Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine Jewel of Istanbul is the blending pot of Byzantine and Ottoman culture. Originally a cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum, Hagia Sophia has always been marvelled at for its architectural beauty which is reflected in the artistry of the domes.
Hagia Sophia has a glorious history of 1500 years. It was built by Emperor Constantine the Great in 537 AD, and ever since has served as the center of political and religious activities. Hagia Sophia means ‘Holy Wisdom’, however earlier it was called Megale Ekklesia, meaning ‘Great Church’.
On this Hagia Sophia Tour, admire the baroque cathedral, the splendid interiors of the Grand Dome with inlays of marble and stone, and witness both Christian and Muslim artworks which are placed side by side.
Advantages of a Hagia Sophia Guided Tour
Skip the line
The crowds are thinner around 9 am but after that the rush is insane where everyone is trying to get that one glimpse of either the Sacred Relics of Jesus or the Wish Column. Also, there is so much to see at Sophia Hagia that you cannot afford to kill time waiting in queues. Zoom past the crowd and save time with your guided tour ticket.
An expert English-Speaking Guide
An ancient, historic place like Istanbul has many stories to tell and only a local tour guide can tell you about the nitty gritties of the place. All you must do is reach on time and the tour guide will show you around. Having a tour guide in Hagia Sophia is important because the museum does not share much information. So, if you go without a guide you will miss out on the tales and stories behind each ornamental minaret, mosaic and the artistry of the place.
The smartest way to explore the place and save time is with the help of audio guides. The links to the audio guides are provided which must be downloaded. The best part is that the audio guide is available in 10 different languages (English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, and Chinese). All you need to do is plug in your earphones and enjoy the tour. Don’t forget to carry your own earphones as headsets are not provided with audio guides.
Istanbul Museum Pass
It is nothing but the golden ticket. With this ticket you can get skip-the-line entry to other attractions of Istanbul like the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Irene, and Dolmabahce Palace.
The Best Hagia Sophia Guided Tours
Combo Guided Tours
Choosing the Best Hagia Sophia Guided Ticket
Before choosing your tour, take a look at the main features of each type of tour and then make an informed decision. Here’s a list of all your Hagia Sophia tour options and their highlights.
1VIP tour with audio guide
This is partly guided and partly self- tour ticket. With this ticket you can sign up for a 30-minute guided tour and fall in love with the ornamental mosaics, the ancient relics, the massive columns, and the most striking beauty- the imperial dome and later roam around to explore the quaint attraction at your own pace. Just plug in your earphones and enjoy the audio guides which are available in 10 languages (English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, and Chinese)
2Historian Guided Tour
Marvel at the coexistence of the Byzantine and Ottoman art with a one hour guided tour. An English-speaking guide will share insights about the building and ensure you don’t miss out on any experience. Learn about Constantinople, the history of the mosque, some untold fables and admire the work of the Byzantine artisans from mosaics, columns to galleries. With an easy cancellation policy, you get full refund on ticket cancellation 24 hours before the experience starts
3Guided Tour + Skip the Line
Say goodbye to long queues with the Museum Pass for a quick and wholesome experience. As you Skip the line, you save time and cherish the beauty of Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Hagia Irene, and Dolmabahce Palace. Also, an English-speaking guide will guide you through all the historical museums and cultural points in Istanbul, the seat of ancient heritage. The pass is valid for 5 days, which means you get 5 days to explore Istanbul at your own pace and learn about the Islamic, Byzantine and Ottoman cultures.
4Fast track guided tour with Cruise Ride
If you are not a shoestring budget, you can opt for this tour. This tour guarantees fast-track access to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace. As the sun sets, hop on to the yacht for a 2.5 hour sunset yacht cruise to catch the sun set over the Bosphorous Strait and soak in the enthralling beauty of Dolmabahçe Palace, Çırağan and Beylerbeyi palaces, Çamlıca, and Ortaköy mosques, the Maiden’s Tower, and Bosphorus bridges as the yacht passes by while you feast on backlava and drinks.
Hagia Sophia Tours Deconstructed - A Typical Guided Tour Experience
Hagia Sophia has stood the test of time and is a beauty that cannot be expressed in words. There’s more to the grandeur and splendour of this place than just its massive, ornamental dome, the decorated marble pillars, and the intricate mosaics of the saints, angels, Virgin Mary, and Jesus. This quaint museum draws its glory from two different religions existing side by side and its charm cannot be credited to a single culture and that is what sets it apart. Here are some of the sights one can expect to see at a Hagia Sophia Guided Tour.
The Byzantine artists used intricate mosaics to decorate the interiors of Hagia Sophia, and most of them were created in the 10th and 12th centuries. The masterpieces depict Jesus, Virgin Mary, emperors, saints etc, and are made of silver, gold, terracotta, glass, and colored stones. The royal vibe of this museum comes from these ornamental mosaics.
VI. Leon Mosaic
VI.Leon Mosaic is located on the top of the Imperial Gate and its width is 5 meters and the height is 2.6 meters. This enchanting mosaic features Jesus Christ sitting on throne with a halo over his head and an open Bible (the writings are in Greek) in his hand as he is blessing the entire humanity. The words are translated as ‘Peace be upon you all, I am the Light of the world.’
The Wish Column, also known as the "sweating column", the "wishing column" or the "crying column", is in the northwest of the building. This column is covered with bronze plates and has a hole in the middle. It is said to have been moist since the appearance of Gregory the Wonderworker near the column in 1200, while others believe that the wetness is the tear of Mary. It is believed that touching the moisture cures many illnesses as it is said to have healing properties.
Believed to have been made of the woods from Noah’s Ark, the Emperor’s Gate dates to the 6th century. It is the biggest door about 7m in height and is made of oak and bronze frames. It provides the transition from the interior narthex section to the main place and was used just by the Emperor.
Hagia Sophia has total 361 gates, but out of them 101 are bigger than the others and are known as talisman. Believe it or not, whenever these doors are counted, one extra door appears.
Sacred Relics of Hz.Jesus
The sacred relics of Hz Jesus are kept in a secret chamber and is said to have been brought all the way from Jerusalem and hidden in Hagia Sophia. People believed that Jesus would return to the world 40 thousand years later, first appear within this marvel in Istanbul.
In the south direction of the building, after entering, Hızır wrote the date when the apocalypse will break. "Yevm-i Pazar on eighteen, 1038 a year" is written in the column.
Devil's prison in Hagia Sophia
It is believed that the devil is locked up in the prison in Hagia Sophia. Post conquest of Istanbul, Akşemsettin was put in charge by Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror that Hagia Sophia be turned into a mosque. However, the demon did not want Hagia Sophia to be a mosque. He troubled the workers, so Akşemsettin prostrated and prayed to God, and he accepted his prayer. He imprisoned the demon to a marble stone in Hagia Sophia.
Are Hagia Sophia Tours Really Worth it?
No two ways about it! Hagia Sophia is the most iconic attraction of Istanbul and is a tourist magnet. Every year swarms of tourists visit Hagia Sophia to marvel at its splendid architecture, history, and artistry. Not only does it have an interesting history where it was earlier a cathedral then a mosque and now a museum, it is a perfect example of coexistence of different cultures. That is what makes is unique!
Hagia Sophia Practical Information
1st October to 15th April- 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM. The final admission is at 04:00 PM.
15th April to 1st October- 09:00 AM to 07:00 PM. The final admission is at 06:00 PM.
The days when Hagia Sophia is closed- Mondays, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan and on Eid-al-Adha.
Getting to Buckingham Palace
- By Bus: 35A, 36, 36ES, 38, 38Z,97, 92B.
- By Tube: M2.
- By Tram: T1.
- By Train: MARMARAY (ATAKÖY - PENDIK), MARMARAY (HALKALI - GEBZE)
The easiest and best way to get to Hagia Sophia is by taking a light tram line and getting off at the closest Sultanahmet stop from where Hagia Sophia is a 5-minute walk.
- The entrance to the Hagia Sophia is free. However, you should opt for an audio guided tour because the museum doesn’t offer much information.
- Most of the beautiful artworks are on the east end as the original, Christian church was built towards the East, which was also the direction facing Mecca.
- You should remove your shoes before stepping onto the mosque's carpets.
- Follow the dress code- Avoid wearing revealing clothes which show too much skin. Women must use a scarf to cover their head and men should avoid wearing shorts.
- Overalls and headscarf is distributed by authorities in the premises which is a must and these are cheaper inside.
- Carry enough cash as most places accept only cash.
- Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes to explore the museum comfortably on foot.
- Book tickets beforehand to avoid last minute hassle with lodging and accommodation.
- Early morning around 9 am and late evenings have thinner crowds, the best time to visit.
- The ground floor of the building is the most Instagrammable place. You get to capture the gorgeous ornamental ceiling and splendid interiors.
Both Muslims and non-Muslims are allowed to enter Hagia Sophia Mosque.
The best time to visit the mosque is during the morning hours after 9am to experience thinner crowds. The best time of year to visit Hagia Sophia is during the winters to experience the pleasant weather.
On Friday noon and at prayer times, avoid visiting Hagia Sophia Mosque.
The duration depends on the ticket you’ve bought and the kind of experience you want to have. Usually, an in-depth Hagia Sophia tour takes 1.5 to 2 hours.
The entrance to the Hagia Sophia is free for everybody and it is open every day.
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