Basilica Cistern Museum Istanbul: 2024 Skip the line Tickets + Tips

Discover the Basilica Cistern Museum Istanbul, in Sultanahmet, learn its history, what to expect and see, hours and ticket price, guided tours, and visiting tips with our comprehensive guide. The Basilica Cistern (“Yerebatan” in Turkish, which means “sinking to the ground”), serving a museum now, is one of the most impressive and mystical buildings, as well as one of the most visited sights in Istanbul.

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Basilica Cistern Skip the Line Tickets

If you are looking for the best Basilica Cistern skip-the-line tickets and guided tours, trust our recommendations, save time and money, we have you covered. Below are some of best experiences you can find! Feel free to book online in advance (as you’ll get discounts), by choosing the eco-friendly option of online tickets.

  1. Skip-the-Line Tickets to Basilica Cistern (quick entrance + 30 mins. with guide)
  2. Basilica Cistern Skip the Line Tickets + Tour (quick entrance + 30 mins. with guide)
  3. Basilica Cistern Skip the Line Tickets + Tour (another quick entrance + 30 mins. with guide)
  4. Combo: Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern & Hagia Sophia Tour (one of the best)
  5. Combo Ticket & Tour (all top-3 one – Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace & Basilica Cistern, our favorite, no need to look for else)
  6. Basilica Cistern Tour and Skip The Line with Guide (another great one with guide)

Basilica Cistern Ticket Prices as of 2024

Types of TicketPrice
General Admission (from counters)600 TL (around €20) per person
Skip-the-line Ticket with Guided Tour€20 to €30 per person
Skip-the-line Ticket with Audio Guide€18 to €25 per person

Basilica Cistern Fast Facts

Aside from being a cistern that were used for water needs, this is a very unusual place in Istanbul. So what exactly is it?

  • An underground water reservoir that was built for the Byzantium Emperor Justinianus I in the 6th century (532).
  • 140 meters long and 70 meters wide cistern covers a giant rectangular area of 9,800 m2 and has a capacity to store 100,000 tons of water.
  • The name “Basilica” comes from the former religious structure on the site where the cistern was built.
  • The cistern is accessed by 52-step staircase and shelters 336 columns, each of which is 9 meters high and within a 4,8 meters distance from each other.
  • Famous for its two unique Medusa Heads.

History of the Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern was built with the order of Emperor Justinianus I and it was used to meet the water needs of the Great Palace, during Byzantium period. The water were coming from the Belgrad Forests region, 19 km. away from the cistern via two aqueducts on the water transfer centers.

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Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453, by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the cistern was used for a little while to meet the water need of the gardens of the Topkapi Palace.

However, Ottomans established their own water facilities or it was believed that it is against the Islamic rules and the cistern was not used thereafter and forgotten.

The cistern than rediscovered in the years 1544-1550 by P. Gyllius, a Dutch traveler who has came to Istanbul for making researches on Byzantium ruins. And after this rediscovery, the cistern has become very famous within the Western countries.

Nowadays, the Basilica Cistern is one of the most visited sights in Istanbul.

What to See at Basilica Cistern

The cistern is a very quiet and peaceful place conveyed by the columns through impressive arches.

The columns, including the legendary Medusa Heads, were compiled from the ancient structures and sculpted of several kinds of marbles.

Immersive Historical Experience

The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. As you explore the cistern, you’ll be delving into the heart of Istanbul’s ancient history. The dark, damp conditions and the soft lighting create a unique atmosphere that transports you back in time.

We Highly Recommend These Fantastic Night-time Activities

Architectural Marvel

The cistern is an underground chamber approximately 143 meters (470 feet) by 65 meters (210 feet) – about 9,800 square meters (105,000 sq ft) in area – and capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, each 9 meters (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 4.9 meters (16 ft) apart. These columns are adorned with diverse styles of capitals, hinting at the possible recycling of earlier ruins, a common practice in the Byzantine era.


Walkways The Basilica Cistern’s walkways are dimly lit, giving the water and columns an eerie glow that shines off of them. You can walk along these paths and see the cistern’s beauty from different views. Along the path, there is also a small platform with a view of the clear water, where you can often see fish moving.

The Medusa Heads

The two Medusa Heads, which are used as supports under the two columns at the northwest edge of the cistern, take the most interest and attracts the visitors in the Basilica Cistern.

It is also not known yet that how did those Medusa Head come to the cistern. And so there has been many myths for the Medusa heads.

basilica cistern medusa head

The most known one is that; Medusa was one of the most beautiful girls in the ancient times, famous for her black eyes, long hair and beautiful body. She has fallen in love with Perseus, the semi-god son of Zeus.

On the contrary, the jealous Athena was also in love with Perseus and so Athena cursed Medusa and converted her hair into snakes and her beauty went away. Her glance also started to gorgonise the men looking at her. And after, Perseus headed off Medusa and beat the enemies by using her power.

According to another myth; Medusa was one of the three Gorgonas (female monster of the underworld in Greek mythology) with snake-head.

She has the power of gorgonising the ones that look at her. And so putting the Medusa Head in the cistern was for protecting purposes.

Photo Options

This is one of the most photogenic places in Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern has a lot of interesting features and is full of historical and artistic charm. You’ll leave with a camera full of beautiful pictures, whether they’re of the rows of lit columns, the water reflecting the rocks, or the strange Medusa heads.

Basilica Cistern Visiting Tips

Why is Basilica Cistern Famous?

People often say that the Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s secret gems. It’s famous for having an interesting mix of history, engineering brilliance, and a mysterious atmosphere. This huge underground pond was built in the sixth century, during the time of the Byzantine Empire. It was used to store water for the Great Palace.

What draws people there are the forests of old columns that rise out of the shallow water. Each one has its own design, which comes from using parts of older structures. The two huge columns with finely carved Medusa heads are without a doubt the highlight. They are a mystery that makes you feel both curious and amazed. A brief appearance by the cistern in James Bond’s “From Russia with Love” makes it even more interesting in movies.

Is Basilica Cistern Worth It?

Without a doubt, visiting the Basilica Cistern is worth it. The calm mood below Istanbul’s busy streets is very different from the lively surface of the city. When dim lights bounce off of the water and the sound of water falling creates a mysterious atmosphere that takes people back in time.

The tank is amazing because of its size and how cleverly it was built. The Basilica Cistern is a fascinating way to learn about Istanbul’s history, whether you’re interested in history, art, or just trying new things while traveling.

How Much Does Basilica Cistern Ticket Cost?

Basilica Cistern general admission ticket fee is 600 Turkish Liras. You can get the ticket from the counters on location or online.

There are also Basilica Cistern guided tours starting from €25 per person. This allows you skip-the-lines and learn this unique place from an authorized historian guide.

What time should I visit the Basilica Cistern?

It is best to visit the Basilica Cistern early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds and fully enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. The mornings are usually less crowded, so you can have a more private time.

Is there a dress code for Basilica Cistern?

Although there isn’t a strict dress rule for the Basilica Cistern, it is suggested that visitors dress modestly to show respect for the site’s cultural and historical importance.

How long do you spend at the Basilica Cistern?

It depends. On average, visitors often spend around 30 minutes to an hour exploring the site. However, people who are really interested in history and building might want to stay longer and enjoy the unique atmosphere and details of this underground wonder.

Can you enter the basilica for free?

Unfortunately, entrance to the Basilica Cistern is NOT FREE.

Should I Book In Advance?

Yes, it is strongly suggested that you book your Basilica Cistern Istanbul tickets or tours in advance. A lot of people visit this place, and booking in advance saves time and guarantees entry.

Are Guided Tours Worth It?

Of course! A tour guide will help you understand the historical and architectural details of this Byzantine gem. The knowledgeable tour guides will take you back in time with their stories, making your trip one you’ll never forget. You can see them below.

Are There Any Combined Tickets or Tours Available?

Yes, some ticket options combine entry to the Basilica Cistern with other key Istanbul attractions, such as Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. These packages offer excellent value for money and save time. You can see them below.

Visiting Hours & Admissions

Opening Hours

Open every day between 09:00-18:30

Hours of Ticket Sale

Counters close one hour before the museum closing time

Special Days

The cistern is open at 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays (Ramadan and Sacrifice feast). See Turkey’s public holidays

Ticket Price

Basilica Cistern entrance fee is 600 TL (around €20) per person.

Please double check hours and admissions from

Choosing a guided tour will enhance your understanding of this historical site. You can see them below.

Museum Accessibility

  • Basilica Cistern is wheelchair accessible. However, there is no wheelchair service available on the site. You need to provide your own wheelchair if needed.
  • Visitors will find an elevator providing easy access to the sightseeing platform.
  • The visiting area is designed to be accessible by wheelchair.
  • Entrance is FREE of charge for disabled visitors, including one companion.

Where to Buy Basilica Cistern Tickets

You can buy them at ticket windows but it will cost you about at least 30 minutes waiting in the line. And this will effect your future sightseeing calendar.

We recommend you buy your tickets online. This is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get tickets to Basilica Cistern.

We put the links to the official buying channels below. Just pick your date and time and skip the lines.

Basilica Cistern Ticket Options and Prices

There are several options:

  • Buy directly at the ticket window on location.
  • Buy Basilica Cistern only guided tours.
  • Buy Basilica Cistern included combo tickets.
  • Buy one of Basilica Cistern included Istanbul discount passes.

Guided Tours

This is the best option we recommend especially for first time visitors. Here we only suggest the proven ways and top rated ones with travelers’ comments. You can feel free to book one of the below top selling tours.

Basilica Cistern Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

This is offered by Istanbul Tourist Pass and we highly recommend. 30 minutes with guide and admission ticket included. You can enjoy the Basilica Cistern’s beauty without any complications. Do not wait in long lines; instead, meet your guide at the Basilica and go straight into the biggest ancient water cistern, which was built in 336 and has the famous Medusa heads.

The Basilica Cistern is one of the most popular museums in Istanbul, so there are usually long lines to get in the summer. Fastest entry to this historical wonder is available through this service. Enjoy your time exploring the Basilica Cistern at your own pace after your guided tour of the museum.

Spend as much time as you want there, and use the audio guide app on your phone to enjoy the secrets and stories. Your visit will be truly memorable because you can enjoy the beauty and history of this amazing place without having to worry about time or lines.


  • Entry ticket to Basilica Cistern
  • Skip-the-line access
  • Professional guide
  • Free time there

Buy Basilica Cistern Skip-the-line Ticket & Tour by Getyourguide

Buy Basilica Cistern Skip-the-line Ticket & Tour by Viator

Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

This is offered by Istanbul E-Pass. You will meet with our guide at the meeting point and continue to the museum. The guide will explain the history of the place and the tour will end at the museum. 25 minutes with guide and admission ticket included.

Picture yourself walking on raised wooden platforms while listening to the soft drip of water from arched ceilings. This is what historical building is all about. The medusa-head column bases are sure to catch the eye of photographers.

Meet the guide where they say to, and then let the fun begin. Your tour guide will tell you about the interesting past of this amazing site as you explore its depths. Take in the beauty of old buildings, and let the tour end in the museum, giving you an experience that will last a lifetime.

Buy Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

Basilica Cistern Tour and Skip The Line with Guide

This is offered by Istanbul Welcome Card. You’ll be amazed by the beautiful architecture as you discover the secret depths of this historical treasure, where you can find the mesmerizing Medusa Heads. Don’t wait in line; instead, let your guide tell you an interesting history story.

Meet your guide at the Basilica Cistern’s exit gate, and then go inside together to skip the lines and have a smooth experience. With our audio guide, you can take a tour of the water cistern’s most interesting features and learn fun things about it.

You can download an audio guide that tells you all about the cistern’s past and marvel at how cleverly it was built. You are free to look around the building at your own pace after the guided walk.

Buy Basilica Cistern Tour and Skip The Line with Guide

Combo Tickets

This is also a great option we recommend especially for both first time visitors and budget travelers. Majority of the tourists visit Basilica Cistern on the same day with Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia due to their proximity.

Combo tickets become a good choice if want to get them all with same ticket. You can pick one of the combo tickets.

Combo Ticket: Hagia Sophia + Topkapi Palace + Basilica Cistern

This is offered by Istanbul Welcome Card and we highly recommend. Save both time and money as you enjoy swift access to the city’s TOP 3 attractions: Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace.

This special ticket allows you to skip the line and gain priority access to three of the most impressive landmarks in the city, all of which are walking distance apart on the Historical Peninsula.

This is also a great option we recommend especially for both first time visitors and budget travelers. Majority of the tourists visit Topkapi Palace on the same day with Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern due to their proximity. Combo tickets become a good choice if want to get them all with same ticket. You can pick one of the combo tickets.

Why Choose the VIP Combo Ticket? With this ticket, you can save both time and money, as you get to visit three of the most popular attractions in Istanbul at a discounted price. By choosing this ticket, you won’t have to worry about long queues or waiting in line for hours, as you’ll have priority access to all three sites.

And, for the diverse global travelers, language is no barrier – indulge in the experience with our audio app available in 7 different languages.

The ticket includes:

  • Skip the ticket lines (except Hagia Sophia)
  • 60 min Hagia Sophia Tour
  • 60 min Topkapi Palace Tour
  • 20 min Basilica Cistern Tour
  • All entrance fees
  • English speaking tour guide
  • Audio app in English, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish

Buy your Combo Ticket

How to Get to Basilica Cistern?


Neighboring the famous Hagia Sophia, the cistern is located in Sultanahmet. When you face the entrance of the Hagia Sophia, it is about 200 meters on your left hand side. See the location map.


The most practical way to get to Sultanahmet is via Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line).

  • The closest tram stop is Sultanahmet.
  • Sultanahmet Square and most of the connecting roads are closed for vehicle traffic except tram and tour buses.
  • From Taksim, take the funicular to Kabatas (from taksim Square) or funicular to Karakoy (from Tunel square) and than take the tram.
  • If you stay at the Sultanahmet hotels, than you easily walk to the museum.

Check our Sultanahmet page to see how to get to Sultanahmet in details.

Contact Details

Address: Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Str. 1/3, Fatih, Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 512 15 70


What is the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul?

The Basilica Cistern is a historical site in the middle of Istanbul. It is an old underground water tank from the sixth century. This amazing piece of architecture, also called the "Sunken Palace," shows how smart Byzantine engineers were with its enchanted atmosphere, mysterious columns, and mesmerizing Medusa heads.

Where is the Basilica Cistern located in Istanbul?

The Basilica Cistern is close to the famous Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet. It is easy to get to and a must-see for any tourist in Istanbul. This secret underground wonder is in the historical peninsula, close to other famous sites in Istanbul. It should be on your list of places to see while you're there.

How old is the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul?

This part of the Basilica is over 1500 years old and is full of history. It was built in 532 AD during the rule of Emperor Justinian I and shows how long and interesting Istanbul's history is. You're walking through the halls of history as you look around this old building.

Who built the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul?

The Basilica Cistern was ordered by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and is thought to have been built by Roman engineers. This historical gem shows the architectural brilliance of its builders and reflects the grandeur of a bygone age.

Why was the Basilica Cistern important to Istanbul's history?

People used to get a lot of their water from the Basilica Cistern, especially during sieges. People in the city have used it to get through hard times and show how strong and smart they are. It's interesting to learn how well Istanbul has always been able to look after its people.

What are the main attractions inside the Basilica Cistern?

The most beautiful thing in the Basilica Cistern is the Medusa head columns. The strange sculptures, the cathedral-like atmosphere, and the soft lighting that bounces off the water make the place feel like it's from another world.

Why is the Basilica Cistern considered an architectural marvel?

Because of its size and the skill of its builders, the Basilica Cistern is a masterpiece of architecture. With 336 columns set up in 12 rows, each one carefully carved and perfectly aligned, it's not just a cistern; it's a work of ancient building that amazes everyone who sees it.

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