Changsha (长沙; Chángshā) is the capital of Hunan Province in South-central China and has a history of over 3,000 years. Mao Zedong lived and worked as a teacher in Changsha, and it was the site of his conversion to communism. A huge sculpture of Mao's head on Orange Island reminds everyone of his connection to the city.
Today, Changsha has an urban population of about 7 million people and has left the communist past behind it. A modern city center with skyscrapers, shopping malls and walking streets invites for relaxed strolls. There are also plenty of opportunities to try the famous Hunanese cuisine and street food stores offer small bites (小吃 xiaochi) such as stinky tofu, mini lobsters, butter pancakes, and many more!
Known among the Chinese for being the site of the Battle of Changsha, which was the first major victory the Chinese scored against the Japanese during World War II.
- A maglev rail line connects the airport to the Changsha South Railway Station. From there, the subway can take you to the city center.
- A 45-minute drive on the expressway will take you to the city center.
- Airport buses operate from 6AM-10PM between the airport and downtown Changsha and cost ¥16.5. The bus arrives at/leaves from the CAAC Aviation Hotel on Wuyi Dadao (五一大道) a block west of the central train station.
- Taxis are located outside the arrivals area. As of February 2013, taxis to the city cost approximately ¥90-100 (plus ¥10 tolls).
Traveling from the airport will allow for some window viewing of the relatively wealthy countryside surrounding the city. Although annual floods do sizable property damage, the overflowing rivers help irrigate the evergreens and enormous rice paddies.
2 Changsha Railway Station (长沙站). This station is in the heart of the city. There are direct train connections from many cities in China or indirect ones using a connecting train. From Beijing it is about 14 hours by regular (sleeper) train. As of 2017, Metro line 2 connects this station to the city center.
3 Changsha South Station (长沙南站). Changsha South Station (of the Wuhan-Guangzhou High Speed Rail) is southeast of the downtown, about 25–30 minutes from the city core. From Guangzhou South it is about 2.5 hours on the high speed train, or a minimum of 8 hours on the much cheaper normal trains (a little over one quarter of the price). From Beijing, times vary, but can be as low as 6.5 hours by high-speed train (650 rmb as of 2013).
To reach nearby cities Zhuzhou and Xiangtan, you can take the Changsha–Zhuzhou–Xiangtan Intercity Railway, which opened in 2016. But for other nearby cities, the intercity railway is still under construction. Visitor can choose to take train and bus or book a private car service from local transfer company, such as EtripCity.
Ubiquitous taxicabs flood the city streets, willing to transport you just up the street or to the other side of town. Meters start at ¥8 in daylight, ¥10 at night.
If you want to spend like a native or just want to experience the sensation of being sandwiched between locals, then hop on a bus for ¥2 and feel the thrill of speeding down the bumpy roads with barely any breathing room. Buses with air-conditioning (hot or cold) or cross city districts run for ¥2 and buses without run for ¥1.
As of 2017, Changsha has 2 metro lines:
- Line 1 (north-south) - Has stops for Kaifu Temple and Provincial Museum, all due north.
- Line 2 (east-west) - Connects the Changsha Railway Station, Changsha South Railway Station, and West Bus Station (Wangchengpo stop). There is also a stop for Juzizhou.
You can transfer between the two lines at Wuyi Square.
- Changsha Municipal Museum, 538 Bayi Lu; 八一路538号. The main exhibition hall is being renovated in May 2016. The other main sight is the former site of the Hunan CPP committee, where the rooms where Mao lived are preserved. The museum is situated in a nice park for a stroll.
- 1 Bamboo Slips Museum (Jian Du Bowuguan) (Next to Tianxin Pavilion (Tianxinge)). This museum contains a both ancient carved bamboo slips and a series of pottery artifacts. The building is architecturally-interesting, as bamboo grows out of one side of it. Free with identification..
- Hunan Embroidery Museum (Xiang Xiu Bowuguan). This museum is on the second floor of a store that sells high-quality embroidery. Visit and learn about the history of embroidery in Hunan. Special techniques have been locally-developed to achieve finer detail. At the end of the tour, you can visit the workshop where new items are being embroidered. The tour is free, and there is no pressure to buy. Free.
- 2 Hunan Provincial Museum (湖南省博物馆). Tu-Su 9AM-5PM, expect to get kicked out 20 minutes before closing, on a first come first serve basis, your ticket will have a time stamped on it that will show when you are allowed to enter the exam. Show up early in the morning if you want to get in right away, otherwise you might have to pick up a ticket and then return in a few hours to enter. See the Han era tomb of Xin Zui, the Marquess of Dai, and her 2,100 year old preserved body. Her body was still moist and flexible when they found her, with completely elastic skin, and looks more real than Ho Chi Minh. Also at the museum are many exhibits on all kinds of Han Dynasty artifacts, including pottery, lacquerware and an impressive collection of silk. Admission is free.
- 3 Dufu Pavilion (杜甫江阁) (East side of the river on Xiangjiang Middle Road (湘江中路) west of Nanmenkou (南门口) metro station). The pavilion houses a museum dedicated to the Chinese poet Dufu and contains pictures and information on other famous Chinese poets as well. There is a beautiful tea house on the top floor, and the balkonies offer nice views over the river, city and Orange Island, if the weather allows. No English, all information just in Chinese! ¥11.
- 4 Orange Island (橘子洲, Júzizhōu) (Juzizhou Metro Station, line 2). Sometimes also translated as Tangerine Island, this beautifully landscaped park contains a large number of rose bushes, orange trees, a bamboo garden, and a gigantic sculpture of the head of Mao in his youth. Tickets for sightseeing busses that stop at five spots can be purchased for ¥20, and small cruise ships circle the island. Walking from the metro station to the Mao head is 3.3km and takes about 35min. Free.
- 5 Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山) (on the west side of the river). North of Hunan University, is the national renowned scenic spot, located on the west bank of Xiang River. Many foreigners and locals alike frequently climb this 300m tall mountain. At the foot of Yuelu Mountain is Yuelu Academy. You can also get up/down by shuttle bus or cable car.
- BaiSha Well Park (Bai Sha Gong Yuan) (On BaiSha Street). This is a local park that contains a well. Although the well is nearly dry, you can still see people filling up containers with the little water that is left. Free..
- 6 Hunan University (湖南大学) (on the west side of the river). You will find lots of great places to eat in and around the studious atmosphere of the various campus' south of Yuelu Mountain. Mao Zedong attended Hunan University and there is a statue in honour of this most famous of their alumni.
- 7 Tianxin Pavilion (天心阁). This pavilion is next to the ancient city wall. Cannons that have been used to defend the city are perched in the wall. ¥40.
- 8 Jia Yi's Former Residence (On Taiping Street, a short walking street.). This courtyard contains a number of carved slate tablets and is worth a quick visit. It is located off of Taiping Street, a pedestrian street which sells traditional crafts, clothes and refreshments. Free with identification..
- 9 Mawangdui Tombs. While this may sound like a tourist attraction, it is simply the ditch in which the tombs were uncovered. There are no artifacts present as everything is now in the Hunan Provincial Museum (which is under renovation). ¥2.
- 10 Weekly fireworks (Juzizhou (橘子洲) Metro Station). (Every Saturday evening at 8.30). The city stages fireworks on Juzizhou Island (Orange Island) every week, which can be seen from eg. Wuyi Dadao bridge Free.
- 11 Kaifu Temple (开福寺) (Kaifu Temple Metro Station, Line 1 or Kaifu Temple Street (开福寺路)). 9:00-18:00. This temple is only ¥10 and you get a package of incense. It is really quite beautiful and is one of the few functioning temples in Changsha. Inside there is a fairly good vegetarian restaurant, don't be fooled by the menu, all the meat is fake!
- Theaters. Watch traditional folk art, eg lion dance, drum opera, clam dance and Xiang Opera.
- [formerly dead link] Yuelu Academy, Hunan University (Changsha's west side, South Rd), ☎ . The Thousand Year Old center of culture and learning of southern China. Established in 976, it is the spiritual predecessor to what is now Hunan University. Rich in history and beautiful period architecture, a visit to the academy will put you in touch with the ancient elites of southern China. You can find all the history on the website and then visit the academy yourself, wandering through its courtyards and open classrooms, admiring the curved eaves and bamboo gardens to get the real experience.
- Hike Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山). Check See section for more details
- 1 Stroll along Xiang river promenade at night (湘江) (North and south of Dufu pavilion). Enjoy the nicely illuminated Dufu pavilion and Orange Island bridge during a stroll along the Xiang river promenade. Elderly locals come here to perform various group dances on the sidewalk, with music ranging from traditional Chinese over tango to pop!
- 1 Wuyi Shopping Circle (Between Wuyi Square (五一广场) and Huangxing Square (黄兴广场) metro stations). The most important shopping area downtown, tons of shopping malls and stores.
- 2 Changsha Walking Street (长沙步行街) (Between Nanmenkou (南门口) and Huangxing Square (黄兴广场) metro stations). Lively walking street with tons of fashion shops, snack stores and lined by shopping malls. Here you can find everything from shoes over smartphones to bubble tea and stinky tofu. Becomes very crowded in the afternoon and at night, and sometimes there are live performances, cultural shows and advertising events.
- Wangda Plaza (万达广场). It is shopping mall with famous fashion brands such as Coach, Gome, as well as large office buildings with many branch companies such as Logoson. Besides, many people who goes to Changsha will go there at nights of some traditional Chinese festivals, for it is one of the best places to watch fireworks show on Orange Island.
- Wangfujing Mall(王府井). There are two Wangfujing malls in Changsha, which are very popular to local young shoppers.
When eating in Changsha there is nothing better than a plate of stinky tofu (臭豆腐 chou doufu), butter pancake (酥油并 suyoubing) or mini lobster (口味虾) bought right off the street. If you have just arrived, be wary of eating from street vendors. Although the inviting aroma of food cooking may be too tempting to resist, you had better have a strong stomach if you do not want to get an upset one.
Changsha food is part of the broader Hunanese cuisine (湘菜 xiang cai), one of China's traditional eight great regional cuisines. Traditional Hunan foods are quite spicy like Sichuan cuisine, but without the unique numbing sensation that comes with Sichuan peppercorns. In summer, oversized metal mixing bowls filled with crawfish seasoned with plenty of chili and spices, take the stage atop countless tabletops. Restaurants get so busy and overcrowded that tables, chairs along with diners spill into the busy streets and the parade of tantalizing dishes endlessly leave the kitchen to appear on the tables of hungry diners.
Street Food AreasEdit
- Food Street (on the first floor of Huatian Hotel). Choices and a sampling of regional foods of the country. Long established and well-regarded, this cozy and rustic eatery stays bustling through the wee morning hours as food enthusiasts, businessmen, and families with their children flock to this fun food court styled eatery. Do not be fooled by the fast-food style of ordering (prepared food is displayed at various stations, your orders are placed by a hole punched on your menu card and then served freshly prepared within minutes of ordering), the food here is superb. A large selection of good food, including sweet taro dessert topped with gingko biloba nuts and steamed pork chops dusted with a layer of sticky rice powder.
- 1 Huo Gong Dian (火宫殿; lit: The Fire Palace), 78 Pozi St (坡子街) (behind Wal-Mart, on the snack street), ☎ . Local Hunan cuisine. Chairman Mao ate here. They come around with trolleys containing soup, dim sum, and so forth. You might enjoy Choudoufu (stinky tofu), Changsha Doupi, Pineapple bread (contains chunks and similar to some Indian breads), Yangrou Chuar (lamb kebabs), Niurou (beef in baskets, relatively fat-free), corn soup and vegetables which are cooked in front of you. ¥7-35 per item..
- 2 Taiping Old Street (太平老街), 五一大道与太平街交叉口西南50米 (Between Wuyi Square (五一广场) and the river, south of Wuyi Dadao (五一大道) street). This historic street is packed with small stores selling food and drink. Here you'll find everything from traditional sausages, stinky tofu, bubble tea, ice cream, sea food noodles, etc. The old houses and narrow side alleys offer photo opportunities, and there are a few shops for souvenirs (packaged snacks, porcellain, etc.). There's even a workshop where you can try pottery!
- 3 Changsha Walking Street (长沙步行街). Tons of street food. See do section for details.
For international cuisine, four and five-star restaurants have reputable chefs although for a visitor, the infinite array of dishes native to or with a Hunan flair are sure to please even the most discriminating palate.
Chui Yan Shi Dai 炊烟时代 or 炊烟食代. Depending on which days, 时代 means "age" and 食代 doesn't mean anything actually, it just that both are homophones and 食 means "to eat" in middle Chinese. There are several other restaurants that likes to play with these kinds of homophones. The third floor of the Taskin Mall (德思勤) on the intersection of Shaoshan Nan road and Xiangfu Zhong road. Well prepared Xiang cuisine. Must try are Lajiao Lei Pidan （擂辣椒皮蛋）, Xiangyu Paigu （香芋排骨） and Chao Hua Cai （炒花菜）.
Jiefang West Road (解放西路; Jiefangxilu) has a few Chinese clubs along this road, including SoHo, the ubiqiutous Chinese chain. Drinks tend to be expensive, the music loud, and clubs crowded. It's just off the main walking street so it is in quite a handy location.
Taiping Street (太平街; Taipingjie) is a newly refurbished area, with traditional/tacky facades has a few smaller bars, some with live music. It is just off Jiefang West Road towards the river. This is a touristy shopping street and many prices are on par with the West. Bargaining is impossible here. Even those who speak little English know how to say no bargains. But the shops are worth seeing to get an idea of what is available.
- [dead link] Caco Cafe, Taiping St 138 (太平街), ☎ , . noon-midnight. A good place to meet other travellers. Western & Chinese menu. Ladies drink free margaritas on Wednesday. Open bar on Thursdays. Full English breakfast and bacon rolls for the tired and hungry. ¥20.
- Hooligans Pub (Huli Ba), 55 Aimin rd, Hexi, just off of Xinmin rd. (Cross the #1 bridge to the west side and turn left at the T. Turn left at the next light onto Xinmin rd heading back towards the river and take the next to last left before the river road. Mona Lisa Restaurant is on the corner. The bar is across from it a bit to the left in front of the 7 Days Inn on the second floor.), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Winter 5PM-3AM. Since 2008 Hooligans Pub has been a meeting place for expats. They've recently moved across the river to a bigger location. They have two floors, the second floor is indoors and the third is a rooftop garden. They now have a kitchen serving western food and snacks. Professional foosball table, western music, extensive selection of imported beers, wines and liquors. They celebrate all western and Chinese holidays and they can accommodate large private parties. 15 Yuan and up..
Crave Deli & Bar, C31 West Street, Wanda Plaza/长沙市 开福区 通泰街街道 万达广场开福金街C-31 (Located on the back side of Wanda Plaza. Nearest subway stop is Xiangjiang Middle Road/湘江中路), ☎ . Open 7 days a week, 10:00AM-late. Billed as Changsha's main expat hangout. Home to more than 40 beers from around the world and features Asahi, Heineken and San Miguel on tap. The cocktail menu includes many classic western cocktails with 'Crave' pours. Appetizers include gourmet burgers, flatbread pizza, or loaded sandwiches. Don't miss the weekly specials: Taco Tuesday, Wing Wednesday, and crazy all-you-can-drink Saturday night parties. Sandwiches ¥22-38, beer ¥14-35, cocktails ¥20-30..
- 1 Jinjiang Inn (Nanhu Branch) (长沙南湖路店), Nanhu Rd, Tianxin District (taxi straight from the airport costs ¥100, the rate seems to be fixed into town). 24 hours. After each bath the room steams up for hours because the flooring was made of an unidentifiable material. It is a bit of a way out. The staff are nice enough. Around ¥200.
- FeeTel Inns Changsha, Wuyi St, Furong District (芙蓉区, 五一大道) (near the corner of Huangxing Zhong Rd (黄兴中路)), ☎ . 24 hours.
- Yuelu Shan Youth Hostel (岳麓山国际青年旅舍), Villa No. 1, Lushan Huaqiaocun, 50 Xinmin Rd (新民路50号麓山华侨村1号别墅) (In a courtyard behind Yangcheng Restaurant (Yángchéng Cānguăn hòumiàn), in Yuèlù, West of the Xiang river.), ☎ . Comfortable, well kept and friendly staff. Conveniently located for climbing Yuelu Shan. Doubles for ¥128, Dorms around ¥50..
- 2 Laiking Hotel (长沙海富丽景酒店), 城南西路228号 (228 Chengnan West Road) (100m from Nanmenkou metro station), ☎ . Modern and clean hotel very close to the walking street and other attractions in the city. Doubles from ¥200.