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Kobe is More Than Just an Amazing Day Trip

It’s taken me many years—and many trips—to get to know Kobe. This makes me even sadder that so many travelers overlook it, or simply come on a day trip.

Which is not to say there’s anything wrong with that: Whether you come from Kyoto or Osaka, and whether you stay in Kobe-proper or pair it with nearby Himeji Castle, Kobe is perhaps one of the best day trips you can take anywhere in Japan.

On the other hand, if you’re flexible about how many days in Kobe you can spend—I suggest staying at least one night—the city and the rest of surrounding Hyogo prefecture will really come alive for you.

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Why So Many Travelers Only Visit Kobe on a Day Trip

Kobe is only around an hour from Kyoto (and less than an hour from Osaka), which makes it a popular day-trip destination from both. Moreover, since many travelers assume that Kobe only offers the promise of a delicious wa-gyu lunch or dinner, the presumption is that only a few hours in the city are necessary. This is particularly the case among travelers that spend an afternoon or evening in Kobe following a morning at Himeji Castle.

Ironically, many foreign visitors who come to Kobe are unaware of activities in the city besides restaurants service its famous beef. (Don’t worry—if that group includes you, I’m about to explain in greater detail what else you can do!) Personally, I believe that if more people knew about all there was to do in Kobe’s city center, more would opt to sleep here for at least one night.

What to Do in Kobe (No Matter How Long You Stay)

Dine on Kobe beef

 

A funny fact about Kobe beef is that none of it is farmed in Kobe—it’s simply slaughtered there, after having been farmed offshore on Awaji Island (which I’ll mention again just a minute). Regardless, there are plenty of places to enjoy an amazing wa-gyu lunch or dinner near Kobe’s central Sannomiya Station, whether you choose somewhere more mainstream like the Steakland chain, or a higher-end spot like Wakkoqu.

Go back in time in Kitano-cho or Chinatown

 

No matter how many days in Kobe you decide to spend, do yourself a favor and dive deep into the city’s unique history. For some travelers, the Western-style houses of Ijinkan-gai street in Kitano-cho (which is “up the hill” from the city center) will do the trick. Others prefer more cuisine with their culture, and will ride to Motomachi Station to explore Nankin-machi, Kobe’s Chinatown, which is one of Japan’s oldest.

Visit one of Kobe’s many viewpoints

 

Speaking of going up the hill, Kobe’s topography makes it easy to see the city from a different perspective. If you arrive or depart via Shinkansen at Shin-Kobe Station, you can make the short walk to Nunobiki Herb Garden, whose ropeway will take you to one of Kobe’s best viewpoints. Another great option is Mt. Rokko, which requires a short bus ride but is very worth the journey

Watch Kobe Port Tower light up

 

One of the best things about staying overnight in Kobe, as opposed to coming for the day, is being able to watch night fall over the city. While the Kobe skyline isn’t Japan’s most iconic, it’s impossible to deny how charming the vermillion Kobe Port Tower is, no matter where you are when it lights up, or how many days in Kobe you end up spending.

Explore the rest of Hyogo prefecture

 

Hyogo, the prefecture where you find Kobe, is just as underrated as the city is—well, with the possible exception of popular Himeji Castle. Not far from the city you’ll find progressive Akashi, whose superlative fish market is much more accessible to foreigners than its revolutionary social policies. If you have time (and, ideally, a rental car), you can either head inland to Tamba-Sasayama, or over the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge to unique Awaji Island.

So, How Many Days is Enough in Kobe?

If you simply wanted to stay in Kobe-proper and dive into the city, I’d say that 2-3 nights would be optimal. This would give you at least one day “down the hill” in Sannomiya, Chinatown and at Kobe Port, and a day “up the hill” in Kitano-cho and at one or more of Kobe’s viewpoints. Adding in a third (or fourth or fifth) day would unlock the rest of Hyogo prefecture—three for somewhere easy like Himeji, four or five if you want to visit Awaji Island.

Of course, in this latter case (i.e. if you travel to Awaji-shima), it becomes a discussion not of how many days in Kobe (i.e. at a hotel in the city), but in the region. From Awaji in particular, it’s common to travel onward to Shikoku’s Tokushima city. Likewise, you can continue from Himeji to Okayama and deeper into the Setouchi region.

Other FAQ About Planning a Trip to Kobe

Is Kobe worth a day trip?

Kobe is absolutely worth a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, whether you simply come for a wa-gyu lunch, or explore other attractions, such as the historical homes of Kitano-cho, captivating Chinatown or the colorful Kobe Port area. If you can, however, I recommend staying at least a night in Kobe.

Is Kobe worth visiting for beef?

The beef in Kobe is definitely worth taking the train in for the day, particularly if you’re able to score a reservation at one of the city’s finer Teppanyaki restaurants. However, if you’re going to make the journey here, I usually suggest doing something else, even if you simply watch the Kobe Port Tower light up after dinner.

Is Kobe closer to Osaka or Kyoto?

Kobe is closer to Osaka than to Kyoto, both in terms of geographical distance (~35 km. vs ~75 km) as well as logistically speaking. Sannomiya Station (which is Kobe’s main railway hub) is just 30 minutes by Special Rapid train from Osaka Station, while it’s 50 minutes from Kyoto. Taking the Shinkansen to Shin-Kobe requires less initial travel time, but that station is far outside the city center, making it less convenient in the ultimate sense.

The Bottom Line

You’re sure to enjoy Japan’s city of wa-gyu, no matter how many days in Kobe you’re able to spend. However, if you can manage to sleep a night or two here instead of just coming in for the day from Osaka, you’ll be able to appreciate Kobe for a lot more than just its famous beef. Some travelers will dig deep into the city-proper, whether via immersion in the history of Kitano-cho, or taking in the view from Mt. Rokko or Nunobiki Herb Garden. Others will explore surrounding Hyogo prefecture, be that in popular destinations like Himeji, or off the beaten path on Awaji Island. No matter how you envision your own trip to Japan, I hope you’ll consider hiring me to plan it!

 

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