Basilica Cistern Top 5 Tips to Know Before You Go

What is the Basilica Cistern?

Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s most mysterious and impressive historical sites. This mystical place is also amongst Turkey’s most visited tourist attractions, with over 1.34 million visitors in 2022. Located right in the old city center, Basilica Cistern is the world’s largest known underground cistern. This spectacular site dates back to the 6th-century AD Byzantine era.

Built around the same time as Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern was also built under the rule of emperor Justinanus I. Basilica Cistern is also one of the largest Roman structures in existence, and it is in excellent shape. It is not an ancient ruin – everything is intact – and the sight is breathtaking. Read this article on why you should visit the Basilica Cistern.

So you’re finally here, excited to see this stunning structure, but what is that? A queue that goes a few hundred meters back, and you have to wait maybe an hour to get a ticket under the scorching hot sun. So the question is:

How to skip the ticket line at Basilica Cistern?

You can skip the ticket line by booking a guided tour for as cheap as 10-15€ on top of the ticket price. So basically, around 30€ per person with the ticket, since the ticket costs around 15€ per person (prices may change). In Turkey, guides and tourism agencies have ticket-purchasing privileges in museums. Click here to book a guided tour of the Basilica Cistern for a fair price.

1 It’s damp inside.

basilica cistern

The cistern is completely submerged underground, has no windows or air vents. There is a bit of decorative water inside. With the presence of all the people, it quickly gets very humid inside. If you have breathing problems and try to avoid closed, damp places, Basilica Cistern might not be for you. It’s not overwhelmingly damp, but if you are sensitive to humidity, be aware it is above normal humidity levels.

2 There are no toilets

There are no toilets inside, cafe, or other facilities. Make sure you won’t need to use the bathroom for at least 30 mins or more. Most people stay 30-45 mins to complete the museum, an hour if you’re interested.

3 Wheelchair & stroller issue

So far, the museum does not provide wheelchairs. There is, however, a platform for invalid visitors to use together with their wheelchairs to go down and up from the cistern. Be aware that there are a lot of stairs inside, NO elevator, and the wheelchair platform isn’t for standing visitors with walking problems. So if a visitor can walk on a straight platform but cannot go up and down the crowded stairs, it is best to bring your own wheelchair. 

Another issue is that you can bring your baby strollers and move them around the Basilica Cistern, but there is no place to leave them. So if you come in with a stroller, you will have to carry it down and up the long stairs.

4 No Food & Beverages Except Water in Basilica Cistern

Beware that no food or beverages except water are allowed inside the cistern. So, for example, if you try to enter with coffee, they’ll ask you to dispose it before entering.

5 No phone connection or internet inside the Basilica Cistern

There is no phone or internet connection inside the cistern since it’s all underground. So make sure you won’t expect any important phone calls or messages before entering.