Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici)

#11 in Best Things To Do in Istanbul
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici) picture
guvendemir/Getty Images

Key Info

Alemdar Mahallesi, Yerebatan Caddesi 1/3

Details

Sightseeing Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
3.9

scorecard

  • 3.5Value
  • 0.0Food Scene
  • 4.0Atmosphere

The Basilica Cistern is Istanbul's largest surviving Byzantine cistern and one of its most unique historic sites. Constructed in 532 for Justinianus I, this sprawling underground water reservoir – which is roughly the size of two football fields – once supplied water to the Great Palace of Constantinople, a large palace that served as the main residence for local emperors for centuries. Though the palace no longer exists, the cistern was rediscovered in 1545 and renovated in 1985 to welcome visitors. It's most noteworthy feature is a pair of Medusa heads that sit upside down at the base of two columns.

According to past travelers, the Basilica Cistern is easy to miss but worth checking out, despite its lack of interior attractions. Many said the site is beautifully preserved, but queues to buy tickets and enter can get quite long, so several recommended visiting with a tour group. Multiple half- and full-day tours that include stops at the cistern are offered on Viator; tour prices range from $39 to $686 per person.

The Basilica Cistern's central location in Sultanahmet makes it easy to explore before or after visiting nearby sights like the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace Museum. It is within walking distance of the Sultanahmet and Gülhane Istasyonu stops on the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram line, but no facilities are available inside, so stop for a restroom break or a bite to eat before entering the cistern. An admissions fee of 20 Turkish lira (about $5.50) applies, and visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. between November and mid-April, with extended hours in the summer. Additional information about the Basilica Cistern can be found on the property's website.

See all Hotels in Istanbul »

More Best Things To Do in Istanbul

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)1 of 12
Hagia Sophia Museum (Ayasofya Müzesi)2 of 12
Type
Time to Spend
#1 Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

Sultan Ahmed I was determined to build a mosque that rivaled the nearby Hagia Sophia, and most would agree that he accomplished this task – or, at least, came close. Since the early 1600s, the Blue Mosque has been quite the sight to behold, with an array of domes, semidomes and minarets (or narrow towers). It's also one of the biggest tourist draws in Istanbul.

Visitors say this mosque offers "stunning architecture inside and out." It can, however, get busy, so consider arriving early. And remember, the Blue Mosque is an active religious site, so dress conservatively. Women should wear headscarves, as is custom. If you forgot to bring one, you can borrow one from the mosque.

Read more
LeoPatrizi/Getty Images
See full list of Best Things To Do in Istanbul »

Explore More of Istanbul

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

15 Top Cookbooks to Buy

Travel to far-flung destinations and enjoy international food without leaving home.

The 12 Best Language-Learning Apps, Programs and Online Courses

Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill.

The 13 Best Sedona Tours

Get lost in the magic of Sedona's red rocks on these top adventures.

What is an Ecolodge? 21 Top Eco Resorts and Eco Hotels Around the World

Luxury meets environmental welfare at these top-notch ecolodges.

The 12 Best Puerto Rico Tours

Experience island living at its best on one of these guided trips.

I Went On a Cruise During the Coronavirus Pandemic. This Is What Happened.

Coronavirus concerns, itinerary changes and uncertainty lead to an unusual vacation.

5 Travel-Themed Activities to Do at Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Use these suggestions to fill the travel void amid the pandemic.

Cancel For Any Reason Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know

If you are rescheduling a vacation or booking a future trip, consider purchasing an insurance policy with the CFAR benefit.

The 21 Best Costa Rica Tours

Dive into this natural paradise on these exceptional excursions.

Social Distancing Outside: 8 Safe Places to Go and Things to Do

Here are some creative ways to enjoy the outdoors during the coronavirus outbreak.