If you’re looking to discover some of the best traditions of Turkey in Istanbul, the city has you covered. A traditional Hammam, or Turkish Bath, is one of the most relaxing and culturally relevant things to tick off the bucket list when visiting Turkey, and Istanbul is probably the best place to indulge. There are a wide variety of styles and buildings, but generally, they all do the same thing, and you’ll definitely come out squeaky clean. If you’re keen to start your ablutions, or just want to try something new, then read ahead for our guide to the best Hammams in Istanbul.
What is a Hammam?
A Hammam is basically a variant of a steam bath, and traditionally includes a massage component. Although the experience of a Turkish bath in Istanbul does normally have set timings, especially the elements of it that require a member of staff to run like the massage, you can relax in the bath area for as long as you want; after all, it is a kind of spa treatment.
Hammam’s have been a part of Middle Eastern, and specifically Turkish, culture for millennia, and are related to the bath houses the Romans are famous for. Although they’re often used for religious reasons, they’re more known as social and civic centres, providing hygiene for the masses before plumbing was more widely available. Nowadays, they tend towards luxury and tourism, although many locals still take regular trips.
There are different types of Hammam experience, usually split into three broad categories:
- Self-Service: where you bathe yourself and bring your own equipment (towel, soap, etc.)
- Traditional: This includes a wash and a massage for around a quarter of an hour
- Other: Fancier hammams geared toward luxury tourists will often offer additional massage and wellness options, like head massages or facials. However, this is not part of a traditional Hammam experience
Hammams are open from very early in the morning until late at night, as they are often seen as a place for socialising. The soap they use is nothing special, so if you have delicate skin you might want to bring your own, which they’re always happy to use.
What to expect from a Hammam?
The Hammam experience in Istanbul is like nothing else. Firstly, though, there is no mixing of genders here, so the Hammam’s of Istanbul are either split into two sections, or they will admit certain genders at certain times. Some Hammams are gender-specific, but these are rare. Men often strip down to nothing and are only covered using a bath wrap – although this is always on, for modesty reasons. Nowadays, most men stay partially covered with their own clothes. Women tend to remain in underwear/swimwear under the bath wrap.
As you enter the building, you’re shown to an entrance room with changing areas, known as the camekan. Here, you’ll be offered tea or a cold drink, which we’d recommend taking; although the experience is slippery, it’s also very warm, and you don’t realise how much you sweat until the end.
You’re then led to the iliklik, a small room in between the entrance and the actual bath, where you’re given your towels and left to adjust to the temperature, which you’ll now notice has been cranked up. This is to allow you to relax and get more supple, and also gives you a chance to admire the usually stunning architecture of the baths.
The attendant will then come in and soak your body before lathering you up with suds and performing a massage. This varies depending on the Hammam, but expect and niggling aches, pains and knots to be well and truly gone by the end!
You will then be scrubbed, which again is an interesting experience that walks the tightrope between pain and pleasure. Original practitioners used an oriental hand-knitted wash cloth, but nowadays synthetic fibres tend to be used. It’s around this time you’ll see just how much dirt you had clinging to your skin, but it’s soon all washed off.
You’re allowed to stay and relax in the hot room for a bit after your massage, but eventually your Turkish bath in Istanbul will conclude with a cool down. The cool room usually has showers so you can wash off the remnants of your experience. You’re then allowed, if you want, to relax – some punters even have a little power nap!
As you leave, you should make sure to tip your attendant – 10 to 20 per cent of the total is the standard.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of a Hammam experience in Istanbul are plentiful. Aside from getting to experience a traditional Istanbul Turkish massage, it’s a great stress reducer, and wonderful for your skin. You’re likely to sleep incredibly well the evening of your scrub as well, and there are some who believe it’s even good for your immune system!
Most importantly, though, is the fact you get the chance to indulge in this ancient practice in its home.
The cost of a Hammam in Istanbul varies, depending on the venue and what sort of service you want. The below will deal with a traditional Hammam experience, as detailed in the opening section.
A higher end Hammam, like at the Four Seasons Bosporus, can cost as much as EUR 125 for a 30 minute session (half an hour with the assistant – as discussed, you are free to relax afterwards in the Hammam area). Other Turkish baths in Istanbul are a lot cheaper, and frankly, if you’re going more for the cultural experience over being pampered, are probably a better option (and still leave you feeling squeaky clean).
One such Hammam in Istanbul is Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, which has been running in some form for nearly five centuries. Here you get the total Istanbul Turkish bath experience, all for EUR 35.
Another local favourite is ÇEMBERLİTAŞ BATH – also steeped in history and costing EUR 50 for the whole Hammam package.