A Day in Kobe: More Than Just Beef
When you hear the name ‘Kobe’, one of two things come to mind: the basketball player or the famously good beef that happens to hail from this idyllic Japanese port city.
Prior to visiting, my image of Kobe was not a particularly inspiring one. I imagined a dull port city that just happened to be home to some fantastic steak, and saw it as the kind of place I might make a quick trip to in order to check ‘eat Kobe beef’ off my Japan bucket list.
Boy, was I wrong!
Kobe won me over from the very first. It is a green, dynamic city with so much going on that we left wishing we’d allowed ourselves more than just one day to experience it.
With that being said, it is possible to do Kobe in one day and do it justice.
How to Get to Kobe from Osaka
While it’s perfectly possible to find a hotel in Kobe and extend your stay there, for the purposes of today’s post, I’m going to assume you’re like most people and you’re skipping across from nearby Osaka.
Assuming you aren’t driving or walking, the train is going to be your best bet. For the purposes of this itinerary, you want Shin-Kobe Station.
The JR Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Kobe takes roughly 15 minutes and will set you back around 1,500 yen ($15 USD).
For those on a bit more of a budget, you can also reach Kobe from Hanshin Umeda Station, Hankyu Umeda Station, or Osaka Station on the JR. In all cases, you’re looking at around 35 minutes and 320 yen ($3.20 USD).
You can also travel from Osaka Station in as little as 20-25 minutes or from Osaka Namba Station in 45 minutes. In both cases, the cost is 410 Yen ($4.10 USD).
If you’re fresh off your international flight and want to get right into the action, you can head to Kobe from Kansai Airport in 1 hour and 45 minutes for 1,710 Yen ($17.10 USD) or from Osaka Itami Airport in 45 minutes for 510 Yen ($5.10 USD).
Storing Your Luggage at Kobe Station
If you’re like me, you’ll probably be traveling with your life strapped to your back.
if you’re only planning to spend a day in Kobe, I would advise storing your luggage at Kobe Station upon arrival so you aren’t wrestling with backpacks all day.
Coin lockers at Shin-Kobe Station start at 300 Yen ($3 USD) for a small and go up to 1,600 Yen ($16 USD) for an extra large.
Hike to Nunobiki Falls
Our first stop on our day in Kobe is right behind Shin-Kobe Station, with picturesque Nunobiki Falls one of the most accessible hikes you’re likely to find in all of Japan.
Seriously, you bid farewell to the station, briefly walk through a quiet neighbourhood, and you’re already beginning your ascent through the woods towards one of Japan’s most beloved waterfalls. Nunobiki is often described as one of Japan’s three most significant waterfalls, and it’s just a 15-minute walk to get you there!
The best part? It’s absolutely free to visit!
Explore the Kobe Herb Gardens
Once you’ve snapped your photos of Nunobiki Falls and descended, we’re ducking just around the corner to the stunning Kobe Herb Gardens.
I had my doubts about the appeals of visiting a herb garden, but Nunobiki Herb Gardens is absolutely worth a visit.
While it is possible to hike all the way up Mount Rokko to the gardens, the scenic ropeway offers a relaxing and visually stunning way to make your way to the mountaintop.
Tickets are 1,500 Yen ($15 USD), but this includes the return journey and access to all of the gardens, boutiques, and restaurants sitting atop the mountain.
It’s a scenic 10-minute ascent that provides you with an absolutely breathtaking view of Kobe.
View Rest House & Fragrance Museum
Once you’ve reached the top of Mt. Rokko, you’ll find yourself standing before a decidedly German-influenced building. If you’re visiting in the holidays, like I was, you’ll even find a quaint German Christmas market in full-swing.
Inside the Rest House are boutiques and a fragrance museum, where guests are encouraged to sample the many heady scents that go into making perfumes and other goods.
If you’re after something hands on, you can even try your hand at making your own perfume or bath oil, which makes for a nice souvenir.
Tropical Gardens & Cafe
Making your way down the hill, you’ll pass through both herb gardens and floral gardens before you make your way to the tropical glasshouse. If you’re looking for a break from the cool mountain air, this is a nice dose of warmth.
There is also a cute little cafe here boasting a fantastic view of Kobe, as well as herbal foot baths you can indulge in for around 100 Yen ($1 USD).
Once you’ve had your fill of delicious coffee, fragrant treats, and gorgeous gardens, you can board the ropeway at the mid-point station and complete your descent.
Of course, the option is also there for a leisurely stroll down the mountain if your knees are up to the strain.
Lunch and a Sake Brewery Tour of Kobe
While Kobe beef might be Kobe’s most famous export, the city’s Nada district is actually Japan’s largest sake producer.
A combination of high-quality rice and perfect conditions have meant Kobe has been synonymous with Japan’s famed rice wine from the very start.
No visit to Kobe would be complete without sampling this potent potable, so I’m suggesting two stops to learn a little about sake culture.
A Kaiseki Lunch
You’re probably hungry by now, so we’re going to stop off at at Sakura Masamune (Japanese only site) for one of Japan’s most delectable cuisines: kaiseki.
Kaiseki is a multi-course Japanese meal themed around seasonal products, meaning you’ll get a different culinary experience depending on what time of year you’re visiting.
Sakura Masamune has an on-site sake museum, but it’s not especially impressive and there’s precious little English. We’re just here for the food!
You can also buy a bottle of sake with your face printed on the label here, which is a pretty fun souvenir!
Admission is free, but your meal will depend on your menu selection.
Touring Hakutsuru Sake Brewery
It’s a short walk (or taxi ride) from Sakura Masamune to Hakutsuru, which offers a fantastic and comprehensive tour of both sake production and the history of the craft.
The best part? There are English-language videos for every display and the entire museum can be toured in around 15-20 minutes.
Before you leave, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop to sample 4-6 different sakes. I’m a big fan of ume-sake (sour plum sake), but you may find you’re more partial to other varieties.
Admission is free.
Soraku-en Japanese Garden
With a full belly and a pleasant buzz on, it’s time for a stroll in one of Japan’s meticulously manicured gardens.
Soraku-en is a truly gorgeous little island of tranquility in the heart of a bustling city. It’s easy to forget about the world beyond its walls and the Japanese maple with their reds, oranges, and golds.
Entry is just 300 Yen ($3 USD) and is well worth it. In addition to the trademark arched bridges, beautiful ponds, and quiet groves, you’ll also find gardening competitions, a historic European-style villa, and an idyllic picnic area to stop and sip an iced coffee.
Stroll Around Meriken Park
With the sun setting and the air beginning to cool, it’s time to get a taste for how modern and dynamic Kobe is.
Grab a taxi to Merikan Park, the revitalized section of Kobe’s port district. With its eye-catching towers and architecture, it’s a great place to snap a few city skyline photos and enjoy the wind whipping in off the ocean.
Highlights include Kobe Port Tower (especially at night), the eye-catching Kobe Maritime Museum, and distinctive Meriken Park Oriental Hotel, which looks like a pleasure cruise has washed up on shore!
Admission to the Kobe Port Tower is 700 Yen ($7 USD), while the Maritime Museum and attached Kawasaki Good Times world can be visited for 600 Yen ($6 USD). For those wishing to visit both, a 1,000 Yen ($10 USD) pass gets you access to Kobe Port Tower, the Maritime Museum, and Kawasaki Good Times World.
Whether you’re just snapping pictures or visiting the touching Kobe Earthquake Memorial, there’s plenty to occupy you as you people watch.
Shopping in Kobe
The nearby Kobe Harborland shopping precinct is also worth a look, with a variety of Japanese and international brands, restaurants, cafes, and more to keep you entertained.
We only had a half-hour to explore, but we saw plenty to convince us that Harborland is an area we’ll revisit in the future.
Try Kobe Beef
Your visit to Kobe wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the piece de resistance of Kobe cuisine: Kobe Beef.
As you might imagine, there are countless restaurants offering up this tantalizing treat, but we went to Mouriya Honten, one of the top five Kobe beef restaurants in the city.
It. Was. Delectable.
I’m a man who likes his red meat (gout be damned) and is justifiably proud of Australia’s world-class steaks, but my Kobe beef experience was borderline tantric.
Small slices of perfectly cooked steak, a variety of herbs and dipping sauces, and equally delicious side dishes and appetizers to accompany it. All washed down with ume-sake or Australian wine.
Is Kobe Beef Expensive?
There’s no mincing words here: a Kobe beef meal can be a pricier prospect than ramen, sashimi, or takoyaki, but I think of it this way:
- It’s likely to be one of the best meals of your trip;
- It’s a bucket-list worthy experience in its own right.
A good Kobe beef restaurant has set menus starting at 5,000 Yen ($50 USD), but keep your eyes peeled for deals that can bring this down. Mouriya Honten occasionally offers their 6,000 Yen set for just 3,900 Yen if you book through their website.
Where to Stay in Kobe
While it’s totally possible to follow the above itinerary and do a single day in Kobe, it’s a city that deserves to be savoured.
There are plenty of Kobe hotels catering a range of tastes and budgets, so why not splash out and spread the above adventures over two days?
Is Kobe on your Japanese to-do list? What are you most excited about for your visit?
Have you already explored Kobe and spotted a glaring omission in the above? Let me know!
Got a question about Kobe? Post it below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
DISCLAIMER: My trip to Kobe was made possible by a partnership with Kansai Tourism Board. All opinions, however, are entirely my own. If I don’t like something, you’ll know about it!