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What is Hamam? The Best Turkish bath in Istanbul!

To experience differences is the reason you travel, right? So don’t miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime to experience an amazing Turkish bath or traditional hamam. It’ll make you feel great mentally and physically, and if there’s time, you’ll probably go back for more.

With our daughters visited us in Turkey, I had to take them to the hamam or Turkish bath. Devon actually went twice; and they both loved it. After having been indoctrinated into the world of public bathing in Japan, both of them thought this was much easier and much more comfortable. 

That might have something to do with the fact that everyone thinks we are Turkish until they try to talk to us…so less staring. It doesn’t matter, though, because after your first hamam experience, it’s something you want to do over and over and over.

Interior of hamam washing room and its alabaster sink.
This sink is made from alabaster and sits on the shelf that the women sit on to wash. You fill the pink bowl over and over with hot, steamy water and splash your skin to make it ready to be scrubbed by the attendant.

What is Hamam?

Since the beginning of time, at least as early as the Greeks, public baths, steam baths, and hot springs have been social and health centers around the world, and Turkish hamams are some of the most famous since many of the countries adapted their way of doing hamam.

Hamma is a word that means “steam bath” in Arabic, and as the Turkic people merged with the western Greeks and Byzantines, the public bath became an important place. (source)

Today, with modern plumbing there is not as much reason to go to Turkish bath or hamam, except for the mere pleasure of it.

Hamams are traditional spas. You can wash, steam, get massaged, and relax for hours in the marble rooms, looking up at the starred domes, and letting the water wash away your troubles, or for me….my jet lag.

Changing and resting room in the hamam.
Upon arrival, you will be assigned a changing room and given the key to lock up your stuff. Often the changing rooms are also a place to rest.

Where Can You Find Turkish Baths in Istanbul?

Istanbul has about 50 hamams still in existence today. Some are more traditional than others. Some of the more famous ones, ones that cater to foreigners, are a little more expensive that the others.

No matter where you are in Turkey, you will find a hamam not too far away. Ask your hotel for recommendations and directions. Here we’ve listed three hamams in Istanbul you might like to try out.

Cemberlistas Hamami

The one Turkish Bath that most tourists visit while in Istanbul is Cemberlistas Hamami, mainly because it’s rather close to the Grand Bazaar and easy to find. It is more on the expensive side, though, with the basic price of admission 160 TL, and for the minimum treatment, which is highly recommended (peeling) is 255 TL.

Address: Mollafenari, Vezirhan Cd. No:8, 34440 Fatih

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami

Another highly recommended hamam is Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami in Karakoy. The ambience and beauty of this Istanbullu favorite Turkish bath will leave you feeling both relaxed and alive. For the basic peeling and kese rub treatment the cost is 340 Tl and reservations are recommended and can be made online here.

Address: Kemankeş Mah. Hamam Sok. No:1 34425 Tophane Karaköy

Cagaloglu Hamami

Another historical Turkish bath, this one with a fantastic restaurant on location is Cagaloglu Hamami. Check out their webite that has a great video showing you a little of what to expect. Also, when asking for services I would recommend the Istanbul Dream.

Address: Alemdar Mah. Profesör Kazım İsmail Gürkan Cad.No: 34 Cağaloğlu Hamamı 34110 Fatih

Traditional hamam sandals are made from wood and have leather straps.
Traditional hamam sandals are made from wood and have leather straps.

What to Bring to a Turkish Bath

  1. Money. It’s not as cheap as it used to be…just to enter is around 15 Tl., then they charge you for each additional service ie. waxing, hair dye, getting pealed, and massage.
  2. Your toiletries which must include: soap, shampoo, a kese (scrub pad – but you can buy this at the hamam if you need to), and a washcloth. Turkish washcloths are knitted, not made out of the same material as a towel. Of course, you can bring any other toiletries you would like, but the attendant will want to use these items on you.
  3. A hairbrush and an extra pair of underwear. Why? Because you wear your panties in the bath and they are soaking wet when you are finished.
  4. Other optional items would be a bathrobe, your own towel (for the final drying), and flip flops or shower shoes (so you don’t have to borrow their clunky wooden ones).

4 Steps to a Soul and Body Cleansing Turkish Bath – How to Hamam!

Arrival

  1. Upon arrival, usually someone will claim you and tell you where to find an empty changing room. There you are provided with a hamam towel and shower shoes. 
  2. Undress, but make sure to leave your panties or bikini bottoms on. Turkish baths do not allow full nudity.
  3. Make your way to the bath or to get waxed. Note:  You must not get wet before you are waxed. If a waxing is on your agenda, make sure you find out where to go and be prepared. If the attendant gets a little too rough, just say “Yavash”, which means “slow”.

Enter the Traditional Washing Room

  1. Either after waxing or if you’re not getting a wax, go straight to a marble basin where there is piping hot water as well as a cold tap running. 
  2. Take the plastic bowl and splash it on all of your body parts for at least 10 minutes. At this point, do not use any soap or shampoo, just lots and lots of water.  It is to soften you up. This is a critical part of the process and if the attendant is not happy with the results, she will do it herself for another 10 minutes.

Now It’s Time to Experience True Hamam

  1. The attendant will come and get you. Follow her to a marble slab and lie on your stomach.  The first part of the routine is the “pilic” or scrub or peel. The attendant will scrub off your old skin, which comes off in little swirls. This may sound gross, but it’s actually very relaxing and afterwards you are a new woman.
  2. After she is finished with the peel, she will either order you to go rinse, or she will splash you with buckets of water, both hot and cold. It’s more authentic if she splashes you, but it is a little different than anything you might be used to.
  3. Now it’s time for the wash and massage.  The attendant will wash you like you haven’t been washed since you were an infant.  Don’t worry about those pesky panties, she will pull them, roll them, make them into a thong…whatever is needed to get to those grimy spots. While washing, she will give you a somewhat mild massage.  Just go with the flow and turn over when she slaps you.
  4. When the attendant is all finished with you, it’s your turn to wash again.  You go back to your basin and scrub, scrub, scrub.  This should take a minimum of 30 minutes, and you can stay and steam and relax as long as you want.
Hamam towels are almost always a linen-type material with a large gingham print. You wear them throughout your stay.
Hamam towels are almost always a linen-type material with a large gingham print. You wear them throughout your stay unless you are also given a robe.

It’s Not Over Until You Drink the Tea!

  1. When you are all finished, tidy up your area by splashing it down, grab your stuff and head to your room. 
  2. Here you can take a nap or just change back into your regular clothes.
  3. Don’t forget to have a cup of cay (Turkish tea) downstairs with the other ladies, pay, give a decent tip, and away you go, feeling better than you can imagine.

Note: Please remember you should never put any of your body parts into the basin. Only dip the plastic bowl in there and do everything with the bowl. It is especially important to keep your hair away from it.

Getting ready for the "splash" at a hamam, where you ready your skin.

Conclusion

If you are in Turkey, in Istanbul for any time at all, don’t leave without trying the quintessential Turkish bath experience. There are many great old hamams in all the cities. It’s a great way to fight jet lag, and you will leave planning your next visit. It’s addicting, although understand that if they have the word “spa” associated with it, it will cost at least triple for the same services!

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Have you been to a Turkish Bath?  What were your impressions?