Is there anything more relaxing and rejuvenating than lying on a warm marble in a Turkish hamam getting a full body scrub?
Turkish baths, or hammams in Turkey, are an important part of Turkish culture that has been around since the 16th century. The hamams in Istanbul are the ultimate Turkish bath experience and they will leave you feeling refreshed after your first (or fifth) visit.
While the hammams were first built to offer a place for having a bath, Turkish hammams evolved into gathering spots for many people. Women and men had access to hammams on different days of the week. It became a social meeting place where people can spend hours, relax, clean up, and talk to their neighbors. It’s no wonder the hammams were always full of people.
Today, the hammam culture has not changed much in Turkey. Most hammams in Istanbul have different sections or different hours of the day for men and women and follow traditional hammam rituals. Most hammams in Istanbul offer 45 minutes of washing; traditional body scrubbing with a handwoven washcloth (kese), a foam wash, and a massage.
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What happens in a Turkish bath?
The first thing that’ll happen is that the men in your group will be separated from the women. (There are few hammams in Istanbul where it is mixed) There are separate sections for the sexes. If you opt to pay a little extra, you opt to have an attendant guide you through the journey. The locker rooms are the first spot your tellak (male attendant)/natir (female attendant) will guide you to.
Though you are visiting a public bath, you may be pleased to know that complete nudity is not common in Turkish baths. Covering the bottom bikini area is a general rule and most people will be only wrapped up with a peshtemal. Therefore, there are private cubicles to get changed in. You’ll be given slippers and a peshtemal. A peshtemal is a colorful cotton towel that is highly absorbent, and you’ll be expected to cover yourself with it before the scrubbing starts. If you’re uncomfortable with any nudity, you may wear a bikini; however, you may be the only one.
It’s also unusual to go through the bathing experience with makeup still on. You’ll have the opportunity to place all your personal items in a locker, wrap the key around your wrist, and head into the hararet.
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Inside the hot section
The hararet is the marble-covered hot room. You’ll recognize it as it’s the only room that’s portrayed when talking about Turkish baths. You’ll find a marble slab called the göbektaşı in the middle of the room. On the sides, you’ll see the basins mounted on the walls.
At this point, your attendant will leave you to relax for about 15 minutes. The idea is that you begin to sweat everything out and your skin softens. When you’ve completely relaxed, your attendant will pop back in and guide you to the göbektaşı. You’ll lie there with the peshtemal, and the attendant will splash some warm water upon you.
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They’ll then begin washing and scrubbing you. If you’re new to the experience, it may feel a little uncomfortable. However, the kese – like a loofah – helps remove all the dead skin, dirt, and grime that even a body scrub can’t reach. If you’ve paid for anything extra, like a short neck massage, you’ll find it’ll happen then. (If you have purchased a longer massage, they usually take you to another massage room when you are done with the Turkish hammam experience)
You’ll be dowsed in soapy suds and given a foam massage. (1-2 minutes long) Think of it as a big bubble bath. Then you’ll be led to the marble basins. At that point, your attendant will wash you down with cold water. When all is done, your attendant will leave you to relax for as long as you wish. At this point, you’ll realize that manner in which the ray of light hits the steam is somewhat surreal.
Are we done yet?
When you’ve had enough, you can make your way to the soğukluk (cooling room), which will have toilets and showers, and you’ll provide with a fresh, dry peshtemal. Some luxury hamams in Istanbul also have pools and jacuzzis that you can use for free.
When all is done, you’ll be offered refreshments such as Turkish tea or sherbet. Do not skip this step. Aside from tipping your attendants, you must allow your body to recover. Your body must go back down to its natural temperature. You can feel free to stay as long as you wish. The whole experience will have you feeling so clean that you’ll feel like a new person!
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What to wear at the hamam?
If you’ve opted for the self-service route, you’ll need to bring pretty much everything from soaps to towels. (Most hammams do not offer self-service nowadays) However, if you’re opting for the traditional experience, you only need to bring a spare set of underwear and bikini/swimwear to wear after you’ve dried off. Most hamams in Istanbul will provide you with all the materials you might need (peştamal, slippers, towels, and shampoo and soap) during your hamam stay.
You will be expected to be covering the bottom bikini part of your body in the hamam at all times. It is usually acceptable to be half-naked inside. However, if you feel uncomfortable, you can always bring a bikini or swimming trunks. Some hammams provide bikinis too.
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The Best Hammams in Istanbul:
1. Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı is named after the sailor who commissioned the most famous architect of the Ottoman era. Initially created to serve those in the Ottoman navy, the idea was that this hammam would still be standing centuries after it was built. It’s known for its magnificent dome, perhaps the largest in all of the hammams in Istanbul. However, the service of its current occupants is just as extraordinary and it is one of the best hamam in Istanbul.
The moment you enter, you’ll be greeted with a warming glass of sherbet while your guide explains the process to you. You may find your eyes wandering the awe-inspiring beauty of the décor.
Kılıç Ali Paşa is a rare example of a hammam that allows your children to accompany you for half the price. When you’re done, you can enjoy something delicious to eat at the café while you relax. Further, you can buy gifts from the souvenir shop near the entrance. It’s the perfect spot to purchase sesame or goat’s milk soap for a friend.
Just beware: reservations are recommended and the hammam is available during the morning and noon for the ladies and the afternoon and night for the gents.
You can read more about their pricing and make a booking at Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı here.
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2. Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı
This is another popular hammam that was built by the famous architect Mimar Sinan. This time it was at the request of Hürrem Sultan. This Turkish bath lies between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It is also close to Topkapı Palace in the old city. This is also the only Turkish bath built on the ruins of an older bath: the Baths of Zeuxippus from the Byzantine era.
Their packages start from 30 minutes at €55. If you choose to go all out, you’ll get to go home with a cute goody bag at the end and you can chill at the vitamin bar. All packages include the natural olive oil soap, kese (the loofah mitt), shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel in addition to the usual freebies.
Another fantastic fact: this is one of those historic baths that open from early morning to late night. If you really wish to pamper yourself, you can get a variety of massages from your face to your feet.
You can make a reservation at Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı here.
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3. Ağa Hamamı
If the hammam experience doesn’t get you excited by itself, perhaps soaking up the Ottoman history in this location may do the trick. It has only been renovated twice: in the 1980s and in the Ottoman period by Sultan Abdulmecid. This hammam has a rich history dating back to the times of Mehmet the Conqueror. This is the oldest Turkish bath on our list, having been constructed in 1454. Built for Sultan Mehmet and his sons, one year after conquering Constantinople (now Istanbul), this is the first Turkish bath in Istanbul.
The cheapest package, which includes the traditional body scrubbing, starts at 250TL (approximately €22). This makes this hammam one of the more affordable options amongst the more prominent historical baths. You do have the option to mix-n-match packages; however, the most expensive may last up to 3 hours. This is one of the rare hammams that permit men and women to enter the steam room together. You’ll be separated when you get scrubbed, but you can enjoy sweet apple tea together later.
You can read more and make a reservation for Ağa Hamamı here.
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4. Cağaloğlu Hamamı
After exploring Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia in the old city, why not follow up with a nearby hammam experience if you want to unwind?
Though this is one of the last major historical Turkish baths, Cağaloğlu Hammam is an international favorite. Choose this hammam to get the whole Turkish bath experience to be in the same league as Florence Nightingale, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm, and even famous actor Omar Sharif. It’s also the only hammam featured in the New York Times bestseller, ‘1001 Places to Visit Before You Die’. If that isn’t sweet enough for you, perhaps the luxurious Turkish delight served with the tea might be. They really do have everything here. You can get a manicure and leave with a goody bag of cosmetics and cologne.
If you are getting married in Istanbul, they have a bridal hammam package if you wish to pamper up before the big day.
You can read more about their pricing and make a reservation at Cağaloğlu Hamamı here.
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5. Çemberlitaş Hamamı
This one is like the child of Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı. You already know the favored architect of the Ottoman Empire: Mimar Sinan was commissioned to construct this hammam by the royal family. This time it was the wife of the incumbent sultan: Sultan Selim II. He’s known for being the son of Hürrem Sultan. The 18th-century Indian Hammam-e-Qadimi was constructed in the style of this Turkish bath. Once you know that fact, you won’t be surprised that this Turkish bath offers a selection of international massages like Indian Head Massage, Shiatzu, or Thai (women only).
Men and women sections are separated in this Turkish bath and it is located near the Grand Bazaar.
You can read more about their services, different massage packages, and pricing here.
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6. Süleymaniye Hamamı
This is one of the oldest baths, having been built in 1554 by the most well-known architect of the Ottoman Empire; Great Architect Sinan (Mimar Sinan).
Another bath was constructed for the Ottoman sultans; this time, it was for Sultan Suleiman.
Süleymaniye Hammam, unlike other historical baths, accepts couples for the whole bathing experience (every day from 10 am to 10 pm). This is the best Turkish bath to book for a traditional Turkish bath experience for an anniversary or even a Valentine’s Day gift.
Süleymaniye Hamamı may be the only Turkish Bath in Istanbul that also has a women/men’s only time (Sundays). If you are a single woman, every Sunday 07 am – 09 am is reserved for women only. You can read more and make a reservation here.
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7. Çukurcuma Hamamı
Of all the Turkish baths in Istanbul, Italian/Turkish director Ferzan Özpetek chose this one for his first feature film: Hamam: The Turkish Bath.
Unlike the other baths on this list, Çukurcuma hammam has a breath-taking monochromatic hararet. This gives this Turkish bath a more contemporary spa feel compared to the other baths. Once you get there, you’ll find that they provide everything from one-use bikinis to makeup remover.
Çukurcuma Hamamı is another mixed hammam in Istanbul where couples can bathe together; however, children under 12 are not permitted.
This hammam is within walking distance of Istiklal Street and Taksim Square. Which makes this spot the perfect getaway when you’re exploring the Istanbul Old City.
Çukurcuma Hamamı has a great website where you can learn more about their services, prices and make a reservation: https://www.cukurcumahamami.com/en
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8. Çatma Mescit Hamamı
A once-in-a-lifetime experience that’ll make you feel like one of the many Ottoman Sultans. This Turkish hammam is proud of its organic products. If you pay a little extra, your bubble bath will have invigorating aromatherapy oils. This may be the best Turkish bath to get a moisturizing treatment because you’ll end up smelling as sweet as honey. Unlike some other paths, you can choose a wide range of peels, such as brown sugar, sea salt, or rose. If you want the traditional Turkish bath experience but also want a hot stone massage, you may wish to stop by. you can make a booking here.
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9. Mihrimah Sultan Hamamı
Mihrimah Sultan, the only daughter of Sultan Suleiman and his wife Hürrem Sultan, commissioned the chief architect Sinan to build another hammam in Istanbul.
The prices are much lower than other baths on this list because this is the only traditional Turkish bath that the locals prefer. Which means that you may struggle to communicate with your attendant. Fortunately, the staff is accommodating, and, for a fraction of the price, it’s worth it.
Women and men’s sections are completely separate. This bath can be a great choice if you are a large group of friends since it is not very busy.
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10. Acemoğlu Historical Bath & Hammam
This Turkish hammam is located in the Istanbul old city and has been around for a little while. If you want to really let go during your bubble bath, this may be the best Turkish bath to do so in. We say that due to the soft pink lights that help you really unwind.
Further, this hammam offers hot tea with sweet snacks, and it’s not just the dried fruit, but the Turkish delights and those chocolate-covered nuts. Though the exact history is unknown, this Turkish bath has been around for centuries.
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We hope you have enjoyed our list of the best Turkish baths in Istanbul. For those visiting Istanbul, a Turkish bath is not only about relaxing and cleaning but it’s also an opportunity to experience the culture of Turkey.
The same goes for our food tours – delicious and culturally enhancing! If you want to try some traditional Turkish dishes or learn about how they are prepared from one of the local tour guides, all while getting some exercise walking through scenic streets, join us on one of our daily food walks in Istanbul today.
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