The Orient Express: A Famous Train Ride Across Europe That Made History

By | October 2, 2020

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The Orient Express at the Salzburg station. (Culture Club/Getty Images)

Perhaps the best-known train in the world, the Orient Express conjures images of luxury, exotic locations, and thanks to a famous Agatha Christie novel, murder. The train is as famous as the Polar Express and Little Red Caboose, but it was—and still is—a real passenger train that carried well-to-do travelers from Paris to Istanbul.

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(WLDiffusion/Wikimedia Commons)

The Golden Age Of Train Travel

In the mid-1800s, traveling by railway was the hottest mode of transportation. It was certainly the fastest, and it didn't take railroad designers long to determine that they could attract more wealthy passengers if they transformed their railcars into exquisite parlors and stately dining rooms, promising their guests a luxurious experience.

George Mortimer Pullman, for whom the Pullman car is named, introduced his opulent train to Great Britain in 1864, and travelers flocked to ride the rails from London to Brighton. Pullman even secured a deal to connect his rail passengers with ferry services that took guests across the English Channel, where they could continue their travels on France's railway system. For the rich and famous, this became the preferred method of travel between London and Paris.

Pullman's success inspired the designer of the Orient Express, George Nagelmackers, to develop his own luxury railcars. He envisioned a "ribbon" of rails spanning the European continent, and he was the first to offer dining cars on continental trains and private sleeping carriages. The first Orient Express opened for business in 1883 on a route from Paris to Vienna.