The Pera Palace was a project of Georges Nagelmackers, the Belgian entrepreneur who linked Paris and Constantinople with his famous Orient Express train service. The 1892 building has undergone a €23-million restoration in recent years and claims to have regained its position as İstanbul's most glamorous hotel. Its bar, tea lounge, patisserie and restaurant are open to the public.

Nagelmackers founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et Grands Express Européens in 1868. The Orient Express service first operated in 1883 and the entrepreneur soon realised that İstanbul had no suitably luxurious hotels where his esteemed passengers could stay. His solution was to build one himself and he commissioned the fashionable İstanbul-born but French-trained architect Alexandre Vallaury to design it.

On opening, the hotel advertised itself as having 'a thoroughly healthy situation, being high up and isolated on all four sides', and 'overlooking the Golden Horn and the whole panorama of Stamboul'. Its guests included Agatha Christie, who supposedly wrote Murder on the Orient Express in room 411; Mata Hari, who no doubt frequented the elegant bar with its lovely stained-glass windows and excellent eavesdropping opportunities; and Greta Garbo, who probably enjoyed her own company in one of the spacious suites.