Hagia Sophia Exterior Tour: Discover Byzantine History from the Outside

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Explore 1500 Years of History on the Path of Byzantine

Hagia Sophia is one of the most visited attractions in Istanbul! It will amaze you with its magnificent architecture, history, and ambiance. You will feel the Christian and Islamic history lay there side-by-side while discovering Hagia Sophia!

With Istanbul Tourist Pass® first, enjoy a walking tour on the Path of Byzantine and learn all about the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the German Fountain. Next, your guide will take you outside of the Hagia Sophia, where they will reveal all you need to know about its fascinating history and architectural splendor.

After the guided tour, if you want to enter the mosque your guide will help you to buy the entrance ticket and skip the ticket line. You can add Hagia Sophia History and Experience Museum to your tour and get a fast-track entrance to Hagia Sophia!

About The Hagia Sophia Exterior Tour: Discover Byzantine History from the Outside

Mobile ticketing - No need for printed voucher, we're digital!

Instant confirmation - The tour does require a reservation in advance. 

Check here to plan your visit: Guided Tour Timetable



Guided tour with a professional local guide outside of Hagia Sophia

Walking tour around the Hippodrome of Constantinople

Discover Hagia Sophia at your own pace with additional entrance tickets

Experience the magnificent Hagia Sophia History & Experience Museum with additional tickets

Upgrade to fast-track with a purchase of Hagia Sophia History & Experience Museum



Guided Tour in front of the Hagia Sophia Mosque

Walking tour of the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the German Fountain

Comprehensive narrative including landmarks like Theodosius Obelisk ve Serpent Column

Optional Tickets

Buy your Hagia Sophia Mosque Upper Gallery Visiting Area Tickets for an additional fee to skip the ticket line

Buy your Hagia Sophia History & Experience Museum tickets for an additional fee includes an upgrade to fast track of the Hagia Sophia Mosque entrance

Hagia Sophia and the Byzantine Path

Welcome to Path of Byzantine, where 1500 years of Christian and Islamic history can be seen side-by-side.

Start your adventure with a walking tour on the Path of Byzantine, delving into the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the captivating German Fountain – all included with your Istanbul Tourist Pass®. Afterward, your guide will lead you to the magnificent Hagia Sophia, sharing its rich history and architectural wonders. Want to explore inside? Your guide will assist with ticket purchases and help you skip the ticket lines.

Enjoy the 2nd-floor visiting areas of the Hagia Sophia Mosque at your own pace! For the ultimate experience, add the Hagia Sophia History and Experience Museum to your tour for fast-track entrance!

For this amazing experience with a comprehensive guided tour and more, Buy Your Pass Now! Istanbul Tourist Pass® is here to make your Istanbul trip an unforgettable experience! 

Hours & Meeting

The meeting point for this tour is at the BUSFORUS ISTANBUL (Red Double Decker Busses) Stop, close to the Hagia Sophia.

Check here to plan your visit: Guided Tour Timetable

How To Get There?

Reaching the meeting poing can be a breeze, depending on where you're starting from. Here are a few options:

On foot: If you're feeling adventurous and the weather's nice, a stroll through the charming streets of Sultanahmet is a wonderful way to arrive. From Taksim Square, hop on the funicular down to Kabataş pier, then follow the coast for about 20 minutes until you reach the iconic silhouette of Hagia Sophia. It's a leisurely 1.5-kilometer walk along the water, offering stunning views of the Bosphorus.

By tram: The T1 Bağcılar-Kabataş tram line conveniently stops right by Hagia Sophia. Catch a tram from any stop along the line (Eminönü, Sultanahmet, Gülhane Park) and hop off at the Sultanahmet stop. From there, it's just a short walk to the mosque.

By bus: Several buses also connect different parts of the city to Sultanahmet. Look for buses numbered 47, 48, 35C, or 99. They all drop you off within walking distance of Hagia Sophia.

By taxi: If you're short on time or prefer a more private ride, hailing a taxi is always an option. Just tell the driver "Ayasofya Camii" (Hagia Sophia Mosque) and they'll take you right there.

By ferry: If you're coming from the Asian side of Istanbul, take a ferry to Eminönü and then walk or take a tram to Sultanahmet. The ferry ride offers beautiful views of the Bosphorus Strait.

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Important Information

Guides can not enter the mosque with you so this attraction ONLY covers a guided tour in front of the Hagia Sophia entrance.

Entrance ticket is not included with the tour, you can easily add your cart and purchase your ticket.

If you decide to enter the Hagia Sophia Mosque, your guide will help you easily buy entrance tickets and skip the ticket line.

When you add Hagia Sophia History and Experience Museum to your experience, your Hagia Sophia Mosque entrance tickets will be upgraded to Fast Track.

The entrance ticket ONLY gives access to the 2nd-floor visitor areas but not to the prayer area.

Kindly note that due to the limited capacity, there might be long queues. 

Children will be asked to present their passports at the entrance to confirm their age.

Remember to wear modest clothing (arms and legs covered). Women must cover their hair with a scarf. If you forget to bring your own scarf, you can buy one before you enter.

The mosque is only open for half a day on the first day of Ramadan and the Sacrifice Festivals.

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All About Hagia Sophia Exterior Tour: Discover Byzantine History from the Outside

History of Hagia Sophia

The first Hagia Sophia was built as a basilica with a wooden roof, stone walls, and three naves on the ruins of the Temple of Artemis in the north-south direction with the influence of Byzantine architects and scientists who visited the Eastern cultures. According to a Byzantine manuscript of the 9th century, the architect of the first Hagia Sophia was named Efratas. Although there are no remains of this temple today, the stamps of Megale Ekklesia in the warehouse of the Hagia Sophia Museum are thought to belong to this first temple.

The roof of Hagia Sophia was burned during an uprising in 381. Later, because of the rebellion in 404, it was completely burned. By order of Theodosius II, construction of the second Hagia Sophia began in 408 and the church was opened in 415. This second church was destroyed by the Nika Rebellion in 532.

After this uprising, Hagia Sophia was built for the third and last time. This structure, which has survived since its construction, is the third structure. The construction process started in 532 and the church was opened in 537. According to sources, on the day of the opening of Hagia Sophia, the emperor Justinian entered the temple and, referring to the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, said: “O Solomon! I surpassed you!”

Roman & Byzantine Period

Hagia Sophia was a symbol of the Byzantine where Istanbul (Constantinople) was the capital at the time. The current form of this magnificent place was rebuilt by the order of Emperor Justinian I, as the world’s largest cathedral. And the church was completed in the 6th century even though it was a dream to see its opening. Today, it's still known for its Byzantine mosaics.

Perception is more than everything and the structure of the dome had a divine perception on the visitors that it’s suspended from heaven. The windows are very close to each other and decorated with golden mosaics. As light enters from the windows and hit the golden mosaic it makes a spiritual imagination from heaven.

For a few decades, Hagia Sophia was under the control of the Catholics, till the Byzantine took back the city in the 13th century.

Ottoman Period

The building reflects every religious change over the centuries by the emperors that ruled these lands. In 1453, by the Ottoman conquest, Hagia Sophia became a mosque with an addition of a great chandelier, minaret, and a mihrab which shows the direction of Mecca. The two identical minarets on the western side were likely commissioned by Selim II or Murad III and built by renowned Ottoman imperial architect Sinan in the 1500s.

Turkish Republic Era

In 1934, the President of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk secularized the building and in 1935 the building was turned into a museum for visitors. Today, the building serves Istanbulites and visitors from all around the world as a home for prayers.

Who turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque?

The last Orthodox ritual in Hagia Sophia was held on 28 May 1453 to encourage the Byzantine army. Statesmen and the public, including the Emperor, attended this service. A day later, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, who entered the city in the afternoon, came to Hagia Sophia, got down from his horse, and entered the Hagia Sophia for a while. Fatih Sultan Mehmet ordered the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

During the Ottoman period, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the mihrabs, pulpit, and sermon were added to the Hagia Sophia. The most crucial change in the mosque's exterior was the addition of four minarets. The restoration works started by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in Hagia Sophia during the Ottoman period were continued by the later Sultans. The most essential repairs in Hagia Sophia were made by the Swiss Fossati Brothers between 1847-1849 by order of Sultan Abdulmecid. One of the most essential Ottoman additions to the structure was the library, built by Sultan Mahmud I in 1739, between the two pillars in the southern part of the building.

Hagia Sophia served as a mosque in Istanbul until 1934. On 9 September 1934, the official newspaper of the state, Cumhuriyet newspaper, announced that Hagia Sophia would become a museum. It was determined that the entrance fee would be 10 kurus on 21 November 1934 and the decision was completed on 24 November 1934 by the Cabinet. In 1985, Hagia Sophia was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2020, it became a mosque once again and now it is open for prayers.

Hagia Sophia Facts

  • In Greek, Sophia means Wisdom. In English, the Hagia Sophia is also called the church of Holy Wisdom.
  • Even though there were two more churches that were accepted as Holy Wisdom, only the Hagia Sophia remains today as not destroyed.
  • While turning into a mosque, the altar, the bells, sacrificial vessels, and iconostasis were all hidden by a veil.
  • Hagia Sophia was designed by a mathematician, a scientist, and a physicist.
  • The dome of the Hagia Sophia is huge, in the world, only Pantheon in Rome has slightly a bigger dome than the dome of Hagia Sophia.
  • In 1935, the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered Hagia Sophia to be converted into a museum.
  • Hagia Sophia is an inspiration for other mosques in Istanbul as well. One of them is the Blue Mosque.
  • Hagia Sophia has 40 windows in the area where worshippers sit and it is a famous spot known for reflecting the mystical light.
  • Hagia Sophia was accepted as an important site for 1000 years for the Eastern Orthodox Church.
  • Hagia Sophia has both Christian and Islamic influences and features as a museum.
  • When Hagia Sophia was a church, a 50-foot silver iconostasis was decorated inside.
  • It was very difficult to build the dome of the Hagia Sophia. Due to its weight, the walls began to lean outward. and supportive walls were built to strengthen the dome.
  • When Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II., many Christian mosaics and frescoes were plastered over to highlight the Islamic figures.
  • Hagia Sophia is so huge and gigantic that it can be visible from miles away.
  • The stone cannonballs which were used by Mehmet the Conqueror can be seen at the entrance of the Hagia Sophia.
  • Due to its historic importance and architectural issues, Hagia Sophia was constructed over fault lines. An earthquake can tear the structure down. The building needs to be repaired and strengthened.

Hagia Sophia Architecture

With its gigantic structure, Hagia Sophia presents the harmony of Byzantine architecture, Christian mosaics, and Islamic figures. With all the details and impressiveness, the builders of Hagia Sophia left the world with a great mystical heritage.

The building may seem like it is almost square but the great semi-domes at the east and west prolong the effect of the roof, making it appear to be rectangular. There are three aisles separated by columns with galleries above and great marble piers rising up at either end to support the dome. The dome and the column capital are the highlights of the building.

The dome is enormous as it's like hanging from heaven. The windows at the bottom of the dome are closely spaced, visually asserting that the base of the dome is insubstantial and hardly touches the building itself. The windows are so narrow and they make the sun lights hit the golden mosaics that create an inspiring and divine atmosphere in the basilica.

The column capitals are also worth seeing as they make the architecture of Hagia Sophia unique. The capital is a derivative of the Classical Ionic order via the variations of the Roman composite capital and Byzantine invention. For example, the basket capital has an important work of handcraft. Decorative detailing shows the grandiosity of the carving technique. The stone is deeply drilled, creating shadows behind the vegetative decoration.

Moreover the amazing carving techniques can be seen in the other parts of the building. It’s also making a dilemma how these delicate decoration details stay unspoiled for years. There is no doubt that renovations and repairs are continuing to make the building alive.

Hagia Sophia Mosaics

Art historians consider the building’s beautiful mosaics to be the main source of knowledge about the state of mosaic art in the time shortly after the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries. Unfortunately, the earliest mosaics are unknown due to the destruction that is so-called iconoclasm. With the re-establishment of Orthodoxy, the mosaics were seen again as a start of the known figures on the building and continued rising during Basil I and Constantine VII.

Many of the beautiful mosaics were removed or shipped to Venice during the fourth crusade in 1204. In 1453, after the Ottoman control in Istanbul (Constantinople) and the transition from a church to a mosque, the mosaics were again covered and plastered to hide the Christian and Orthodoxy figures; Islamic figures and architectural items were placed. The mosaics were uncovered by Fosatti Brothers during the restoration who made copies for a record of the mosaics. But they still remained covered until 1931 when a restoration and recovery program began under the leadership of Thomas Whittemore.

The most famous mosaic is the Imperial Door Mosaic in Hagia Sophia. This door belonged only to the emperors and it was once the most splendid entrance to the church. The mosaics depict Emperor Leo VI with a halo over his head, giving proskynesis - an act of respect - to Christ, who is sitting on a jeweled throne. With his right hand, Christ is blessing the emperor, and his left hand is holding a book written “Peace be with you. I am the light of the world” on it. On both sides of Christ, there are figures in the roundels. One of them is His Mother Mary and the other is Archangel Gabriel. This image is intended to show the timeless power of the emperor and his subjects blessed by Christ.

What is inside Hagia Sophia?

There is a lot to see in Hagia Sophia from the top dome to the floors and the walls. Inside Hagia Sophia, there are columns, doors, marble, and different other artifacts from earlier civilizations dating back to the 5th century BC.

Mosaics are marvelous and the building is so gigantic that makes you feel so small. The massive wooden door is the Imperial Door that only the emperor and his family could enter the basilica as mentioned above. The door is also rumored for being made from the wood of Noah’s Ark.

Mosaics are great representations of the Byzantine period. After the transition to a mosque, the mosaics were covered and plastered. Thanks to the covering the mosaics are in superb condition even today with golden details. One of the famous mosaic emperors Leo VI sitting on his knees before Christ and the other one is the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus on her lap. There are 4 seraphim (God’s guardian angels with 6 wings) mosaics on the 4 pendentives that carry the dome.

There is also a marble door on the upper gallery for entrance and exit to the chamber meetings. On the upper floor, there is a library built by the order of Sultan Mahmut I. It is a rectangular room, half of the walls are decorated with marble and the other half is topped with Iznik tiles. The east wall hangs the finest example of “Osmanlı tuğrası” (an Ottoman calligraphic signature for Sultans) of Sultan Mahmut I.

The tombs of Ottoman Sultans and family can be seen in the museum section of Hagia Sophia as well. As Hagia Sophia welcomed three different religions, namely first Pagan religious beliefs, then Christian Orthodoxy, and finally Islam; the Hagia Sophia has a unique place in humanity’s history of faith.

There are other rumors that make Hagia Sophia even more mystical. The legend goes that underground tunnels connect the Hagia Sophia with the Princes’ Islands. One can never know if this has any truth to it, but it is up to you to discover this and more in Hagia Sophia.

What is Little Hagia Sophia?

Little Hagia Sophia is a church located close to Blue Mosque and it takes similar architectural details as the grand Hagia Sophia as it is built during the Byzantine period by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

Its name was taken after Ottoman rule when it was turned into a mosque. The Ottoman style of decoration is the major impact that changed its interior design. It no more features the Byzantine figures or the golden mosaics in the dome but some beautiful elements from the 6th century remained on some parts of the mosque such as the Byzantine column capital or the irregular octagonal floor plan. Still, yet, you are sure to enjoy the blend of an Ottoman-Byzantine church/mosque in Little Hagia Sophia.

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Hagia Sophia Exterior Tour: Discover Byzantine History from the Outside Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Hagia Sophia Mean?

From the Greek history, Hagia means Holy and Sophia means Wisdom. Literally it becomes Holy Wisdom. In Latin it’s Sancta Sophia.

When Was Hagia Sophia Turned Into a Mosque?

Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum in 1934 by the decision of the Council of Ministers. Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque on Friday the 24th of July, 2020

Why should I Visit Hagia Sophia?

It’s worth to see Hagia Sophia with its magnificent appearance and architecture with harmony of Christianity and Islam. Moreover, Hagia Sophia was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.

Can I Visit Haghia Sophia without a guide?

Yes, you can visit Hagia Sophia by yourself but we recommend you to join our guided tours for a comprehensive experience.

What Should I Wear in Hagia Sophia?

Since it is a mosque with many people praying daily, make sure you wear modest clothes and a headscarf. Also shorts and revealing clothes are forbidden while visiting the Mosque. You should remove your footwear whe you enter, and put it in a bag.

Can I Visit Hagia Sophia Now?

Yes. Hagia Sophia is open for tourist visits only from the 2nd floor gallery areas.

Where Can I Meet with the Guide?

The meeting point for this tour is at the BUSFORUS ISTANBUL (Red Double Decker Busses) Stop, close to the Hagia Sophia.

When I Can Join the Hagia Sophia Tour with a Guide?

Please visit the Guided Tour Timetable to plan your visit.

Hagia Sophia Opening Hours

Hagia Sophia Mosque visiting hours: 9.00 AM - 7.30 PM every day.

Is the Hagia Sophia open to tourists?

Yes, Hagia Sophia is open to everyone who wants to visit with an entrance ticket. Visitors can only enter the 2nd-floor visiting area.

Is Hagia Sophia open to public?

Yes, Hagia Sophia is open to the public with an entrance ticket. Only Turkish citizens can enter the main hall at prayer times, other visitors must buy entrance to tickets and can enter only the 2nd-floor visiting area.

Can I enter the main area in Hagia Sophia?

The main hall will be open only to Turkish citizens for praying; visitors can only enter the 2nd-floor galleries.

Is Hagia Sophia a mosque now?

Yes, by 2020 Hagia Sophia is a mosque now.

Do I need Hagia Sophia Museum Tickets?

Yes, you need a ticket to enter the Hagia Sophia Mosque to visit. Remember, visitors can only enter the 2nd-floor visitor area.

How much is the ticket for Hagia Sophia?

Hagia Sophia tickets are 25 € (Euro) for visitors 12 and over. Children under 8 with a valid passport or ID can enter for free.

Is Hagia Sophia free entry?

Starting from January 15th, 2024, the entrance fee to Hagia Sophia is 25 € (Euro) for visitors 12 and over.

Can you skip the line for Hagia Sophia?

You can buy your tickets prior and skip the ticket line but all persons are subject to the security check.

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