Kōbe, the home of the famous world-famous beef and a must-visit destination if you are on a foodie tour through Japan. But hold on, Kōbe has much more to offer than just juicy steaks. The city, which is the capital of Hyogo Prefecture, is one of Japan’s largest, and is located just a few kilometers from Osaka (and Kyoto for that matter). Sandwiched into a long band between the Pacific Ocean and Rokkō Mountain Range, the area offers a complete package of beautiful ocean and mountain views. It also has a long history of foreign influence, immortalized in its Chinatown, the old Western quarter of Kitano and its large port. From sake tasting at a famous brewery to jazz nights in international district — Kōbe has a lot to offer long after you’ve devoured its world-famous beef.
What to see and do in Kōbe
The Kōbe Port Tower is the trademark of the city and gives you an idea of what people thought of as “futuristic” in the 1960s when it was built. For ¥700 you can also get up to a platform and enjoy the vista of Osaka Bay.
The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is another impressive monument as it is the world’s longest suspension bridge. There is a promenade under the bridge that offers interesting views of the bay. You can access it for ¥250 from Maiko Station.
Kōbe was struck by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 that resulted in the deaths of more than 5,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes. The Kōbe Earthquake Museum commemorates the victims and educates people on earthquakes. The museums is located close to Iwaya Station and the admission fee costs ¥600 for adults.
If you are longing for some fresh air, catch the Rokko Cable Car to the peak for great views and an assortment of attractions, including a pasture with flowers and sheep, a botanical garden and Rokkō Garden Terrace, a European-style complex of shops and restaurants.
Once back down, enjoy Kōbe’s international charms in its Chinatown called Nankinmachi, close to Motomachi Station. Or check out the old Western quarter known as Kitano where foreign merchants once resided. It has some beautiful European-style buildings from the last century, many of them open to visitors (for a varying entrance fee of a few hundred yen each) as well as good restaurants and jazz clubs.
Finally, if you feel more like something Japanese, take a stroll through Sorakuen Garden, a beautiful Japanese landscape garden that is generally regarded as the most beautiful in Kōbe. Close to Motomachi and Kenchō-mae Stations and ¥600 entry.
What to eat and drink in Kōbe
Kōbe beef would be an obvious choice of what to eat in this city. In fact, Kōbe beef is just one local variety of wagyu, which literally translates to “Japanese beef”, but refers to a certain breed of cow that is raised in a way that it produces fatty, marbled meat. If you don’t want to break the bank but still enjoy this delicacy, try Kobe Beef Steak & Grill Meriken Hatoba, which serves A5 grade Kōbe beef at affordable prices, located close to Motomachi Station and Chinatown.
The long history of Western influence has left quite an impression on Kobe. One unique spot to have breakfast or an afternoon cuppa is Café Freundlieb. The authentic German bakery and café is set in an impressive old church that once served the international community of Kōbe. Continental breakfast starts from around ¥1,300. Note that it tends to get busy on the weekends. The cafe is located about a 10-minute walk from either Shin-Kōbe or Sannomiya Station.
At night, head over to Kitano to enjoy one of the area’s many jazz clubs. Sone has a 40-year history and live music every night. It’s reasonably priced for both drinks and light snacks. A few minutes’ walk from Sannomiya Station.
For those of you that prefer a more traditional Japanese vibe, Kōbe’s Nada district is home to some of Japan’s best sake breweries. Plan around half a day for a walking tour of the area. Or just stop by the Sawanotsuru Sake Museum (free admission) to learn about traditional sake brewing or take a free, guided tour of the Kobe Shushinkan Brewery and optionally add a sake tasting.
Where to stay in Kōbe
As far as capsule hotels go, Kobe Kua House Hotel convinces with modern, clean facilities, a hot spring bath and a spa. It is conveniently located right in the city center, 4 minutes from Sannomiya Station. Capsules for both males and females start from ¥3,400.
If you prefer a room to yourself without synchronized snoring by your fellow travelers, there are a couple of reasonable business hotels in Kobe to choose from. Facilities are usually spick and span, but expect the rooms to be small. Chisun Hotel Kobe is right next to Kobe Station and doubles start from ¥6,480. They also have reasonable single rooms available—as you’d expect from a business hotel.
For those of you that would like to make the most of their Kōbe stay, get a room with a view of the bay, which is especially beautiful at night. Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Bay is an upscale hotel with a great vista from the terrace. Rooms are still fairly reasonable for a 5-star hotel, with doubles starting from ¥11,821. Located next to Kōbe Tower right on the waterfront. It is an 8-minute walk from Kobe Station or use the free shuttle bus from the station.