How You Can Travel The Original Orient Express Route
It is one of the world’s most iconic train journeys: the Orient Express, the long distance passenger train service created in 1883 that connected London with Istanbul (then: Constantinople) through Paris.
Just the name evokes a sense of grandeur, adventure, and times long gone. Crystal glasses of champagne, crisp white tablecloths, and passengers dressed up for dinner with tiaras and bowties – that is what first class rail travel once looked like.
In 1977, nearly 100 years after the first journey, the last direct train of the Orient Express left Paris for Istanbul. By then, the service had already lost most of its splendour.
Agatha Christie’s exciting detective novel Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, undoubtedly contributed to the legendary status of the train service. The story of detective Hercule Poirot solving a mysterious murder on the train never gets old.
Even though the service itself does not exist anymore, it is still possible to travel from London to Istanbul with a Global Pass – hopefully without a murder happening on board.
Ride from London to Istanbul
Many train tracks lead to Istanbul, so you need to make some choices before you depart on your epic rail adventure. Departing from London, the choice typically comes down to traveling through Bucharest or through Belgrade and Sofia. Both routes are surprisingly straightforward and can be done in 3 or 4 days.
We are focusing on the route through Sofia, since that is the itinerary Agatha Christie depicted. Because it is likely that London will be the starting point of your rail trip, we will travel the other way round than Hercule Poirot and his murder suspects, who started their suspenseful journey in Istanbul.
It goes without saying that it is up to you to decide if and how long you want to stay in the amazing cities and regions you come across during your journey. With flexible days of travel, a Global Pass makes it easy to break your journey up, linger in the places that intrigue you, and continue only when it feels necessary.
London – Paris
The first part of your journey involves boarding the Eurostar high-speed train from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. The trip can take as little as 2 hours and 15 minutes. You are covered for travel on the Eurostar ― you will just have to reserve a seat
Paris – Munich
When you have seen enough of Paris (has anyone ever, by the way?), hop on the daily direct TGV service to Munich from Gare de L’est ― it takes you there in just 5 and a half hours, arriving in Munich in the evening. Please note that also here, you will have to reserve a seat beforehand.
Before your departure, give yourself some time to look around the beautiful Parisian train station. It witnessed the very first departure of the Orient Express in 1883.
Munich – Zagreb
Do not let a visit to Munich ― the capital city of the Bavaria region – pass by without visiting at least one of its famous Biergartens.
Ready to venture further east? Take the daily Euronight Lisinski train from Munich to Zagreb, passing through Austria and Slovenia. You will arrive in Zagreb in the morning.
Zagreb – Belgrade
In Zagreb, be sure to visit the historic luxury hotel Esplanade Zagreb Hotel. Built in 1925, it provided accommodation for the well-to-do passengers of the Orient Express.
When it is time to travel deeper into the mysterious Balkans, hop on the daily direct train service from Zagreb to Belgrade. It takes 6 and a half hours, arriving in the Serbian capital at the beginning of the evening. Stay at least one night in Belgrade, either to see its beautiful fortress at night or to dance the night away in its many clubs.
Belgrade – Sofia
Now, get ready for some Eastern European realness. There used to be a daily service between Belgrade and Sofia, but it got cancelled until at least September 2018. However, today, there are connecting trains making the journey possible. A direct train is only available in summer season.
Remember, we are looking for an adventure into the unknown. So let’s keep an open mind and head off the beaten track. First, take the train from Belgrade to Nis, Serbia’s second biggest city. This takes about 5 hours. From here, change trains and head to the Serbian border town of Dimitrovgrad. There are several bus companies here that take you across the border to the Bulgarian capital in about an hour for only a few euros.
Sofia – Istanbul
Take some time to relax in laid-back Sofia as you embark on the final part of your journey into the exotic: the Sofia-Istanbul Express. This new train service takes you from Bulgaria to Turkey overnight, arriving in Istanbul in the early morning.
As soon as you hear the call for prayer from the numerous mosques around the city, you know that you have made it to the Orient. You did it!
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