This ancient practice of rejuvenation is a must on any Istanbul to-do list. Here are some suggestions for your first hammam experience.
Also known as the Turkish bath, hammam has become a wellness treatment for locals, as well as a special experience for foreigners. If you are naturally inquisitive, here are some recommended hammams in Istanbul and everything you need to know before you go.
The majority of hammams in Turkey operate both men’s and women’s sections at different times or space, with the sex of attendants mirroring the guests. For some hammams, male or female services are limited to certain hours of the day, so it is always important double-check in advance to avoid misunderstandings.
How to hammam step-by-step
Every hammam’s design and service differs slightly. For first-time visitors to a Turkish bath, make sure to choose a service that includes the essential scrubbing and bubble wash. Other options include self-service or an additional oil massage. It is recommended to make a reservation before you visit.
Once you walk into the hammam lounge, find the reception area to confirm your service. You will then be led to a private room to change and lock up your personal belongings.
Step 1: Undress
After you have removed your clothes, in most hammams, it is obligatory to cover the lower half of your body. Women should not remove the bottom part of their underwear or, alternatively, wear a swimsuit bottom. Wrap yourself with the peştemal (the hammam towel), put on the slippers, take your locker key, and you are ready to go.
Step 2: Get wet and warm
By entering the sıcaklık (the hot room), your hammam journey begins. The marble-covered room consists of several washing sections, kurna (water basins) set around the wall, and a göbek taşı (heated marble platform) in the center under the dome. Get wet by pouring water all over your body. Then, lay down on the göbek taşı for a few minutes. While relaxing and gently sweating, do not forget to appreciate the architecture around you. If you are visiting during the daytime, look up and watch the sunlight enter the room through the dome.
Step 3: Scrub it off
After 10-15 minutes in the heat and moisture, your skin has softened enough for exfoliation. Your attendant—natır for women or tellak for men—will come with kese, the special mitten used to scrub off the dead cells of your skin. Relax, it is not as painful as you might have heard, but it is important to tell the attendant if you feel overwhelmed or there are parts of the body that you do not want them to scrub. Do not worry if you don’t speak Turkish, because some basic English words and body language are all you need to communicate. After the scrubbing is complete, close your eyes and prepare for bowls of cold water to be poured over your head.
Step 4: Submerge in bubbles
Now it is time for köpük, the long-awaited, dreamy bubble wash and massage—just as fun and pleasant as it sounds. Using a special cloth lathered with soap, your attendant will squeeze a mountain of puffy, smooth bubbles all over your body. As you are amazed by how good it feels, the attendant will give you a gentle massage.
Step 5: Quick hair wash
After taking care of your skin, you will get a quick shampoo and probably a rough head massage. Prepare yourself for a few more bowls of water poured over your head until you are fully clean.
Step 6: Clean up and dry
Your hammam ritual is almost done and generally should take one hour. However, if you feel like staying longer, lay back on the göbek taşı and make the most of it. When you are ready, the attendant will give you a clean towel to dry your body before you exit the hot room.
Step 7: Snack, chat, and relax
Feeling rejuvenated? You are more than welcome to continue the relaxation. The authentic way to end a Turkish bath is to sit in the lounge and chill, read books and magazines, or chat with your friends. Have some water, tea, a cup of şerbet (cold, sweetened fruit juice), and some snacks to refuel. You can also rest in your personal room.
Things to keep in mind
Bring swimwear or extra underwear. If you plan to wear your boxers or panties during the hammam ritual, make sure you have an extra pair to put on afterwards. Small, local hammams may ask you to pay a little extra to buy soap and shampoo. You can also bring your own soap or kese if you have sensitive skin.
Get naked—but not completely. Turkish baths are sex segregated and being naked is the norm, but you should remember to cover the genital region. The general practice is that men wrap themselves with peştemal and women keep the bottom part of their underwear. It is acceptable for ladies to keep their bikini top or swimsuit, but the less you cover your skin, the more thorough the rejuvenation. Also, remember to remove your makeup, glasses, or content lenses since you will be doused with water from head to toe.
Feel free to stay in the hot room. Often unknown to first-time visitors, there is no rush to leave the hot room after the scrubbing and bubble wash. Instead, you can lay on the göbek taşı or relax in the room for as long as you want. At some popular hammams, you may be guided to the exit right after the service is done due to their busy schedule, but you can always tell them that you would like to stay longer.
Always walk with slippers. Otherwise, you might slip on the steamy wet marble floor easily.
No photos inside. The marble interior is surely very photogenic, but people will not appreciate their bathing photos appearing on others’ phones and cameras. Besides, this is a time for rejuvenation and relaxation, and no one wants to ruin their device in the water and bubbles.
Where to go for a Turkish bath in Istanbul
Hammams in Istanbul vary considerably in scale, quality, and price. So, which hammam should you choose to best suit your needs? For a prudent first timer, the Turkish bath service at some of the best hotels is a good option. The ritual is the same at these modern establishments, but you can experience it in a private space without other strangers around.
If you are more courageous, a visit to one of Istanbul’s famous, historical hammams is an interesting alternative. A major attraction to these sites is that you get the chance to appreciate the marvelous architecture and authentic settings. Unwind and relax in the same spot that people have enjoyed for centuries.
In comparison to small neighborhood hammams, big operations have more experience catering to foreigners. Knowing that you may not be familiar with this traditional treatment, the reception staff can provide you with detailed information in English, brief your attendant on how to best serve you throughout the ritual, and carefully ensure that you are comfortable.
Best historical hammams in Istanbul
- Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı – Hamam Sokak. No.1, Tophane; T: 0212 393 80 01
- Çukurcuma Hamamı 1831 – Çukurcuma Caddesi No.43, Galata; T: 0530 933 05 13
- Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı – Ayasofya Meydanı No.2, Fatih; T: 0212 517 35 35
Luxurious Turkish bath in hotels
- Hotels Les Ottomans – Muallim Naci Caddesi No.68, Kuruçeşme; T: 0212 359 15 00
- Raffles Spa – Zorlu Center, Zincirlikuyu; T: 0212 924 03 20
- eforea Spa at Hilton – Silahşör Caddesi No.42, Bomonti; T: 0212 375 30 00
- Iridium Spa at The St. Regis Istanbul – Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No.35, Nişantaş; T: 212 368 06 06
- The Grand Tarabya – Haydar Aliyev Caddesi No.154, Tarabaya; T: 0212 363 33 10
Out of town
Upgrade your holiday with luxurious wellness treatments. At The Bodrum EDITION, you can experience both the Turkish and Moroccan bath; or enjoy a massage session in the outdoor cabanas with a view of the Aegean Sea. At Hillside Beach Club in Fethiye, Sanda Nature Spa offers a whole day package that includes the Turkish bath ritual.
- Peştemal – The most famous article of the Turkish hammam, the lightweight peştemal (hammam towel), famous for its absorbency and softness, is woven using special loops and made of 100 percent cotton. They are generally worn inside the hammam and dry very quickly.
- Hamam kese – During the rejuvenating massage, the hamam kesesi (Turkish bath glove) is used to exfoliate your skin and scrub off the dead cells. You can also do this ritual at home by purchasing one of your own. We love Bodrum Havlu’s products with its local textiles and revamped traditional designs.
- Olive oil soap: Turkey’s famous olive oil soaps offer a natural way to nourish and moisturize the skin. Zeytune Sabun offers high-quality handmade, cold-pressed organic Turkish soaps—each a pretty piece of art infused with ingredients such as lavender and rosemary.
- Pumice set: Pumice is a type of volcanic rock known for its rough texture that’s a perfect, healthy way to scrape off dry skin on elbows, knees, soles of the feet, and other rough patches. Lalay offers pumice stones with handcrafted wooden handles for easy use.
- Hammam bowl: The beautifully ornate bowls are used to hold bathing items and to scoop water from the marble basins.
- Takunya: Wooden clogs called takunya, generally carved from remarkably hard Oriental Hornbeam wood, are traditionally worn in the hammam to keep your feet comfortable and off the slick surfaces. Today, you are more likely to be handed plastic flip flops at the hammam, but for a taste of the old ways, Abdulla in the Grand Bazaar offers lovely handmade takunyas with a knitted, quick-drying linen foot strap. Alibaba Türbe Sokak No.15, Çemberlitaş; T: 0212 526 30 70