Kobe may not be as large as Tokyo or as famous as Kyoto, but this Japanese port city has a lot to offer. A food and history lover’s paradise set against the backdrop of rolling mountains and glittering sea, Kobe makes a fantastic destination on any tour of Japan. When you join us on the Kobe extension of our Japan for Solo Travelers: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji & Kyoto tour (one of our bucket list tours for 2023), you’ll have three days to experience all of the best things to do in Kobe, Japan.
Where is Kobe, Japan, located?
Kobe is a port city on Osaka Bay located on the Southern side of Honshu, the main island of Japan, near Osaka and Kyoto.
What is Kobe, Japan, known for?
Kobe is famous for its namesake beef, which is considered to be among the best in the world. Kobe also hosts a dynamic mix of international cultural influences—the city’s port was one of the first to open to international trade during the Meiji period in the 19th century, making it a hub for trade and diplomacy.
Why should you visit Kobe, Japan?
Kobe is a lively, walkable city sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. A multicultural hub, the city is full of diverse, impressive, and innovative architecture. Its central port location makes it a convenient gateway to many areas outside the city, and its beef and sake production make it a must-visit for any foodie. On our Japan tours you’ll have the opportunity to get an inside look at the food scene in Japan and try famous dishes.
What is the benefit of going guided to Kobe, Japan?
Not only will our experts take you to the best places to visit in Kobe, Japan, they’ll also bring you to unmissable locations outside the city. You don’t have to worry about transportation or logistics when you go guided, and you’ll still have plenty of free time to explore at your own pace on our Japan for Solo Travelers: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji & Kyoto tour.
Things to do in Kobe on day 1
The best way to start your tour of Kobe is to get to know some of the most famous Kobe attractions and exports. Spend your first day taking in all of the sights (and flavors!) of downtown Kobe.
Take a drive along Kobe’s striking waterfront and view the Kobe Port Tower
A drive along Kobe’s waterfront will show you some of the city’s best modern architecture set against the backdrop of the Mount Rokkō mountain range. Many of Kobe’s buildings were decimated in the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995, and much of the city has been rebuilt. The skyline is a testament to perseverance, engineering, and beauty in architecture. The brilliant red Kobe Port Tower is one of the buildings that stayed standing during the earthquake thanks, in part, to its hourglass shape. The 354-foot-tall tower was modeled after a tsuzumi, a traditional hand drum used in kabuki performances. The tower’s bright red color, unique shape, and the thousands of LED lights that illuminate it at night make it one of the most iconic buildings in the Kobe skyline.
Walk through the fascinating Kobe foreign concession
The foreign concession is one of several port neighborhoods in Kobe where Western diplomats and traders settled once Kobe’s port was opened to foreign trade in the late 1800s. Walking through the neighborhood feels a little bit like walking through a movie set. The buildings have a distinctly European feel to them, with a mixture of Gothic and Victorian architecture and gas lamps lining the streets. The Kitano-chō District, an extension of the foreign concession in the mountain foothills, has Shinto shrines, Christian churches, a synagogue, and a mosque, all nestled among the former mansions of foreign diplomats. It’s one of the most architecturally and culturally unique areas of Kobe.
Visit a sake museum and learn about Japan’s ancestral beverage
Kobe might be most famous for its Kobe beef, but the Nada district of Kobe also happens to be Japan’s top sake-producing region. There are dozens of breweries throughout Nada crafting Japan’s signature drink. Tour a former brewhouse-turned-museum to learn all about Nada’s centuries-old sake production, and find out why the region’s growing conditions, high-quality rice, and mountain spring water produce a superior brew. Finish your tour with a tasting of three different types of the fermented rice alcohol.
Join us for a Kobe beef dinner to sample the region’s most famous export
If you’re a meat eater, you must try Kobe’s most famed delicacy. Kobe beef is widely regarded as among the highest-quality, most flavorful beef in the world for its buttery texture and outstanding fat marbling. It’s a type of Wagyu beef raised in Kobe under a very specific set of standards. Join us on our Kobe Beef Dinner excursion offered on the Kobe extension of our Japan for Solo Travelers: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji & Kyoto tour and see what all the fuss is about.
Check out our Japan tours
What to do in Kobe on day 2
On the second day of your trip to Kobe, get outside the city for the day to experience some Japanese history before heading back to take in the lights and culture of Kobe.
Take a bullet train to Hiroshima and explore the City of Peace
The beautiful, vibrant city of Hiroshima blossomed out of the devastation of the U.S.’s atomic bombing during World War II, and it’s easily accessible by a high-speed bullet train from Kobe. Spend your second morning in the area learning and reflecting at Peace Memorial Park, where you’ll see the Atomic Bomb Dome, a memorial made from the only structure to survive the bombing. Enter the Peace Memorial Museum and learn about the lives of the thousands of people killed by the bomb and the aftermath of the horrific event. The park and museum both stand to help convey the city’s mission of peace and are a somber but valuable place to pause and reflect when you travel to Japan.
Take a tranquil ferry ride to Miyajima Island and see the floating torii gate
Miyajima, literally “shrine island,” is famous for its Shinto shrine and orange torii gate, both of which seem to float on the sea at high tide. The site has been home to shrines since the 6th century, but the present shrine buildings date back to the 12th century and were constructed by the powerful military leader Taira no Kiyomori. The shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most scenic places in Japan. Visiting is also on our list of 20 things to do in Japan.
Snack your way through Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown
Head back to Kobe and spend some time strolling through Nankinmachi, the second-largest Chinatown in Japan. The district was originally built to house Chinese diplomats and traders in a similar fashion to the more Euro-centric foreign concession. Now it’s home to restaurants and food stalls serving up delectable Chinese street food, some of which has a distinctly Japanese flair. Snack on steamed buns and gyoza dumplings as you peruse the neighborhood’s shops.
Hop on the Mosaic Big Ferris Wheel to see the city illuminated at night
Cap off your free evening by soaking in the sites of the city after dark. A short walk from Nankinmachi, the brightly colored Ferris wheel sits at the edge of the Mosaic Shopping District and is lit by 120,000 color-changing, LED lights. The ride offers spectacular views of Kobe Port and Mount Rokkō. It’s an excellent way to see Kobe from a different angle.
Things to do in Kobe on day 3
Choose art and architecture or rest and relaxation for your final day in Kobe. Whatever you do, don’t forget to pick up a souvenir to take home as a reminder of your trip to Japan.
Wander through Himeji-jo, one of the most beautiful castles in Japan
Both a national treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Himeji-jo Castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Japan and one of the few untouched by earthquakes, fires, or wars. Spend some time exploring Himeji’s feudal architecture and flowering gardens before meandering through the elegant castle complex. The castle is made entirely out of wood, and its soaring terraced roofs and snow-white walls earned it its nickname, White Heron Castle.
Or relax in Arima Onsen, a thousand-year-old resort town
If you’d rather start your last free day in Kobe with a little rest and relaxation, hop on a bus to Arima Onsen, a hot spring town within Kobe’s city limits. It’s about 30 minutes from downtown Kobe on the opposite side of Mount Rokkō. The town is one of Japan’s oldest hot spring resorts and has two different types of natural spring water: the Kinsen, or gold water, which is said to be good for your skin, and the Ginsen, or silver water, which is said to relieve muscle and joint ailments. You’ll find several bathhouses in town that are open to day trippers, as well as shrines, shops, and a hot spring museum.
Stroll down Motomachi Shopping Street and gather souvenirs to bring home
No tour of Japan is complete without something to remember it by, and Motomachi Shopping Street is the perfect place to shop for some final souvenirs before you depart Kobe. The mile-long, covered shopping arcade is lined with boutiques and shops selling souvenirs, clothing, electronics, and more. There are plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants where you can grab a quick bite. Plus, there always seems to be something fun happening on Motomachi Street, whether it be an art installation, music festival, or seasonal celebration.
Ready to explore Kobe? Explore our tours of Japan and get your trip planning started!