We say "Kobe," and you say ... beef, right? Well, you can sample some heavenly fat-marbled beef here, but trust us, this is no cow town. Kobe is a bustling city and the cruise gateway to Kyoto. At the port, you're not far from Harborland, a restaurant, shopping, and entertainment complex. Downtown is a quick shuttle ride away, or head to the Shinkansen "bullet train" station for the 50-minute trip to Kyoto.
What We Love
Mt. Rokko: For great views of the entire area, take the Shin-Kobe Ropeway gondola up to the lookout point on this mountain. On the way, you'll get to look down on Nunobiki Waterfall and Herb Garden. The brave can also hike up.
Sorakuen Garden: See a prime example of traditional Japanese garden artistry at this site, right in the center of Kobe. The gardens belonged to a former mayor of Kobe, and the grounds were opened to the public in 1941.
Best Known For
Kobe Beef: Don't be tempted by street hawkers in Chinatown; if you want the full Kobe beef experience, head to a respected restaurant like Kobe Beef Steak Yoshimitsu.
Sake Breweries: There's a whole Kobe neighborhood devoted to brewing sake, due to the fine mountain water and quality rice of this area. The Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum has displays illustrating the entire history and process — plus tastings.
Kitano-cho: This Kobe district is home to foreign merchants' mansions built in the mid-1800s, after Kobe opened to trade; many are museums.
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Who It's Best For
Those Looking for Old Japan: Kobe is as close as cruise lines can get to Kyoto. Take the train inland to the ancient city to see 13 temples, three shrines, and Nijo Castle — all designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Shoppers: Every international brand is in Kobe, plus the big-name Japanese department stores and miles of malls.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Watch Out for Food Touts: At Chinatown stands and outside of restaurants catering to tourists, you'll have to dodge workers enthusiastic for your business.
Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.