Orient Express

For other uses, see Orient Express (disambiguation).
The Orient Express

Poster advertising the Winter 1888–89 timetable for
Train length 4 to 22 coaches

The Orient Express was the name of a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883 by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL)

The route and rolling stock of the Orient Express changed many times. Several routes in the past concurrently used the Orient Express name, or slight variants there of. Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name has become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul),[1][2] the original endpoints of the timetabled service.[3]

The Orient Express was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when travelling was still rough and dangerous. CIWL soon developed a dense network of luxury trains all over Europe, whose names are still remembered today and associated with the art of luxury travel – the Blue Train, the Golden Arrow, North Express and many more.

In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Vienna, ran for the last time from Paris on Friday, June 8, 2007.[4][5] After this, the route, still called the "Orient Express", was shortened to start from Strasbourg instead,[6] occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which affords much shorter travel times from Paris to Strasbourg. The new curtailed service left Strasbourg at 22:20 daily, shortly after the arrival of a TGV from Paris, and was attached at Karlsruhe to the overnight sleeper service from Amsterdam to Vienna.

On 14 December 2009, the Orient Express ceased to operate and the route disappeared from European railway timetables, reportedly a "victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines".[7] The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture by Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. using original CIWL carriages from the 1920s and 1930s, continues to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul.[8] In March 2014 Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. was renamed Belmond.

Train Eclair de luxe (the 'test' train)

CIWL logo

In 1882, Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker's son, invited guests to a railway trip of 2,000 km (1,243 mi) on his 'Train Eclair de luxe' (lightning luxury train).[3][9] The train left Paris Gare de l'Est on Tuesday, October 10, 1882, just after 18:30 and arrived in Vienna the next day at 23:20. The return trip left Vienna on Friday, October 13, 1882, at 16:40 and, as planned, re-entered the Gare de Strasbourg at 20:00 on Saturday October 14, 1882.

Georges Nagelmackers was the founder of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which expanded its luxury trains, travel agencies and hotels all over Europe, Asia and North Africa. Its most famous train remains the Orient-Express.

The train was composed of:

The first menu on board (October 10, 1882): oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ‘à la chasseur’, fillet of beef with ‘château’ potatoes, ‘chaud-froid’ of game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, buffet of desserts.[10]

Orient Express cars, 1930


Historic routes of Orient Express — the cross denotes the Simplon tunnel

Original train

The first Orient Express in 1883

On June 5, 1883, the first Express d'Orient left Paris for Vienna. Vienna remained the terminus until October 4, 1883. The train was officially renamed Orient Express in 1891.[11]

The original route, which first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l'Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, to pick up another train to Varna. They then completed their journey to Constantinople by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv and rail again to Istanbul.[11]

WL Orient Express

In 1889, the train's eastern terminus became Varna in Bulgaria, where passengers could take a ship to Constantinople. On June 1, 1889, the first direct train to Istanbul left Paris (Gare de l'Est). Istanbul remained its easternmost stop until May 19, 1977. The eastern terminus was the Sirkeci Terminal by the Golden Horn. Ferry service from piers next to the terminal would take passengers across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa Terminal, the terminus of the Asian lines of the Ottoman Railways.[11]

The onset of World War I in 1914 saw Orient Express services suspended. They resumed at the end of hostilities in 1918, and in 1919 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel allowed the introduction of a more southerly route via Milan, Venice and Trieste. The service on this route was known as the Simplon Orient Express, and it ran in addition to continuing services on the old route. The Treaty of Saint-Germain contained a clause requiring Austria to accept this train: formerly, Austria allowed international services to pass through Austrian territory (which included Trieste at the time) only if they ran via Vienna. The Simplon Orient Express soon became the most important rail route between Paris and Istanbul.[11]

Badge of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits on a car of the Orient Express

The 1930s saw the zenith of Orient Express services, with three parallel services running: the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest, with sleeper cars running onwards from there to Bucharest and Athens. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, business people and the bourgeoisie in general patronized it. Each of the Orient Express services also incorporated sleeping cars which had run from Calais to Paris, thus extending the service right from one edge of continental Europe to the other.[11]

WL Golden Arrow

The start of the Second World War in 1939 again interrupted the service, which did not resume until 1945. During the war, the German Mitropa company had run some services on the route through the Balkans,[12] but Yugoslav Partisans frequently sabotaged the track, forcing a stop to this service.[11]

Following the end of the war, normal services resumed except on the Athens leg, where the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece prevented services from running. That border re-opened in 1951, but the closure of the BulgarianTurkish border from 1951 to 1952 prevented services running to Istanbul during that time. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, the service continued to run, but the Communist nations increasingly replaced the Wagon-Lits cars with carriages run by their own railway services.

Luggage tag

By 1962, the Orient Express and Arlberg Orient Express had stopped running, leaving only the Simplon Orient Express. This was replaced in 1962 by a slower service called the Direct Orient Express, which ran daily cars from Paris to Belgrade, and twice weekly services from Paris to Istanbul and Athens.

In 1971, the Wagon-Lits company stopped running carriages itself and making revenues from a ticket supplement. Instead, it sold or leased all its carriages to the various national railway companies, but continued to provide staff for the carriages. 1976 saw the withdrawal of the Paris–Athens direct service, and in 1977, the Direct Orient Express was withdrawn completely, with the last Paris–Istanbul service running on May 19 of that year.[4][5]

The withdrawal of the Direct Orient Express was thought by many to signal the end of Orient Express as a whole, but in fact a service under this name continued to run from Paris to Budapest and Bucharest as before (via Strasbourg, Munich, and Budapest). This continued until 2001, when the service was cut back to just Paris–Vienna, the coaches for which were attached to the Paris–Strasbourg express. This service continued daily, listed in the timetables under the name Orient Express, until June 8, 2007.[4] However, with the opening of the LGV Est Paris–Strasbourg high speed rail line on June 10, 2007, the Orient Express service was further cut back to Strasbourg–Vienna, departing nightly at 22:20 from Strasbourg, and still bearing the name.[5][11]

Final years

It provided a convenient connection from the TGV arrival from Paris.

EN468-469 Orient-Express

From 14 December 2008 until December 2009, the Orient-Express (with a hyphen) ran as EuroNight services EN468 and EN469 between Vienna and Strasbourg.[4][11] Four through carriages operated from Budapest to Frankfurt am Main and three additional carriages Vienna–Frankfurt. The trains operated daily. EN468/469 was discontinued as of the December 2009 Deutsche Bahn timetable change.

Orient Express in Poland, in 2007


The train consisted of sleeper cars, couchette cars and saloon cars of the Austrian (ÖBB) and Hungarian (MÁV) national railways.

Though the final service ran only from Strasbourg to Vienna, it was possible to retrace the entire original Orient Express route with four trains: Paris–Strasbourg, Strasbourg–Vienna, Vienna–Belgrade and Belgrade-Istanbul, each of which operate daily. Other routes from Paris to Istanbul also exist, such as Paris–MunichBudapestBucharest–Istanbul, or Paris–Zürich–Belgrade–Istanbul, all of which have comparable travel times of approximately 60 hours without delays.

The luxurious dining car, where scenes for Murder on the Orient Express and other movies were filmed, is now in the OSE museum of Thessalonica. The local authorities plan to refit the train to make it available for tourist use around the Balkans in the near future.

Privately run trains using the name

In 1982, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express was established as a private venture, running restored 1920s and 1930s carriages from London to Venice. This service runs between March and November, and is firmly aimed at leisure travellers, with tickets costing over $3,120 per person from London to Venice including meals. As of October 2009 the company offers once a year service from Paris to Istanbul in August and Istanbul to Paris trip in September.[4] Other routes include:

The company also offers a similarly themed luxury train in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, called the Eastern and Oriental Express.

In North America, the American Orient Express, formerly the American European Express, operated several train sets in charter service between 1989 and 2008.

Orient Express poster

CIWL phototheque and historical archives

The CIWL archives contain more than 100 years of posters, photos, plans and communication material that represents a tremendous interest for cultural, academic or commercial projects. The greatest creators and artists have been hired by CIWL since 1883 in order to create luxury conditions and comfort in travel, as well as a particular graphic style that is now recognized worldwide by its quality. Great efforts have been made to digitalize images (photos, plans and posters), although vast paper archives remain preserved, waiting to be sorted and classified in the future. As of today, available digital archives consist of more than 250 CIWL posters, 800 PLM posters and more than 6,000 archive photos, representing probably one of the most extensive poster collections in the world with works dating from the end of the 19th century to the late 1950s. These archives are regularly used for all types of publishing and media projects, all over the world, as well as cultural events (see below: Exhibition).[13][14]

The glamour and rich history of the Orient Express has frequently lent itself to the plot of books and films and as the subject of television documentaries.



WL agences de voyages



Games and animation



See also



  1. Orient-Express
  2. Orient Express : attention au départ
  3. 1 2 Zax, David (1 March 2007). "A Brief History of the Orient Express". Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Calder, Simon (22 August 2009). "Murder of the Orient Express – End of the line for celebrated train service". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  5. 1 2 3 "A History of the Orient Express". Agatha Christie Limited. 17 May 2011. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  6. "'hidden europe' magazine e-news Issue 2007/15". 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  7. "The Orient Express Takes Its Final Trip". NPR. December 12, 2009. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  8. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
  9. Lambert, Anthony (21 January 2013). "The Orient-Express: Great Train Journeys". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  10. Piegsa-quischotte, Inke. "Memories of the Orient Express". Travel Through History. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Smith, Mark. "A history of the Orient Express". Seat Sixty One. http://www.seat61.com/. Retrieved 2013-03-13. External link in |publisher= (help)
  12. "The Orient Express – Across Europe from London to Istanbul". Eng Rail History. engrailhistory.info. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  13. 1 2 3 Unauthorized use of CIWL property is illegal. For any request , contact www.wagons-lits-diffusion.com
  14. 1 2 3 Wagons-Lits Diffusion
  15. Ninjaturtles: Turtles on the Orient Express


Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Orient Express.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Orient Express.
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