One of the ten largest cities in Japan, Kobe is an important port city in the country. It’s nestled between the sea and the Rokko mountain a few kilometers from Kyoto. Kobe may not be as famous as Kyoto or Osaka, but the city boasts a few gems and interesting sights to discover when exploring the city.
If you are among those looking for a complete Japanese experience, from cultural visits, delicious cuisine, and insights into Japanese life and culture, Kobe can actually be one of the best places to have it all. So, what are you waiting for? Join us on a tour of the 15 best things to do in Kobe, Japan!
1. Visit The Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum
Okay, this museum may sound dull and boring, but don’t let the name fool you. This one-of-a-kind museum, which opened in 1984, is fascinating especially if you are a DIYer or love woodwork. But even if you are not, it is still entertaining to learn how the Japanese have been constructing temples and public buildings for hundreds of years.
The museum includes interactive exhibits and displays. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll stumble upon the many English-speaking volunteers. They will show you around and offer some explanation. Make sure to visit the workshop, where you can learn some basic woodworking skills. The resulting masterpiece will undoubtedly be a fun and meaningful souvenir to take home with you.
2. See Koalas And Pandas At Kobe Oji Zoo
Established in 1928, the Kobe Oji Zoo is known for being the only wildlife park in Japan where guests can see both pandas and koalas. The zoo also features the highest number of flamingos bred in the country.
Of course, there are also elephants, polar bears, and even an amusement park with several rides. It is a perfect spot to visit if you love animals and if you are traveling with the whole family. If you can, drop by the zoo during the spring. A magical yet short period at the beginning of spring is when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
3. Breathe Some Fresh Air At Mount Rokkō
Offering a fantastic backdrop to the city, Mount Rokko is the highest peak of the nearby mountain range. A day trip to Rokko provides the perfect escape from the busy city.
It allows you to enjoy panoramic views of not just Kobe but also Osaka. Several attractions are located within the mountain. These include a botanical garden, a touristic complex with shops and restaurants, a golf course, and an observation deck. You can also combine this excursion with a visit to the Arima Onsen. Make a day of it and don’t forget to pack food with you!
4. Take a dip at Arima Onsen
It is impossible to visit Japan and not visit an onsen. Visitors can find these age-old hot spring resorts all over the country, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into local life and traditions.
When in Kobe, give Japan’s oldest hot spring resort, Arima Onsen a visit. Located at Mount Rokko, the onsen is known for its two types of hot spring waters. The Kinsen (or gold water) is said to be suitable for skin and muscle problems while the Ginseng (or silver water) is recommended for muscle and joint problems. Either water you choose, you are in for a treat.
5. Take a breather at Kobe Fruit & Flower Park
For a refreshing pause from the bustling city life of Kobe without having to wander too much out of town, you should certainly drop by Kobe Fruit & Flower Park, a little green oasis that is more than just your average urban park.
This vast park includes several flower & fruit gardens (with fruit picking sessions available), outdoor barbecue facilities, a food area, and even a hotel with its own onsen (or bathhouse).
The highlight is definitely when the park is adorned with thousands of impressive illuminations during the wintertime. We did say that this was not your average urban park.
6. Get lit at Kobe Luminarie
There is more than one reason why you should visit Kobe in the winter. Among all of them, the main one is probably Kobe Luminarie. It’s an annual light festival held in memory of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. It was the deadliest earthquake in the country’s modern history.
The festival is held in the area of the Motomachi Station on the JR Kobe Line. Happening from Early to Mid-December, the event draws millions of visitors every year, so be one of them!
7. Discover the Kobe Maritime Museum
Given the fascinating history of Kobe as one of the main ports in Japan, a great thing to do in Kobe is to visit the Kobe Maritime Museum, which opened in 1987 to mark the 120th anniversary of the city becoming a foreign Treaty Port in 1868.
The building itself is an impressive structure, meant to look like a ship’s sails. With a focus on Japanese shipping history, the museum boasts an amazing collection of ships, ship parts, and navigation instruments.
8. Admire the world of Kawasaki at the Kawasaki Good Times World
Sitting within the Meriken Park, near the Kobe Maritime Museum, is the Kawasaki Good Times World, a corporate museum by the Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. The museum’s goal is to showcase the “wonders of technology” and the “importance of craftsmanship” to the general public.
Among the exhibits, visitors will get to observe Kawasaki motorbikes and jet skis, as well as the first-generation shinkansen (bullet train). The museum also features a series of fun and entertaining events and workshops open to children and adults.
9. Visit the 1800-year-old Ikuta Shrine
Did you know Kobe is home to one of the oldest shrines in Japan? Located in the city’s center, the Ikuta Shrine celebrates the goddess Wakahirume-no-Mikoto, a deity revered for bringing people together. Therefore, the shrine is considered an essential spot for love and relationships. Furthermore, entrance to the shrine is free, so it is a great spot to visit for a relaxing moment simply.
10. Climb up to the top of the Kobe Port Tower
Just like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, so is Kobe Port Tower to Kobe. Visitors and locals alike adore this city landmark as it offers fantastic 360° views of the entire city from its observation deck. Built in 1963, the tower stands at 108 meters and features a quaint lounge on the third floor that performs a complete rotation every 20 minutes. You can enjoy the 360° of Kobe without leaving your seat. On your way up or down, stop by the observation’s first floor, where the glass floor becomes clear, allowing you to see below your feet.
11. Hike your way to the Nunobiki Falls
Want to take advantage of the nice weather? Make a day trip to the Nunobiki waterfalls. This magical spot is easily accessible from downtown Kobe after a short train ride to Shin-Kobe Station. All you have to do is follow the small trail behind the station, which will take you straight to the waterfalls.
There are four of them, with the first only a 30-minute hike from the station. You can choose to see all four of them. All of your efforts will be worth it once you will reach the top. However, if you happen to visit Kobe during the hot, summer months, take advantage of the ropeway to get to the falls without breaking too much of a sweat!
12. Enjoy a meal in Chinatown
While Japanese food is undoubtedly delicious, why not switch it up a bit? Explore Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown, located in the Motomachi district, in the city’s center. Nankinmachi may be small, with only one main street adorned by the typical red gates and a small square with a Chinese temple, but if you call yourself a foodie, or are simply hungry, then this is more than enough.
You will find, of course, a plethora of restaurants, both small and big. There are also food stands and shops where you will find everything edible, like mouthwatering dumplings, spicy Szechuan cuisine, tasty delicacies, Chinese-style ramen, etc. An excellent place to get a meal and pick up souvenirs in one go!
13. Explore Picturesque Kitano-Cho
A major port for many centuries, Kobe was among the first Japanese harbors to open to foreign trade in the 19th century. Western merchants and many diplomats started settling into the city, most notably in Kitano-Cho. We highly recommend you spend an afternoon exploring this historic area to admire the western-influenced mansions and buildings.
But if architecture is not your forte, rest assured that Kitano-Cho is still worth exploring, thanks to the plethora of picturesque parks, quaint cafés and coffee shops, and small boutiques and shops. It’s an excellent way to escape the busiest areas of Kobe without leaving the city.
14. Sample Sake at Nada’s Breweries
You may not know this, but Kobe is a critical player in the Japanese sake scene. Much of the country’s best sake is brewed in the area. While it is unsure why the best sakes are produced here, some speculate that the clean water from Mount Rokko, the nearby mountain range, is responsible for it.
Whatever the reason, an exciting thing to do when in Kobe is to explore the Nada district. It is where many sake breweries are located. Some are open to the general public to allow visitors to learn more about sake production and the brewing processes.
You can even find some breweries acting as small sake museums. In these museums, you can learn everything from the rice harvest to brewing before actually sampling the different sakes and discovering the rich flavors.
15. Enjoy Kobe Beef, of course!
Kobe may not be a top destination for first-timers in Japan. However, if there’s one thing that people from across the globe would travel to the city for, it would have to be the delicious Kobe beef. What is Kobe beef, you ask? It is a local variation of Wagyu meat recognized for its high level of fat marbling.
But don’t put on a nasty face; the meat is far from being fatty, as it is fat with a low melting point. As such, the meat cooks rather quickly and stays tender. Furthermore, the flavor is just to die for. So if you do visit Kobe, make sure to have a go at Kobe beef. It will melt in your mouth. Additionally, there are tons of restaurants cooking Kobe beef in the city. But be ready, you won’t bite into a piece of meat the same way after having tasted Kobe meat.