Kobe is one of Japan’s largest cities and one of it’s most important ports. Kobe is steeped in history, and as one of the only places of foreign settlements in pre-industrial Japan, it has a fascinating story to tell.
You’ll never be short of things to do in Kobe, or far away from a hearty meal. The city specializes in cuisine, particularly its internationally acclaimed Kobe Beef. It’s quickly become one of Japans most popular travel destinations, and our handy guide will highlight why!
The city is fast becoming known for its trendy suburbs and upmarket cafe culture. We will show you why this is one of our favorite destinations among tourists and locals alike, who adore its spacious streets, proximity to the ocean as well as its beautiful mountains.
Table of Contents
Top Things to Do in Kobe
Kobe is a city steeped in culture and crowed by nature, and the plethora of things to do reflect this. First, let’s take a look at the absolute best the city has to offer.
Backpacking Japan is a taste sensation. You surely know about Kobe Beef, the exclusive meat that is bred and butchered only in Kobe. Throughout the city, you’ll find lots of street food stalls and restaurants that serve this local delicacy.
However, there’s more to Kobe’s culinary scene than just this exquisite meat. Devouring ramen dishes, croquettes and having lots of Sake to drink, are among some of the essential things to do in Kobe.
Kobe is also home to Japan’s second-largest ChinaTown, which makes it a great place to explore Chinese cuisine too. You simply have to try the gyoza (dumplings with beef and vegetables) which is a very popular Chinese dish while you’re in Kobe.
#2 – Stroll Through the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge
Situated in Western Kobe, this almost 300-meter long bridge stretches over the Akashi Strait. The bridge lays claim to the titles of the world’s longest suspension bridge, and Japan’s highest, at almost 50-meters above ground.
You can gain access to the bridge by a dedicated pedestrian walkway but watch your step, jut as the path is getting started the floor turns to glass, making for a hair-raising crossing.
The bridge extends for over 300-meters and makes you feel like you’re floating above the water, it’s surely one of the most surreal and unique outdoor things to do in Kobe.
- Shop until you drop at the Gai Shopping Street
- Visit one of Japan’s Oldest Shrines, Ikuta
- Visit the city’s oldest nightclub, Sone
Wherever you are in Kobe your view is ultimately dominated by the Rokko Mountain. The lush rolling green foothills encircle the landward side of the city and provide visitors with spectacular views and a great selection if gentle hikes.
If you’re looking for some creative inspiration whilst in Kobe, then the modern art exhibition held at the peak of the mountain is perfect for you. The artists who display their work there, collaborate with the natural features.
It;s not often you have to catch a cable car up a small mountain to visit an art gallery, which only adds to the whimsy of this great gallery.
#4 – Visit Shukugawa Park
In this suburban park almost 2000 Cherry Blossom Trees have been planted along a 3-kilometer path. They were strategically placed along the river in the park to maximize their aesthetic impact.
The park has been decorated as the best place to view Cherry Blossom Trees in Japan by the country’s Cherry Blossom Association, no small clam. It’s a beautiful space and should be at the forefront of any nature-loves itinerary.
The park is situated in Nishinomiya, which is 20-minutes from Kobe’s Harbor. Note that the best time to visit is in April, as this is when the Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom.
One of Kobe’s many blessings is its location, neatly tucked between a mountain and the ocean. The city is interspersed with many hills and rivers that provide the city with some of the best drinking water in the world.
If you begin a walking tour in Kitano, then we suggest you pack some hiking gear too and head toward the mountain. This is because you’re in close proximity to the Shin-Kobe hiking trail.
Along the trail, you’ll pass the Nunobiki Falls where you can stop for a picnic. On the peak of the mountain, should you pursue a further hike, you’ll arrive at Mt. Tenjoji Temple. Here you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the city and the sea below.
After your hike, what better way to unwind than a visit to one of the country’s oldest hot spring resorts. There are two bathhouses in a small suburb that you’ll be granted access to, and all of the baths vary in temperature.
The baths also are highlighted in different colors – there are gold and silver-colored baths that contain minerals that are conducive to skin restoration.
The calm ambiance and thermal treatments will ensure that you feel tranquil and rested after a long day of exploring!
Unusual Things to Do in Kobe
Kobe offers interesting activities to commemorate its past. Whether to pay homage to those deceased from earthquakes, or learn about the foreign settlers, you’ve got tons of choices.
January 1995 signifies a sad day for Kobe. It is the month wherein the mass destruction occurred as a result of a devastating earthquake. Although some buildings survived the quake, the ones that replaced them are engineering masterpieces.
The city reinforced older buildings to endure even the most destructive of earthquakes, and the engineering behind it is seriously impressive. There is even an Earthquake Memorial Park in the city that displays the remnants where the city’s port originally was.
#8 – Take a Walk in Europe Town
In the late 19th-century, Kobe became accessible and known to the international community at large – it actually served as Japan’s only port for a long time. Subsequently, foreign nationals filled the city, and there is still a strong presence today. Especially in the Kitano suburb, known as Kobe’s ‘piece of Europe’.
In this district, 30 western-influenced mansions sit untouched and act as a relic of that period. They are now open to the public and tourists to visit as museums.
There are all different kinds of European influence here – German, Austrian, Dutch and more!
#9 – Visit an Abandoned Hotel
Also known as the Maya Hotel, this hotel has been through the wars, literally. It was built in the late 1920s. and during WWII most of the surrounding suburb was destroyed in bombing raids.
The art-deco hotel was reformed for more practical usage and was utilized as the military site for some time. Following the war, the hotel was fixed up and went back on the market. That was, until disaster struck – a typhoon significantly damaged the property.
After a second attempt at repairing the hotel, it was once again reopened yet for different purposes – it became a student center. Then, in 1995, the building suffered one last time when a devastating earthquake sieged the city and put it into disrepair.
Presently, it can be visited but only to be viewed from the outside.
Safety in Kobe
Many of Kobe’s districts are extremely affluent, there is even a traditional Japanese saying that you should go to Kobe if you can’t go to Paris!
Tourists are welcomed here, and ex-pats are common in this city. The relationship between the foreign nationals in the city (almost 50 000) and the locals is an overwhelmingly positive one!
The city only poses a threat in terms of natural disasters such as the occasional typhoon in the month of September. Yet, still act cautiously in both the day and night when in unknown places, and do research as to which months possess less threat weather-wise. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
Things to do in Kobe at Night
Kobe is a vibrant city at night and the area of Sannomiya is bustling with life. The music scene in this area is thriving, with a flourishing Jazz Club, and Sone too. Let’s take a look at some of the cities best spots after dark!
#10 – Have a Drink at The Rooftop Bar J.W Hart
This cafe/bar offers visitors a dining and drinking experience and consists of a mix between Japanese and Italian cuisine. This means that you can get a plate of sushi, and even a bowl of Pasta.
With an extensive cocktail menu and incredible views of the city, the rooftop bar is situated in the esteemed Oriental Hotel. It is also one of the best things to do in Kobe on a rainy day because there’s plenty of indoor seating with uninterrupted views.
#11 – Eat Kobe Beef at Kokubu
Situated in the trendy Sannomiya district, this is undoubtedly the best place to eat Kobe Beef in Japan ( A bold claim, we know). It would honestly be a crime to go to Kobe and not eat at this venue if you’re a fan of the culinary arts.
Kokubu Steakhouse is your must-visit because of the personalized experience you’ll have with the chef. Their hospitable and friendly nature matches their food – stellar. It is voted among locals and tourists alike as the top place to eat Kobe Beef in the city.
Where to Stay in Kobe
Need help deciding where to stay in Kobe? Then keep reading!
Best Hostel in Kobe – T&K Hostel Kobe
Located in Sannomiya’s Eastern region, this Kobe hostel boasts many beds, as well as being a 10-minute walk from Sannomiya’s station. This hostel offers really cool extras as well: a sun terrace, bicycle rental and 2 shared kitchens.View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Kobe – Traditional Japanese Interior
Having an entire apartment to yourself is a great luxury when you’re on holiday. This apartment is sparkling clean and offers free bicycle use, as well as WiFi to enjoy your stay. You’ll also have the use of a kitchen, dryer, and iron to take care of all your holiday needs.View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Kobe – Hotel Monte Hermana Kobe Amalie
In the heart of the city center and a 4-minute drive from Gai Shopping Street, this beautiful hotel comes attached to an Italian restaurant! It is themed as European, and the architecture and food reflect this. Every morning, you’re entitled to an extensive free breakfast.View on Booking.com
Romantic Things to Do in Kobe
Between the world class cherry blossoms, natural hotsprings, and incredible food, it’s pretty easy to put together a stellar date whilst you’re in Kobe. That been said, we’ve picked out afew other highlights that might help get the sparks flying, let’s take a look.
Float away from the city and into the sunset with your partner on a luxurious cruise. You’ll pass many Kobe attractions on your way, while being served a traditional Japanese meal prepared by decorated chefs. While you and your partner reconnect, you’ll be treated to a series of classical music performances. This is one of the most charming things to do in Kobe for couples.
Weather-permitting, you can sit on the cruise’s deck and watch the sun drop under the horizon, then you’ll see Kobe city entirely illuminated and its reflection on the water.
One is infused with therapeutic herbs! The baths are extremely relaxing and ideal for unwinding with your partner from the bustling city.
The hot springs are attached to a beautiful pre-colonial era house that looks onto the city, making it a true oasis.
Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
#14 – Get Drunk for Free at Nada Sake Breweries
If you’re searching for things to do in Kobe on a budget, then you’ve hit the jackpot! Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage that originates from fermented rice. The Nada district of Kobe manufactures the most Sake in all of Japan.
Due to the fact that there is such a high production rate in this area there are plenty of breweries. So if you’re looking for indoor things to do in Kobe, this is ideal.
There are roughly 40 breweries in the district that require no pre-bookings, and some offer tasting bars that are completely free. This can be done at Hamafukutsuru Ginjo Brewery. There’s also Museums and Breweries that offer free tours.
#15 – Enjoy the Best View of the City
Want a view but don’t want the hike? Well, what if you were able to elevate to the 24th-floor of a building, and have a panoramic viewing deck of the city? And what if we told you it’s free too?
We’re referring to the Kobe Observation Deck, which definitely places this site as one of the unmissable things to do in Kobe Japan. This is because you get a panoramic view of the mountains, city, and sea all in one! And the building it’s located in is no ordinary building either – it’s Kobe City Hall.
So, you’ll be ticking two destinations off of your ‘what to do in Kobe, Japan’ list.
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Kobe is a picturesque destination! Get perfect shots from your phone using clip-on-lenses with wide-angle, close-up and optical zoom. With the ability to turn travel pictures from basic to professional, this universal lens sits neatly over any phone camera and comes with a durable, travel-friendly case!
5. International Adapter: Kobe outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read in Kobe
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Lonely Planet Japan Travel Guide – It’s always worth having a Lonely Planet packed away, plenty of useful info on routes and where to go.
A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, ZEN, and the Tea Ceremony – Comprehensive and well informed, the book covers a wide array of topics with numerous photographs, providing a lively digest of the society and the unusual culture of Japan.
Kaffka on the Shore – When you talk about Japanese literature, Murakami is the first name that comes to mind. A master craftsman of words, this guy is one of the coolest writers in the genre of magical realism. This book is an elegant and dreamlike masterpiece.
Things to Do with Kids in Kobe
Kobe and Japan in general are very child friendly destinations. Incredible public transport and genuinely helpfull locals really help lift the burden of even the most bodacious brood. There’s lots to treat your kids to in Kobe, here’s some of the highlights.
Just a 10-minute cable-car lift out of Kobe is the Nunobiki Herb Garden. There are over 70 000 herbs and flowers within these gardens.
There are even 12 different gardens that are each themed differently. There’s also a plaza that’s architecture resembles a German castle, with an outdoor deck and restaurant. At night-time, the view is dominated by the lit-up city, and you’ll then understand why this is one of the biggest Kobe Japan points of interest.
If you’re worried about things to do in Kobe in winter, fear not because there are around 200 types of flowers that bloom at different times of the year.
There’s a spice and fragrance musuem in the compex aswell, where you and the little ones can explore a whole world of olfactory delights.
Kobe port has been enhanced with an interactive children’s museum. Here children enter into the world of Apanman, a Japanese red bean bun-headed cartoon character ( EVERYTHING has a mascor in Japan). Children can meet the character, and play in his purpose built wonderland.
Certianly one of the best things to do with kids in the city, especially if they’re western, as this playground is bombastically and unapologetically Japanese! Many different activities are offered here for the kids, such as baking, playing in the ball pools, an event stage and a playground.
The mall has souvenir shops to buy Apanman merchandise – it is completely dedicated to children’s entertainment!
Day Trips From Kobe
Kobe is situated in close proximity to other iconic Japanese cities which makes day-trips abundant. We’ve sourced the best day trips from Kobe to help you make the most of the region in a short timeframe.
Looking for snow? You’ve found it! Mineyama Kogen Ski Resort is located in the same prefecture as Kobe, Hyogo. Here, winter sports are abundant and you can rent all the equipment you need.
The opening time frame is between December until late March, but winter sports aren’t all that can be done here, for the resort also hosts Western Japan’s largest children’s park!.Regardless, skiing here is a dream, and there are different courses assigned for different skill levels.
The resort is one of the country’s newest and is situated only 1.5 hours away from Kobe. This is definitely the most obvious choice for things to do near Kobe.
If you’re looking for historic destinations and things to do outside Kobe, then you’ll love Nara. The city was the former Japanese ancient capital at the beginning of the 8th-century.
Throughout the town are Japanese gardens, parks, shrines as well as the world’s largest wooden Buddha Temple. What’s more is that the city parks have deer in them, so you truly feel close to nature. There are a few historic grounds that are now considered UNESCO-World Heritage Sites.
These consist of 5 Buddhist Temples, the primeval forest and an imperial residence.
3 Day Itinerary in Kobe
Kobe is known to be one of Japan’s most walkable cities In Japan, with it’s wide roads and rolling hills. If you find yourself unwilling to walk, the public transit system consists of a bus and subway system. All this is a blessing with so much to see and do in Kobe, and we’ve mapped out some itineraries to help you make the most of your visit.
Day 1 – Stroll Through the City and up the Mountain
Your first day in Kobe is going to be busy. You’ll begin with walking in the city center until after 20-minutes, you’ll reach the suburb of Kitano. Here, you’ll notice the Western influences and you can vist some of the quirky western houses.
Thereafter, it’s time to hike up the mountain. Embark on the Shin-Kobe trail which leads off of Kitano. The trail provides a number of different routes and return points to suit all abilities and timeframes – you can pass the Nunobiki Herb Garden to stop for a meal, as well as the waterfalls on the way! If you decide to reach the top, you’ll marvel at the summit’s view.
To reward yourself, eat dinner like a local at Kokubu, with the best Kobe Beef in town!
Day 2 – Explore Kobe’s Attractions
Today we’ll start off with some sightseeing in the morning, and then let those legs rest in the best way possible. You’ll begin with walking the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the longest in the world and a gratifying experience!
To calm your nerves from the glass floor of the bridge, you’ll walk for 15-minutes back into Kobe and to the Tarumi Onsen. Here you can unwind for the rest of the day and simply absorb all the nutrients from the water.
To end off the peaceful day, grab a drink at the Rooftop Bar J.W. Hart and if you’re up for it, explore Sannomiya’s music scene.
Day 3 – End Off On a High
On your final day you’ll start the morning with either visiting the ancient town of Nara (if it’s summer) and if it’s winter, you should go skiing at the Mineyama Kogen Ski Resort. Both of these provide a great way to see a broader picture of the region on your trip, without over stretching yourself,
Upon your return, visit Kobe’s City Hall and traverse to the 24th-floor, in order to arrive at the Observation Deck. Take some pictures here and bid farewell to the beautiful city.
To end off an adventurous three days, go Sake tasting in the Nada district.
More Great Resources
So, visiting Kobe is a guaranteed fun time. Whether you’re searching for culture, cuisine or nature, Kobe is multi-faceted and boasts all three!
There’s a reason it’s a favorite among Japanese locals as a holiday destination, because there simply is no other city in Japan like it! With luscious rolling mountains in and around the city, a beautiful port and some high-end buildings, this city simply has to be on your travel list.
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A self-proclaimed travel-yoga-freak, Mathilde Magnier is French, raised in Brussels, and spent most of her adulthood in Sydney. Prior to working for The Broke Backpacker, Mathilde was working in the tech industry for a few years. She plans to spend most of 2020 balancing wellness and la Vida Loca in Central and South America.
You can connect and follow her journey on Instagram!