If you want to experience a tradition enjoyed by Byzantine royalty then visiting a Turkish bath or Hamam in Istanbul is a must.
Not only will you receive an invigorating soapy massage and a scrub down by a masseur, tellak in Turkish, but you will also get to experience all of this in one of Istanbul’s architecturally stunning, historic Hamams.
The experience need not be intimidating! Here we demystify the Turkish Hamam so you know what to expect and are not taken by surprise.
What happens in a Hamam and in what order?
You’ve paid your money to the attendant so what happens next?
1. Is the changing area private in a Hamam?
An attendant will give you a new scrubber and will take you to a private cubicle where you can undress. You will be given slippers and a cloth to wrap around your waist.
Do I have to be naked?
This is essentially up to you! No one is going to force you to take your clothes off but you will get very soapy and wet. There is strict etiquette and the wrap must be worn at all times, so no indecent exposure! Men tend to be naked apart from the wrap, and women often remove their bra but keep their underwear on. If you intend to keep your underwear on bring a spare set as the ones you wear will get very wet.
What will my masseur do and will they be the same sex as me?
Your masseur will wash, massage and scrub you, and will be the same sex as you.
2. What happens in the hot room or hararet?
When you are ready leave the cubicle you will go downstairs to meet your masseur who will lead you to the hararet, the hot room. This is an opportunity to relax and unwind before the massage begins, your masseur will leave you to it. You could try lying on the göbektaşı which is the central raised platform where the heat comes from.
Is the hot room, or hararet, private?
The hot room and the cooling down room are communal so you will be mixing with the other guests.
Do men and women go in together?
A Hamam is not mixed, you will only be with members of the same sex as you.
Can I take my girlfriend or boyfriend to the Hamam?
Only people of the same sex can use the Turkish Hammam. There may be two separate areas for men and women or that men and women use the Hamam at different times.
Can I go the Turkish Hamam with my friends?
If they are the same sex as you then definitely! The wash, massage and scrub happens in the communal hot room, as does the relaxation in the cooling down room.
3. Will I get washed as well as massaged?
Your masseur will now soak your body with warm water and get you nice and soapy. They will then massage your wet soapy body for about 30 minutes. Expect limited talking and a firm massage!
Will they ask me what firmness of massage I would like?
Do not expect to be asked this question! Turkish massage is firm – but if it really is uncomfortable don’t be afraid to speak up!
What soap do they use?
A standard soap is used. If you have sensitive skin or prefer to know what is in your skincare products then you may want to bring your own.
Will they wash my private areas?
You wash your private areas yourself!
4. Will my skin be scrubbed?
Your masseur will move you over the basins in the hot room and scrub your body with the new scrubber you were given when you entered. Expect to see a colossal amount of dirt and dead skin removed even if you consider yourself clean!
5. Will the soap be washed off?
You will now have the final soapy wash and rinse with cold water. This can come as a bit of a shock after all the heat so be prepared.
6. What happens when the massage and scrub are over?
Your masseur will now leave you and you have a few options. You can stay in the hot room or move into the soğukluk – the cooling down room. You can relax and stay in these rooms for as long as you like, before heading for a final shower and back to your private cubicle to get dressed. You can also relax on the bed in your cubicle for as long as you like.
7. Are there refreshments available?
When you are back in your cubicle you can order a drink to quench your thirst and continue to relax.
How long will I be at the Hamam?
This depends on how long you decide to stay after the massage/scrub, but expect to be there for at least an hour.
How much does it cost?
The prices change according to the packages, but basic traditional Turkish hamam is around 300-400 TL (about $50-70 or €45-60).
Do I need to tip the attendant?
Yes. Make sure you take some change with you as the attendant will expect a tip of 10-20% of the total cost of the treatment.
Are all Turkish Hamams the same?
Some will be older and more ornate than others but the layout will be pretty much the same.
What do I need to prepare for my visit to a Turkish bath in Istanbul?
- You need to make an appointment in advance.
- Anyone who suffers from cardiovascular conditions, excessively high or low blood pressure, kidney or heart problems should avoid the Turkish baths.
- Having an empty stomach is recommended.
- To avoid dehydration, it is important to replace lost liquids by drinking water, fruit juice or herbal tea.
- Don’t forget to bring some money to leave in the changing room with which to tip your masseuse.
Which are the best hamams in Istanbul?
- The most traditional Turkish baths (Ottoman-style Hamam) are Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamami, Mihrimah Sultan Hamami, Cagaloglu Hamami and Cemberlitas Hamami.
- For those who want full relaxation at an affordable price, there are also traditional Turkish baths, saunas and massages in the hotels.
- Luxury Turkish Hamam experience in 5-star hotels like Radisson Blu, Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul, Four Seasons, Marriott International, InterContinental Istanbul, etc.
- Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamam (ottoman style Hamam) in Sultanahmet, built by Mimar Sinan, Renaissance Ottoman architect, on the site of historical Baths of Zeuxippus, offers the most luxurious traditional bath experience. The price range is from €55 to €185.
- Mihrimah Sultan Hamami in Fatih, built alongside the Mihriman Sultan Mosque Complex by Mimar Sinan, offers traditional Turkish Bath.
- Cagaloglu Hamami, the last big hamam built in Ottoman era, located in Fatih. The price range is from €40 to €180.
- Cemberlitas Hamami, historical Turkish bath, located at Fatih district. The bath is in the complex of Suleymaniye Mosque. The price range is from €40 to €80.
- Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, Famous for its architectural lines and majestic dome, located in Tophane, Beyoglu. The price range is from €50 to €80.