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We will be catching the train between Nagano and Kyoto in a few weeks. There looks to be two options:

  • Nagano to Nagoya, then change and on to Kyoto (we will do this part in reverse a few days later on the way to Tokyo).
  • Nagano to Kanazawa, then change and on to Kyoto.

Both take about four hours and are included with our JR pass. As such the tie breaker could be the view. Which is the more scenic route?

  • I've only done parts of both routes, but the Nagoya-Kyoto route is distinctly non-scenic, so I'd opt for Kanazawa if you can -- and stopping there for a few days would be even better. – lambshaanxy Jan 10 at 8:38
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If you travel via Nagoya, you will be travelling on the Shin-etsu Main, Shinonoi and Chuo Main Lines to Nagoya, and then most likely Tokaido Shinkansen to Kyoto. Forget about the second part - most of Tokaido Shinkansen between Nagoya and Kyoto travel through industrial areas in the Tokai region and Shiga Prefecture. The Chuo Main Line between Shiojiri and Nakatsugawa, however, is known to be rather scenic, passing right through the famous Nezame no toko in parts of its route.

If you opt to travel via Kanazawa, you will likely use the Hokuriku Shinkansen to travel to Kanazawa, and then travel on the Hokuriku Main (including sections transferred to IR Ishikawa Railway), Kosei and Tokaido Main Lines to Kyoto. The Shinkansen, again, is not too scenic as it's mostly tunnels. The Hokuriku Main Line between Kanazawa and Omi-Shiotsu is quite a bit more scenic, but I doubt it would be as scenic as the Chuo Main Line between Shiojiri and Nakatsugawa not too scenic either.

A while after I first wrote this answer, I traveled on the Hokuriku Main Line from Maibara to Awaraonsen, and the route was (first) a lot of tunnels, and then it runs mainly through a farmland and rice paddies. It's a pleasant scene, but it's not too scenic. North of Awaraonsen the situation seems to be the same, only a short segment between Nominegari and Mikawa allows passengers to have a view of the sea.

So I would definitely opt for the first route: take the Limited Express Wide View Shinano to Nagoya, then the regular Shinkansen to Kyoto. But in any case, you can find plenty of YouTube videos documenting travel on these lines, so you can judge for yourself.

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In 2016 we did ride from Nagoya to Nagano. We traveled on a "green" ticket (first class) which was the front car. If you reserve right two seats in the first row you actually have full view out the front of the train ! It was an awesome experience.

Unfortunately I don't remember which exact train that was.

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  • Well, the only direct connections from Nagoya to Nagano are Limited Express Shinano/Wide View Shinano, so I guess it's probably that one. – xuq01 Jan 11 at 12:46
  • I thought so too, but then I read that the green car is the last one on the Shinano which clearly wasn't the case for us. May have changed since 2016. – Hilmar Jan 12 at 13:44
  • Japanese Wikipedia says that the green car on the (Wide View) Shinano is the first one so I think that matches your experience... – xuq01 Jan 12 at 14:13

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