Istanbul: Return to Aya Sofya

Six years ago we visited the amazing city of Istanbul for the first time, no doubt with the same aim as every other first-time visitor to the city; we wanted to see Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque), Topkapı Palace Museum, Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia) and the eerie Basilica Cistern. They were on our must-see list and whatever else we could fit in around those would be an added bonus.

Istanbul cast its you-will-forever-be-addicted spell over us and, since that first visit, we’ve returned whenever we can, neglecting the sightseeing in favour of wandering back streets, sampling the huge variety of street food, people watching in bars. For us, just being in Istanbul is enough – but for our recent visit, we decided it was time to stop being lazy. We came up with an Istanbul itinerary which was to gee us up into reacquainting ourselves with the sights we’d seen previously as well as hopefully discovering some new jewels. Aya Sofya was our first mission!

Rediscovering Aya Sofya

The most amazing and mesmerising construction in the world? For us, that’s a definite YES!

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The imposing entrance of Hagia Sophia

Aya Sofya was a favourite from our first time in Istanbul, so if we missed out on everything else this time, we just had to see the interior of this magnificent building again – especially since we’d heard the scaffolding had finally been removed from the central dome.

Early morning and steady rain meant the horrendous queues we’d prepared for were yet to grow and we were through the turnstiles within minutes. We’d been here before, we’d seen Aya Sofya before, but nothing prepares you for the sight that hits you as you reach the grand entrance doors. Aya Sofya was designed to display the superiority of the Byzantine emperors over their subjects and to impress foreign visitors. 15 centuries later, these two foreign visitors did an involuntary intake of breath as we entered.

Virgin And Child, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Virgin and child

Despite the constant crowds of camera-wielding tourists, the colossal dimensions of Aya Sofya effortlessly absorb all of this, leaving each visitor with a true sense of awe.

Hagia Sophia Gallery, Istanbul

View from the upper gallery of the Hagia Sophia

At the time of its construction, never before had a building like this, with its 30-metre dome, been attempted. One has to doubt whether anything similar will ever be attempted again – certainly not a construction that would still be standing after hundreds of years.

Hagia Sophia Interior Istanbul

The magnificent interior of the Hagia Sophia

If you’re a museum addict then your hobby can soon rack up the liras when visiting the museums of Turkey. For some places, it’s difficult for us to justify the fees, but the 20 lira entrance fee to revisit Aya Sofya was more than worth it for us. Aya Sofya is a special experience rather than a mere building to be ticked off your been-there-done-that list. But while we’re on the subject of lists, you probably won’t be surprised to discover that Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage site that makes up the historic areas of Istanbul.

Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) – Useful Information

  • The entrance fee for Aya Sofya is 25 TL. It is closed on Mondays.
  • If you don’t want to waste precious time in Istanbul standing in queues, get to the entrance gate for 9:00am-9:30am when the short queues are fast-moving.
  • There is now a widely available Istanbul Museum Pass for foreign tourists in Istanbul. It costs 72 TL and is valid for 72 hours from your first museum entrance. If it’s your first visit to Istanbul and you aim to see the main museums, it might be worth buying one of these. Although you don’t save much money (unless you’re making purchases at the museum shops), it allows you to jump the often lengthy queues.
  • If you are resident in Turkey and have a Müzekart, entrance to Aya Sofya is free.

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  1. The dome seems to float like a giant flying saucer coming into land. Magnificent.

  2. I don’t think I will ever tire of viewing Agia Sofia…very moving experience. Thank for notifying us about the 72 hr. museum pass…great idea!

  3. @ Jack: It certainly is magnificent – especially for the time it was built. Amazing that someone could come up with such a design.

    @ Peter M: We’re the same. It really is an experience. Re the 72 hour museum pas: you’re welcome. We’re sure it’ll be useful for a lot of people.

  4. Absolutely wonderful Aya Sofya, I loved it, about time to go back to Istanbul 😉

  5. Oh wow, how lovely. It’s been years since I’ve been there…need to get back.

  6. @ Angela: It’s always time to go back to Istanbul for us. 🙂 Loved seeing Aya Sofya again as it’s so long since we were last there.

    @ Belinda: Yes, get back there soon. A few changes to Aya Sofya which improved the experience even more.

  7. Thankyou for bringing back memories of the Aya Sofia. Time to return to Istanbul and revisit some of the incredible sites in this fabulous city

  8. @ Jenny: Great to relive memories isn’t it? So glad we went back there to experience it again. 🙂 Yes,you should return to Istanbul soon – lots of changes.

  9. Sabrina - Country Skipper says

    Wow! I had no idea it was that big – of beautiful for that matter. Great pics!

  10. @ Sabrina: It’s the sort of building that makes you feel really small and insignificant. I’d have liked better photos but my camera didn’t deal with the lighting very well and flash photography isn’t allowed.

  11. Did you see that cute cat sitting at the minbar and then the Virgin pic? He was such a little poser!

  12. @ [email protected] Ha ha, I took a photo of the cat. I think hewas the most photographed thing in there! 🙂

  13. That view from the upper galleries is amazing – a truly incredible structure! I’d love to visit someday.

  14. @ Mark: It is an amazing building. Worth the entrance fee. The view from the upper galleries in Aya Sofya really shows are all the visitors are absorbed by the size of the building.

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