Whether you’re day-tripping from Osaka or stopping for a shore excursion on your cruise, here are all the best things to do in Kobe. We’ve included tips on how to save money, too.

Kobe, the capital city of Hyogo Prefecture, might not feature high on your list of must-visit Japanese cities, but it really should. With world-famous beef and Japanese sake, beautiful gardens, and harbor cruises galore, there’s plenty to see and do in this charming port city. Plus, with Osaka, Kyoto, and Himeji all close by, Kobe can easily be added as a side trip to most Japan itineraries.

Discounts and passes for Kobe sightseeing

There aren’t actually many discounts or special passes aimed at visitors to Kobe. In fact, at the time of writing, there was only one discount pass for Kobe — the Kobe Travel Smart Passport. Luckily, it’s quite good value, so we do recommend checking it out.

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1. Taste some world-famous Kobe beef

Look at that marbling. | Photo by via Getty Images

While this isn’t one for our plant-based friends, we can’t not mention Kobe beef. Known the world over for its distinctive fat marbling that gives it a rich flavor and tender texture, Kobe beef is a type of wagyū, meaning it comes from a special Japanese cattle breed.

You can enjoy Kobe beef in a variety of ways, including as teppanyaki steak, in sukiyaki or shabu-shabu hot-pots, and even raw. Plus, there’s no shortage of restaurants offering it in Kobe, so you’re spoiled for choice. However, the most popular restaurants can get very crowded — even at lunch on weekdays, so we recommend planning ahead and making a booking where possible.

Recommended Kobe beef restaurants

If you’re after teppanyaki, En Steakhouse offers an impressive multi-course lunch with three types of Kobe beef, and you can make reservations online.

Or, for an all-inclusive experience, this full-day Kobe walking tour includes a lunch of Kobe beef (with veg options also available), sake tasting, and visits to some of the city’s best attractions.

2. Take a ride around the bay on the Gozabune Atakemaru

Covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

Fancy boat is fancy. | Photo by Maria Danuco

Kobe’s a port city, so there’s really no better way to experience it than by getting out on the water. There are a whole lot of boat-ride and cruise options available, but our favorite is the Gozabune Atakemaru Cruise. Is that mostly because of its esthetic? Well, yes, but just look at it! Who wouldn’t want to cruise around in a bright red boat? In fact, the Gozabune Atakemaru’s design was inspired by the giant ship “Atakemaru” that was built on the orders of Lord Iemitsu, a shōgun from the Edo period.

So basically, you can sit back and relax in a boat that’s dripping in traditional charm, while also taking in the views of Kobe’s bustling port.

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Inside the boat is also fancy. | Photo by Maria Danuco

3. Relax in Sōrakuen Garden

Covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

For ponds and stone bridges. | Photo by Maria Danuco

Sōrakuen Garden is a great example of a traditional Japanese garden, with some modern elements thrown in. It was originally built in the early 20th century by the mayoral Kodera family. In 1941, the garden was turned over to the city of Kobe and opened to the public.

The garden is charming, and a quiet place to pass the time. In fact, you may well stumble across locals sketching and painting the scenery. There is a pond in the center, complete with koi fish, stone bridges, and small waterfalls. You’ll also find a mixture of Japanese- and Western-stlye buildings, including the Funeyakata building — which was originally a boathouse, and the Hassam Residence — which is an example of the kinds of houses popular with foreigners in Kobe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Pro tip: Looking to visit some more traditional Japanese gardens? Check out our article on the top gardens in Tokyo.

4. Feast on street food in Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown

Delicious food is waiting for you — just follow your nose. | Photo by Maria Danuco

Another one for the foodies — Nankinmachi, aka Kobe’s Chinatown — is full of culinary delights. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon strolling, if you don’t mind the sensory overload. There’ll be crowds, the noise that comes with them, and plenty of delicious smells wafting through the air. Keep your eye out for street stalls selling steamed buns, dumplings, and croquettes.

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5. Enjoy the scenery at Nunobiki Herb Gardens and the views from the ropeway

From ¥1,400
Covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

City views are a bonus. | Photo by Maria Danuco

For a different kind of garden, don’t miss Nunobiki Herb Garden — Japan’s largest herb garden. It’s located in the Rokkō Mountain Range, north of Kobe’s city center, and you can take a ropeway from the base up to the garden. The ropeway offers views out over Kobe City and Osaka Bay. Once you’re at the top, you’ll be treated to beautifully arranged gardenbeds of herbs and seasonal flowers, plus more stunning views.

You can also opt to hike between the base of the mountain and Nunobiki Herb Garden. There are a few different trails to choose from, some of which take you past Nunobiki Waterfalls. There are one-way tickets available for the ropeway, so you could hike in one direction and take the ropeway in the other.

6. Go sake tasting in the Nada District

Sake tasting at some breweries is covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

Bottoms up. | Photo by Maria Danuco

If you love sake, then you can’t miss Kobe’s Nada District — the top sake-producing area in Japan. Some of the breweries here are over 200 years old. A number of them have small shops and/or museums attached, and many also offer sake tasting. The cost of a tasting is usually around ¥500, although in some cases it’s free.

Another way to enjoy the Nada District is to join a sake-tasting tour. This is an especially good option if you don’t actually know much about sake and also want to learn about the history of the area. We recommend joining this sake tour, that includes sake tasting and snacks, as well as the expert knowledge of an English-speaking, local guide. We went on it, and had a grand time.

7. Take in the views from Mount Rokkō

Entry to some attractions on Mt. Rokkō are covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

The view from the top of Mt. Rokkō. | Photo by via Getty Images.

For the best views, you need to head to Mount Rokkō. It’s the tallest mountain in the Rokkō Mountain Range, so it naturally has some fantastic lookout points, and is a popular spot to watch the sunset.

While there are hiking trails up to the peak of Mt. Rokkō, we actually recommend taking the cable car. That’s because there are lots of attractions and things to check out at the peak, including the Rokkō Morinone Museum (a museum housing antique music boxes) and the Rokkō Alpine Botanical Garden. Plus, you can also take a ropeway to Arima Onsen. And there’s a whole lot more, too. If you hike, you might not have time to squeeze everything all in.

8. Learn about earthquakes at the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum

From ¥600
Covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

Japan is known for its strong earthquakes. But it’s also known for its robust early detection, disaster prevention, and recovery efforts — and the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum is the perfect place to learn about all this. There is a wide variety of exhibits and displays, and English-language support is available.

However, as the name suggests, the focus of this museum is the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 that caused over 6000 deaths and widespread destruction, so as you can imagine some parts of the museum are quite sobering. In particular, there is an exhibition space showing what the city was like directly after the earthquake, with immersive reconstructions and a theater room, as well as a memorial area.

9. Soak your troubles away at Arima Onsen

Entry to some hot springs are covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

For a little bit of rest and relaxation. | Photo by via Getty Images

Tucked away behind the Rokkō Mountain Range, a relatively unknown hot-spring resort awaits. Arima Onsen lays claim to being one of the oldest hot-spring resorts in Japan, and in the past was incredibly popular. These days though, it isn’t particularly well-known among foreign tourists, so it’s a great place to get away from the crowds.

There are a number of onsen hotels if you’d like to stay the night. Or, if you’d rather just do a day visit, there is Arima Onsen Kin-no-yu and Arima Onsen Gin-no-yu — both of which are included in the Kobe Smart Passport.

10. Ride the Mosaic Big Ferris Wheel

From ¥800
Covered by the Kobe Travel Smart Passport

The Ferris Wheel lights up at night. | Photo by via Getty Images.

Want to do something romantic? Then head over to Kobe Harborland for a ride on the Mosaic Big Ferris Wheel. It offers views of Kobe’s port area during the day, but at night it’s even better. That’s because the Ferris Wheel itself lights up, making it very pretty to look at. Plus, once you’re inside you get to enjoy the nighttime views, complete with sparkling lights and reflections on the water.

Frequently asked questions about Kobe

Is Kobe worth visiting?

Kobe is a great add-on to your Japan trip if you’re looking to get away from the more crowded Kansai cities like Osaka and Kyoto. It’s close enough to both that travel won’t take up a huge chunk of time, and there are plenty of things to do in Kobe to keep you busy for the whole day.

How long should you spend in Kobe?

You can easily get a taste of what Kobe has to offer in a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto. If you wanted to extend your trip, we recommend two or three days to see more of the sights.

Is Kobe closer to Kyoto or Osaka?

Kobe is closer to Osaka. It only takes 40 minutes by train to travel between the two, while for Kyoto it takes over an hour.

How do I get from the airport to Kobe?

The best way to make the trip is to take the Haruka Express. For more options though, check out our article on how to get from Kansai International Airport to Kobe.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.

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