Kobe the port city, is the 4th biggest port in Japan and the 5th largest city in the nation. It has a population of approx. 1.5 million people and is one of the major hubs in the Kansai region.
Kobe is well known for ‘The Great Hanshin Earthquake’ which rocked the city in 1995, causing major damage to central infrastructure and surrounding residential areas. The city’s revival and memory of this tragic event still continue to this very day.
Kobe Beef is also an internationally renowned source of high-grade meat, which is best tried in its home city.
Here are our Top 10 experiences in this diverse district of Central Kansai.
1. The Port City
Kobe is a major port hub in Japan and the fourth largest in the nation. Thus, you can enjoy beautiful views of the Port Harbour during either day or night. Especially, on clear days in the warmer seasons, the reflection of the water is a great photo op.
The port itself is also considered a popular date spot for many couples. The Port is surrounded by shopping centres, cafes and restaurants, or can be perfect for strolls around the harbour. Particularly on Christmas Day, you may observe a sudden increase in couples in the area.
2. Climb Kobe Tower
Kobe Tower is a 108-meter tall structure that stands out as the largest tower around the port area. Climbing to the 75m glass floor observation deck provides panoramic views of the surrounding region. This includes the port city, the greater Osaka Bay limits and Mount Rokko.
At night the tower’s spectacular array of 7,000 LEDs light up this rare tubular structure and harbour. The shape of the tower is also unique, as it resembles a traditional drum. This is also considered one of the best date spots in the Kansai area.
Check out our post on Kobe Tower for more information.
3. Visit the Earthquake Memorial
One of the biggest disasters to hit not only Kobe but the Kansai area was ‘The Great Hanshin Earthquake’. On January 17, 1995, the quake struck early in the morning and caused widespread damage to the city and encompassing limits.
In memory of this devastating event, there is an earthquake memorial site along the Port City, beyond Kobe Tower. The site preserves some of the damage caused by the tragedy. It also serves to commemorate the lives lost from this major tremor.
You can find out more about this tragic event here.
4. Go to Sannomiya Shopping
Kobe is often seen as a trendy town, full of fashionable restaurants, stylish boutiques, rich people and stunning scenery. As a Port town, some associate that wealth directly as a result of the amount of trade that occurs in the city. Others may think of Kobe Beef as one of the most succulent, expensive and indulgent cuts of meat available in Japan. Either way, it has a luxurious reputation.
In order to experience this part of Kobe, you need to travel to the fashion capital of Sannomiya. This district is full of premium brands, prestigious department stores and glamorous people. The restaurants too can also be pricey, especially those serving the local beef delicacy.
Sannomiya can be accessed by many railway lines as it serves as a major transportation hub for Kobe.
5. Eat in China Town
Kobe’s China Town consists of two main streets full of restaurants, shops, food stands and gift stores. To experience some different Asian flavours you can escape to this part of town for a different food selection.
Shops in the area are well known for their steamed buns, Chinese style ramen and tapioca drinks. In addition, you can find many kinds of gift stores and lanterns that line the streets.
The area forms the central part of the Kansai region for the Chinese community. It has been in existence since the 1860s during early trade. You can find this area a close 5-minute walk from Motomachi Station.
6. Try Kobe Beef
If you know Kobe, then you have most probably heard of Kobe Beef. This is wagyu beef which has been sourced from a special kind of black cattle breed raised in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The meat is considered a specialty of the Kobe area, well known for its fatty marble texture, rich flavour and tenderness.
Kobe Beef is available across the city and of course outside as well. It can be served in many ways including steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu or even raw.
Of course, searching for the best restaurants in the Kobe area is as easy as checking Tablelog scores for anything 3.5 and above. At the time of writing, however, the top 3 restaurants listed were Aragawa, Meat Specialty Makura and Miyasu. In addition, their prices were listed from 10,000 yen and above, so you can be sure it will be a pricey but memorable experience.
7. Go to Mount Rokko
Mount Rokko is considered one of the best viewing spots in Japan for night scenery. It is among a small list of sites, which provide stunning scenic panoramas opportunities.
It is a modestly tall mountain, sitting at only 931 metres tall, but it is also a very popular hiking spot. Additionally, many flock to this area to enjoy the hot springs, golf or the surrounding garden areas.
It is said, the views from the observation deck are best experienced about 30 minutes after sunset. So we recommend you time your trip around that time, earlier in winter (5 pm) and later in summer (after 7 pm). Upfront you can capture the illumination of Kobe’s bright city colours. Beyond Kobe lies Osaka Bay and the limitless shinning lights which pan around the harbour.
Access to Mount Rokko is easy via central Kobe or the nearby Arima Hot Springs resort. They provide ropeway and cable car transport options.
You may also be interested in our article that lists the best night views in Japan.
8. Enjoy Arima Hot Springs
Another highlight close to Mount Rokko is the Arima Hot Springs (Onsen). This is an area with more than 1,000 years of history and is ranked as one of the best hot spring areas in the Kansai region.
The Arima Hot Spring town is located on the opposite side of Mount Rokko, but still within the boundaries of Kobe city. The small community may seem modern in its architecture, yet there are many narrow alleyways with a historical feel. Further exploring will reveal an area littered with shrines and temples, plus a hot spring museum.
The town features many ryokans (Japanese style inns) and public bathhouses, most which can be accessed by the public. There are two main types of bathing options in terms of hot spring water. The brown water called ‘Kinsen’ (Golden Water) is composed of iron deposits and is reportedly helpful for skin conditions and muscle injuries. The clearer water is labelled ‘Ginsen’ (Silver water) and contains radium and carbonate said to improve muscle and joint pain.
To access the resort area there are buses from the main cities of Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto. You can also take a train from central Kobe or cable car from Mount Rokko.
9. Visit Ikuta Shrine
The Ikuta Shrine is centrally located in the heart of Kobe city, and a short stroll from Sannomiya station. It is more than 1800 years old and is strongly related to the goddess Wakahirume-no-Mikoto. This diety represents the weaving of cloth to create fabric and beautiful garments. This idea of connecting strands together is said to resemble bringing together of people and building relationships. Thus the shrine is considered a popular spot for those seeking love and strong future relationships.
Another natural highlight of the shrine is the first that lies behind the main shrine and torii gates. The lush greenery is a significant contrast to the broader city’s towering skyscrapers and residential towers. It is also a popular power spot for healing and those seeking fortune in marriage. The shrine also features multi-lingual explanations and souvenirs that can be experienced throughout the site.
Access to the shrine is convenient due to its nearby location to the main hub of Kobe city in Sannomiya. It is a very close 10-minute walk from the station
10. Experience Luminarie Festival
One of the more magical displays that occur yearly in the first two weeks of December is Luminarie. The event is a special display devoted to remembering the victims and destruction of The Great Hanshin Earthquake. There are metal archways and illuminated lighting displays that start at Kobe’s China Town and finish at Kobe’s city hall.
The spectacularly multi-coloured displays only improve and grow with international crowds each year. The main town is closed during this time as crowds start lining up from beyond Sannomiya station to capture the beauty of this unique memorial. We recommend you go early to line up, as the crowds move very slowly and can sometimes take an hour or longer to reach the Kobe City hall.
So, that is our Top 10 highlights of Kobe city, do you have any other recommendations you want to list in the comments below? We would love to hear from you too.