Hagia Sophia is the most precious jewel of Istanbul with its history going back 1500 years. Hagia Sophia is at the top of everyone’s list of things to do in Istanbul. In this article, you can find both the Hagia Sophia guided tour options and the necessary information for the self-guided tour.
This post is quite long as it’s an article where you can find everything about Hagia Sophia. If your time is limited and you want to find what you are looking for right away, you can browse the page from the “Table of Contents” section below.
About Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia has been a legendary structure throughout its history. Built 1500 years ago by the Emperor Justinian, the building marked a breakthrough in the history of architecture. Hagia Sophia remained the largest church of Christianity throughout the Middle Ages.
The excitement and curiosity created by Hagia Sophia continued for centuries. People took shelter in Hagia Sophia to be protected from natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms. The Byzantines crowned their emperors here and celebrated their victories.
Hagia Sophia became a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered the city. Hagia Sophia, which had been a church for 900 years, remained a mosque for about 500 years. Converted into a museum in the 1930s, Hagia Sophia is one of the rare places where Christian and Muslim heritage can be seen together.
Hagia Sophia has been turned back into a mosque since July 2020. However, the Byzantine mosaics inside can still be seen. If you take a guided tour of Hagia Sophia, you can better understand the mosaics and other historical artifacts inside the building.
Guided Tour Options for Hagia Sophia
There are two options to visit Hagia Sophia with a guided tour. The first is to buy tickets online and join the group tour by meeting the guide at the entrance. The second is to visit Hagia Sophia with a private tour guide. Of course, as a third option, you can also visit Hagia Sophia yourself, and I have prepared this article to make it easier for you.
1. Hagia Sophia Guided Tour Tickets
You need to purchase tickets online in advance to join the skip-the-line guided group tour. Those who book Hagia Sophia guided tour tickets meet with the guide at the entrance of the museum with the reference number given to them.
You enter with a group and you are given general information about the history of Hagia Sophia. If you want this option, which is cheaper than a private guided tour, you can buy your tickets from this link.
2. Private Tour Guide for Hagia Sophia
If you want to arrange a private tour guide for Hagia Sophia, you can hire one of the licensed guides waiting at the entrance of the mosque. There are guides in front of Hagia Sophia that you can pay by the hour and they will introduce you to the building in detail.
Since the Hagia Sophia visit will take an hour on average, it is not sold as a single tour by travel agencies. Hagia Sophia is part of the more comprehensive half day and full day Istanbul tours. For this reason, it would be reasonable to hire an hourly guide.
3. Self Guided Tour of Hagia Sophia
Of course, you can visit Hagia Sophia alone. It may even be better for you if you know enough about the history of Istanbul. You can carefully examine historical artifacts and take photos without being rushed by a tour group or guide.
If you want to take a self-guided tour of Hagia Sophia, I suggest you read this article to the end. Because in this article you can find useful tips about things to see in Hagia Sophia.
Things to Know Before Visiting Hagia Sophia
You can find practical information for self guided visit to Hagia Sophia in the following lines. As a private tour guide in Istanbul, I share the news about Hagia Sophia on this site and update it regularly.
The change in the status of Hagia Sophia led to the reorganization of visiting hours and areas that can be visited. For this reason, there are many things to know before visiting Hagia Sophia.
1. Why is Hagia Sophia Important?
The importance of Hagia Sophia stems from the fact that it is one of the most important architectural achievements in human history. The structure was built by the Eastern Roman Empire known as Byzantium in modern history.
In this sense, we can say that Byzantium continued by developing the architectural style it inherited from the Roman Empire. Early examples of this legacy in Istanbul were the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Stoudios Monastery.
Although these churches have not survived until today, Church of Saints Sergius of Bacchus, known as Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, is still standing.
After Istanbul was declared the capital city with the name of Constantinople by emperor Constantine the Great, these three structures were built over time. Afterwards, today’s Hagia Sophia was erected.
It is an interesting story that Roman architecture continued to evolve even after the fall of Western Rome. You can see the timeline of this architectural development in the Byzantine Churches in Istanbul article.
The imperial history of Istanbul is a bit complicated as it consists of three layers. You can take a guided tour of Hagia Sophia to grasp the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods of the city.
2. Visiting Hours of Hagia Sophia?
When Hagia Sophia was a museum, long queues were forming in front of the building. Now, since Hagia Sophia is a mosque, it is not necessary to buy a ticket to enter and these queues have shortened.
However, Hagia Sophia, like other mosques in Istanbul, can be closed during prayer times. Since there is congregational prayer on Fridays, mosques in Istanbul are closed for half a day until 14:30 that day.
Visiting hours of Hagia Sophia can change several times a year. Before visiting Hagia Sophia, you can review the article titled Hagia Sophia opening hours, which I have published on this site and updated regularly.
3. Can I See the Mosaics of Hagia Sophia?
When Hagia Sophia was turned back into a mosque in 2020, all history buffs and travelers began to wonder if they could see the religious mosaics in Hagia Sophia.
As of 2022, you can see the mosaics in Hagia Sophia. However, for now, only the mosaics on the ground floor can be seen. The mosaics in the upper floor galleries are closed due to ongoing renovations.
You can review the Uncovering the Mosaics of Hagia Sophia article I published on this site about the latest situation of mosaics. You can also find the story of each of the mosaics in this recommended article.
4. Hagia Sophia Virtual Tour
While Hagia Sophia was still a museum, I visited every corner and took pictures of it. I gathered these photos I took between 2016 and 2020 in an article.
If you are not going to visit Istanbul in the near future, but still wondering about the interior of Hagia Sophia, you can read the article called Hagia Sophia photos.
This article explains the Byzantine and Ottoman period artifacts inside the building step by step and allows you to take a virtual tour of Hagia Sophia. This article, supported by plenty of images and information, may be of interest to you.
Written by Serhat Engul