China has been rolling out a new 72-hour transit visa exemption policy in major cities throughout the country, making visiting China even easier. Now travelers from the U.S., Canada, and 49 other countries can include China as an additional destination on an existing trip without needing to get a visa. Under the policy, visitors are able to enter select Chinese cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, as long as they have a booked plane ticket to a third country or region within the 72-hour time period. This applies to the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, Guilin, Kunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Harbin and Tianjin. China continues to expand this policy to additional locations throughout the destination. In the meantime, these cities are the ideal stopovers or add-on destinations for travelers already in Asia.
Wuhan is the capital of Hubei Province in central China. The city is situated in the Jianghan Plain, and is divided by the Yangtze and Han rivers. The rivers divide the city in three, with the name “The Three Towns of Wuhan” describing the areas carved by the waters; Hankou and Hanyang are located on the west banks, while Wuchang is on the east. Wuhan’s history dates back more than 3,500 years, making it one of the oldest metropolitan cities in China (and even older than iconic Beijing or Xi’an). Merchants would follow the Yangtze River to Wuhan, making it a busy port city. Several famous battles have taken place in the area, including the famous Battle of Red Cliffs, which took place in 208-9 AD. Railroads were built in the late 19th century, running from the north to the south through the city, establishing important connections between the railways and river transport. Wuhan is also home to many lakes and parks, as well as fascinating history, and is today a major transportation hub. Now that visitors transferring through Wuhan’s Tianjhe International Airport can explore the city for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, the only question is what you want to see and do while there. Here are some of the top sites and activities in Wuhan to make the most of your 72-hour trip:
Yellow Crane Tower
The Yellow Crane Tower was constructed in 223 AD. It is located on Snake Hill, on the Wuchang side of the Yangtze River in Wuhan. However, when it was first built by Sun Quan (the King of Wu from 182-252) as a watchtower for his army, it was located 1,000 yards away on the Yellow Crane Jetty, west of Xiahou. Over the centuries, the tower was destroyed by warfare and fires and rebuilt many times. In 1981, the city of Wuhan constructed today’s tower in its present location. The trestle of the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge can now be seen in the tower’s previous location. Yellow Crane Tower was first made famous in the 8th century by Cui Hao, a celebrated poet from the Tang Dynasty. His poem (also entitled “Yellow Crane Tower”) made the building one of the most well-known and celebrated sites in southern China. To this day, there is a room in the upper floor of the Tower that is reserved for visiting poets of note. Inside the tower, guests can also see art and poetry, with each floor conveying a different theme. The five-story, 168-foot-high tower has excellent panoramic views of Wuhan city and the Yangtze River. The area surrounding the Tower has bronze crane statues, pavilions, a small park, teahouse, and a large temple bell that visitors can ring for a small fee. Celebrations are often held near the tower, including court dances and musical performances, especially on China’s National Day in October. Entry to the Tower is 80 yuan (but only 64 yuan during holidays such as National Day or May Day).
Hubei Provincial Museum
Located in the Wuchang District of Wuhan, the Hubei Province Museum houses more than 200,000 cultural relics discovered throughout the province. 16 of these relics are even considered national treasures. The Chime Bells Exhibition Hall has many pieces unearthed from the tomb of Yi, the king of the Zeng Sate in the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). The famous Chime Bells piece that is kept there is the largest bronze musical instrument ever discovered. A replica of the massive Chime Bells piece is played twice a day in the museum’s music hall by musicians dressed in ancient-style robes. Other pieces include a bronze vessel known as “Crane Standing on the Antler,” triangle-shaped swords (called “shu”) and bamboo paper that was used for ancient writings. The Chu Culture Exhibition Hall has many cultural objects from the Chu State, including chariot pieces uncovered by archaeologists in 2002. Admission to the museum is free, though the Chime Bells performances are 15 yuan. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
Donghu National Park
Wuhan’s East Lake – or “Donghu” as it’s traditionally named – is the largest urban lake in China. It covers almost 34 square miles within Wuhan, and sees more than a million visitors yearly. The East Lake area has four main areas: Tingtao (Listening to Surging Waves), Moshan (Millstone Hill), Luoyan (Diving Wild Goose) and the Hubei Province Museum. Because of the many crisscrossing ponds and winding banks, it is often called “a lake with 99 bays.” The main gates of East Lake lead into the Tingtao scenic area, with rare sequoia, teahouses, restaurants, pavilions, and a sculpture park. The Moshan scenic area also has abundant flora, fauna and beautiful landscapes. There is a botanical garden there, as well as the East Lake Cherry Blossom Park and a Daoist temple. Liyuan Park in Donghu has a popular free swimming area. The Wuhan Donghu Ocean Aquarium, which is home to a flock of penguins, is also located in Donghu. Donghu can be visited year-round, though many especially enjoy springtime (from March to April) and fall (September to October) in the park, when the weather tends to be temperate and many festivals take place.
Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge
For many centuries, Wuhan was divided by the mighty Yangtze River, and residents were unable to cross. Transportation between north and south China in ancient times was completely blocked, then eventually traversed only by ship. Plans for a bridge were first started in 1910, with site scouting and surveying done over the years. Construction began in 1955, and the Yangtze River Bridge debuted in 1957, finally making it possible for vehicles to cross. The bridge is more than 5,000 feet long and is divided into an upper level for cars and buses and a lower level for trains. The bridge extends from Tortoise Hill in Hanyang to Snake Hill in Wuchang. The view from the bridge is quite stunning, looking out over the river and to the surrounding areas. There is a seven-story tower on either end of the bridge that pedestrians can climb by stair or elevator for spectacular views of the city. Yellow Crane Tower, the Hubei TV Tower and other notable landmarks in Wuhan are visible from the bridge. The bridge itself features 143 panes along both sides, each depicting scenes from Chinese folk stories, such as a carp swimming among lotus fronds, a peacock fanning its feathers, and a magpie singing on a blossoming tree. While the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge was one of the most important developments in Wuhan’s history, today it is one of three grand bridges over this area of the Yangtze; it is joined by the Second Wuhan Yangtze Bridge (opened in 1995) and the Baishazhou Bridge (opened in 2000).
Guiyuan Buddhist Temple
This famous Buddhist temple is located in the Hanyang district of Wuhan and covers more than 11 acres. The temple is also called the Temple of Original Purity or even the Guiyuan Zen Temple. It was established in 1658 and was the first among four major Buddhist temples in Wuhan. Its architecture incorporates courtyards, gardens, and intricate carved details. The temple is perhaps best known for its 500 gilded stone carvings of “luohan” (enlightened disciples). The carvings took nine years to complete, from 1822-1831. Each statue is in a different posture and has its own distinct features. Guiyuan Temple also has a jade Buddha from the 4th-5th century; the Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra, which are extensive scriptures written on tiny papers; and a rich collection of other Buddhist cultural relics including paintings, calligraphies, and books. Admission to the temple is 10 yuan (or 20 yuan on certain holidays).
For those looking for a tasty bite in Wuhan, this well-known street is just the place to try out local delicacies. Visitors to Hubu Alley can meander up and down this T-shaped pedestrian area on the east side of the Yangtze, tasting all kinds of local snacks in one place. The New York Times even recommended a delightful “eight-course meal that was a culinary tour of Hubei province” for only $8 (see the article here). Hubu Alley’s dozens of vendors sell exciting culinary creations from street food carts and stalls. Breakfast is especially popular at Hubu Alley, as are some particular local dishes. Re Gan Mian is perhaps the most well known. These “hot dry noodles” are a go-to breakfast dish for locals; made from sesame paste, scallions, soy sauce, vegetables and, of course, noodles, the dish is hearty and filling to get your day going. Wuhan dou pi is another popular snack; it’s made from sticky rice, beef, mushrooms and beans, all wrapped in bean curd and then pan fried. Other delectables include steamed Wuchang fish (a local delicacy), braised pork, duck neck, fried frog, and sweeter treats such as fruit juices and doughnut holes.
Chu River and Han Street
The Wuhan Central Cultural Zone is currently under development, and the Chu River and Han Street area is phase 1 of the project. The area, which opened in 2011, is more than two million square feet. It is situated in downtown Wuhan, between East Lake and Shahu Lake in the Wuchang district. The area includes shopping, businesses, residences and other tourist attractions. Han Street is a bustling shopping area with a wide array of offerings, from shops to restaurants. Approximately 200 businesses are located on this street alone. The shops on Han include international brands, as well as more than 60 luxury brands. The Chu River area is not only functional in connecting the East Lake with the Shahu Lake, but also attractive, as it is lined with trees and four lovely bridges. The Han Show Theater, Movie Culture Park, Five Memorial Squares, Public Performance State, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and the Zhenggang Art Gallery are also located in the Chu River and Han Street area.