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Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern: Our most recommended tours and activities

Istanbul: Topkapi, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern Tour

1. Istanbul: Topkapi, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern Tour

Join a guided tour to discover Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Benefit from priority admission at the museum ticket offices to skip the long lines and head in faster. Meet your guide in the Sultanahmet neighborhood at an easy spot and check out Istanbul's greatest monuments on a walking tour. Start with the Basilica Cistern, wander around the “Subterranean Palace” and learn about its history. See the underground pillars and learn about Byzantine architecture. Walk on the wooden walkways over the water until the famous upside-down Medusa heads. Next, visit the Hagia Sophia and witness the most significant site of the Greek Orthodox religion in Istanbul and learn how it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Explore the stunning monument with elements of a mosque and a church standing next to each other. Admire the basilica’s stunning dome and minarets, and countless mosaics, paintings, and Roman columns. Learn how the impressive İznik tiles were added over time in the Mosque, how the stunning Virgin Mary mosaic was made, and why the Ottomans chose to bury their sultans in the courtyard. Continue to Topkapi Palace to explore the splendor of the Ottoman Empire. Discover the complex of buildings, pavilions, and courtyards was a self-contained city, which most inhabitants rarely left. Explore the outer-terraced gardens and admire the view over the Golden Horn. Visit the Harem, ruled by the Queen Mother who wielded domestic and political power. The harem housed hundreds of women and family members as well as hundreds of eunuchs, who performed a wide range of duties. Admire cupboard doors inlaid with mother of pearl and tortoiseshell and stunning Iznik tiles with verses from the Quran. The tour ends with a visit to the holy relics and the imperial kitchens.

Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Tour and Skip The Line with Guide

2. Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Tour and Skip The Line with Guide

Discover the Basilica Cistern under the streets of Istanbul on a guided tour. Be amazed by the stunning architecture of the cistern during the tour and gaze at the Medusa Heads. Skip-the-line and avoid the long queue, as you follow your guide through history. Meet your guide in front of the exit gate of the Basilica Cistern and enter together. Skip the long lines and enjoy a highlights tour and learn interesting facts about the water cistern with an audio guide. Marvel at the engineering of the cistern while hearing the history with a downloadable audio guide. After your guided tour, stay and explore the building at your own pace. 

Basilica Cistern & Hagia Sophia Combo Tour (English Guide)

3. Basilica Cistern & Hagia Sophia Combo Tour (English Guide)

See two of Istanbul's most famous sites with this combo guided tour of the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sofia. Enjoy a guided tour inside both sites and save valuable time to see more of the city. Experience the freedom to visit both sites in one day or over two days. Skip-the-line at the Basilica Cistern and meet your guide at the entrance and avoid waiting in two lines to gain entry. Descend into the mysterious sixth-century water reservoir, and see a new side of Istanbul that you haven't seen before. Enjoy a 30-minute orientation tour of the museum, and then enjoy free time to stay as long as you like to explore the museum and learn more about the Cistern's history in Istanbul. Meet your guide for the Hagia Sofia at specific times in front of the world-famous structure. Enter with your knowledgeable guide and listen as they give a 30-minute tour of the museum before taking your time exploring the rest of the museum. Discover the Unesco heritage site at your own pace and enjoy an included audio app with more information about the site.

Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi, and Basilica Combo Tour

4. Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi, and Basilica Combo Tour

Be free to visit the Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sophia at any time for three consecutive days. Skip the ticket lines and browse through the fascinating museums at your own pace. Uncover the secrets of each location with the help of an informative audioguide. You can choose to visit all 3 museums in 1 day, or the three of them separately on different days. Once inside the museums, get tips on how to discover the museums in the best way. Afterward, you can stroll through the museums at your own pace as you listen to your audio guide app and explore for as long as you like. If you have any questions about the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, the Cisterna Basilica, or Istanbul in general, please do not hesitate to ask your English-speaking tour guide.

Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private City Guided Tour

5. Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private City Guided Tour

Discover the best of Istanbul on this 1, 2, or 3-day private tour that covers the major attractions, such as the Hagia Sophia Museum, the iconic Blue Mosque, the bustling maze of the Grand Bazaar, and the obelisk of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. A few of the possible attraction you'll visit on your tour include: The Hagia Sophia, a great architectural beauty and an important monument during the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. For many centuries, this was the largest church in the world, and it still boasts the 4th largest dome after St. Paul's in London, St. Peter's in Rome, and the Duomo in Florence. Dedicated to the Hagia Sophia or 'divine wisdom', it is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. The Blue Mosque, more officially known as the "Sultanahmet" Mosque has striking blue tiles give it its more common name and make it one of Istanbul’s most iconic attractions. Located close to Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque was considered the Supreme Imperial Mosque in Istanbul. Topkapi Palace, a relic of the glory days of the great Ottoman Empire. The former palace boasted a population of about 4,000 people at its peak and was home to 25 sultans over a period of 400 years. Located on a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn, it sits in tranquil gardens that provide shade from the blazing heat of the summer. Pop in to the museum to see the gorgeous Iznik tiles and the ornate stateroom of the harem, among other attractions. The Hippodrome is the former circus built in 203 AD by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. Three monuments from the original building remain, including the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, and the Constantine Column. Pause to look at the German Fountain of Wilhelm II, made from 8 marble columns. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. With hundreds of small handcraft shops selling everything from handmade carpets to Turkish coffee, the atmosphere is electric, and it's a great place to try out your bargaining skills. The spice bazaar is located in Fatih. It's known as the Egyptian Market because during the Ottoman period, Egyptian exports were sold there. The Bosphorus is a narrow, navigable strait between Europe and Asia that connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea. Rumeli and Anadolu Fortresses are located at the narrowest point of Bosphorus. There are also magnificent Ottoman palaces and mosques along the Bosphorus. Keep an eye out for them. Built in the 19th century, Dolmabahce Palace was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and housed some of the last Ottoman Sultans. The palace site was created by filling in the small bay on the Bosphorus. This gave rise to its name — in Turkish, Dolma means "filled" or "stuffed," and bahce means "garden". Istiklal Street is brimming with life. There, you'll find a plethora of shops, restaurants, and bars, and from there, it's an interesting and scenic 2-kilometer walk down to the Tunel Galata Tower area. See this and more depending on which length tour option you select. Possible Itinerary for each day of the tour: Day 1: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Hippodrome Day 2: Spice Market, Bosphorus Cruise, Dolmabahce Palace, Taksim Square, Istiklal, Galata Tower Day 3: Suleymaniye Mosque, Chora Church, Fener/Balat Districts, Pierre Loti Hill

Istanbul: Best of the City Private Full-Day Walking Tour

6. Istanbul: Best of the City Private Full-Day Walking Tour

This private experience is the perfect introduction to Istanbul for first-time visitors. Enjoy a guided full-day tour to discover the best of the city. The tour can be fully customized to suit your needs, simply tell your guide what interests you the most.  Visit the historic Hippodrome, the exquisite Blue Mosque, and the iconic Hagia Sophia. Experience the lavish lifestyles of the Ottoman Sultans with a tour of Topkapi Palace, or browse the colorful stalls of the Grand Bazaar. Enjoy priority entrance to all sites and spend your day exploring the city of Istanbul.

Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

7. Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

Visit the Basilica Cistern, built in the 4th century and enlarged in 532 AD, used as water storage during Byzantine times. Listen to your guide as they explain the mystery of Medusa heads from Greek mythology. Explore this cathedral-size cistern, built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in 532 A.D. to supply water to the Great Palace. It stores up to 80,000 cubic meters of water, delivered via 20 kilometers of aqueducts from a reservoir near the Black Sea. Descend the fifty-two stone steps into the entrance of the cistern. The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 meters, coated with a waterproofing mortar. Hear how the Basilica Cistern's water comes from the Eğrikapı Water Distribution Center in the Belgrade Forest and travels through the 971-meter-long Valens Aqueduct and the 115-meter-long Mağlova Aqueduct, built by the Emperor Justinian.

Istanbul: Basilica Cistern & Dolmabahçe Palace Combo Tour

8. Istanbul: Basilica Cistern & Dolmabahçe Palace Combo Tour

Get to the heart of two of Istanbul's must-see highlights, the Basilica Cistern and the Dolmabahçe Palace. Enjoy skip-the-line entry before taking a guided tour of both landmarks. Basilica Cistern Tour Times Mondays 09:00 , 12:00 Tuesdays 09:00, 12:00, 15:45 Wednesdays 09:00 Thursdays 09:00 , 12:00, 15:45 Fridays 09:00, 12:00, 16:30 Saturdays 09:00, 12:00, 15:45 Sundays 09:00, 12:00, 16:15 Basilica Cistern Tour Meeting Point: Meet with the guide in front of the Busforus Sultanahmet (Old City) Stop. Dolmabahce Palace Tour Times Mondays No Tours(Palace is closed) Tuesdays 09:00, 14:15 Wednesdays 14:00 Thursdays 09:00, 14:15 Fridays 09:00, 14:15 Saturdays 09:00, 14:15 Sundays 09:00, 14:15, 15:45 Dolmabahce Palace Tour Meetinh Point: Meet the guide in front of the clock tower in Dolmabahce Palace. Clock Tower is located at the entrance of Dolmabahce Palace after the security check. Skip the queues at the Basilica Cistern, located in the heart of the city center. Learn about its construction as a water supply for the Hagia Sophia mosque, the Great Palace of Constantinople, and fountains and baths throughout Istanbul. Marvel at its architecture featuring over 300 columns. Next, visit the Dolmabahçe Palace, an impressive European-style structure. With 285 rooms, this palace is one of the biggest in Turkey. Learn from your guide about its foundations in the Ottoman Empire, and its royal inhabitants throughout the decades. Your ticket includes access to the Palace's Harem section, the private quarters where the Ottoman sultan lived with his family.

Istanbul: 1 or 2 -Day Private Guided City Tour

9. Istanbul: 1 or 2 -Day Private Guided City Tour

Explore the highlights of Istanbul on this 1-2 days walking tour that covers the major attractions, such as the Hagia Sophia Museum, the iconic Blue Mosque, the bustling maze of the Grand Bazaar, and the obelisk of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. A few of the possible attractions you'll visit on your tour include the Hagia Sophia, a great architectural beauty and an important monument during the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. For many centuries, this was the largest church in the world. Dedicated to the Hagia Sophia or "divine wisdom," it is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. The Blue Mosque, officially known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, has striking blue tiles that give it its more common name and make it one of Istanbul’s most iconic attractions. Located close to Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque was considered the Supreme Imperial Mosque in Istanbul. Topkapi Palace is a relic from the glory days of the great Ottoman Empire. The former palace once boasted a population of about 4,000 people at its peak and was home to 25 sultans over a period of 400 years. Located on a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn, it sits in tranquil gardens that provide shade from the blazing heat of the summer. Pop into the museum to see the gorgeous Iznik tiles and the ornate stateroom of the harem, among other attractions. The Hippodrome is the former circus built in 203 AD by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. Three monuments from the original building remain, including the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, and the Constantine Column. Pause to look at the German Fountain of Wilhelm II, made from eight marble columns. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. With hundreds of small handicraft shops selling everything from handmade carpets to Turkish coffee, the atmosphere is electric, and it's a great place to try out your bargaining skills. The spice bazaar is located in Fatih. It's known as the Egyptian Market because, during the Ottoman period, Egyptian exports were sold there. The Bosphorus is a narrow, navigable strait between Europe and Asia that connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea. Rumeli and Anadolu Fortresses are located at the narrowest point of Bosphorus. There are also magnificent Ottoman palaces and mosques along the Bosphorus. Keep an eye out for them. Built in the 19th century, Dolmabahce Palace was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and housed some of the last Ottoman Sultans. The palace site was created by filling in the small bay on the Bosphorus. This gave it its name — in Turkish, Dolma means "filled" or "stuffed," and bahce means "garden" Istiklal Street is brimming with life. There, you'll find a plethora of shops, restaurants, and bars, and from there, it's an interesting and scenic two-kilometer walk down to the Tunel Galata Tower area. See this and more depending on which length tour option you select. Your guide will work with you to create an itinerary that suits you, leaving you satisfied that you have seen all of Istanbul.

Istanbul Imperial: Full-day Private City Tour

10. Istanbul Imperial: Full-day Private City Tour

Explore the highlights of imperial Istanbul on a private 7-hour tour that takes in the major attractions of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being a private tour, the itinerary can be adjusted to fulfill your specific needs and wishes. From the iconic Hagia Sophia to the Blue Mosque, and from the bustling maze of the Grand Bazaar, to the obelisk of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, you will learn about Istanbul and Turkey's history, culture, and traditions, and gain an insight into the daily life of its inhabitants, discovering aspects of the city that tourists often miss. Start your tour at the Hippodrome, the former circus where Roman horse-chariots used to race to the cheers of the crowds. Three monuments survive from the original building, including the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, and the Constantine Column. Continue to the Blue Mosque, a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture that combines Islamic and Byzantine elements. Officially known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, it is the mosque’s striking blue tiles that give it the more common name and make it one of Istanbul’s most iconic attractions. Move to the nearby Topkapi Palace, former residence of the sultans of Turkey for 400 years and a relic of the glory days of the great Ottoman Empire. In its heyday the palace boasted a population of about 4,000 people and was home to 25 different sultans. Hagia Sophia embodies the mix of the 3 great civilizations - Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic - and is the next stop on your tour, before going to the fascinating Basilica Cistern, where you will descend into its depths and stare at 1001 columns in the magical subterranean atmosphere. End at the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest closed markets in the world. Explore the maze of stalls and galleries and try you hand at bargaining for handmade carpets, evil eye trinkets, and antiques. Listen out for the babble of more than 100 languages, and try a strong Turkish coffee to set you on your way.

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What people are saying about Basilica Cistern

Overall rating

4.4 / 5

based on 1,538 reviews

Booked a combo in Jan, 4 pax, hoping to avoid peak season. Booking process was very easy and intuitive, confirmations came right away, containing a lot of useful details. The guides are very helpful, prepared and available for questions, extra details, etc. All in all a very nice experience, congrats for a job well done!

Didem is a very informed guide about the history and culture of the various places we visited. She also helped us with good recommendations for restaurants and shopping. It was very easy communicating with her before and during the tour

Everyone has to decide for themselves whether a 30-minute tour of a former underground water tank really has to cost €30 (€15 of which is admission). ;-) In any case, it was a nice guide who knew everything about the cistern.

The guide we had was amazing! He was knowledgeable, gave us thorough historical information, was very friendly. He was exceptionally considerate to my mother who had difficulty walking. Hakan is the best guide I’ve ever had!

Liz was great, very knowledgeable and insightful. We learned a great deal, we really enjoyed our tour with her.