With over 40,000 people of other nationalities calling it home, Kobe’s sloping sprawl is packed with a bustling cosmopolitan exuberance. Diverse and varied, the city’s international influence adds to the allure, creating a distinctive, intangible atmosphere that’s near-impossible to resist.
Alive with modern, urbane energy, Kobe is the Japan of now. Tradition is eschewed in favour of international cuisine, lush greenery and a contemporary feel. It’s not what you’d expect from a Japanese city, but it’s an unforgettable expanse that’s as unique as it is inviting.
If you’re planning to tick Kobe off your travel checklist, be sure to read through our guide to its iconic sights, culinary highlights, and travel tips right here.
How to get around Kobe
With plenty to see and do in Kobe, it’s advisable to have a plan for getting around the city in good time.
- On foot
Kobe’s centre can easily be traversed on foot as a lot of its most popular sights are relatively close together, so if you don’t mind stretching your legs, consider wandering around at your leisure.
- By bus
Although Kobe has a subway, it’s a bit on the pricey side and not particularly useful for tourists and travellers. Instead, opt for the loop buses, an old-fashioned green bus that travels around scenic spots and tourist locations. They run every 15-20 minutes and are easily boarded at the green and red signs found on the side of the city’s roads.
- By cable car
For a more unique way to experience Kobe, the city has several ropeways that travel up Mount Rokko, and offer some incredible views of the city. If you’re afraid of heights, we’d say skip it, but for those who can stomach it, we’d highly recommend seeing the city this way. The Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens have their own ropeway that let you take in sweeping vistas before a visit to these stunning, verdant greeneries.
What to do in Kobe
In a city as aesthetically pleasing as Kobe, going for a stroll affords visitors some excellent sights. Modern flourishes merge with nature and history, deftly balancing culture and evolution at the same time. With breath-taking waterfalls nestled alongside museums, souvenir shops and holy shrines, Kobe’s attractions are as numerous as they are enticing.
- Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum
If you’re into the traditional Japanese spirit, stop by this museum in the heart of the Nada-gogo district, Kobe’s centre of sake brewing. Visitors are welcome to wander through the historic former brewery, with plenty of English pamphlets and videos to explain the process. Plus, there’s a free tasting session afterwards too!
- Nunobiki Falls
Away from the hustle and bustle of Kobe’s urban sprawl lies this serene, picturesque natural sanctuary. Made up of a four-sectioned waterfall that’s truly spell-binding, it’s a nice little retreat from the busy city. Surrounded by lush greenery that the cascading waterfall cuts through like a knife, it can be a bit of a hike to get there, but the views really are more than worth it.
- Kobe City Museum
Kobe’s storied history as a trading port and east-west go-between is immortalised in a collection of art and artefacts. With some English signage to help you out, it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about the origins of this superb city. It can get a little pricey when special exhibitions are on, but a little extra yen is nothing when you get to see the collection of Nanban on offer (that’s Southern barbarian art to you and me).
- Kitano Tenman-jinja
If you enjoy a spot of people watching, then this shrine to Kobe’s academia makes an excellent little stop-off while you’re walking around, plus its traditional gateways, halls and lanterns make for a great little peek into the Kobe of the past.
- City Hall Observation Lobby
On the 24th floor of Kobe City Hall is a chance to take in the astonishing, sweeping panorama of the city. Clear enough to see all the way to its airport across Osaka Bay, the magic of Kobe’s cityscape truly comes alive at sunset, as its buildings and streets are illuminated with streetlights and the sky is daubed with hues of orange and purple.
Where to eat in Kobe
The international influence of Kobe means there’s no shortage of variety when it comes to food here. With something to cater for every taste bud, it’s possible you might be spoiled for choice. Luckily, we’ve picked out a selection of city’s specials for you below…
- Kobe Plaisir
As elaborate as it is relaxing, Kobe Plaisir combines produce of exceptional quality with a dining experience that puts a premium on luxury. A steakhouse like nowhere you’ve ever eaten before, Kobe Plaisir features a menu made up of ingredients from the local branch of the Japan Agricultural Cooperative, so the food is top quality.
With a variety of steaks to choose from – including the namesake Kobe – guests pick their preparation: steamed, grilled or shabu-shabu-style, and enjoy the famously-marbled steak of this region.
- Wanto Burger
Modelled after a vintage American diner, Wanto Burger’s appearance can be deceiving. Far from the US equivalent of a greasy spoon, this is a premium burger shack serving upgraded patties of the choicest quality. Prices aren’t cheap, but the titular burger comes highly recommended; a Kobe beef patty acts as the foundation, with sliced wagyu steak strips, garlic chips, bacon, spiced slices of boiled egg and steak sauce adding structural support to the deliciousness.
- R Valentino
Not many would make a bee-line to Italian food when in Kobe, but R Valentino serves up authentic Italian fare in a rustic, cosy atmosphere. Run by native Italians, the pasta is delicious, the brick-fired pizza is done right, and the staff are charmingly enthusiastic. The perfect spot for a relaxed mid-afternoon meal.
- Grill Jujiya
For those looking for something more on the traditional side, this charming eatery has been serving old-school specialities since the 1930s. This is Western food done Japanese-style: think beef stews, fried seafood and hayashi rice, a hearty meal of beef and onions, slathered with a wine and tomato sauce. Amongst the bright lights and ever-growing modernisations, this is a quaint slice of Kobe’s history served with love and rustic appeal.
- Fisherman’s Market
Seafood fans and rumbling stomachs will love the Fisherman’s Market, a huge seafood restaurant that affords diners superb views of Kobe Harborland Mosaic. Perhaps even better, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet whose offerings span a selection of cuisines including Italian, Chinese, and Spanish with all manner of paella, sushi and fish dishes for you to feast on.
And with the prices at the lower end of the scale, this is one place you should definitely check out while you’re here.