This Kobe itinerary offers a step-by-step touring plan for visiting the best museums, seeing the harbor & port highlights, and eating at the best beef you can find in Japan. In so doing, we detail the must-see points of interest, all of which are easily accessibly via walking and public transit in Kobe, Japan.
Our first visit to Kobe, we went for the same reason as everyone else: we were beckoned by the promise of the world’s finest beef, with perfect marbling and a tender-as-butter, melts-in-your-mouth quality. Well, that and the winter illumination, but that sweet A5 wagyu beef was a major part of the allure.
We know we’re not alone in this. While Kobe beef is available throughout Japan, including in nearby Osaka and Kobe, there’s something special about having it in Kobe. As such, we’re including a specific steakhouse recommendation in this itinerary. Even if you can’t get a reservation there, we’d recommend having steak in Kobe. It exceeds the hype.
Even though we’ve only made a few day trips from Kyoto and Osaka to Kobe, we are big fans of the city. The port has a different vibe from other modern cities in Japan, and visiting at Christmas-time for Kobe Luminarie was one of our all-time favorite experiences in Japan.
Kobe is one of our top day-trip recommendations, and can be easily accessed and experienced in a single day from other major cities in the Kansai region. For our other 1-day and 2-day step-by-step touring plan recommendations, please consult our Japan Itineraries for Kyoto, Tokyo, and Beyond.
Now let’s take a tour of Kobe, Japan…
Harborland – This is a large shopping complex made up of like 3 malls, and a variety of other stuff. To be honest, Harborland isn’t all that great–especially if you’re going to shop in Tokyo–but walking through it is the easiest way to get between JR Kobe Station and Meriken Park, so you might as well experience it.
In these malls, you’ll find Japan staples like UNIQLO and Daiso, plus more unique shops devoted to anime and pop culture products. What we like most about Harborland is the elevated, panoramic views it offers of Kobe’s downtown and port areas.
Meriken Park – This is the public area of Kobe’s port. Meriken Park features a grassy lawn and open courtyards with modern art installations, fountains, and tributes, making it a lovely space to visit.
It’s also the most visually-striking and iconic area of Kobe, so be sure to get some photos.
Kobe Port Tower – The most eye-catching structure, and this red tower has become a symbol of the port. This tower has observation decks that provide 360-degree views of Kobe from 100 meters above sea level, and it’s a really cool view.
The tower itself is sorta meh, and feels stuck in the 1980s. Combined tickets for the tower and below museums cost 1,000 yen, and we’d highly recommend doing that. You’re looking at several hours of fun for ~$10, which is a great value.
Transportation Museums – The highlights here are Kobe Maritime Museum and Kawasaki Good Times World. This is one building housing two museums, which is an interesting approach I guess. Both focus on transportation, with Kobe Maritime Museum featuring watercraft models and hands-on shipping displays. There’s a good bit on the history of Japan’s development as a seafaring country, right through the 1990s cruise industry boom. The interactive and tech elements of Kobe Maritime Museum are a bit dated, but most of these exhibits are evergreen, so that’s not a huge issue.
The other half of the museum is Kawasaki Good Times World, which is basically a corporate showcase for Kawasaki. This half is less dated, and features an impressive array of Kawasaki products. I thought Kawasaki was a motorcycle company, but it turns out they make everything from public transit to helicopters. The interactive elements are even more pronounced here, making this a great option for families. By the time you’re done with the port area, it should be time for lunch. Your best transportation option is walking…
Lunch: Tor Road Steak Aoyama – There are over 10,000 restaurants in Kobe, and this is ranked #2 on TripAdvisor, with an average score of 5/5 stars. We’ve been critical of the crowd-sourced nature of TripAdvisor in the past, and it’s very well possible some swanky place is objectively better, but Steak Aoyama serves the best steak we’ve ever had. It also ranks as some of the best service we’ve had in Japan, a country renowned for great service. The chef is humorous and the overall experience is delightful.
We’ve done A5 wagyu beef in a number of different places–none hold a candle to the cuts and overall quality at Steak Aoyama. Prices are also quite reasonable given the cuts of meat. (This isn’t to say Steak Aoyama is a bargain–we’re still talking Kobe beef, so it’s all relative.) It’s so good that we try to make reservations here every time we visit Japan.
Speaking of which, because seating is incredibly limited at this family-run steakhouse, reservations are strict necessity. The good news for those of you outside Japan is that it’s easy to make these in English via Facebook Messenger. You’ll want to contact them at least a month in advance, and being flexible on dates is recommended. Lunch is also the better bet, as their lunch special is an excellent value.
Meat Sweat Mountain – If you want a bit of a workout after lunch, consider hiking just north of Shin-Kobe Station. This forested area will lead you up to the Nunobiki Waterfall, and follows the same path as the Shin-Kobe Ropeway.
If you haven’t gotten your aerial tram fix elsewhere in Japan, this is another option. At the top (and included with the ropeway ticket), there’s also Kobe Nunobiki Herb Garden.
Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum – I can still smell the wood samples at Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum. That might be an odd way to start a ringing endorsement of a place, but whenever I think of this museum, I think of those smells, and I instantly have a smile on my face.
This museum is about so much more than carpentry tools, and while Ron Swanson would likely endorse this humdrum name, it probably does the venue no favors in attracting visitors. In reality, Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum covers a range of topics from architecture to craftsmanship. The presentation is incredibly interactive and the building itself is beautiful. If you only do one museum in Kobe, Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum should be it.
UCC Coffee Museum – Ostensibly, this is a niche interest museum, and whether it’s worth a visit depends upon whether you drink coffee. Emphasis on ostensibly. The reality is that this corporate museum is very well-presented, engaging, and contains a wealth of information about coffee.
As two people who are “interested” in coffee solely to the extent that it provides a caffeine delivery mechanism, we absolutely loved the UCC Coffee Museum and would encourage everyone to visit. Be sure to arrive early enough for the free tastings (if you enjoy coffee) and take the test at the end–Sarah did well and “won” a free annual pass to the museum!
Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum – The full name of this place is like 20 words long, as it seems to describe in detail literally everything this mixed-use facility does. In addition to being a museum, this is also a preparedness center, and arguably that’s its primary purpose.
For English-speaking tourists, that’s a little problematic, as you presumably won’t get much value out of institutional aspects of the facility. With that said, the rich presentation and details of the museum are fascinating, and the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake was a pivotal event in Kobe’s history and subsequent redevelopment. If you don’t have time for this museum it’s not the end of the world, but we do recommend it.
At this point, you’ll likely be at or near the end of the operating day for most points of interest in Kobe, which is fine, as you’ve experienced the best of what the city has to offer. At this point, you can head to the city’s Chinatown or find another evening option, or head to Osaka for dinner in Dōtonbori. That’s usually what we do, and even if you’re planning multiple days in Osaka, there’s always more great food than you can possibly eat around Dōtonbori. All things considered, you should have a pretty full and satisfying day in Kobe by following this itinerary!
If you’re planning a visit to Japan’s Kansai region, please check out my other posts about Japan. Our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan City Guide should also come in handy if you’re visiting those cities in Kansai!
Have you ever visited Kobe, Japan? What do you think of it? Where did you eat in Kobe? Which points of interest did you visit? If you haven’t visited, does this pique your interest in Kobe…or its beef? 😉 Any questions or other comments about this Japan itinerary? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!