We travel through Hunan Province during low season, and while we expect tourism to be minimal during this period we find that attractions are buzzing with tourists. While there are few international travelers in these parts of China the domestic travelers make up for it as they swarm from one top attractions in Hunan, to the next. That being said, the province does boast natural beauty like no other, with scenic mountain vistas, and charming far-flung villages and local life. If travelling in China, Hunan is without a doubt, well worth the journey.
The first stop in Hunan province will more-than-not be the capital city of Changsha then from here the route will forward to the travel hub of Zhangjiajie which makes a convenient base to visit all the top attractions in Hunan Province. However, Changsha is a city worth exploring in itself, and the best area to start would be Wuyi Avenue staying near Wuyi Square metro station. Here for nearby hotels. On Wuyi Avenue and adjoining are walking streets, street food and a youthful night scene which continues to the riverside area of Changsha. The riverside again worth exploring where with a central island, intriguing temples, and authentic local life. One of the better streets in this area is Taiping Street (pictured below) a restored, historical street with local backstreets to poke down and local foods to be explored. Stinky tofu. Wuyi Avenue is linked by the Metro, is where the airport shuttle arrives, and is right next to the train station for onward travel.
Zhangjiajie City, in itself, hasn’t much going on but it is the entry point to Tianmen Mountain with what is said to be the longest cable car in the world which takes roughly 30 minutes to travel a length of 7 plus kilometers. En route are some fantastic views. Once on the mountain there are a number of routes to navigate the views and vistas using cliffside walkways which overlook the surrounding mountains and valleys. Other attractions on Tianmen mountain include a hilltop Pagoda (Fairy Peak), a second cable car, a Buddhist Temple (Tianmenshan Temple), a glass walkway, and Tianmen Cave. This Hunan Attraction can be covered on a day tour.
Zhangjiajie National Park isn’t actually located in the city of Zhangjiajie, and it takes a 30km / 50min drive to find it at a town near Wulingyuan. Once here there are numerous routes to reach the mountain top including cable cars and a glass elevator, take your pick. On top of the mountain scenic paths follow seemingly endless scenes of towering stone pillars. Along the way expect macaque monkeys, salamanders, natural bridges and the occasional pocket of local life. While Zhangjiajie National Park can be covered in a one-day tour, I suggest staying the night up top with both hostels and hotels available. Hotel list found here. As with any major tourist attraction Zhangjiajie is well equipped for the crowds, with well connected, free shuttle buses, tourist trinkets and even a McDonalds.
While Fenghuang can be reached from either Zhangjiajie or Changsha, the popular choice would be the 4 hour bus journey from Zhangjiajie City. Phoenix Ancient City is a historical Chinese riverside city surrounded by hills and steeped in old Chinese charm. To explore there are a number of historical walks and buildings throughout the city, which is centered round the riverside area which brings a regular influx of tourists. Moving outwards however there are more simple, traditional experiences which better reflect the ancient city’s heritage when poking down backstreets and along smaller rivers. The riverside area can be unexpectedly brash and at night it is central to nightlife, lit up with karaoke, bars and nightclubs. For accommodation there are stretches of family run hotels which overlook the river and central bridge of the city, but with the noise at night it maybe best to remain further inward. That being said the central hotels do have some fantastic views. The city is busy year round and it maybe best to book in advance. Check here for Fenghuang hotel list).