Although not actually named Wǔhàn until 1927, the city’s three mighty chunks trace their influential status back to the Han dynasty,
with Wǔchāng and Hànkǒu vying for political and economic sway. The city was prised open to foreign trade in the 19th century by the Treaty of Nanking.
The 1911 uprising sparked the beginning of the end for the Qing dynasty. Much that wasn’t destroyed then was fl attened in 1944 when American forces fi re-bombed the city after it had fallen under Japanese control.
The area around Zhongshan Dadao and Yanjiang Dadao remains a hodgepodge of concession-era architecture and old consulate
buildings interspersed with modern towers and the occasional lump of bizarre, kitschy nautical architecture. Models pose for photos outside historic buildings, but the city is ramshackle and badly needs a Shànghǎi Bund–style spruce up. While buildings like the old National City Bank of New York are shut and signal a closed book, the new chapter has apparently yet to open.
Yellow Crane Tower
(黄鹤楼; Huánghè Lóu; Wuluo Lu; admission Y80; h7.30am-5.30pm, to 6.30pm summer) Wǔhàn’s magical dancing crane, immortalised in the poetry of Cui Hao, has long flown but the city’s pride and joy remains perched on top of Snake Hill. The tower has had its history
rebuilt out of it since the original was constructed in AD 223, and today’s beautiful five-storey, yellow-tiled version is 1980's remake of the Qing tower that combusted in 1884. Trolley bus 1 and bus 10 go here.
Húběi Provincial Museum
(湖北省博物馆; Húběi Shěng Bówùguǎn; 156 Donghu Lu; 东湖路156号; h9am-5pm, no admission after 3.30pm) The centrepiece of this fabulous museum is the exhibition of the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, which includes one of the world’s largest musical instruments, a remarkable 5-tonne set of 64 double-tone bronze bells. The museum is beside the enormous East Lake (东湖; DōngHú), a pleasant area for cycling. Take bus 402 or 411.
(长春观; Chángchūn Guàn; %8280 1399; admission Y10; h8am-5pm) This charming Taoist temple dates back to the Han dynasty. The Hall of Supreme Purity (Tàiqīng Diàn), containing a white-bearded statue of Laotzu, is the centrepiece. Other halls lead up the steep steps behind it. There’s a good vegetarian restaurant next door. Buses 411, 401 and 402 all go here.
(归元寺; Guīyuán Sì; 20 Cuiweiheng Lu; 翠微横路20号; admission Y10; h8am to 5pm) Pass a large rectangular pond where turtles cling like shipwrecked survivors to two metal lotus flowers and examine the magnificently burnished cabinet housing Milefo in the first hall. Also seek out this 350-year-old Buddhist temple’s collection of more than 500 statues of enlightened disciples in the Hall of Arhats (罗汉堂;
Luóhàn Táng). Completed in 1890, after nine years in the making, they remain in pristine condition. In the Mahasattva Pavilion (大士阁; Dàshì Gé), the 2m-high Tang-dynasty tablet carved with an image of Guanyin holding a willow branch is impressive and a jade Buddha can be found in the Cángjīng Pavilion (藏经阁;Cángjīng Gé). Bus 401 (Y2) from Yellow Crane Tower goes here.
The Chinese say ‘Eat in Guǎngdōng, get dressed up in Shànghǎi, but eat and wear your best in Wǔhàn’, so get your best togs on and go for a feast. Both Hànkǒu and Wǔchāng are littered with restaurants that spill out onto the streets as early evening approaches.
In Hànkǒu, the alleyways north of Zhongshan Dadao, between Qianjin Yilu and Qianjin Silu, are particularly lively. Jiqing Jie (吉庆街) has numerous dàpáidǎng (open-air food stalls or restaurants) selling seafood and duck, especially at the Dazhi Lu end. In Wǔchāng, follow your nose around the alleys south of Zhonghua Lu as it leads away from the ferry terminal, or head to Shǒuyì Garden Snack Street (Shǒuyìyuán Xiǎochījiē). Vegetarian restaurants cluster near the Guīyuán Temple. Breakfast – called guòzǎo (过早) in Wǔhàn – is all about règān miàn (热干面; literally ‘hot-dry noodles’; Y4).
(小贝壳; 129 Dongting Jie; 洞庭街129号; h10.30am-9.30pm; meal Y50) Also called the Petite Coquille Restaurant and overseen by staff in purple tops, this stylish restaurant has melt-in-the-mouth méicài kòuròu (梅菜扣肉; stewed pork with preserved vegetables; Y25) and jiǔcài hézi (韭菜盒子; fried chive dumplings; Y18 a portion) plus loads of other tasty dishes. Try and grab an outside table. It’s the yellow building on the corner of Dongting Jie and Cai’e Lu.
(皇冠蛋糕; Huángguān Dàngāo; 359 Wuluo Lu;武珞路359号; h6am-9.30pm) Fabulously located in an old cruciform church (built in 1907) with its original wood ceiling intact (and loads of portraits of Jesus), come here for ambience, take a seat in the apse to break bread and order egg tarts (Y1), tea (Y3.50) or loads of cakes.
Chángchūn Temple Vegetarian
(长春观素菜餐厅; Chángchūnguān Sùcài Cāntīng; 145 Wuluo Lu; 武珞路145号; h9am-8.30pm; v) Delightful restaurant attached to a Taoist temple priding itself on bizarre mock-meat creations but also serving mouth-watering fish dishes. There’s a handy photo menu.