When we started to plan our trip to Japan, I knew I wanted to spend at least two days in Kobe. I didn’t know much about the city, but its name has a direct link with Kobe beef, therefore I was sold. Travelers are usually more interested in its more popular neighbors, Osaka and Kyoto. However, we were looking for a authentic Japanese experience in a smaller city. Thankfully, we were able to find that in Kobe.
The Dutchman and I met in Tokyo as I flew in from Singapore and he arrived from DC. We knew that Tokyo could be overwhelming therefore we wanted to start in Kobe first. We ended up taking a flight with Skymark, a Japanese low-cost carrier. Our tickets were $90 one-way from Tokyo. (Check out our guide to Japanese low-cost carriers) There are other options for arrival as well. You can fly into Osaka and take the train to Kobe (less than an hour) or the high speed train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo. The train takes around four hours from Tokyo to Kobe.
After arriving to Japan from long trips we wanted to take it slow and wander around the city. The Dutchman was new to Japan and wanted to take a few days to acclimatize. Spending two days in Kobe was perfect for that. Although I have traveled across Asia many times, I always find that the region is sensory overload for me. Sensory overload from a positive sense: the sounds of a foreign language, the neon lights, the bright colors. Kobe brought that energy of a major Asian city in a more familiar environment.
What to Do
Kobe by the Sea
Kobe is a city by the sea. Although it has a bit of an industrial feel, it still has small pockets of beaches and parks that are worth a stroll. We stayed near the Kobe Harborland. With a Ferris wheel, shops, and restaurants it’s a fun place to hang out and see how the locals spend their weekends. The port area can be quite busy but it has an energetic vibe. Being a port city, we saw many cruise ships at the port. We learned that it is not only a stop for big cruise liners but you can also take a short boat ride along the bay.
If you’re going to spend two days in Kobe, a must is the Kobe Chinatown. If you love food, this is the place for you. Compared to other urban centers, Kobe’s Chinatown is quite small, but it is packed with flavor. We enjoyed that the main street was a pedestrian road which gives you the opportunity to stop and take in each stall. There were vendors offering everything from savory dumplings, bao buns overstuffed with succulent pork, and rich desserts. Although it is Chinatown there are a few shops offering Kobe beef. We had a small helping that was good but nothing like what you have at a restaurant. My favorite item in Kobe was the shaved frozen mango drizzled with condensed milk. Simply delicious.
We visited plenty of Japanese shrines during out trip to Japan. However, the one that captivated me the most was Ikuta Shrine. It captivated me because it was not overrun by tourists and I really got a feel on how the shrines are employed on a day to day basis. We witnesses what appeared to be a type of baby baptism ceremony that I found very moving. I was pregnant at the same so my hormones were in full effect! As we walked past the main shrine to smaller ones, we saw a lot of people praying. Being there gave us a great sense of peace.
The beauty of Japan is that you find the best treasures just by walking. That’s what we did during our two days in Kobe. I think we only took a cab once after our food coma from our Kobe beef dinner experience at Wakkoqu. Walking along the alleys, taking in the lights, the plastic food displays, the energy of the young people is an experience in its own. I recall late one evening, we hung out at an arcade. We walked in in amazement watching all the unique games with no idea of what they were! We tried the one universal one: the Kit Kat vending machine. Needless to say it look easier than what it is! 1,000 Yen ($10) lost for something we could’ve bought at the supermarket!
Bakeries in Kobe
If you have two days in Kobe, you’ll have enough time to indulge. One of the things that surprised me about Kobe was the pastry scene. We didn’t have breakfast included in our room rate (boo) so we went for a walk looking for something to eat. As we wandered along the narrow streets of Kobe, we found plenty of bakeries. We treated ourselves to delicious rolls and coffee for less than $12 for the both of us. I don’t remember the particular names of the places we went to (that can be a challenge in Japan) but you’ll see plenty of bakeries in Kobe, especially in shopping areas. The pastries are not as sweet as the ones here in the US, but I actually prefer it that way.
If you go to Kobe and you’re a carnivore, you have to savor the meat! Kobe Beef is a beautifully marbled meat that almost melts at the mouth. Kobe Beef is not cheap, so we did a bit of research on where to go. A few friends who had visited Kobe before suggested Wakkoqu. I also asked the concierge at Hotel Okura his thoughts. He said it was one of his favorites as well. Having this dining experience is a must if you have two days in Kobe, or even if it’s just one night! The experience is not only about the beef, but about the art of preparation. I was enthralled by artistry of the chef. He treated the meat like a newfound treasure, carefully making his cuts in almost a ceremonial fashion. The formality of the process is a heavy contrast from the over the top show of Teppanyaki. Dinner with a few beers for the hub and no booze for me (I was pregnant with piccola) was $275. Next topic: ramen…
Below the Tracks
When we arrived to Hotel Okura, we met with the hotel manager who gave us a tour of the property. I love asking locals about their favorite dining experience. He gave us a gem: he told us to check out the restaurants under the train tracks of Motomashi Train Station. If you go under the tracks there’s an underworld of culinary perfection. There are so many tiny restaurants that it is tough to choose which one. As we walked by tiny sushi bars, bakeries, and noodle shops, we decided on ramen. We again got to experience the artistry of Japanese cuisine. This was a tiny place, literally the size of my kitchen at home. The bar held 10 people tops. The guy behind the counter was the waiter/cook/bartender. We ordered our ramen via a machine (thanks Google translate), gave the guy the number. Less than 10 minutes later, we’re delivered a beautiful bowl of ramen. All for 6,500 Yen (around $6). Wish we would’ve had more time to explore the different restaurants under the tracks.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Hotel Okura near the cruise port, which we booked via Booking. This property is classic Japanese luxury. It’s popular for its wedding venues, so you will probably encounter a few, especially if you’re staying in the summer months. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous. We spent an hour just working our way around the hotel. The rooms are larger than the classic Japanese hotel rooms and the room amenities go above and beyond. The bathroom had toothbrushes, disposable loofahs, and even facial cleanser. Dining Traveler Tip: consider staying in Kobe instead of Osaka. A luxury property in Osaka is on average 30% more!
Verdict: Two Days in Kobe
Whether you’re planning a multi-city itinerary to Japan or a weekend trip in you live in the area, Kobe is a great choice. There’s plenty to see, do, and most importantly eat during two days in Kobe. Dining Traveler Tip: Japan Guide
Planning a trip to Japan? Check out our Japan trip planning guide.
Headed to Kyoto? Check out our two day itinerary to Kyoto.