The frugalfirstclasstravel guide to visiting Hagia Sophia

Hi Frugalistas!

Hagia Sophia was probably the tourist site I was most looking forward to visiting in Istanbul.  But I was a bit worried.  Would it be much smaller in “real life”?  Would it be over run with tourists making it impossible to see anything?  Would I be queuing for hours?  I’m delighted to say I had a wonderful visit to Hagia Sophia, and this is how I did it…..

When to visit Hagia Sophia

Like most popular tourist destinations, it’s best to arrive early.  Not only will you not need to wait long in the queue to buy your ticket, you’ll be able to enjoy the interiors with fewer people to interrupt your view.  If you are planning on visiting many of the popular tourist sites work out if a multiuse museum pass will work for you.

frugalfirstclasstravel tip…… Hagia Sophia is quite large inside, but it only takes three or so tour groups in the main gallery area and it would be quite crowded.  Get there at opening time to beat the tour groups

What to see in Hagia Sophia

You will enter the building and into a long portico.  It is quite austere, but still interesting to wander along and understand the “bones” of the building.  For those who love a bit of door porn there are some nice, interesting examples.

The main gallery in the downstairs area is, of the course, the star of the show.  Be prepared for there to be some sort of renovation going on – like most old buildings there’s likely to be something going on!  Have a good wander around, and don’t be afraid to walk around the perimeter of the gallery area to get a different perspective.

frugalfirstclasstravel tip……..Hagia Sophia is one of the most photogenic buildings in the world and you will want to take many, many photos.  Take plenty, but do put the camera away to soak in the majesty and beauty of this wonderful building.

You can visit the upstairs galleries and indeed you should.  It is where most of the Christian decorations are found as well as some interesting displays on the building’s restoration.  The stairs to the upstairs galleries are not easy to see but are well sign posted.

frugalfirstclasstravel tip…….the ramp up to the upstairs galleries are quite steep and the paving is a little rough in parts.  Sensible shoes with solid rubber soles are advisable.

When you are upstairs make sure you look up – the ceilings and arches are decorated with sumptuous, original Christian mosaics – gorgeous.  Walk all the way round – the way down is different to the way up and you will miss some beautiful Byzantine religious art if you cut corners.

frugalfirstclasstravel tip……the upper galleries are a great place to take close ups of the main altar area of the main downstairs gallery.

Leaving Hagia Sophia

You leave via a dedicated exit which brings you into a different portico area.  Look carefully and there is a mirror.  Look what’s in the mirror, then check behind you – another gorgeous Byzantine mosaic to delight you on your departure!

frugalfirstclasstravel tip……the shop near the exit and the garden café are both very expensive.  While still touristy, you will eat better, for less at the large outdoor café opposite Hagia Sophia on the Hippodrome.

And one final tip, while Hagia Sophia is quite plain from the outside, it is beautifully lit at night and looks stunning.

Do you have a tip for visiting Hagia Sophia?


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6 Comments on “The frugalfirstclasstravel guide to visiting Hagia Sophia”

  1. Doria 03/03/2014 at 8:37 pm #

    Its been a while since I have been to this place. I need to dig up my photos. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pretraveller 04/03/2014 at 9:14 am #

    Jo, the Hagia Sophia looks amazing! Thanks for sharing your tips and lovely photos.

  3. patyale 05/03/2014 at 3:18 am #

    You can buy a ticket online in advance to save queuing.

  4. hannahelizabeth 06/03/2014 at 10:30 pm #

    I completely agree with your suggestion to arrive early! The Hagia Sophia was the top of my list of things to see in Istanbul, because I am a complete history nut, and I have read so much about it over the years. I was a little surprised and saddened to hear many people staying in my hostel planning to skip it because you actually need to buy a ticket, but the Blue Mosque next door is free. No matter how frugal you are, the Hagia Sophia is definitely worth seeing – it is so incredibly beautiful, and such an interesting mix of Christian and Islamic decor and history. Don’t miss it!

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