rooms and suites. It draws subtle references from the city’s past and provides state-of-the-art Internet and other technology.
What to eat:
Hubu Alley, the pride of Wuhanese, offers an intriguing array of breakfast, night and all-day snacks. It features Wuchang fish, the blunt nose black bream that is a signature dish in Hubei cuisine. It’s rich in flavor, plump and succulent. Steamed fish is especially popular.
Another winner is san xian dou pi: sticky rice, meat emulsion and tofu covered with egg paste.
Pearl-shaped balls of glutinous rice stuffed with pork and water chestnut is served with a poached egg.
Preserved duck neck, preserved tongue and preserved wings are popular spicy snacks. The two famous brands are Jingwu and Zhouheiya.
Address: Ziyou Rd, Wuchang District
How to get there: Bus Nos. 14, 19 or 515, Minzhu Road Station.
Address: Zhuodaoquan Rd, Wuchang District
How to get there: Bus Nos. 552 or 810, Zhuodaoquan Road Station.
Taxis are recommended, but not at rush hour. Drivers are friendly and chatty. The basic meter charge is 8 yuan. Buses, metros and ferries are convenient.
Yellow Crane Tower
Opening hours: April 1-October 31, 7am-6:30pm; November 1-March 31, 7:30am-5:30pm
Tickets: 80 yuan
Address: Snake Hill, Wuchang District
How to get there: Bus Nos. 10, 61, 64, 108 or 411 and get off at Yellow Crane Tower Station.
Hubei Provincial Museum
Hours: 9am-5pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 156 Donghu Rd, Hongshan District
Bronze bell concert
Date: 10:30am, 11:30am, 2:30pm, 3:30pm, daily
Tickets: 15 yuan
How to get there: Bus Nos. 14, 108, 701 or 411, Hubei Provincial Museum Station.
Guiyuan Buddhist Temple
Admission: 10 yuan
Address: 6 Cuiwei Rd, Zhongjia Village, Hanyang District
How to get there: Bus Nos. 45, 532 or 728, Yingwu Avenue Station. Walk 600 meters.