9 Incredible Things to Do in Zhangjiajie – China’s Avatar Mountains

Discover the top things to do in Zhangjiajie, a one-of-a-kind destination in Hunan Province, China. Renowned for its mesmerizing natural landscapes and unparalleled geological formations, Zhangjiajie is a traveller’s dream come true. Explore breathtaking scenery, thrilling adventures, and rich cultural experiences in this enchanting World Heritage site.

Zhangjiajie is a Traveller’s Dream Come True!

Zhangjiajie’s allure lies in its unique quartzite sandstone formations, found nowhere else on Earth. Imagine a place where thousands of towering peaks pierce the sky and hundreds of serene lakes mirror the clouds above. This fascinating destination is not only one of China’s first official World Natural Heritage sites but also one of the globe’s pioneering geoparks.

Declared a tourist city in May 1988, Zhangjiajie has blossomed into a premier travel hotspot, drawing adventurers and nature lovers worldwide. It is the thrilling stage for the World Wingsuit Flying Championship and the awe-inspiring backdrop for blockbuster films like Avatar and beloved television dramas. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a serene sightseer, Zhangjiajie promises an unforgettable journey through nature’s masterpiece.

I travelled to China as a guest of Wendy Wu Tours.  For details on upcoming tours, skip to the end of this post.

Below: Tianmen Mountain view

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Things to do in Zhangjiajie - Tianmen Mountain

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Why should Zhangjiajie Should Be on Every Traveler’s Bucket List?

Zhangjiajie offers an unparalleled mix of natural beauty, geological wonders, adventurous activities, cultural richness, and modern amenities. It’s unique landscapes and thrilling experiences make it a must-visit destination for every traveller seeking to witness some of the most extraordinary sights on the planet.

A delightful Zhangjiajie welcome from women dressed in ethnic costumes


Things to do in Zhangjiajie - Miao and Tujia ethnic costumes
Things to do in Zhangjiajie - 72-floor Tujia-stilted Building

The 72-floor Tujia-stilted Building

Here are nine things to do in Zhangjiajie

The 72-floor Tujia-stilted Building

I expected this would be a 72-storey building. Wrong! It’s a 72-floor building—a fantastic construction based on traditional Tujia architecture, influenced by the Ming and Qing dynasties, with modern adaptations like escalators!

We gathered outside the building to enjoy a show of drumming and other feats before entering the cobblestoned alleyways lined with colourful lanterns. Also known as 72 Qilou, this towering structure offers an immersive cultural experience. Performances showcase the rich heritage of the Tujia people through vibrant music, dance, and folklore. Even though I didn’t understand the language, it was easy to follow the story of love, war, and loss that played out over the giant stages.

As you explore its levels, you’ll find an array of dining options, including authentic local Xiangxi (Western Hunan style) cuisine, such as sour and spicy noodles, cured meat, and sausages. The building also houses various shops, where you can discover unique crafts and souvenirs such as brocade created by the Tujia ethnic group, embroidery of the Miao ethnic group, and woodblock New Year paintings. I found some great presents for my grandchildren.  I wish I had bought more here as I didn’t see the same things elsewhere.

This welcome ceremony was quite a surprise -things to do in Zhangjiajie

This was a fantastic place to explore.  Make sure you allow a couple of hours and go hungry to try the food. I had dinner before entering the complex at Ni Yan Restaurant, where I was welcomed by a traditional rice wine-drinking song.  It was quite a surprise, as I thought the drink was tea!

It is easy to put on your things to do in Zhangjiajie list as it’s located in the city area.

Outside the 72-floor Tujia-stilted Building in Zhangjiajie

A Bailong Elevator car

Bailong Elevator

Known as the Hundred Dragons Elevator, this is the world’s tallest outdoor lift and clings to the mountainside. It takes you up 326 meters to the top of the cliffs in just a couple of minutes, offering spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.  This is how you get to the walkways, where you’ll find the best views of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The elevator and national park are approximately a one-hour bus trip from Zhangjiajie.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Remember those scenes in the Avatar movie where Jake Scully flies around Pandora’s floating pillars? Well, the landscape of Zhangjiajie is definitely the inspiration. The towering quartz-sandstone pillars, which inspired the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the movie Avatar, are a must-see. The most famous pillar is the Southern Sky Column, now co-named Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.

We saw the cutest monkeys along the way but were very careful to stay well away as monkeys can steal your possessions.

My first view of the famed Avatar mountains.

First view of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Look but don't touch the monkeys

Tianzi Mountain offers panoramic views of the entire park and its sea of clouds, forest of peaks, and vast forest expanse. Be warned – there are many stairs to navigate and crowds of people who also want to enjoy the scenic views!  Allow a full day to explore this region at leisure.  You can try local food and buy water at spots along the way with food stalls.

This deserves a headline on your things to do in Zhangjiajie list.

Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge

Trying to look relaxed on the Glass Bridge

Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge

The glass-bottom bridge, which spans the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, is the longest and highest of its kind in the world. Walking across it offers an adrenaline-pumping experience with stunning canyon views below. I’m pretty good at heights, but there were moments when I decided not to look down!

If you feel exceptionally bold, bungee jump from the bridge. Looking through the glass floor, I watched a woman try to build up her confidence several times before finally taking the plunge and jumping.

When you get to the other side of the bridge, there’s a VR balloon ride that simulates how the area looks from the air.  It really feels like you are in a balloon.  Confession – I took my goggles off for a minute because I felt dizzy!

There’s also a seated zipline and a slide. Many on the tour did those, but I opted for a cruise on the lake below, thinking it would be better for my sore knee. Wrong! There are too many stairs to count, both down and up.

Another headliner on your things to do in Zhangjiajie list.

Tianmen Mountain

To get to Tianmen Mountain, you can take the longest passenger cableway in the world, which stretches 7.5 kilometres from the city to the top. The ride offers impressive views of the surrounding mountains and forests.

This cable car was returning to the ground while I was going up, up, up!

A Bailong Elevator car

Coiling Dragon Cliff Skywalk

You get off the cable car and it’s straight onto the glass cliff-hanging Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk. The 100-metre-long glass walkway is attached to the side of the mountain and sort of hangs over the side in places, with clear glass sections that let you look straight down into the valley below.  The 1.5 metre-wide pathway overlooks Tongtian Avenue, a mountain road with 99 turns that snakes up Tianmen Mountain in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Fun or terrifying, you decide!

Take five flights of the longest elevators (think London tube but longer) inside the mountain, and you will come out at Tianmen Cave, also known as Heaven’s Door or Heaven’s Gate. This is a natural rock arch that forms a giant hole in the mountain.

There are 999 steps to climb down after the scenic cable car ride and a walk. Or, just take another elevator and watch the relief on everyone’s face when they reach the bottom.  There’s a giant video screen where they show some of the more adventurous ways people come down using bikes, jumping or skateboards.

Have you even been to Zhangjiajie if you haven’t experienced the skywalk? It’s straight to the top of your list of things to do in Zhangjiajie.

The 99 Bend Road, Zhangjiajie

Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanglong Cave)

Still on my bucket list, this massive karst cave system is known for its impressive formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, underground rivers, and waterfalls. The cave is illuminated with colourful lights, creating a surreal underground experience.

Tianmen Cave or Heaven’s Door, Zhangjiajie

Tianmen Cave or Heaven's Door, Zhangjiajie

Baofeng Lake

When you’ve had enough adrenaline action, Baofeng Lake is a relaxing cruise around a beautiful, deep green lake.  There are mountains shaped like animals to spot and folk songs sung by locals along the way.  You are supposed to sing back.

Cruising Baofeng Lake

Zhangjiajie - Baofeng Lake

Show time

My tour included two shows. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was delighted by the performances. The first was Charming Xiangxi, which included some world-class acrobatics and fire drumming. Then, there were some romantic songs inspired by the Yao and Bai ethnic minorities in the west Hunan region and a wild Maogusi Dance, where the dancers mourn their ancestors and hope for a good harvest.

Another segment showed a cherished tradition among the Tujia and Miao ethnic minorities, Crying Marriage and the bittersweet emotions of a bride-to-be. As she prepares to leave home, she weeps, expressing gratitude for her parents, siblings, and hometown. These tears reflect her inner conflict and serve as a heartfelt lesson in appreciation for herself, her family, and those who witness the ceremony.

The second was the 90-minute Tianmen Fox Lady, a love story of a fox fairy and a human based on the folk traditions of the Tujia and Miao ethnic groups. This is an outdoor performance with hundreds of actors and a singer on a set that uses the Zhangjiajie mountains as a backdrop. Don’t miss the English subtitles, which make for highly amusing reading.

Another easy one to put on your things to do in Zhangjiajie list as it’s located in the city area.

Kerry Heaney and Wendy Wu

Kerry Heaney and Wendy Wu

How You Can Experience the Unrivaled Beauty of Zhangjiajie, Hunan’s Hidden Treasure

I travelled to China as a guest of Wendy Wu Tours, visiting Changsha and Zhangjiajie. Due to language and logistical difficulties, I recommend joining a tour group to explore this part of China. A guided experience will increase your appreciation of the landscapes and customs, plus make navigating the crowds and queues easier.

Wendy Wu Tours has two China Itineraries, which include Zhangjiajie – Gems of China and Natural Treasures of China.  On Gems of China, travellers will visit Beijing, Xian, and Chengdu, take a Yangtze River Cruise, and visit Zhangjiajie and Shanghai. It is billed as perfect for first-time travellers who can handle some days with heavier walking of up to 4-5 hours.

Travellers taking the Natural Treasures of China itinerary visit lesser-travelled places in China, such as Changsha, Zhangjiajie, Fenghuang, Chengdu, Nine Villages Valley, and Chongqing. The itinerary has been designed to sync with Wendy Wu Tours’ A China Experience departures in 2025, so you can combine the usual China highlights with more nature-focused destinations. A bullet train links Beijing and Changsh, making it easy to combine these two tour itineraries.

To learn more, visit Wendy Wu Tours.

Disclaimer: Eat drink and be Kerry travelled to China as a guest of Wendy Wu Tours.

Kerry Heaney in Monet in Paris photo garden

Written by Kerry Heaney

Meet Kerry Heaney, an intrepid gastronomic explorer, travelling the globe one delectable bite at a time. Drawing on two decades of experience, she unveils hidden culinary gems and palate-pleasing dishes for your indulgence. A seasoned writer and editor, Kerry's travel stories feature in print and online travel publications, and her food odyssey continues at Eat drink and be Kerry. Follow her escapades on Facebook or join on her latest adventures via Instagram. Kerry's passions include savouring oysters, indulging in art, embracing aquatic experiences, and delighting in new culinary discoveries every time.

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