Istanbul Must-See: How to Get to the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, one of Istanbul’s most captivating historical sites, is located in the heart of Sultanahmet, the city’s prime tourist district. Here’s a detailed guide on how to reach Basilica Cistern.

How to Get to Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, also known as the Sunken Palace, is an ancient underground water reservoir built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This vast, cavernous space supported by 336 marble columns is a stunning example of Byzantine engineering and architecture. The cistern’s cool, dimly lit environment, combined with its historical significance, makes it a must-visit site for tourists.

By Tram

The tram is a popular and economical way to reach the Basilica Cistern. The T1 tram line is particularly useful for tourists as it runs through many of Istanbul’s key historical and cultural sites. To get to the Basilica Cistern, take the T1 tram line and get off at the Sultanahmet station. From there, it’s a short and pleasant walk to the cistern. As you walk, you can enjoy the view of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both of which are nearby.

By Metro

To reach the Basilica Cistern by metro, you need to use two lines. First, take the M11 metro line to Yenikapı Station. From Yenikapı, transfer to the M1A metro line and get off at Sultanahmet Station. The Basilica Cistern is only a few minutes’ walk from there. This route is particularly convenient for those who are already on the metro network and want to avoid surface traffic.

By Train (Marmaray)

The Marmaray train line, which runs under the Bosphorus, is another efficient way to reach the Basilica Cistern. Board the Marmaray train and get off at Sirkeci Station. From Sirkeci, you can either walk or take a short taxi ride to the cistern. This option is excellent for those coming from the Asian side of Istanbul or from further afield along the Marmaray line.

By Taxi

Taking a taxi is a comfortable and direct way to reach the Basilica Cistern, especially if you are traveling from Istanbul Airport. The ride typically takes around 30-35 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. Taxis are readily available throughout Istanbul, and they provide a door-to-door service. Make sure to use a reputable taxi service and agree on an estimated fare before starting your journey.


HAVAIST buses connect Istanbul Airport with various parts of the city. To get to the Basilica Cistern, take the HAVAIST bus to the Sultanahmet stop. From there, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the cistern. HAVAIST buses are a cost-effective option, especially if you are traveling with luggage.

Additional Tips for Visiting the Basilica Cistern

best time to visit Basilica Cistern

When planning your visit to the Basilica Cistern, there are a few practical tips to keep in mind. Wear comfortable shoes, as the floors can be slippery due to the damp environment. Bringing a light jacket is also advisable, as the cistern is cool. To avoid the crowds, visit during midday when it’s less busy. Inside, look for iconic features like the Medusa heads and the Weeping Column, which are among the cistern’s most photographed attractions. Combining your visit with nearby sites such as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque can make for a full day of exploring Istanbul’s rich history.


The main entrance to the Basilica Cistern, located near Hagia Sophia, is wheelchair accessible. However, some areas inside may pose challenges due to uneven surfaces and steps. Visiting during off-peak hours can help avoid crowds and ensure a more comfortable experience for those with mobility issues.

What to See Inside

The Basilica Cistern is not only an architectural marvel but also a site filled with historical artifacts and unique features. The Medusa heads, repurposed from ancient Greek ruins, are a highlight and are positioned upside down and sideways at the bases of two columns. The Weeping Column, distinguished by its teardrop-shaped carvings, is another must-see. The serene waters and the ambient lighting create a mystical atmosphere, perfect for photography and quiet contemplation. Elevate your experience of Basilica Cistern with our top-rated tour offering.

To cherish the beauty of the places, knowing how to get to Basilica Cistern is essential. Whether you take a tram, metro, train, taxi, or bus, the journey is straightforward and offers a glimpse into the city’s rich history and vibrant culture. Enjoy your visit to this ancient underground wonder!

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