The protected zone around Zhangjiajie is known for its spectacular landscapes, which inspired scenes from the movie Avatar. Seemingly gravity-defying rocky pillars tower high into the sky in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, topped with lush greenery and sometimes wreathed in mist. Nature is the star of the show here – you can trek through forests full of wild monkeys or ride a cable car up the slopes of Tianmen Mountain. The region also has a cultural side; picturesque villages provide a window into Old China, while the city itself thrums with modern life.
You can stay in a contemporary Zhangjiajie hostel a few minutes' walk from the forest park entrance, modern-meets-classic Chinese accommodation with mountain views or cosy backpacker digs in the heart of town. You'll also find a few boutique options with elegantly traditional decor. Stay connected with free Wi-Fi, cook meals in a self-catering kitchen, or dine at an in-house restaurant. There are usually social spaces in Zhangjiajie hostels where you can relax, or get competitive with a game of pool.
Zhangjiajie City stretches along the banks of the Lishui River. You'll find transport hubs like the railway and bus stations on the south side of the city, plus Tujia Folk Customs Park, where you can see traditional local dances and costumes. There are museums and historic buildings in the Old Town centre. Outside the city, you can explore the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (which includes Zhangjiajie National Forest Park), Wulingyuan Village and Baofeng Lake.
Head to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park to see Zhangjiajie's famous pinnacle karsts and the Golden Whip Stream winding through mountains, surrounded by dense greenery (and the odd monkey). If you've got a head for heights, venture onto the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge; at 430 metres long and 400 metres high, it's the longest and tallest in the world. For spectacular rock formations and vast caverns, take a boat ride underground to Yellow Dragon Cave.
Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport is 6km from the centre of Zhangjiajie City. You can get in by taxi (less than 10 minutes), free shuttle bus (20 minutes) or local bus (around 15 minutes). The city is well connected by rail; bullet trains from Changsha take as little as 4.5 hours, and there are direct trains from Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai. To get to the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, take a minibus from Zhangjiajie Bus Station (close to Zhangjiajie Railway Station). Once you're in the Forest Park, there's a network of shuttle buses to take, plus two elevators and a giant escalator.