Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Tour: From Past To Present

Now a museum, but also a building that stands as a religious journal to centuries of time and a witness to many wars. Hagia Sophia is so large that the Empire State Building could actually fit underneath its massive dome. Once a church, later a mosque, a museum, and now back into a Mosque in Turkey. Over the Centuries it has been influenced by both Ottoman and Byzantine influences which you observe when entering its walls. Let me take you on a virtual tour of Hagia Sophia.

A Brief History Of Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is 102 ft 6 in diameter and 182 ft 5 in high, originally a wooden structure used for Pagen rituals, then a Byzantine church built by Constantine in 360 AD. It underwent fires, earthquakes and collapse in total 5 different times. In wasn't until 1931 that Christian Mosaics, previously plastered over for Islamic religious preparations, were beginning to be uncovered. Then in 1934 was transformed into a museum.

Significant church leaders from many denominations, emperors, sultans and princes have all walked these halls. It was a little humbling to think that I was walking in the steps of men and women who made the history books. I like to imagine what the walls of the buildings had been witness to.

Hagia Sophia

Getting To Hagia Sophia

My family & I visited this building on an excursion from our Cruise several years ago, it was an easy train ride to the center of town. You will need to buy a train ticket, with cash, at the machines located next to the tracks. There is an option for English on the ticket machines.

Once you reach a train station take tram line T1 to Sultanahmet square and for the metro take the M2 line to Sultanahmet station. If you are taking a taxi from the airport then it is about a 34 minute drive and about $35. 

If you are doing a guided tour just make sure you can easily get to your meeting point, or have them pick you up at your accommodation. Check out Rome2Rio for other ways of getting Hagia Sophia.  

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Entrance to Hagia Sophia

It costs about 25 Euros to enter the Hagia Sophia now, and only gives you access to part of the Mosque. It was converted back to a mosque by President Erdoğan in 2020. 

You will need to get in line for Hagia Sophia quite early, as it gets quite crowded later in the day. Women should make sure their shoulders are covered with pants and shoes. Men should have pants and shirt on as well (as opposed to wearing shorts). For women a head covering/scarf should be warn out of respect for the religion. 

Hagia Sophia

Tips For Hagia Sophia Tour

While you can tour on your own, it limits your access to certain parts of the building. You can explore on your own and would take about 30 minutes, but a guided tour will take about an hour. 

Try to not talk loudly during your visit as it could interupt worshippers and would be tragic to lose access to witness this beautiful building. You can take pictures inside the building, but don't take photos of those who are praying. You aren't allowed to bring bags or backpacks inside the building so keep your belongings to a minimum. 

The upper gallery can now be visited (as of February 2024), when it was turned back into a mosque - this was limited for several years. 

The best time to visit Hagia Sophia is in the winter, when the temperatures are a bit cooler so If you have to wait in a line it isn't sweltering hot. There isn't much shade while waiting in line so bring water, a hat or umbrella. 

Don't try and visit on Fridays as this is considered a holy day for Islam and often is when the building is closed for prayer time. Other prayer times happen around sunrise, sunset, 7 pm, and around lunch hour - so try to plan accordingly. 

Hagia Sophia

Don't Miss This During Your Visit

There are 9 different entrances to Hagia Sophia, one entrance was specifically for the Emperor where only he was allowed to enter. 

The 'wish' column is said to be the tears of Mother Mary, so if you stick your thumb into it you can feel the condensation collecting inside. The wish column is located in the Northwest corner of the building.  

When you first enter, many people miss the coronation spot, where numerous Roman Emperors had been crowned, look for circles within circles. 

Even though it has been converted back into a mosque, the president did leave a few viewing areas for the Christian Mosaics to be viewed. 

Topkapi Palace

Things To See Near Hagia Sophia

There is a lot to see beyond just the Hagia Sophia - the beautiful (and intricate) Blue Mosque is right across the street from the Hagia Sophia. It was built in 1609 and has some of the finest Islamic artwork on its walls - it is certainly one I would not skip. 

Dolmabahce Palace is the modern palace to the Sultan's after Topkapi Palace lost its ability to keep up with the Sultan's needs. This palace has 285 rooms, 46 halls, and 6 baths that guests and family of the Sultan could enjoy. While Topkapi Palace has the colorful drawings, the Dolmabahce has 14 tons of gold that adorn its ceilings, and a Haram that is completely made of Egyptian alabaster. 

Topkapi Palace was the main palace for the sultans from the 15th century to the 19th century. You can wander through the maze of buildings, see multiple kitchen ovens and where his haram was kept. They have some mannequins inside dressed like they would have been dressed in the 15th century that makes it come alive. 

Galata Tower was used as a military lookout point and later as a fire detection system and prison. If you go up the tower at night you can see the city lit up and get incredible 360 degree views of Istanbul. 

Basilica Cistern is one of the largest in Turkey, and was also featured in the last Da Vinci Code movies. There are concerts that happen down here sometimes, and I would highly recommend trying to catch one purely for the acoustics in this place. 

Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is the largest bazaar in the world with over 4,000 shops and you could get lost in this maze for days. Find everything from ceramics, turkish rugs, coffee, spices, dried fruits, leather, turkish delights, and jewlery. If you walk into a shop for a rug or a jacket, get ready to have some turkish tea or my favorite apple tea - and then the bargaining begins for that 'extra special price - just for you'. 

Places To Stay Near Hagia Sophia

Welcome to Culture Trekking!

My name is Janiel, I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's TravelAtlas ObscuraMetro.co.ukTrip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTubeInstagramTwitterFacebookPinterestTikTok.  To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here