See also: Where to Stay in Kobe
Surrounded by the sea to the South and the Rokko Mountains to the North, Kobe is a Japanese port city that has a bit of everything. Kobe, the capital city of Hyogo Prefecture and the seventh largest city in Japan, is evidenced to have existed in the Meiji era. Carrying a long history and legacy, the city has currently emerged as one of the significant industrial regions in Japan. Lying close to Osaka, it forms a part of the Keihanshin Metropolitan area. Kobe is also one of the famous tourist destinations in Japan. Starting from historical sites and temples, amazing cityscapes, cosmopolitan ambience and praiseworthy natural attractions, Kobe has more than what a tourist would desire of an ideal touring location. Here’s a list of the best doable things in Kobe.
Take in all the sights of Kobe Port Tower
One of the top attractions of Kobe is the iconic Kobe Port Tower. Established in 1962 with a complex series of pipes it was the first tower in Japan to have been built in such fashion. Having a height of 108 metres, this tower has many observatories presenting panoramic views of Kobe Port. Consisting of 32 red steel staves, the tower has two layers; the ground and the sight-seeing layers. The three floors of ground layers are occupied by restaurants, souvenir shops, displays and a ticket office and an elevator for going to sightseeing layers. And the five floors of the sightseeing layers comprise a 75 metre high aerial viewpoint, sightseeing decks, a 360 rotate café, Awajishima and Osaka Bay viewpoints and the Mount Rokko and Kansai International Airport viewpoints respectively.
The tower is beautifully lit up at night. An interesting fact about this tower is it was modelled after a traditional drum instrument called tsuzumi used in kabuki plays and its hyperboloid architectural design helped it remain firm and intact when many port buildings were destroyed during the 1995 Hanshin earthquake.
Be charmed by Akashi Kaikyo Bridge
Located to the west of Kobe, this magnificent bridge is a one of its kind attraction. Being the world’s longest suspension bridge, Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is the tallest of its kind in Japan. Straddling the Akashi strait, it connects Kobe City and Awaji Island and has a height of 283 meters. While the bridge itself cannot be crossed, you can cross its walkway. But for that, you need to go to Maiko Marine Promenade which houses observatory hallways beneath the walkway. Stretching for about 320 meters and standing at a height of 50 meters above the ground, the walkway can be reached by an elevator from the bridge’s base on the Kobe side.
You’ll also find the Bridge Exhibition Centre where there are exhibits of bridge’s construction. But the most fascinating thing about this bridge’s walkway is its glassy floors which will make you feel like you’re walking on the sea. It also projects a beauty at night when it is illuminated by a total of 1737 lights.
Seek aesthetic pleasure at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Arts
If you are an avid art lover, this is the place for you! Designed by a famous Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, this three-story museum has a minimalist style. It is a treasure trove of contemporary arts, sculptures, prints and paintings of both Japanese and international artists. It remains open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. except Mondays and when special exhibitions are held it remains opened a little longer.
Spend some hours in peace at Ikuta Shrine
Closely linked to the sake producing industry, Ikuta Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. In fact this shrine existed even much before the city of Kobe was built. It is a wooden Shinto shrine thereby representing Japanese indigenous religion in which holy powers or spirits, referred to as Kami, are venerated. It was built around 201 A.D by the Japanese empress Jingu to enshrine Kami Wakahirume. In 1158 A.D, one of the famous battles of the Genpei War, Ichi-no-Tani took place in and around this shrine. The forest behind the shrine comprising beautiful camphor trees has markers to commemorate the war. Ikuta Shrine also regularly hosts Noh plays which reflect Japanese arts and culture. It is an ideal spot to relax and relax after a day tour. If luck favours, you may also happen to see a wedding ceremony being held in the shrine.
See a plethora of flowers at Fruit Flower Park
Fruit Flower Park appears to be one of those beautiful flower settings that you get to see in movies. This beautiful park boasting a huge variety of flower species is also a popular wedding spot. In spring, the sights of a series of tulips and cherry blossoms makes it even more charming. You may occasionally see here traditional Japanese weddings taking place or to be bride and grooms doing photoshoots.
Taste Kobe beef
Ask anyone what Japan is famous for and one of the many answers you’ll get will be Kobe beef. Many people come to Kobe just to try the world famous Kobe beef which is usually served as steak or teppanyaki. But it also served as shabu-shabu, sukiyaki and sashimi. It is a special kind of Wagyu beef from the Tajima cattle raised in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture. Marbled with fat, Kobe beef is tender and juicy and the added flavours makes it even tastier. Kobe beef is slightly expensive especially if you have it in restaurants. If you want to have high quality Kobe beef, go straight to the birthplace of Teppanyaki steak namely Misono. Steak Land serves the best set of Kobe beef for 6000 yen but it’s worth the price. Hiroshige Gyudon serves Kobe Beef in the fashion of the classic Japanese beef bowl. However, there’s a well-known restaurant in central Kobe, Kobe Tanryu where you can have a Kobe beef lunch set only for 3000 yen.
Explore the Rokko Island
East Asia abounds in beautiful natural islands but artificial islands are rare to find. However, Kobe has one. Situated in the Port of Kobe, rocky island is an artificial island which houses markets, residential complexes, schools, hotels, an amusement park and the Kobe Fashion Museum. This port island was created by moving rocks and earth from the Rokko Mountains to accommodate Kobe’s increasing population. The sunset view from the Rokko Island port is literally going to take your breath away.
Hike to the top of Mount Rokko
The tall green serene mountain ranges bordering Kobe to the North forms a beautiful background to the city and their highest peak is Mount Rokko. This 931 metre high peak provides one of the Three Great Night Views in Japan. You’ll love to sit in its scenic rock garden and admire the mesmerizing vistas of the Osaka bay and the Kobe city and not to mention, click some stunning photos.
Wander around at Kitano-cho
Just go to Kitano-cho and you’ll be surprised to find yourself in a European setting in Japan. This is the place where western traders and diplomats had settled when the Kobe Port was opened in 1968 and they built houses and mansions which are called Ijinkan. These houses and mansions are still well preserved and some of them are open to the public. Most of these buildings represent Victorian or Gothic architecture. The most famous Ijinkan here is the Weathercock House, which was built by a German trader Mr Thomas by merging German and Japanese architectural designs in 1909.
The interior of the house still retains its elegance. Other Ijinkans worth a visit are Choueke Yashiki, a mansion portraying beautiful antiques and memorabilia like Namban woodblock prints and Moegi no Yakata which also has an impressive display of antiques. The former was built in 1889 and is still inhabited by the original family members and the latter is a 100-year-old former home of American consul general Hunter Sharp. Apart from the Ijinkans, the Kitano streets are also lined with fine olive trees, pretty cafes, boutique shops and a well-paved park with sculptures.
Learn about earthquakes at Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum
Opened in 2002, Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum, commemorates the tragic event of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that took away thousands of lives and destroyed almost the entire city. This museum has plenty of resources that conveys information about earthquakes and disaster prevention. It also exhibits displays, photos and other memorabilia from the time of the event. There is also a theatre that shows a documentary of the devastations and their recovery processes. It also hosts interactive games aimed at educating kids about disaster preventions and a learning corner featuring database of world’s biggest natural disasters
Go on a trip to Oji Zoo
Kobe has many zoos, but Oji zoo is a famous one. Spreading over an area of 80,000 square meters it has 850 animals of 150 species. You’ll get to see here rare animals like koala, Amur tiger and golden snub-nosed monkey. However, people mostly come here to see giant pandas, especially the 24 year old female panda named Tan Tan and a 23 year old male panda named Koko. The oldest living elephant in japan, Suwako, born in 1943 is also a resident of this zoo. Some special facilities like the “Animal and Children Country”, the “Fierce Animal Coliseum” and the “Animal Science Pavilion” allows the visitors to cuddle animals like rabbits and goats, to observe tigers and cats through glass windows and to learn about the ecology of animals through theatre projections respectively. You have also want to head to the amusement park or explore the recreation area which has a Ferris wheel, a train for small children and a display of an actual steam locomotive D51. There’s also an awesome cherry blossom viewing area.
Ride the Shin-Kobe Ropeway
If you don’t want to climb Mount Rokko, you can opt for a comfortable ride via Shin-Kobe Ropeway which will take you to some of the famous viewpoints around Mount Rokko. Located next to the Shin Kobe station, this ropeway takes the tourists through cable cars to the spectacular sights of Nunobiki Herb Garden, Nunobiki Waterfall, Nunobiki Dam and an observation deck. It’ll also let you witness some magical uphill views of the city and the sea.
Go close to Nunobiki Falls
Walking through some 400 metre long hiking trails will bring you close to the Nunobiki Falls. They are a series of waterfalls which fall from the mountain into four different strands. Ontaki Falls is the largest of all these falls. These wonderful waterfalls have been an inspiration to many Japanese artists. You’ll find here some stone tablets which are thought to be odes to these falls.
Go on a guided sake brewery tour
Kobe is not only famous for its beef but also for its sake. A ten minute ride away from the city centre is all it takes to know and taste the Japanese rice wine made with water drawn from the surrounding mountains. Kobe has many good sake breweries, so it may not be easy for you to select the best ones. But you can pick up a map from Kobe’s main tourist information centre to get an idea of the different breweries offering tours which explain the history of sake and give the opportunity of trying a few samples. By the way, Sawa-no-Tsuru Museum, Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum and Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Company are the most popular ones.
Shop at Motomachi Shopping Street
Akin to Osaka’s Shinsaibashi or Tokyo’s Ginza, Motomachi Shopping Street in central Kobe is a 600 metre long historical shopping arcade. Replete with different kinds of shops selling souvenirs, clothes, electronic bands and books, it is also lined with posh cafes and restaurants. When you’re done with your shopping, don’t miss a chance of tasting Crème Brulee Crepe at a tiny shop named ComCrepe in that area.
Visit Kobe’s Cafes and Restaurants
Kobe Steak Restaurant Royal Mouriya is the topmost restaurant in Kobe which serves a diverse menu but specialises in French cuisines. Bifkatsu, a traditional Japanese version of pork cutlet, is a local delicacy of Kobe. You can have authentic Bifkatsu at Yoshoku no Asahi which is quite a popular restaurant. Serving best ramen with kimchi topping, Ramen Taro is another authentic eatery. Thang Café offers authentic Vietnamese food. Evoking a classic western feel, Freundlieb is a café cum bakery specialising in sandwiches, coffee and of course cake. Housed inside an old Church it serves fresh breads made in a factory next to the café. To have a different sort of eating experience head to Kobe Sone Jazz Bar and Restaurant where you can enjoy your meal while enjoying live Jazz music.
Partake in Kobe Luminarie
If you’re lucky enough to visit Kobe in the month of December, you’ll be impressed by the scene of the city hosting one of its main festivals namely Kobe Luminarie. Appearing simply to be a festival of lights colouring the entire city, it carries a deeper significance of paying tribute to those who died when the destructive Hanshin earthquake befell on Kobe. The lights are thought to represent those who lost their lives to this tragedy.
Find yourself in China at Kobe Chinatown
Just ten minute walk away from Sannomiya station, Kobe’s hub of Chinese food, Chinatown is located. Known as ‘Nankinmachi’, this area was formerly inhabited by Chinese merchants who settled here after Kobe’s port was opened in 1868 to facilitate foreign trade. Named after the former Chinese Capital Nanjing, this area, comprising two main streets and a central plaza, is full of Chinese restaurants and street food stalls serving Chinese cuisines like steamed buns, Szechuan noodles, dim sum and Chinese ramen, just to name a few.
Admire Japanese antiquity at Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum
Situated at the foot of Mount Rokko amidst lush greenery, the museum consists of two underground floors and one floor above the ground. By showcasing huge collections of relics of ancient Japanese tools, Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum takes its visitors back in time and glorifies the internationally renowned unique skill of Japanese artisans. Located between the Rokko Mountains and a seaside Japanese rock garden its above-ground floor exhibits antique furniture produced by local woodworking artists. One of its attractive exhibits is an axe made up of stone that might have been in use during the Jomon period. It also has a vast range of modern artefacts and contemporary architectural exhibits.
If possible, just make sure that you allot one whole day to spend time at Kobe Harborland to see stellar port views and try international cuisines. A few more wonders in Kobe worth visiting are Arima Onsen and Kobe Mosque. Arima Onsen is a famous historical hot spring having two kinds of waters; the Kinsen or gold water which is believed to be good for skin and the Ginsen or silver water that supposedly provides a cure for muscle and joint problems. The Kobe Mosque is Japan’s first mosque that has survived both WWII as well as the Great Hanshin Earthquake. And if you are a sports lover, watch a rugby match at Kobe Misaki Stadium.