Wuhan has abundant water resources and enjoys a long-standing history that can be traced back to the early and middle Neolithic period (about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago) when early human ancestors lived, multiplied and developed an ancient civilization with stone implements on this land. Panlongcheng beside the Panlong Lake of Huangpi District dates back to the Shang Dynasty about 3,500 years ago. In the late Eastern Han Dynasty, the former Wuhan was divided into two prefectures, Jiangbei which was also known as Quyang County, Zhuanyang County and Hanyang County (A.D. 606) and Jiangnan which was also referred to as Runan County and Jiangxia County (A.D. 589). After that, Wuhan developed further in the Northern Dynasties, Southern Dynasties, Yuan Dynasty and Ming Dynasty, gradually evolving into a hub of land and water transportation which gathered many powerful merchants. During the reign of the Chenghua Emperor of the middle Ming Dynasty, the confluence of the Han River and Yangtze River was diverted from the south to the north of Guishan Mountain, contributing to the formation of Hankou Town. It also facilitated the geographical development of the three towns of Wuhan. In the early Qing Dynasty, Hankou Town stood out as a large commercial town in Central China, and was included in the list of "Four Commercial Centers" of China together with Beijing, Suzhou and Fozhou and the list of "Top Four Towns" in China along with Zhuxian Town, Jingde Town and Foshan Town. It was also recognized as the "Most Prosperous Town" in Hubei Province. In the 4th year of the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1665), the "Native Customs" levying taxes against domestic merchandises was established at the foot of Baishan Temple, Hanyang Gate. In the 7th year of the reign of Xianfeng, Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1857), Guan Wen, Governor-General of Huguang established 10 customs offices including Zong Customs (now known as Shangcha’an in Hankou), and Han Customs (currently known as Xiacha’an in Hankou). Hankou was designated as a treaty port after the Treaty of Tientsin was signed in 1858. In March, 1861, Hankou was officially opened to foreign trade as a treaty port. After the opening of Hankou, as proposed in the memorials submitted by Guan Wen, Governor-General of Huguang to the emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Jianghan Customs was established on January 1, 1862 and officially put into service in the following year. In the 25th year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu (A.D. 1899), the region to the north of the Han River was included in Xiakou Subprefecture of which the local government was located in Hankou. From then on, Hankou, Hanyang and Wuchang were named as the Three Towns of Wuhan.

In 1889, Zhang Zhidong was appointed as the Governor-General of Huguang. He implemented "new policies" during the Westernization Movement, established factories and schools and trained western-style armies. It promoted China's domestic industrial development, created the fundamental conditions for the development of modern industry of Wuhan, thus making Wuhan one of the birthplaces of modern industry in China. On October 10, 1911, the Revolution led by the bourgeoisie broke out in Wuhan, resulting in the establishment of Hubei Military Government and the downfall of the last feudal dynasty of China. In December 1926, the government of the Republic of China moved its capital to Wuhan, then, in January 1927, Hankou and Wuchang were merged into the Jingzhao Region and named Wuhan.

On May 16, 1949, Wuhan was liberated and officially recognized as a municipality directly under the central government after the merger of the three towns. Wuhan became the capital of Hubei Province in June 1954 and was designated as a pilot city for comprehensive economic reform and a city specifically designated in the state plan upon approval by the CPC Central Committee and State Council in May 1984. In December 1986, Wuhan was designated by the State Council as a national historical and cultural city. In July 1992, Wuhan was approved as an opening-up city by the State Council. In December 2007, upon the consent of the State Council and approval by the National Development and Reform Commission, Wuhan City Circle, an experimental zone for nationwide comprehensive reform through the construction of a resource-conserving and environment-friendly society was established. Wuhan City Circle is located in the east of Hubei Province and consists of Wuhan (core city) and 9 surrounding cities including Huangshi, Ezhou, Huanggang, Xiaogan, Xianning, Xiantao, Qianjiang and Tianmen. It covers an area of 57,800 square kilometers with a population of over 32,000,000 people and its GDP accounts for 63.25% of total GDP of Hubei Province. It also enjoys the best resources of Hubei Province in relation to industry, agriculture, transport infrastructure and cultural education. In January 2010, upon the issuance of the Reply of State Council on Authorizing and Helping Wuhan East Lake High-tech Development Zone to Develop into the National Innovation Demonstration Zone, Wuhan East Lake High-tech Development Zone became the first national innovation demonstration zone in Central China, and the second national innovation demonstration zone nationwide following the establishment of Zhongguancun National Innovation Demonstration Zone. Wuhan Wujiashan Economic Development Zone became a national economic and technological development zone approved by the State Council in November 2010, and was renamed Wuhan Linkonggang Economic & Technological Development Zone upon the consent of the Ministry of Commerce and approval by the State Council in March 2013. Now, Wuhan has three national economic and technological development zones, driving development of the three towns of Wuhan. In 2015, Wuhan was included in the "National Innovation-Driven Cities Pilot" program, designated as a "Pilot Zone of All-round Innovation Reform", and honored as a "National Civilized City". In the same year, Wuhan City Circle became the first pilot zone for innovation and reform in science, technology and finance. In 2016, upon approval and consent of the State Council, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the 13th Five-Year Plan for the Rise of Central China, providing explicit support for the development of Wuhan into a national central city. In the same year, the Plan of Wuhan for Structured Promotion of All-round Innovation and Reform Pilot Program was officially approved by the State Council. In June 2016, the Chinese government officially issued the Guidelines for Development of the Yangtze Economic Belt, according to which three city clusters would be developed, Wuhan was designated as a megacity, and an inland region playing a leading role in economic opening up would be created. In 2017, Wuhan received titles and awards including the National Civilized City, the National Sanitary City, the Chang'an Cup Award, one of the first National Food Safety Demonstration Cities, the Demonstration City of Tourism and Leisure in China, UNESCO City of Design, Cities4Tomorrow of C40 Cities (a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change and reducing urban carbon emissions). In 2018, Wuhan established a national cross-border e-commerce comprehensive pilot zone, receiving titles such as the National Demonstration City of High Quality, the National Pilot City for Deepening Innovative Development of Trade in Services, and the National Demonstration City of "Transit-oriented Cities" Program.