Istanbul, Turkey
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clock-o4 hours (Approx.)
TransportHotel pickup offered
ticket-oMobile ticket
commentOffered in: English


Venture to imperial monuments rich with history and discover the Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar during this half-day guided tour in Istanbul. Gaze at the Hagia Sophia’s massive columns and dome during a visit to one of the world’s largest basilicas and most popular museums in Turkey. This tour will take you underground to Basilica Cistern which was once the backbone of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Enjoy a trip to the Grand Bazaar where you can barter for souvenirs and feel the pulse of one of the oldest and largest covered markets on the planet.
  • Half-day sightseeing tour of Istanbul's Imperial past
  • Learn how Istanbul served as the capital of an astounding four empires over thousands of years
  • Visit Hagia Sophia, a magnificent museum offering insight into Istanbul's complex past
  • See the inner workings of the Great Palace of Constantinople in the underground Basilica Cistern or Nakkas Cistern
  • Shop for authentic Turkish mementos at the massive Grand Bazaar
Meet your guide in around 1pm at your central Istanbul hotel and set-off on your imperial Istanbul half-day tour. Head to Hagia Sophia aboard an air-conditioned minivan. Along the way enjoy commentary from your guide that explains the rich history of Istanbul. Learn about four empires who sculpted the city’s architecture and culture and include the Roman empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922).
Arrive at Hagia Sophia, constructed in the 6th century as a Greek Orthodox church when Istanbul was known as Constantinople. Built by the Roman Emperor Justinian, learn how this basilica reigned as the largest in the Christian world before the Ottoman empire captured and converted it into an imperial mosque. A museum since the early 20th century, walk through its impressive dome structure and observe beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Listen as your guide explains the intricate history of the second-most visited museum in Turkey.
Nearby, cruise underground to the Basilica Cistern which was used as a water filtration system by the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century. Marvel at the immense size of the largest of hundreds of old cisterns in Istanbul. Gain insight into the importance of this cistern as your guide explains how it served the Great Palace of Constantinople.
Return to the surface and make your way to the oldest and largest canopied markets in the world - the Grand Bazaar. Since the 15th century, when the Ottomans began their reign, this market has been a cultural and trade center for jewelry, pottery, spices, quality leather goods, and fine carpets. As you explore some of the 61 streets and 3,000 plus shops, stop to ogle local treasures and if you want haggle for a souvenir.
Once you leave the bustling market, follow your guide to your minivan and finish your tour with a transfer back to your hotel.
Please note: On Mondays, the Hagia Sophia is closed and will be swapped with Chora Museum, you may visit the Nakkas Cistern or Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays, so extra time will be allocated to the other two landmarks.


Viator Traveller's Reviews

68 reviews
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, Jun 2018

This tour was quite a bit of a disappointment.

The visit to Hagia Sophia was a nice visit and the only real saving grace of the tour. However one should be aware that the time the guide shares information about the place is NOT substantial, and you are then left to your own devices. In many ways, I could have easily gone there on my own.

The Basilica Cistern would have been fine... except the guide only shared some urban legends and did not bother sharing the true historic reasons for many of the things found in the cistern.

Then came the uncomfortable part... a historic demonstration of turkish carpet weaving at a carpet shop. A poor excuse for what was in essence an extended sales pitch that took the better part of an hour. I had read earlier reviews so was prepared for it, but it did not make things any less uncomfortable for our entire group. The only saving grace was the air conditioning which provided some comfort from the heat. But this was easily the longest part of the entire tour and to have an entire sales team try to pressure you into buying a carpet is NOT the reason I booked it. The guide even warned us not to go back there alone later... if that means he wont get a commission if we do or if there is a more sinister reason, I have no idea... but hardly a good sign in any event.

And finally the grand bazaar... this could have been a nice visit if not for our tour guide. At first he was nice and even showed us the way to shops... but he very deliberately tried to separate us even when we explicitly told him that we wanted to stay in a small group, something that frustrated him greatly it is easier to pressure someone into buying if they are separated after all. And when he showed us the way to shops he criticised us if we did not buy things immediately and could not accept that we would not buy anything in a store he had brought us to.

In short, I do not recommend this tour and would suggest that if you want to see the Hagia Sophia and the other sites you do so on another tour or even on your own.

, Feb 2018

It was a good tour the guide was informative. The historical references and the magnificent architecture at Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern leaves you spellbound. Good to book with a definite skip-the-lines experience. Long queues mostly at these popular monuments. Sadly, Grand Bazaar was closed being Sunday, however, the guide took us to the spice bazaar, more commonly called an Egyptian Bazaar.

, Jan 2018

The guide was unhappy having only the two of us (not my fault). The tour was done in 2 hours instead of 4. I am sure he was knowledgeable but didn’t bother to till us anything if we don’t ask. Hagia Sofia was done in less than 25 minutes and it was the main reason I booked this tour. Not worth the m

, Jul 2017

The guide was very knowledgeable in history of the sites and provided time for pictures. FYI - there is an option on this tour to see Turkish carpet manufacturing. Please note that there is not much direction inside the Grand Bazaar - the guide simply drops the group at one of the 20 gates and you are on your own in that maze of 4500 shops. Watch out for your belongings.

, Apr 2017

A great guide and a special tour

, Mar 2016

The tour was extremely well organised . The guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. This tour is highly recommended.

, Oct 2015

A really good tour. Guide informative, efficient and helpful.

, Oct 2015

Mixed review of the tour. It was extremely helpful to be able to skip all of the lines at the locations of our half-day Istanbul Tour, especially because it was raining the day of our tour. The tour guide was fairly knowledgeable, however, we could have received a bit more information, especially at the Grand Bazaar. Also, some information we were given on the tour has proven to be false. There, we were just delivered to the location and set free, without any explanation of its history. There was not much time for questions, and at each location, instead of guiding us through with accompanying information, the guide simply gave a quick explanation at the entrance and set us free after designating a meeting point. Also, in the middle of the tour, we stopped at a traditional turkish carpet-weaving demonstration, which started out interestingly, but then turned into a lengthy and fairly uncomfortable sales pitch. As students, we are clearly not in the position to be considering a purchase of a 50,000 rug. I would not doubt if the tour organization has some sort of agreement with the carpet company. It was disheartening that we spent more time in this sales pitch approx. an hour than the Basilica Cistern 15-20 mins and the Hagia Sophia 30-40 mins. Considering the minimal entrance fees that were waived with the tour, but the ease of skipping the lines, it is debatable whether the tour gives you enough bang for your buck.

, Oct 2015

Great way to visit all the important historical sites of Istanbul! We were picked up from our hotel in a nice minibus and taken to meet the group who were on the full day tour. Tour guide was very knowledgeable. Make sure you each lunch before the tour begins, otherwise when you arrive at the Grand Bazaar there are plenty of places to grab a doner.

, Oct 2015

The Hagia Sophia is an absolute must see and going with a tour means avoiding the long lineups. The Basillica Cistern was also worth a view. However those are the only good things I can say about this tour.
Our tour started quite a bit later than planned and our guide did not seem very enthusiastic about his work. He would give the group a short preamble before each site and then send us to wander on our own while he would wait for us at the exit. We also found out that the Grand Bazaar was closed due to a High Holiday and he led us to believe that he was taking us, instead, to see a second Cistern. In fact we ended up herded into a carpet shop where we were given a short demonstration of carpet making which was then to be followed-up by a major sales pitch. Many of us in the group felt conned. Three of us managed to escape and go instead to a local restaurant to grab a beer and some much need laughs. We did have to give up the free drive home, that was offered as part of our package, but not one of us regretted getting away. The Half Day Imperial Tour could have been very, very good, under different circumstances, but this particular day was not worth the money!

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