Taj Mahal vs. Hagia Sophia: Which Temple Should I Visit?


The Taj Mahal in India and Hagia Sophia in Turkey are iconic examples of historical architecture. Both offer a wealth of history, artistic splendor, and architectural marvel. Deciding to visit one over the other requires analyzing the impressive merits of each edifice and taking your taste for discovery and adventure into consideration.

You should visit the Taj Mahal if you are interested in Mughal architecture. However, if you have an affinity for Byzantine or Ottoman history, Hagia Sophia is the better choice. Based on cost alone, Hagia Sophia will have cheaper flights from the U.S. and U.K.

SiteTaj MahalHagia Sophia
LocationAgra, IndiaIstanbul, Turkey
Cost to Enter1,100 Rupees (foreign nationals)540 Rupees (citizens of SAARC member countries)50 Rupees (Indian citizens)Additional 200 Rupees to enter the main mausoleum.FreeGuided tour ϵ17A guided tour is included with the purchase of a ϵ14 Istanbul Tourist Pass that provides access to other attractions in the city.
Hours of OperationGates open 30 minutes before sunrise.Gates close 30 minutes before sundown.Closed Fridays.9 AM to 5 PM, 7 days a week.Closed during hours of prayer.
Construction Began1632 A.D.532 A.D.
Annual Visitors7 million in 2019.3.7 million in 2019.
Special DesignationsA UNESCO World Heritage site. Voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.A UNESCO World Heritage site and Turkey’s largest tourist attraction.
Status as an Active Site of WorshipThe Taj Mahal is a mausoleum. However, the “Western Building” located on the same grounds, is an active mosque.In July 2020, Hagia Sophia was stripped of its museum status and was converted back into a mosque.

This article will explore the Taj Mahal and Hagia Sophia from a traveler’s perspective, wanting to get the most out of their experience. It will take into account practical issues such as the cost of travel and safety. It will also look at other considerations, such as other nearby attractions, cultural richness, and other factors. 

Getting There

Visiting a tourist destination involves planning and cost. Where a tourist destination is located compared to your point of origin is the biggest contributing factor to the journey’s cost.

Getting to the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, India. While Agra has a local airport, it only serves a handful of domestic destinations within India. As an international traveler, you are best served flying to India’s primary air hub and capital, New Delhi.

Flights to New Delhi

Flights to New Delhi from the United States range are broadly based on your departing city, airline, and time of year. Trip booking aggregator sites such as Expedia indicate that airfare from New York City’s JFK airport to New Delhi can be as low as $468 roundtrip to as high as $2,797 one-way.

These same aggregator sites indicate that airfare from the United Kingdom departing from London’s Heathrow airport to New Delhi can be as low as $436 roundtrip to as high as $2,148 oneway.

Connecting to the Taj Mahal from New Delhi

Agra and the Taj Mahal complex are located 127 miles (204 km) from New Delhi. From New Delhi, you can connect to Agra and the Taj Mahal by a variety of methods.

  • Rail – There are regular departures from New Delhi’s Railway Station. The trip takes approximately 2 hours. A one-way fare will cost approximately the equivalent of USD $5.
  • Bus –  Comparable in price but longer in travel time (4 hours). Many scheduled bus lines and tour charters are available to choose from.
  • Highway – If you feel comfortable driving on Indian roads and highways, you can rent a car and drive the distance in approximately 3 hours.

Getting to Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is located within the Istanbul Metropolitan Area. This means that once you are in Istanbul, you do not need to arrange for further connections. You can rely on the local taxi and bus service to get to Hagia Sophia. You can also use the many tour companies that operate shuttles and private coach service to the site.

Travel Options to Istanbul

From the United States, using New York City’s JFK as your point of departure, booking aggregator sites indicate airfares to Istanbul as low as $562 roundtrip to as high as $1,993 one-way.

From London, aggregator sites indicate airfares to Istanbul as low as $160 roundtrip to as high as $1,105 one-way.

If your point of origin is London or another city in the U.K. or Continental Europe, you have the option of using rail and bus service to get to Istanbul. Unfortunately, such a journey would require multiple connections and transfers. This can result in travel times that extend beyond two days. In terms of fares, they would be comparable, sometimes higher, than the more affordable airfares.

Travel

It will usually be less expensive to travel to Istanbul from any point of departure in the United States than flying to New Delhi if your decision to visit either Hagia Sophia or the Taj Mahal is contingent on the affordability of airfare. If you depart from the United Kingdom, the affordability between Istanbul and New Delhi widens. If your choice is based solely on the airfare, Hagia Sophia has the advantage.

When you consider the ease of the journey, flight durations from the United States and the United Kingdom will be shorter to Istanbul than New Delhi. Additionally, since Hagia Sophia is within Istanbul, you avoid needing a two to four-hour ground connection to your final destination. If your choice is based on the travel’s ease, Hagia Sophia has the advantage.

Travel Safety

Whenever you undertake an international journey, it is important to consider travel safety. India and Turkey have good diplomatic relations with the United States and most Western countries. That said, the U.S. State Department has travel advisories in effect as of September 2020 for India and Turkey.

The most recent advisories deal with travel to parts of each respective country that are a good distance away from where the Taj Mahal and Hagia Sophia are located. These advisories deal with the elevated threat of potential acts of civil unrest, crime, or terrorist actions in those areas.

If you do not stray from the well-protected tourist zones where Hagia Sophia and the Taj Mahal are located, both sites are tied based on travel safety.

Always check for updated travel advisories before embarking on your journey as these can change suddenly.

Cultural Richness

Both the Taj Mahal and Hagia Sophia are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This designation is only given to sites that have “cultural, historical, scientific, or other forms of significance.” As such, visiting either the Taj Mahal or Hagia Sophia will provide you with a rich cultural and historical experience.

Each site can be differentiated in terms of the type of cultural experience that it bestows.

Hagia Sophia

Construction on Hagia Sophia began in 532 A.D. by order of the Roman Emperor Justinian I. It holds many historical and cultural attributes:

  • It was the world’s largest cathedral until 1520.
  • It was the first building of its size to have a pendentive dome
  • After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it became a mosque under Ottoman rule.
  • In 1935 it was designated a museum by the recently established Turkish government.

In terms of architectural style and artistic treasure in the form of mosaics and styled doors, floors, and buttresses. Hagia Sophia offers an impressively rich visiting experience.

For those who seek to take in the richness of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, and the rich and diverse exchange of cultural interaction between the East and the West over the centuries, Hagia Sophia would be your best choice to visit.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is not as old as Hagia Sophia. Construction began in 1632 A.D. and was constructed by the emperor Shah Jahan’s order. It was built as a mausoleum to house the remains of one of his wives, Mumtaz Mahal.

UNESCO described the Taj Mahal as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

Among the Taj Mahal’s many rich offerings are:

Those who seek an experience that is not Western-focussed, for those who appreciate or have an interest in Mughal culture or who have an idealized connection to the Taj Mahal from film, literature, and popular culture, the Taj Mahal would be a good choice for you.

Conclusion

Deciding whether to visit the Taj Mahal or Hagia Sophia is like choosing between two exquisitely delicious pieces of pastry. Regardless of which one you choose, the experience will be rich and satisfying.

However, practical considerations, such as travel costs, may play a role in your final decision. Likewise, your personal preference for a historical perspective from a particular culture can weigh on your final decision.

Hagia Sophia has the advantage in terms of travel cost and duration and a focus on east-west cultural interaction. For a more exotic experience, by Western standards, the Taj Mahal holds the advantage.

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