Travel tips and things to do in Kobe, Japan: The nine things you should do

THE ONE SIGHT

Kobe was opened to international trade in the 19th-century, and its hillside Kitano district is dotted with European-style villas. It has a disconcertingly foreign look that appeals to Japanese wedding couples as a photography backdrop. Of the historic houses open to the public, the former American consul's home Moegi-no-Yakata and the German trader's house Kasamidori-no-Yakata are the most interesting. See plus.feel-kobe.jp

THE ONE DISTRICT

City-centre Nankin-machi, commonly called Chinatown and developed by Chinese traders in the 1860s, is a reminder of Kobe's other international influence. Today it's a gimmicky tourist attraction, but its busyness, kitsch dragons and street-food stalls are a lot of fun. Nankin Park is the meeting point for visitors tucking into takeaway dim sum, dumplings and red-bean buns. See nankinmachi.or.jp

THE ONE EVENT

Head to Meriken Park for the Earthquake Memorial dedicated to those killed in the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which destroyed 240,000 buildings. Unrepaired damage is retained to give you an idea of the devastation. Information panels in English provide details. Elsewhere, Earthquake Memorial Museum has exhibits on Kobe's recovery and disaster prevention. See dri.ne.jp

THE ONE GARDEN

Shin-Kobe ropeway hoists you from town up the Rokko hills for splendid views over Kobe; it's especially popular at night. The middle station's Nunobiki Herb Garden, however, gives you good reason for a day visit. It grows hundreds of herb varieties and is filled with fragrance. Seasonal flowers also bloom – the Rose Symphony Garden is gorgeous in summer. See kobeherb.com

THE ONE HOTEL

Although only 30 years old, the red-brick, European-style building of the upmarket Kobe Kitano Hotel fits right into the chic European-influenced Kitano district. Its Relais & Châteaux branding, outstanding French cuisine, sloping mansard roofs in some guestrooms and scatterings of antique furnishings suggest a cosy corner of Paris. The comfort and space in guestrooms are very welcome after the cramped quarters of most Japanese hotels.  See relaischateaux.com

THE ONE BREAKFAST

Breakfast is seldom the centre of dining attention, but the renowned breakfast at Kobe Kitano Hotel is often the reason Japanese visitors stay here. It's served as a "set', Japanese-style, but the all-Western food is a welcome change from the early-morning rice and fish elsewhere. Expect fresh fruit juice, homemade jams and Hyogo honey, great pastries and yoghurt, cooked eggs and much more. See relaischateaux.com

THE ONE DISH

The abundantly marbled, sweet Kobe beef, produced from Tajima black cattle within Hyogo Prefecture, famously melts in the mouth. Internationally – and often even in Japan – most Kobe beef isn't authentic, so Kobe is your best chance to try the certified real deal. Enjoy it sashimi (raw), sukiyaki (hotpot) or teppanyaki (grilled) style, or as a steak. See kobebeef-kanko.com

THE ONE BAR

Kobe has a great nightlife, with neon-glowing city-centre alleys packed with tiny bars, pubs and nightclubs. Meandering from one to another provides great fun, but at In Tha Door Brewing you can check out the local craft beer. It's a small place with minimalist, industrial decor, good music and six beers on tap at any one time. See inthadoor.com

THE ONE EXCURSION

Himeji is an hour from Kobe on the bullet train, and from the station you can walk through the small, lively city centre to Himeji Castle, the finest of all Japan's samurai-era castles. The huge fortified complex of 80-something white buildings is topped by a whopping five-storey keep. In springtime, cherry trees blossom in the grounds. See himejicastle.jp

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ONE MORE THING

A Japan Rail Pass makes getting around on Japan's outstanding train system even easier, providing unlimited travel across the Japan Rail network, including most types of shinkansen (bullet trains). You can't, however, purchase a pass in Japan, so be sure to organise one prior to your visit. Rail Europe offers passes from $390 per adult. See greattrainjourneys.com.au

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Japan Airlines, Rail Europe and Relais & Châteaux.

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