Best time to visit Istanbul

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) in Istanbul 2023-2025

This gem of Byzantine architecture was once a Christian basilica, later an imperial mosque, and today is the most outstanding museum in Istanbul and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Best time: all year round

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya in Turkish is one of the most visited landmarks in Istanbul. Although from the outside it resembles a typical mosque, inside you'll discover some Christian mosaics along with Islamic elements. The thing is that it was originally constructed in 537 AD as Greek Orthodox church. The very name stems from Greek and means "holy wisdom." Only when the Turkish conquered Constantinople in 1453, they converted this Christian basilica into the imperial mosque. And eventually, in 1935 it ended up as a museum and is highly valued as one of the world's best surviving jewels of Byzantine architecture.

Today, Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul's most visited tourist attractions. It operates all year round, but the hours differ depending on the season. In the summer season from mid-April through October, it's open from 9 am to 7 pm, the last admission at 6 pm. In the winter season, it closes earlier at 5 pm, the latest entry at 4 pm. Generally, the busiest months are April–May and September–October. During these months, the best time to visit Hagia Sophia is either early morning or better with the last admission when crowds thin out. However, to skip the line, you could also buy tickets or museum pass online, as well as book a tour.

In the low season, that's June–August (it's just too hot) and November–March, the queues are less long. The least busy months are December–February, least crowded and hence best for photo shooting.

As to the best time of the week, we advise avoiding weekends as they tend to be more crowded than weekdays. Also, Friday mornings typically have a greater tourist flow because of another nearby tourist attraction, the Blue Mosque, being closed for the prayer. Wednesdays and Thursdays are deemed the best.

At last, when you see a distinct queue inside, be sure these people are waiting for the Wish Column, also known as Sweating Column. According to a popular belief, you make a wish and stick your finger into the hole in the column and rotate it clockwise. On condition it gets wet, your wish is to come true.

Istanbul has been an epicentre of major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Its location on the Bosphorus peninsula between Anatolia and the Balkans contributed significantly to the cultural richness of the city. Some of its most famous masterpieces such as the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, Hagia Sophia and Süleymaniye Mosque has been listed as a complex UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Historic Areas of Istanbul'.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Hagia Sophia to avoid crowds?

A great time to visit Hagia Sophia without having to deal with the crowd is between December to February. These months are part of the low season, and while it may be colder, it's worth enjoying the shorter queues and less-demanding photographic conditions. For visiting the site, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to go while you should avoid Fridays as tourists usually pile up due to the nearby Blue Mosque closing for prayer. Show more

What is the history of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul?

Hagia Sophia, known as Ayasofya, is an iconic landmark in Istanbul with a rich history. Originally constructed in 537 AD as a Greek orthodox church, it expended in grandeur throughout the twenty-decade-long Byzantine era to become an imperial mosque and finally a museum. Today, the awe-inspiring building is a UNESCO world heritage site and an emblem of ancient Byzantine architecture and art, visited by millions annually. Show more

Where can you buy tickets or a museum pass for Hagia Sophia?

Various options are available to procure tickets for Hagia Sophia to avoid long queues, including purchasing tickets online via their official website or local tourism agencies. You can also use online platforms like GetYourGuide to secure tickets. Different admission ticket categories, standard, and priority, are available, and guests may rent audio guides for a self-guided tour. Guided group tours can also be booked at the museum. Show more

What is the Sweating Column in Hagia Sophia and what is its significance?

Found on the right-hand side of Hagia Sophia is the Sweating Column, also known as the Wish Column. Visitors can make a wish and rotate their finger in a hole on the column. According to local beliefs, if the hole is wet after withdrawing your finger, your wish will come true. The column dates back to the 5th century and is a surviving part of the original church from the ancient pagan temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Show more

What other nearby attractions should be avoided on certain days of the week to avoid crowds at Hagia Sophia?

Visiting the Blue Mosque nearby should be avoided on Fridays as the mosque closes for prayer, and attendees rush in large numbers towards Hagia Sophia. Other adjacent landmarks like Topkapi palace and the Basilica Cistern are also crowded; thus, visiting the sites on weekdays instead of weekends is advisable. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, and a single museum pass can be used for all three attractions. Show more

Ask a question

Find hotels and airbnbs near Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (Map)

Last updated:
Authors: Olha Savych