June 5, 1883 – The first regularly scheduled Orient Express departs Paris for Varna in Bulgaria, with the final leg via ship to Constantinople (Istanbul).* The train was owned by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL).
Originally, it was just one of many international trains without any association with luxury. (The dinner menu consisted of oysters, soup with pasta, turbot, mushrooms and chicken in a tomato and white-wine sauc, beef with thick potato chips fried in butter, cold game in jellied sauce, salad, chocolate pudding, and various pastry desserts.)
It wasn't until 1889, that the Orient Express went directly to Constantinople.
Only after the opening of the Simplon Tunnel in 1919 did the train begin to take on the association of luxury. It reached its height in the 1930s. During this time, there were actually three "Orient Express" trains: the Orient Express (Paris-Strasbourg-Munich-Vienna-Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul), the Simplon Orient Express (Paris-Lausanne-Milan-Venice-Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul), and the Arlberg Orient Express (Paris-Zurich-Innsbruck-Vienna-Budapest-Belgrade-Athens).
Although the Orient Express appears in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), the train rose to fame with the 1934 publication of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. (It takes place on the Simplon Orient Express.)
Service on the Orient Express was suspended during World War I (1914-1918), and again during World War II (1939-1945). Various international disputes left the train's terminus in Athens and Varna during the 1950s. By 1962, only the Simplon Orient Express still operated. The route was repeatedly shortened, until shutting down in 1977. Orient Express seating and sleeping cars continued to be used by other companies and service to various cities (express, direct, and indirect) offered until 2009.
* - Founded in 660 BC as Byzantium, the city's name changed to Constantinople in 330 AD. In 1453 AD, the Ottomans conquered the city, at which time its name was interchangably Constantinople or İstanbul. "Stamboul" began to be used in the early 1800s to refer to the historic walled city, while a local colloquial name was Islambul. İstanbul became common only after Turkey adapted the Latin alphabet in 1928.