I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – No visit to Istanbul will be complete without a visit to Hagia Sophia.
Why do I love Hagia Sophia so much?
Having seen so many churches and mosques around the world, the Hagia Sophia takes the cake. It is just magnificent inside and out.
When I walk around inside, I am just completely mesmerized by its Byzantine architecture and history. There is so much detail every where you look that you need hours to fully appreciate the structure. From mosaic details to marble pillars to paintings, the Hagia Sophia is artistically beautiful.
This magnificent structure is over 1,500 years old and has played a significant role for 3 different religious groups – the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic and the Muslims over the course of time. Today, the Hagia Sophia (also known as Ayasofya in Turkish) has turned into a museum that welcomes visitors from all over the world.
And if you are a James Bond fan, then you might enjoy the fact that Hagia Sophia was featured in the film “From Russia with Love.”
Visiting Hagia Sophia
Don’t let the long lines at Hagia Sophia deter you from visiting. It is definitely worth the wait to see this amazing structure. There are two lines to get into the Hagia Sophia – the first line is the ticketing line and the second line is to get into the museum. Here are my visiting recommendations, which will save you some time waiting in lines.
Option #1: Museum Pass Istanbul
If you wish to visit the museum on your own, then my recommendation is to purchase in advance the “Museum Pass Istanbul.” This pass gets you into many of the top museums around Istanbul for one affordable price, but you must use it within 120 hours. Once you start adding up all the different entry costs, the Museum Pass Istanbul (TL85, which is about AUD$40) makes it well worth it.
Purchase your pass in advance to avoid waiting in the ticket line, which is just as long as the line to get in and moves even slower. This also means you avoid the hefty lines at places like Topkapi Palace. You can buy the pass online, but you will see that the website is all in Turkish.
You can buy the pass from one of the other museums offered on the pass, which will have much shorter lines. Some hotels will sell it, plus there are automated kiosks and mobile sales vehicles that will sell the pass.
Option #2: Book a Tour
I found the best way to see Turkey was through booking a group tour. I didn’t have to worry about arranging transport or accommodation, plus we had a full time guide with us. Our tour included Hagia Sophia and our guide gave us all headsets, which meant we could still hear him tell us stories about Hagia Sophia, while we roamed around.
If you are looking at only staying in Istanbul then there are a number of tour companies offering guided tours of Hagia Sophia. This means you skip the ticket line and will only need to wait in the security check line to get in. I recommend the Istanbul Conquered tour if you are looking to see highlights of Istanbul.
There is so much history behind Hagia Sophia – so many interesting stories behind the architecture and art that it is worth taking a guided tour.
Best Time to Visit
Having visited Istanbul a few times now, I have made an effort each time to see Hagia Sophia. Summing it all up, I found that the best time of the year to visit Hagia Sophia was during winter. There were much less tourists, which meant less hassle waiting in lines and much better for taking photos.
If you prefer visiting Istanbul any other time of the year, it is best to visit not long before closing time. Most bigger groups will have already have left, but do keep in mind that there will still be a line up. I recommend about 1.5-2 hours prior to closing time (5:00pm).
Avoid visiting Hagia Sophia on weekends and on Friday mornings. The Blue Mosque is closed on Friday mornings (until 2:30pm), so you’ll find the tour groups will visit Hagia Sophia first before heading to the Blue Mosque. Plus on the weekends, Hagia Sophia will see foreign and local visitors, making it extra busy.
Finally, keep in mind, Hagia Sophia is closed on Mondays and entry into the museum closes 30 minutes prior to closing time (5:00pm), so make sure to plan accordingly.
Hagia Sophia is a must visit when you are in Istanbul. Just make sure to take the time to plan your visit so that you can make the most of your time here.
If you are looking for more things to do in Istanbul, check out my top 20 things to do in Istanbul or if you are looking to travel around Turkey, here is my list of recommended places to see.
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