Located in Japan's Kansai region, the city of Kobe is a popular tourist destination. With streets lined with old-style Western houses, the scenic Port of Kobe, Mount Maya (known as one of Japan's top three nightscapes), and of course, the delectable Kobe beef everyone in the world associates with premium quality, it's a fun place to visit.
Take a look at five areas to stay in Kobe, including Sannomiya, Motomachi, Kitano, Shin-Kobe, and Arima Onsen, along with each area's unique characteristics and general sightseeing information.
Which place are you likely to have the most fun in? You decide!
Main image: PIXTA
Why stay in Kobe?
Accessibility to other cities of Japan
Kobe is a stone's throw from two other major Kansai places of interest - Osaka and Kyoto. These cities are connected via the JR Lines, Hankyu Railway, and Hanshin Electric Railway. It only takes about an hour or so to reach Kyoto from Kobe and 20 to 40 minutes to reach Osaka by train, or you can get there even faster via the Shinkansen. The speedy bullet train takes about 28 minutes to travel from Kyoto to Kobe, and 13 minutes from Osaka to Kobe. The lesser time you spend on transportation, the more time you have to take in the sights these cities have to offer.
Even visitors setting off from Tokyo can look forward to a reasonable 2.5 to 3-hour ride on the Shinkansen, or take an approximately 1-hour flight from Tokyo to Kansai International Airport, and then transfer to a direct train or highspeed bus from the airport to Kobe.
Pay careful attention to the name of the nearest train station
The three main railways operating in Kobe are JR, Hankyu Railway, and Hanshin Electric Railway. When traveling around, pay close attention to the names of the train stations and their operators, as you'll find a number of them with very similar-sounding names. For example, Sannomiya is one of Kobe's hottest tourist destination, and within the area you'll find the Sannomiya Station (written with two Japanese characters), Kobe-Sannomiya Station, Sannomiya (written with three Japanese characters), and Sannomiya-Hanadokeimae Station. To add to the confusion, not all stations with similar names are operated by the same railway company. Another example is stations with the name "Kobe" inside, such as Shin-Kobe Station, Kobe-Sannomiya Station, Kobe Station on the JR Lines, and Kosoku Kobe Station. These are not always located in close proximity with one another. In fact, despite what their names might suggest, Kobe Station and Shin-Kobe Station are about 20 minutes apart! Going to the wrong station would eat up precious time and may even potentially upset a carefully planned schedule, and you wouldn't want that to happen while on holiday, so be sure to check and double check station names before hopping on a train!
Accommodations here are usually located near train stations or major attractions, so it's better to plan your night's accommodations in accord with the places you intend to visit. Staying in Kitano, for example, would allow you to easily schedule a visit to Kitano's Ijinkan Street before checking in or after checking out of your accommodations. On the other hand, if you book a room in Arima Onsen, you'll be able to hop into dreamland right after a warm hot spring soak, whereas Nada accommodations give you quick and easy access to the city's beautiful nightscapes from the mountaintop.
Location and surroundings
Depending on whether you're staying nearer to the sea or right next to the mountains, the scenery surrounding you will be drastically different. Kobe's great variety in views is definitely one of its charms! City buildings in Kobe are mainly located next to the sea. As such, visitors looking to enjoy a waterfront view and the mood of vacationing in an exotic environment should definitely try going for accommodations near or within the Kobe Port area. If you're more of a greenery and rivers type of person, though, the Mount Rokko or Mount Maya areas with their plentiful parks, viewing platforms, and shrines are likely have greater appeal. The bottom line is that picking an accommodations near your preferred views and activities is more likely to enhance your trip than going for the first thing that pops up in a search.
Where to stay in Kobe by area
1. Sannomiya and Motomachi
The Sannomiya area is served by several train operators, including JR, the Kobe Municipal Subway, the Port Liner (Kobe New Transit), Hankyu Railway, and Hanshin Electric Railway. The main station itself is a complex of buildings where each operator has a home platform. Nevertheless, all lines are well-connected to each other and within walking distance. This station is spelled as Sannomiya on the JR Line, Kobe Municipal Subway, and Port Liner, whereas the Hankyu Railway and Hanshin Electric Railway has it written as Kobe-Sannomiya Station. Motomachi Station is right next to Sannomiya and has JR and Hanshin trains going through it.
Why stay in Sannomiya and Motomachi?
・Highly accessible - only 20—40 minutes via direct train from Osaka; Kobe New Transit Line goes to Kobe Airport within 20 minutes.
・Plenty of departmental stores and shopping streets located near stations, such as Sannomiya Center Gai Shopping Street, Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street, Mint Kobe, and Kobe Hankyu.
・Wide range of restaurants along shopping streets or malls serving the renowned Kobe beef.
・Very near top tourist destinations such as the historic Kyu-Kyoryuchi and one of Japan's most iconic Chinatowns, Nankin-machi.
・Right beside the Kobe harbor district; Luxury hotels with breathtaking sea views; Kobe Port Tower; Kobe MOSAIC; Meriken Park; Aquarium Art átoa, newly opened in 2021.
・Accommodations of all types located close by, from high-end hotels to budget business lodgings.
This area is right next to Sannomiya and Motomachi introduced above. It is also a major hub for the Kobe region, especially Shin-Kobe Station, which is one of the stops for JR Shinkansen bullet train, so all visitors using the Shinkansen to travel to Kobe must pass through this station. From here, Sannomiya Station is just a quick transfer through the municipal subway. Since Kitano is within walking distance from Shin-Kobe, slipping it in your itinerary is probably trivial yet highly recommended. After all, the area is home to the Kitano Ijinkan Street, a tourist hotspot famous featuring Western-style architecture from an earlier time. There are more than enough things for you to spend a day or two in this zone without ever feeling bored!
Why stay in Kitano and Shin-Kobe?
・The Shinkansen bullet train stops at Shin-Kobe; About 2-3 minutes away from Sannomiya Station via Kobe Municipal Subway.
・Kitano Ijinkan, a street lined with historic Western-style architecture; Uroko House; The Former Thomas House (Kazamidori no Yakata); Starbucks Coffee Kobe Kitano Ijinkan; Ikuta Shrine.
・17-minute walk to Nunobiki Waterfall from Shin-Kobe Station; Cable car station to Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens just next door.
・Many exquisite hotels specially catering to unguided tourists who will be making use of the Shinkansen; Snoopy-themed restaurant.
Hostels, capsule hotels
3. Arima Onsen, Rokkosan
One of the oldest hot springs in Japan and a symbolic attraction of the Kansai region, everything you would expect to see and experience in a traditional Japanese hot spring can be found in Arima Onsen. Although relatively small in terms of surface area, its historic streets are lined with hot spring resorts and shops. In the day, there are cafes, Western restaurants, and plenty of other places with good food to try. For great night views of Kobe city, take the Rokko-Arima Ropeway to Rokko Garden Terrace. Arima Onsen is great for a relaxing hot spring trip as it's very suitable for all age groups but especially travel groups with more elderly ones. The area is accessible via public transport from Sannomiya Station with one or two transfers (about 25—36 minutes) or you can also take a highway bus that takes you directly there (about 30—45 minutes), so it's definitely not too far away from Kobe central.
Why stay in Arima Onsen, Rokkosan?
・Well connected to Kobe city - take a Kobe Electric Railway train from Sannomiya to Tanigami Station and transfer to the Shintetsu Arima Line to Arima Onsen Station (if you're taking a sub-express or express train from Tanigami Station, you'll need to change trains at the Arimaguchi Station). The journey should take between 25-36 minutes.
・Hot spring village within walking distance from Arima Onsen Station; A large number of hot spring resorts, including established shops such as Kin no Yu, Gin no Yu, and Hyoe Koyokaku. Some resorts offer day trip spa packages on top of overnight stays.
・Gourmet food, cafes, bakeries, Osaka okonomiyaki, Japanese-style bars, and many other places for eating on the go; Mitsumori Honten's Tansan Senbei Crackers; Takenaka Nikuten's Japanese Black wagyu beef and Kobe beef fried meat cake, etc.
・Rokko-Arima Ropeway takes you to Rokko Garden Terrace where you can admire what is known as one of Japan's three best nightscapes.
・Pristine and simple surroundings full of history and culture; Nostalgic decor of shops enhance the experience; Highly recommended vacation spot for city dwellers.
This is an administrative ward in east Kobe that includes impressive night spots such as Mount Rokko and Mount Maya, a zoo, and many art museums. You'll also find a lot of well-known cafes and dessert shops here. The area is a top producer of nihonshu - Japanese alcohol, and breweries located here often offer guided tours and wine tasting sessions. Nada is served by trains from JR, Hankyu Railway, and Hanshin Electric Railway. It takes about 5 to 15 minutes to reach Nada from the Sannomiya area, putting it in the unique position of being located equally close to both downtown city activities and local life in Kobe.
Why stay in Nada Ward?
・Accessible via trains from three companies - JR, Hankyu Railway, and Hanshin Electric Railway; About 5—15 minutes away from the Sannomiya area by train (specific time depends on actual destination).
・One of the leading producers of nihonshu; Guided tours and wine tasting sessions available from places such as Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum, Nadagogo Brewers Association, and Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum.
・Kobe Oji Zoo; Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art; Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art designed by Tadao Ando, and other museum facilities to explore.
・Amazing views at night from Mount Maya and Mount Rokko; Mount Maya accessible by taking a bus from Nada Station, Maya Station - both on the JR lines - or Iwaya Station; Mount Rokko accessible by taking a bus from Mikage Station, Rokkomichi Station on the JR lines, or Rokko Station.
・A variety of accommodations with cheaper rates compared to other city areas; Attractions are often located near train stations; Strong local vibes due to being surrounded by a large number of residential zones.
Recommended Accommodations in Nada
Guest houses & homes
Suma is on the outskirts of Kobe and can be reached in a 20 to 30 minute train ride via Hankyu Railway or JR from Sannomiya. The biggest feature of the area is the abundance of facilities built along the coastline such as Suma Aqualife Park and large marketplaces like the Mitsui Outlet Park Marine Pia. Along your way to these attractions and while inside them, you can have your fill of the sights of Osaka Bay without too much trouble at all. Don't forget about Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge - the second longest suspension bridge in the world. Gazing at the sea from a vantage point from this bridge can be quite a magical experience in itself. Whether you visit Kobe as a family, by yourself, or with a group of friends, there are plenty of things here for everyone to enjoy that won't be found anywhere in the city areas of Kobe.
Why stay in Suma?
・A short 20-30-minute ride from Kobe City (Sannomiya); Almost all places of interest are located right next to a train station.
・Suma Seaside Park; Suma Aqualife Park; Suma Rikyu Park; Suma Beach; Mitsui Outlet Park Marine Pia; Porto Bazar.
・One of Kobe's must-see attractions, Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, accessible on foot from Maikokoen Station or Maiko Station, which is about a half an hour ride from Sannomiya in Kobe.
・Natural environment with very few skyscrapers; Unblocked views of the sky and sea meeting at the horizon; Great for those looking to vacation in a place that is not too far away from city amenities.
Recommended Accommodations in Suma
Types of accommodations in Kobe
You're spoilt for choice here just with the sheer number of hotels available for booking, especially in popular places like Sannomiya, Motomachi, and Kitano where major tourist attractions abound. Most hotels offer breakfast and some have communal large baths, while others may provide shuttle bus services to major train stations or places of interests. Something to keep in mind when researching the best room to book for your group!
2. Traditional Japanese ryokan inns
As the name suggests, Arima Onsen contains the most onsen or hot spring inns in Kobe with all sorts of related facilities and room packages for a night's stay with two meals. Many of the rooms available in these inns are Japanese-style and specially tailored to offer foreign visitors a uniquely local experience. If Arima Onsen is one of your destinations, definitely consider a hot spring inn for something different!
3. Vacation homes
While searching online for accommodations you may also come across homestays in properties that are managed by individuals. The biggest advantage to booking homestays is you'll most probably have access to an attached kitchen and private bath. Many of these lodgings will be in residential zones so you can live like a local Kobe resident for a while and see what it's like. Some landlords are happy to provide breakfast for guests and are usually very generous in sharing information as well. Bonus if they can speak foreign languages, since the best part about homestays is the cultural exchange you get to enjoy with a local resident and vice versa.
4. Hostels and capsule hotels
These accommodations have shared bathroom and toilet facilities, and in the case of youth hostels, you often have to share a room with others as well. If you just want a low cost space to sleep without any bells and whistles, a capsule hotel may be something to consider, where only a rectangular space for sleeping is provided at a relatively cheaper rate than most hotels. For both accommodation types, there are communal resting areas that may appeal to travelers who enjoy interacting with others and sharing travel tips. Capsule hotels are also unique to Japan, so trying one out simply as part of your trip experience is absolutely acceptable as well!
Best seasons to visit Kobe
Most visitors to Osaka and Kyoto will also include Kobe in their itinerary due to its interesting attractions and closeness to the other two cities. As a result, the area is generally packed with tourists all year round, especially during Japan's long vacation periods, as local visitors will also throng to the region. Here are a few of the area's peak seasons in terms of traveler numbers as a reference for you to plan around!
August (Obon Festival / Summer vacation)
This is one of the summer vacation months for Japanese schools, and it also overlaps with the Obon Festival in mid-August. Many local tourists and families try to make full use of this time to go on outings together. Many Kobe residents work outside their home regions, and will head back for a family visit as well. Accommodations and transportation will be hard to find during this period so book them as early as possible if you plan to visit Kobe this month.
October (autumn leaves season)
The locals love memorable seasonal sights like autumn leaves, and Kobe has some of the best view spots for such sights, rivaling even those in Kyoto! Mount Maya, Mount Rokko, Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens, Suma Rikyu Park, and Sorakuen Garden are just some of the more prominent locations within Kobe city for admiring autumn leaves. Arima Onsen will be full of visitors because of the colorful leaves its outdoor hot spring baths will be surrounded with during this period. Plan your trip early if you intend to visit this month.
March / April (cherry blossom season)
When the sakura are in full bloom during March and April, schools around Japan also have their spring vacation. Although there are no overlapping long public holidays during this time, admiring sakura is practically a national pastime for the Japanese, so you can expect Kobe's sakura view spots to be crowded throughout this season, especially in well-known places like Kitano Tenman Shrine, Kobe Oji Zoo, and Sumaura Park. It may be best to arrange your itinerary around this busy period, or else be thoroughly prepared to do a lot more searching around for your ideal accommodations.
Great places near Kobe for a one-night stay!
Kobe is rather big and while there are plenty of accommodations in major tourist destination Sannomiya itself, consider trying something different and looking beyond the city center for places to stay in Nishinomiya to the east of Kobe city or Akashi city to the west.
Located on the east side of Kobe, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get here from Sannomiya or about half an hour from central Osaka. Since it's located in the midway point between both cities, getting a place to stay around here gives you convenient access to the attractions in both places and you can pack up and quickly head straight for either city after exploring the other one to satisfaction.
This city can be found in the western part of Kobe near the coast, and almost every highland area here offers a magnificent view of the sea. The city is about 30 to 50 minutes from Kobe city by train. Farther northeast from here lies Himeji Castle, making Akashi an excellent choice to search for accommodations in if you find those near Himeji Castle or within Kobe city not to your liking.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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