Kōbe is a somewhat overlooked city in Japan. The usual big cities that get visited are the capital Tokyo, of course, and Osaka. Hiroshima and Kyoto get their fair share of visitors, too. But Kōbe? With its skyscrapers, multicultural history, oodles of old-school Western-style buildings to admire, beef, traditional gardens, and ancient shrines, Kōbe is definitely a cool place to visit in Japan.
When it comes to the best things to do in Kōbe, we get that it can be tricky to pick and choose, so we’ve done the hard work for you. Trust us: Kōbe is well worth your while! Here are all the top Kobe attractions!
Best Things to do in Kōbe, Japan
1. Explore the old western buildings in Kitano-cho
Kōbe was one of the first ports in Japan to open up to the West in the 19th century. Many of the westerners who arrived decided to stay, and today, the city is still home to a sizeable foreign community. The homes of the first foreigners to settle in the Kōbe can still be seen, mainly around the Kitano-cho neighborhood.
The area’s hilly streets are dotted with various western type houses, known as ijinkan (“foreigners’ houses”). These were originally built for diplomats and traders. Some of the old brick mansions and weatherboard buildings are open for tour. The England House and Ben’s House both make for an interesting look into a world of the past – but for a fee!
If you don’t want to part with any cash, Kitano-cho’s leafy lanes are filled with bouji boutiques and cute cafes ideal for an afternoon of exploring that’s easy on the wallet.
- Location: Kitano-cho
- Cost: ijinkan entrance ¥500 (combination tickets around ¥1500)
- Tips: Go to Starbucks; it’s located inside an ijinkan!
2. Meet Tetsujin 28 Robot
The towering 59-feet-tall figure of Tetsujin 28 Robot is a symbol of strength and resilience of the city of Kōbe. The effects of the 1996 Hanshin Earthquake hit Kōbe badly, but the disaster was never going to stop the people of Kōbe.
After much rebuilding and coming together of the community, Tetsujin 28 was erected in one of the city’s parks to protect the city from further destruction. The original manga was created in 1960 by Mitsuteru Yokohama, a Kōbe local, and is the tale of a robot who helps stop baddies. The robots’ location in Wakamatsu Park was also intended to bring more tourists to an area torn apart by the earthquake.
- Location: Wakamatsu Park, close to Shin-Nagata Station
- Cost: Free
- Tips: Grab a bite to eat at one of the many eateries close to the robot
3. Get some inspiration at Nunobiki Falls
If you were thinking Kōbe = modern city and beef, then get ready to be surprised. In Japan, even in urban areas, you’re never too far from a bit of nature, and Nunobiki Falls is Kōbe’s answer to all things natural.
Well, all things waterfall, that is. A four-tiered waterfall, with the tallest part rising to 43 meters (wow), Nunobiki Falls has been much loved as a subject for art, poems, and worship for hundreds of years. You can even see some of the poems carved into stones around the falls.
It might be a steep trek to get there (around 400 meters… uphill), but it’s worth it for the calm and nature of the place.
- Location: Uphill from Shin-Kōbe Station
- Cost: Free
- Tips: The hike can be pretty hard going; wear good shoes and stay hydrated!
4. Soak in hot spring baths at Arima Onsen
A trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete without a dip in its renowned onsen or hot springs. This traditional way to relax and revitalize has been a big hit in Japan – not just for centuries, but for thousands of years.
Arima Onsen, just a stone’s throw from central Kōbe – over the other side of the Mount Rokkō – is one of the oldest in Japan. It’s been documented as early as the 8th century AD and mentioned in literature ever since.
The town, though more built-up than it was, is still good for a true onsen experience. There are charming lanes with wooden shops and cafes to wander and explore. Two types of rejuvenating water, kinsen and ginsen, plus a wide variety of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) to stay in make Arima Onsen a must-visit in Kōbe.
- Location: Arima Onsen
- Cost: ¥500-¥1500 for a soak (much more to stay at a ryokan)
- Tips: Avoid Golden Week in early May, when this place will be crazy busy
5. Walk over the glass walkway on Japan’s tallest bridge
If you don’t like heights, then you can skip this one. Akashi Kaikyō is Japan’s tallest bridge and is one of the coolest things you could do in Kōbe. At 283-meters-tall, it’s hard to miss this feat of engineering (cost? ¥500 billion) spanning the Akashi Strait.
Get to grips with the scenery around here by walking along the cool and slightly hair-raising Maiko Marine Promenade. This is a 320-meter-long walkway that’s 50 meters above the sea… part of which is a glass floor. Scary, if that kind of thing scares you.
- Location: Akashi Kaikyō
- Cost: ¥310
- Tips: It’s closed on Mondays, folks
6. Eat some world-famous Kōbe beef
Kōbe beef is a delicacy around the world. Fatty, well-marbled, Kōbe beef comes in various forms: teppanyaki, shabu-shabu, even as sashimi (yep, that’s raw). Kōbe beef, a registered trademark, is just one of many Japanese types of wagyu (Japanese beef).
If it’s to be called Kōbe beef, the marbling ratio has to be just so, the cattle themselves have to have been raised in Hyōgo Prefecture, plus a number of other strict guidelines for this foodie favorite.
Of course, the best place to try Kōbe beef is… in Kōbe! There are numerous places to try. Hit up Wakkoqu for various cuts cooked directly in front of you, or Wanto Burger has a diner vibe featuring Kōbe beef hamburgers. Make sure to do your research before you sit down at a restaurant, there are lots of scammers tricking you into thinking you’re getting Kobe beef when you really arean’t
- Location: Anywhere!
- Cost: ¥5000 upwards for a meal. Anything lower and it’s likely not real Kobe beef.
- Tips: Lunch sets will be cheaper than dinner sets. Make the splurge! It’s one of the top Japanese foods you can try.
7. See the city from up high at the Kōbe City Hall Observatory Lobby
It’s always good to see the lay of the land from a tall building when you’re somewhere new, so for one of the best things to do in Kōbe (naturally), the City Hall Observatory Lobby ranks high. Especially if you’re a fan of views.
From over a hundred meters up, the vista from the 24th floor of Kōbe City Hall is a good one. You’ll get to see the skyscrapers and bright lights of the lively Sannomiya area with the Rokkō Mountain Range in the background – that’s in the north. In the south, there’s the port area punctuated with Kōbe Port Tower, as well as Kansai Airport way in the distance.
- Location: Kōbe City Hall
- Cost: Free!
- Tips: Go at night for a lit-up city skyline
8. Sip some sake at Nada-Gogō
Still wondering what to do in Kobe? Nada-Gogō (meaning “Five Villages of Nada”) is an area that’s super famous in Japan for its sake – Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice.
Not only is this area fun to walk around, complete with wooden brewery buildings, museums, and traditional houses, but the sake tasting? Yeah, you’ve got to come here. If alcohol is your thing, then this is going to be one of the best things to do in Kōbe for you.
Three of the five villages are located within the boundaries of Kōbe City itself. These are Uozaki-gō, Mikage-gō, and Nishi-gō. This is where you’ll find the most sake breweries, where tours and tastings can be arranged. (The other villages are called Nishinomiya-gō and Imazu-gō).
Nada-Gogō is famous because it’s vast, accounting for a quarter of all sake made in Japan. Dating back around 700 years to 1330, the breweries here use famous sake-making rice called yamada nishiki. The water that flows from Mount Rokkō and mountain winds act to cool and slow the fermentation process.
- Location: Nada-Gogō
- Cost: Free (more, depending on what sake you choose to buy!)
- Tips: Get on a free tour and taste some sake
9. Learn about the history of Ikuta shrine
Shinto (Japanese native religion) shrines are always nice places to take a peaceful break away from it all. Ikuta Shrine is up there as one of the best places to do just that. Well, being so famous, this shrine may not always be so peaceful, but you have to see this place.
Thought to be one of the oldest shrines in Japan, Ikuta shrine dates back to the 3rd century and enshrines the kami (goddess or spirit) Wakahirume no Mikoto. The shrine has played a role in everything from sake brewing, luck in marriage (pray to the big cedar tree for that!), was the site of a major battle of the devastating 12th-century Genpei War, and was even a place of gathering during the 1995 Kōbe Earthquake.
- Location: Ikuta Shrine (Shimo-Yamate-dori)
- Cost: Free
- Tips: Stroll around the woodlands to discover sacred trees
10 . Take a day trip to the beautiful Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is the most famous and beautiful castle in the whole of Japan. Period. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the only original castles left standing in the country. Dating back to 1580, it’s known in Japan for its beauty and is fittingly called Shirasagi-jo – White Egret Castle – for its pure white color.
History buffs will love exploring this museum of Japanese military history. Go up the five-story main keep, explore three smaller towers, marvel at the moat, the walls, the military strategies, and (as usual for Japanese castles) collections of weapons throughout the ages. If history is your thing, you’ll love that the marked route here takes around an hour and a half to walk around.
- Location: Himeji; 40 minutes by train from Kōbe Station (¥970 one-way) or 16 minutes from Shin-Kōbe via the Bullet Train (¥2600, free with JR pass)
- Cost: ¥1000
- Tips: Go during cherry blossom season, when it’s even more beautiful (but go early to avoid day-trippers)
11. See the Nankin-machi lights at night
Nankin-machi is Kōbe’s Chinatown, and it abounds with lanterns, Chinese restaurants, and a plethora of other things – from medicinal herb stores to street food stalls.
Before the Westerners arrived in Kōbe (or were allowed to trade), Chinese merchants were already trading with Japan at this site. Chinatown itself developed from around the late 1860s and was named Nankin-machi (Nanjing Town) after the Qing Dynasty Chinese capital at the time – Nanjing – it’s where Chinese immigrants and traders were assumed to have originated.
It’s a fun place to walk around at night time. It may be small, but the lit-up storefronts, lights, and decorations – as well as the cheap-ish food stalls – give Nankin-machi a festival type feel on any given evening.
- Location: Nankin-machi
- Cost: Free (or however many bao you feel like eating)
- Tips: Go for Chinese New Year for a super festive and very loud atmosphere
12. Stroll around the Sorakuen Gardens
If you’re in Japan, you should definitely visit a traditional Japanese garden. For sure. Sorakuen Gardens, once part of a private residence, has been open to the public since 1941 and makes for a peaceful stroll and a great place to visit in Kobe.
The original residence was destroyed in WWII, but that doesn’t stop the gardens being beautiful. There are a lot of different facets to it, from the rhododendron garden and the tea house to the historical British-built residence that’s since been moved there. It’s a charming place to contemplate life and the finesse of Japanese gardening techniques and aesthetics.
- Location: Sorakuen Gardens (Nakayamatedori)
- Cost: ¥300
- Tips: You can get a 20% discount coupon from the Kōbe Tourism Office
13. Witness the devastation caused by earthquakes at Port of Kōbe Earthquake Memorial Park
A popular Kobe point of interest is the Earthquake Memorial Park. The 1995 Kōbe Earthquake (or Great Hanshin Earthquake as it’s known in Japan) was a truly devastating natural disaster. The strongest quake to hit Japan since the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, which almost flattened Tokyo, over 6,000 people lost their lives in Kōbe alone and 300,000 buildings were toppled.
To see what that looked like, head to the Port of Kōbe Earthquake Memorial Park. Here, the Meriken Pier is a slice of the earthquake’s destruction that’s been preserved. The buckled breakwater and cracked concrete show the massive force of earthquakes and what they can do. Scary. Less scary are the memorial sculptures along the seafront and grassy areas.
- Location: Port of Kōbe Earthquake Memorial Park
- Cost: Free
- Tips: Take a picnic blanket (or blue tarpaulin) to sit on when the weather’s good and chill out with some snacks
14. Take a ride up Kōbe Ropeway
For more great views of the city, the best spot has to be Kōbe Ropeway. Linking Shin-Kōbe with Nunobiki Herb Garden (yes, higher than Nunobiki Falls), the ropeway takes 10 minutes and provides riders with aerial views of the side and the forested slopes of Mount Rokkō on the way up.
At the top, there’s an observation deck with spectacular views of Kōbe down below. There’s a restaurant and cafe if you’re feeling hungry. While you’re here, why not take a look at Nunobiki Herb Garden? This is one of the largest in Japan and features a variety of flowers and herbs to marvel at. In Spring and Summer, this place is bursting with life. Alternatively, come during fall when the kōyō (red leaf) foliage is prime and looking pretty awesome.
- Location: Shin-Kōbe
- Cost: ¥1500 round-trip (including access to the Nunobiki Herb Garden)
- Tips: After 5 pm, the round-trip ticket is ¥900; the city will be lit up, too
15. Dazzled by the spectacle of Kōbe Luminarie
One of the top Kobe attractions is the Luminaire! Kōbe Luminaire is a light festival that decorates the city every year for two weeks in December. With lights donated by the Italian government and partly coordinated by Italian art director/producer Valerio Festi, it’s pretty grand and stylish, too.
Why lights? So many people had to live in darkness after the 1995 Kōbe Earthquake, with power cuts and electricity not working for a long time after the quake. The lights were supposed to be a one-off event to symbolize hope and regeneration, but it’s proven so popular that it’s a yearly extravaganza now. We wouldn’t have it any other way: it’s one of the best times to visit Kōbe.
- Location: Southwest of Kōbe City Hall
- Cost: Free
- Tips: See the lights from above at Kōbe City Hall Observatory Lobby
Where to Stay in Kobe?
Hiroshima has some fabulous Airbnb’s to choose. To feel more at home, we use Airbnb – you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or take this coupon for your first stay!
Arima Onsen Taketoritei Maruyama
For those on a larger budget a stay at Arima Onsen is a must. This is a traditional Japanese accommodation with natural hot spring baths for private use and free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
Hotel Okura Kobe
This is a popular Kobe hotel right on the waterfront just 500 m from the Motomachi shopping area. It’s a great choice for those looking for western style rooms.
When is the Best Time to Visit Japan for Good Weather
It depends. If good weather for you is seriously hot, we’d recommend August. However, if good weather means no rain and clear skies, then that would be January or February (though it is cold).
The typical ‘best weather’ of Japan has to be spring, however, especially April and May. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and you don’t have to wear a coat anymore. That’s when we visited and had a lovely, and mostly comfortable time. See a month by month breakdown of Japanese weather here.
Quick Travel Tips for Japan
- Capital: Tokyo is the capital of Japan while Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido.
- Currency: The Japanese Yen(¥) is the currency of Japan. Most places in Japan do not accept credit card and it’s always advisable to have cash on you.
- Visa: Most visitors can enter Japan visa-free for 90 days – check with your embassy.
- What to Pack: It all depends on when you visit Japan. See our full Japan packing list here.
What to Pack for Japan?
Wondering what to wear in Japan? You aren’t alone. Japan can be a very tricky country to pack for as there are so many styles you can go with, and of course, every season is different.
We’ve traveled to Japan during all their four seasons. Most of Japan is a four-season country and winter travel is vastly different than summer. Here are the essential Japan packing list items to bring with you depending on the season you visit!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Japan. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and found the images to look amazing. Check out our other travel cameras here.
Japan mainly uses the Type A plug like North America, but there is generally no socket for the grounded portion. Make sure you find a good universal adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may struggle to find one once you land.