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.
frugal first class travel 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.
frugal first class travel 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.
frugal first class travel 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.
frugal first class travel 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!
frugal first class travel 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?