Istanbul with Kids: Basilica Cistern
Istanbul is full of sights and quite a few of them are located around Aya Sofia: Topkapi Palace, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern. You can comfortably just stay in the area for a couple of days exploring these treasures. I was fascinated by Basilica Cistern pictures online and was looking forward to visiting it in Istanbul.
I visited it in middle of winter, so the queue was very short, however if you are visiting in the summer, be aware that you will have to stand outside before you buy your ticket. If you are traveling with kids, you might want to split with your partner, who can go and sit in the shade with your little ones, or vice versa, and one of you will get tickets. Otherwise, if you are travelling alone with kids or a child, bring an umbrella and fix it to the buggy or give umbrellas to your kids to hold to avoid possible overheating. The good news are once you have an admission ticket on your hands, you are going to subside into subterranean kingdom.
Parents rejoice! The whole walkway in the Basilica is a boardwalk, so you can bring the buggy downstairs. There are couple of places (near Medusa head) where you might want to come down to see things a bit closer, but stairs are small and you will be able to carry the buggy down, no problem.
Basilica Cistern is essentially an underground water storage system, which was built on the site of another temple, so it is quite fascinating to see how something practical has been built using a temple as a base. The columns are lit up and there is a soundtrack playing in the background. The water, the music and the light create a magical effect, where you can imagine yourself walking in a different reality. It is just very different from busy and distracting environment at the street level with bright lights, mosque calls for prayers and many people trying to visit the attractions. Down here it is peaceful, subdued and slightly dark.
If you are an aspiring photographer, you can be in for a treat. If you like to play with long exposures, there is just enough light to make weird and wonderful pictures.
If after 5 minutes your kids think that this place is boring, take them on a treasure hunt. Spot Medusa Head, Crying Column and fish in the water. Or at the end of your visit you can dress up in Sultan costume and have a fancy dress photo session, as there is a small studio set up immediately after you come dowstairs after the ticket office.
As I mentioned, it was not the height of the tourist season when I visited, but I can imagine the Basilica being quite busy during holidays or in the summer. If this is the case, plan your visit one hour before closing time. This strategy worked for me in Aya Sofia, where 15 minutes before closure, I almost had it all to myself, as majority of people were gone by this point.
I enjoyed my visit immensely and I think it is such a special place, that if you have time for the Basilica Cistern, you should definitely include it on your itinerary.
Disclaimer: My visit was hosted by the Basilica Cistern, but all opinions are my own.