- Visiting a Turkish Hammam
- Bath Procedure
- Some Hammam etiquette
- The First-Timer’s Guide to Avoiding Embarrassment at a Turkish Bath
- What Are Hammams?
- A Brief History of Hammams
- The Hammam Process
- Important Etiquette
- Tips For Making it an Enjoyable Experience
- What To Expect When Visiting a Turkish Bath or Hamam?
- Selecting a Hamam and Service
- Will I Be Bare Naked?
- Cooling Down
- Some More Tips
- Hamams I
- Further Recommended Reading
- How to Recreate the Luxury of a Turkish Hammam At Home
- Mellow Bath + Body Lunar Coconut Body Scrub, at etsy.ca
- Wildcraft Luxe Body Oil Camellia and Clary Sage, at wildcraftcare.ca
- Anto Yukon Carcross Desert soap, each at antoyukon.com
- Stray & Wander Harbour towel, at strayandwander.com
- Leaves of Trees Angora Goat Hair Exfoliating Mitt – Light, at leavesoftrees.com
- Kérastase Aura Botanica Bain Micellaire Riche,
- Turkish Hamam 101: Everything You Need to Know About the Luxurious Ritual Bath
- What happens in a Turkish bath? Top tips for first-timers
- What is a Turkish bath?
- Turkish baths in Istanbul
- Top tips for your first Turkish bath experience
- 1. Choose a historical hamam
- 2. Choose the right service
- 3. What to bring with you at the hamam
- 4. What you can’t bring with you at the hamam
- 5. Choose the right hamam
- Our experience at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, one of the best Turkish baths in Istanbul
- What happens in a Turkish bath stays in a Turkish bath?
Visiting a Turkish Hammam
Turkish baths, called hammams (Turkish: hamam), became popular in Turkey in the 7th century and are an export of the Roman Empire. They were places of cleanliness, for purifying body and soul. Hammams were also spaces where major life events were celebrated.
Even today, hammams are still gathering places for socializing and relaxing.
Most visitors to Turkey will need to decide if they want to visit a historical hammam or a Turkish bath in the hotel.
Secondly they will have to decide if the they want to opt for self-service or have a traditional style Turkish bath experience, the real experience.
In the traditional Turkish hammam an attendant will wash and massage you. But whatever you opt for, you can stay and use the facility as long as you .
An example of a historic hammam in Istanbul is the Cagaloglu Hamami which is was build with marble in 1741.
The traditional hammam consists of three areas.
- The hot steam room with a large marble stone in the centre where visitors lay down and the attendants scrub then and massage them,
- a warm room for bathing,
- a cool room for resting.
Visitors will be given a towel, bath wrap, a pair of sandals and an abrasive mitt for exfoliating the skin.
First, you need to relax and loosen up in the hot steam room. After about 15 minutes the masseur/attendant enters the room.
The attendant will soak your body with warm water and lather you with a sudsy swab. At the same time you will be receiving a massage. The words ‘no pain – no gain’ will probably come to your mind.
After the washing and the massage, it is time for the scrubbing in one of the basins. The attendant will start scrubbing you which might remind you of being sandpapered.
After that you will receive another soapy wash followed by a rinsing with cold water!
The whole procedure will last about 15 minutes and then it is time to relax and enjoy the feeling of feeling purified and clean.
Some Hammam etiquette
Hammams are segregated; there is no mixing of sexes, There are either two different sections for men and women or the same place admits men and women at different times. Of course, the attendant will be the same sex as you.
Men usually wear nothing under the bath wrap.
Women mostly wear their underwear but no bra under their bath wrap.
You should give a tip to the attendant of about 10-20%.
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The First-Timer’s Guide to Avoiding Embarrassment at a Turkish Bath
I slipped on the saggy black pair of disposable underwear that was given to me at the front desk, and debated whether I should remove my bra. I was in the locker room at a hammam, or a Turkish bath, in Istanbul.
I heard it was normal for women to go topless in these establishments, and despite the fact that this hammam was divided by gender, my Puritan American roots led me to believe I should be modest and keep myself covered.
I slipped on a towel and made my way to the steam room.
As I pushed open the door to the main chamber, the first thing that hit me was the searing wave of heat and humidity that made it hard to catch my breath, but the second was the multitude of flesh.
The massive, circular marble room was teeming with dozens of women in all shapes and sizes, all wearing only the oversized black knickers. Of all the women in the room — at least 40 — I was the sole person wearing a bra.
I originally thought keeping on my bra would help me blend in and be more comfortable, but it was immediately apparent that it did nothing but make me awkwardly stand out.
“I realized that fitting in while traveling abroad sometimes involves stripping down, despite the potential for embarrassment.”
I shamefully slithered back to the locker room and succumbed to Turkish tradition as I shed my black brassiere and my modesty, and I reentered the room full of bare breasts. I relinquished control and let the sweaty, overweight, humming staff woman only wearing a bra and panties scrub my nearly naked body with suds from head to toe.
I let her drag me to a basin in a side room where she rinsed my body and hair with shockingly cold water. After being transitioned to another room a small swimming pool, I moved to the next room and received an incredible oil massage.
By the end of the experience, I realized that fitting in while traveling abroad sometimes involves stripping down, despite the potential for embarrassment.
If you’re headed to a hammam for the first time, but worried about the awkwardness of being nearly naked with strangers, here’s what you need to know.
What Are Hammams?
Hammams are bathhouses primarily found in Turkey and Morocco. They have been a cultural staple for centuries in those countries and are now a popular stop for tourists who want to clean off, detox, and relax after a long day of exploring.
Traditional hammams contain three chambers: a hot room to steam, a warm room to scrub, and a cooler room to relax. Not all hammams have this exact layout, but they all involve a hot marble steam room with a raised circular platforms on which patrons lay to soak in the sweltering heat.
The steam rooms also have small alcoves with basins around the perimeter of the room where you can splash yourself with cold water.
“Traditional hammams contain three chambers: a hot room to steam, a warm room to scrub, and a cooler room to relax. “
In some hammams, such as the one I visited, you get scrubbed down in the stream room rather than it being in a separate chamber. If you’re brave, you can pay to have an attendant scrub you down and rinse you off, or you can opt to do it yourself. Many hammams also offer add-on services, such as massages and waxes, though these aren’t as luxurious as those at spas in the Western world. My massage was in a room with four other tables and four women being massaged at the same time, and the masseuses chatted with each other the whole time.
Some larger hammams are divided by gender, with separate sides for men and women. Others have one bathing facility that is used by women at certain times of the day and by men at other times. A few hammams are coed, but this is not the norm.
A Brief History of Hammams
Hammams are modeled after ancient Roman baths, with domed ceilings, regal columns, and a marble interior. The bathing facilities have been around for centuries, and Istanbul has several operating hammams that date back to the 1500s and 1700s. Hammams are often called “Turkish baths” due to their popularity during the Ottoman Empire.
Muslim men often bathe before their prayers, so hammams originated as a place where men would go to clean themselves before praying. For this reason, some hammams used to be attached to mosques. Muslim women would use hammams as a place to socialize.
Hammams eventually became more of a social and cultural institution than a religious tradition.
The Hammam Process
First, know that not all hammams are built the same or have the same amenities. Do your research to find out what the hammam provides and what you need to provide. Some give you underwear, scrubbers, and soap, while others require you to bring your own.
“Do your research to find out what the hammam provides and what you need to provide.”
When you first enter the hammam, you tell the person working at the front desk what services you would . You can merely pay for entry, or you can pay to be scrubbed by an attendant. You can also pay for additional services, such as an oil massage.
At the hammam I visited in Istanbul, all of the women were given a free pair of black panties. Depending on your services requested, you will usually get tokens to carry with you.
In Morocco, public hammams generally cost between 5 and 10 dirhams (50 cents to a dollar).
You will pay a few more dirham for soap, towels, and any other toiletries if you don’t bring your own. Private hammams, such as those in riads and hotels, can cost up to 200 dirham (around $20 USD). In Istanbul, hammams cost a bit more. While Turkish currency is the lira, most businesses accept euros.
At most Turkish hammams, expect to pay around 25 euro (around $33 USD) for a basic bath, and more 30 or 35 euro for a scrub by an attendant. An oil massage can bring the cost up another 10 or 15 euro.
First, you will be led to the dressing room, where you will have a locker or cubby. After stripping down to the panties, you’ll head to the bathing area with a towel. In some hammams, you will relax in a warm room to acclimate to the heat. In other hammams, you go straight to the hot room, where you will lie on the raised marble platform and sweat.
“If you pay to be scrubbed, an attendant will scrub you from head to toe with soap and water, and then lead you to a small basin and douse you with cold water.”
In the hammam I went to, patrons did a scrub-down in the same hot room. In other hammams, you go back to the warm room for it. If you pay to be scrubbed, an attendant will scrub you from head to toe with soap and water, and then lead you to a small basin and douse you with cold water. If you don’t pay an attendant, you can scrub and rinse yourself.
As mentioned, not all hammams are the same. At the hammam I visited, the first room you entered was the hot room, which is where you were bathed. Then we went into a room with a small lukewarm pool to start to cool off.
If you ordered a massage, you will get that next, often in a separate room. However, note that it’s not a normal spa—you may be in the same room with several other people. Once you’re done with everything, you can change back into your clothes and lounge around. Hammams are very social – you can relax with your friends (or make new ones) as you sip tea.
Men and women generally go topless in hammams, but they do wear underwear. Don’t get completely naked—that is taboo. It’s not required that you go in topless, but if you don’t, know that you will stand out.
It’s also wise to wear dark underwear so it doesn’t become transparent once it’s wet.
“Don’t get completely naked—that is taboo.”
It’s also proper etiquette to tip the attendants who scrub and/or massage you.
Just a few dirham or lira are sufficient.
Tips For Making it an Enjoyable Experience
• Some hammams are geared toward tourists, while others are primarily visited by locals. Some hotels have hammams, but those are more luxurious and less authentic since they are for tourists.
For a more genuine experience, ask your hotel staff, waiter, or another local where they would go.
• Do your research. Some hammams provide cubbies or lockers for free, and some don’t. Some give you free underwear, and others don’t.
Some hammams in Morocco even require that you bring your own buckets.
• The steam room can get extremely hot, so if you’re very sensitive to heat, hammams may not be for you!
• Don’t be shy.
Ladies, you may think you’re saving yourself some embarrassment by keeping a bra on, but it will actually make you stand out.
• If you opt to get scrubbed by an attendant, know that they can be a little rough.
It’s not someone gently bathing you—you really will get a good scrub-down!
• Bring extra undies. If you don’t use the undies they give you, or if the hammam doesn’t provide any, bring a second pair with you. The pair you wear in the hammam will get soaked, so you’ll want some dry ones to wear home.
What To Expect When Visiting a Turkish Bath or Hamam?
Before you can decide whether you hate or love going to a Turkish bath or hamam, you need to experience it at least once. If it’s your first visit to a hamam, entering a Turkish bath can be a daunting experience. By describing my last visit to the Çemberlitaş Hamamı, you will get a nice impression of the Turkish bath process and customs, so you know what to expect.
Inside the Çemberlitaş hamam. © Photo by Çemberlitaş Hamam
Selecting a Hamam and Service
First you need to decide whether you want to visit a historical hamam or a Turkish bath in a hotel. Next, upon entering the establishment, you have to select and pay for the service of your choice. Possible options are:
- Self-Service — you bathe yourself and bring your own soap, shampoo and towel. This is obviously the cheapest option and will cost you around 160 TL. I wouldn’t recommend this for your first visit.
- Traditional Style — pick this one if you want the real Turkish bath experience. An attendant will wash and massage you for about 15 minutes, and you don’t have to bring any of the equipment. This service will set you back for about 255 TL.
- Other Styles — They have several other services such as aromatherapy oil massage, reflexology, Indian head massage, and facial clay mask, too. Please check their website if you are interested in those.
Regardless of the service you choose, you are allowed to use the facilities for as long as you wish. I picked the traditional style service, was handed a carton box containing a new scrubber and led into the camekan — a splendid entrance hall with several stories of wooden cubicles.
Entrance hall. © Çemberlitaş Hamamı
An attendant guided me to a personal dressing cubicle (some just have lockers) on the first floor, and gave me sandals and a peştemal — a colorful checked cloth to be tied around the waist for modesty.
Will I Be Bare Naked?
Yes and no. There is some strict hamam etiquette to be followed. For starters, there is no mixing! Either the Turkish bath has two sections, one for each sex, or it admits men and women at separate times of the day.
Men usually completely strip down and wear nothing underneath the bath-wrap. Make sure you remain clothed with the bath wrap at all times — flashing is frowned upon. Women on the other hand mostly keep on wearing their underwear ( but often not their bra) underneath the bath-wrap. The choice is yours.
So I undressed, donned the peştemal and slipped into the sandals. Afterwards I locked the door, took the key together with the scrubber and went back downstairs where my masseur led me through the soğukluk (the cooling down room) into the hararet (the hot room).
This concluded the 15 minute service. The masseur left the hot room, but you can stay and relax some more if you want to. I decided to stay a bit longer before moving to the cold or intermediate room. This room also houses the showers and toilets, which were spotlessly clean. I was handed a new, dry bath-wrap and a towel before heading for the showers.
Afterwards, I went back to my cubicle. Some visitors decide to relax a bit on the bed first, order a drink or even take a nap. In case of the latter, tell the attendant when he should wake you up. But since I had been in there for over an hour by then, I got dressed and tipped/thanked my masseur on the way back down. I felt great and extremely clean.
Some More Tips
- Hamams are open from as early as 6 a.m. till somewhere around midnight
- The masseur and scrubber will be of the same sex as you are
- Standard soap is used. If you have sensitive skin or are allergic to some products, bring your own soap
- You need to wash your private parts yourself
- You’ll get drenched, so women may want to get rid of their make-up first. Also, don’t forget to bring the necessary toiletries.
- Women may want to bring dry underwear along too
- There is no way you can avoid tipping the attendant(s), so make sure you have some cash money on you. You normally tip 10 to 20% of the total amount
- If you care about your (new) tan, maybe visit a hamam at the beginning of your city trip or holiday
For an overview of my favorite hamams (I prefer the authentic ones over the hotel versions) as well as a bit of extra advice, check out some extra things you didn’t know about Turkish hamams.
Further Recommended Reading
How to Recreate the Luxury of a Turkish Hammam At Home
From sauna to thermal spring, my dream self-care scenario will forever involve warmth and water. Naturally, an opportunity to experience an authentic Turkish hammam bath had me at hello.
After an overnight flight nestled in business class on the award-winning Turkish Airlines, visiting Kiliç Ali Paşa Hamami was my top priority in Istanbul.
And it was everything.
Found along a bustling thoroughfare populated by luxury hotels, including the Çirağan Palace Kempinski, the renovated 16th century structure soothed all my senses on contact. White oak and hand-carved stone adorn the spacious reception/lounge area, which is accentuated by a towering dome.
After changing into my towel-centric ensemble, I’m lead by an attendant into the hot marble room. It is much more beautiful and intimate than I anticipated.
The temp is inviting, ranging from 30 to 40°C, while daylight streams in through the airy domed ceiling.
In the middle awaits a low hexagon slab where patrons lie for 10 minutes to acclimatize and relax before taking residence at an individual washing station.
This is where the action happens. My attendant splashes me with endless buckets of water, soaps most of my nooks and crannies, scrubs me from tip to toe with a coarse woolen mitt and shampoos my hair.
(Exfoliation actually has some amazing health benefits, beyond soft skin.
) My job is to lean this way, or stand that way — and summon every ounce of body confidence while wearing only disposable undies in a room full of strangers.
It’s not exactly relaxing, but that’s precisely the point. The historic purpose of the hammam was for the public to get clean — function not flash.
“Some people expect a very harsh service, if they see the videos, or some expect something a spa. Hammam is not either of those things, so the experience becomes unique.
Not necessarily better or worse, but it’s different,” says owner Ergin Iren.
The köpük, a.k.a. bubble soap wash, makes darn sure of that. Delightfully enveloped by a mountain of froth, I marvelled at my attendant’s skilled swinging technique with a fabric case and soapy water to whip up and dispense the most lather I had ever seen.
Oh, and did I mention I emerged with the smoothest, softest skin of my life!? The next-level exfoliation is the ultimate epidermal workout.
And, surprisingly, a key player is a convenience store staple with a 150-year-long heritage. “It’s the most unimportant soap of the century. It’s not precious, but very Turkish,” says Iren.
(Find 9 more reasons Turkey is the perfect self-care vacay.)
The €1 price tag translated into the ultimate beauty-lover’s souvenir, and I departed with a hefty supply to relive my hammam experience at home ’til next time. (Be sure to include this desert country on your travel bucket list.)
Interested in recreating the experience of a traditional Turkish Hammam at home? These essentials can help:
Mellow Bath + Body Lunar Coconut Body Scrub, $24 at etsy.ca
Blended with organic coconut flakes and shea butter, this scrub softens while smoothing.
Wildcraft Luxe Body Oil Camellia and Clary Sage, $34 at wildcraftcare.ca
Organic moisturizers sink in quickly and impart a warm scent for the ultimate skin treat.
A post shared by Wildcraft (@wildcraftcare) on Dec 3, 2017 at 10:48am PST
Anto Yukon Carcross Desert soap, $10 each at antoyukon.com
Handmade in the Yukon Territory, all kinds of lovely oils (think: coconut, olive and other essentials) will upgrade your soap game.
A post shared by ANTO YUKON (@antoyukon) on Jul 4, 2018 at 8:41pm PDT
Stray & Wander Harbour towel, $45 at strayandwander.com
Wrap yourself in something pretty and special — these towels are highly absorbent and super soft.
Leaves of Trees Angora Goat Hair Exfoliating Mitt – Light, $25 at leavesoftrees.com
Made of the same material as the Turkish version, but gentle for sensitive skin.
Kérastase Aura Botanica Bain Micellaire Riche, $45
Sulfate-, silicone- and paraben-free, this blend of Amazonian Brazil nut and Thai rice bran oils nourishes dry tresses.
Next, check out the top 20 happiest countries in the world.
Turkish Hamam 101: Everything You Need to Know About the Luxurious Ritual Bath
Everything you need to know but are too shy to ask.
The Turkish hamam (ḥammām in Arabic) is an ancient ritual. It traditionally takes place in a centuries-old building with a beautiful domed ceiling, often with stars cut it. The daylight filters through the steam, making the experience even more magical.
What takes place there, is a combination of Roman, Byzantine, and Central Asian baths. The Turkish style includes the exfoliation typical of hamams in northern Africa, but differs in a few ways, most noticeably in a massage with a pile of whipped cream- soapy bubbles.
You’ll wish you were allowed to bring your camera in to snap a few photos. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a mental picture. As with most ancient rituals, the Turkish bath has etiquette to be aware of. And whenever taking your clothes off in public is involved, you want to make sure you know the rules. Here’s everything you need to know to try a Turkish hamam with confidence.
Depending on the size of the Turkish city you’re in, you might have several hamams to choose from. In larger cities Istanbul, you’ll find hamams that cater mostly to tourists and hamams that cater almost exclusively to local residents, and hamams that are somewhere in between. There are even hamams that are technically full-service (expensive) spas that include a hamam component.
Your experience at each hamam will vary. At hamams catering to locals, trying to communicate with Turkish-speaking staff may be awkward but they’ll ly have the best quality scrubs and massages and your experience will be more memorable.
Hamams that cater to tourists will be more used to communicating with tourists who don’t speak Turkish. But, as with all services aimed at unwitting tourists who are unly to return, prices will be high and the service will be mediocre.
At the spa-type hamams, you’ll pay the most, and your service will be somewhat westernized though quite good.
Your best bet? Seek advice from your hotel, or look for the middle ground: a smaller, one-hamam town that receives some tourist traffic.
Your options range from self-service to full-service including massage, or you can pick something in between. Spas catering to westerners will ly have a menu to choose from, usually with a range of massage options.
Unless you have the luxury of going regularly to a hamam and know what you’re doing, opt for the full-service traditional style. It includes warming up in a hot room, a very thorough scrub and soaping, and an optional massage where you’ll be stretched and bent a pretzel.
If you choose the self-service option, you’re just buying access to the facilities. You’ll be expected to wash yourself and will you’ll usually need to bring all your own supplies including soap, bowl, towel, and scrub mitt.
The first thing you’ll do is choose your service and pay when you enter. If you choose the full-service option, you’ll be given some supplies either at the reception desk or in the dressing room. Some may be provided inside the hamam itself. You’ll always get a pair of sandals and a large piece of thin fabric, usually checkered. You’ll wear this fabric; it’s called a peștemal.
Other supplies include a metal bowl and a scrubbing cloth or mitt, called a keșe. In many places, the scrub mitt is yours to take home afterward. The dressing room will have a place to put your belongings, usually with a lock (but perhaps not in a hamam for local residents).
Large hamams have a men’s section and a women’s section. Smaller hamams have certain times of the day that are only for men and other times only for women. In almost all circumstance, the staff inside the hamam are the same gender as their clients.
A male masseur is called a tellak and a female masseur is called a natir. They are very strong and get a workout doing their job. They get almost as wet as their clients and dress to accommodate.
Traditionally, male masseurs wear just the peștemal. Female masseurs might just wear a pair of underwear.
More modern or westernized hamams may have staff in a uniform of some kind, perhaps a tank top and shorts covered by a peștemal.
Some hamams, especially in smaller cities which receive tourist traffic, also have a time for couples to attend together. This experience has another set of etiquette rules, described below, and the masseur is ly to be male. Large hamams that are mixed-sex all day and you wear a bathing suit inside are available, but they are just for tourists.
The most pressing etiquette question is how much clothing to take off. The rules are different for men and women (and stricter for men than for women).
Men: Remove all your clothes, including underwear. Wrap the peștemal around your waist, tucking in the end as you would a towel. Do not remove it until after your hamam is over.
Women: Remove your clothes, including your bra. Removing underwear is optional, the trend fluctuates over the years and by location. Most women wear their underwear or a bikini bottom (if you do, don’t forget to bring an extra pair to keep dry and wear home), some women will go commando.
If you choose differently than the majority of others in your hamam, you will feel either prudish or wanton. Only other tourists will notice and judge you. Spas and higher end hamams might give you a pair of disposable underwear to wear; hamams catering exclusively to tourists might lend you a bikini top too.
Whether you keep your underwear on or not, wrap your torso in the peștemal.
Except when doing a couples hamam (see below), know that there will be many other bathers near you throughout most, if not all, of the hamam ritual. Hamams are a social place.
Feel free to have a shower if you wish. You’ll want to wash any sunscreen and makeup off your face before you start sweating. After you leave the changing area, you’ll be directed to a warm area to relax and then into a hot area. You’re expected to stay at least 20 minutes and to work up a good sweat.
Throughout the hamam, whenever there’s a water source near you (usually continually running water into a font on the wall), you can fill your bowl and splash yourself to cool down whenever you wish.
Your masseur will tell you where to go next. The majority of your remaining time will be spent on a central raised, heated marble platform. This platform is called a gӧbektași; there’s traditionally a heating source underneath it.
Lie down on the gӧbektași. Men keep their peștemal around their waist. Women will ly be directed to take off the peștemal, spread it on the gӧbektași and lie down on it. Using a copper bowl, the masseur will start pouring warm water over you. You’ll begin to relax and any uncertainties will wash away with the water. Don’t forget to look up to admire the ceiling.
Next is the gommage, or exfoliation. Using the abrasive keșe, the masseur will, essentially, sandpaper your body. Many people find the exfoliation just shy of painful. You’ll be exfoliated pretty much everywhere including between your toes and fingers. Your privates and the top of your head will be spared.
As she or he works, the masseur will proudly show you how much dead skin is coming off of you. You will first be shocked, assuming this grey sludge is dirt. Then you’ll be shocked realizing it is your dead skin.
As the ritual progresses, don’t be surprised to receive a couple slaps on the bottom, presumably to help get the blood flowing.
Next comes the wash. The soaping technique is one of the key ways a Turkish hamam is different than other traditional bathing rituals.
The masseur will dip what is essentially a pillowcase into a bucket of soapy water. Then they’ll fill the pillowcase with air. While holding this pillowcase balloon over you, the masseur will squeeze out all the air, and deposit a whipped cream froth of bubbles all over your body.
The masseur will then vigorously wash you with these olive oil soap suds, giving you a massage at the same time. Expect the masseur to wash your hair and massage your head. It’s fine to say no or to bring your own shampoo. If you want to add conditioner you’ll have to do it yourself later.
Finally, you’ll be rinsed with bowls of hot and warm water and, if you’re not getting a massage, icy cold water. You’ll ly be given a warning before any water is splashed directly in your face.
The massage is optional, but if you’re here to experience a Turkish hamam, wouldn’t you want the works? A Turkish massage is vigorous.
It involves Swedish- deep pressure as well as some Thai- stretching and bending of your limbs. It’s not a relaxing massage, but you will feel great when it’s done.
Some hamams also offer a variety of oil massages too, traditionally done using a warmed rose oil.
Depending on the type of massage, you may get another brief soaping and a rinse afterward, again with hot and warm water. There will be splashes of icy cold to finish you off; sometimes you’ll be asked if it’s ok first.
If the town has only one hamam, a time is often set aside for couples, separate from women-only and men-only times. During these times, opposite-sex couples, usually tourists, can experience the hamam together. You will ly have your gommage, wash and massage in a smaller room without the audience of other bathers as described above.
The masseur will usually be male and he will take great pains to preserve the modesty of his female clients.
In fact, he will usually seek permission of the man before touching his female companion (modern manners may mean he seeks permission from the woman herself too, but he may consider it rude to ask her).
The masseur may not ask just once, but every time he’s ready to move to a new body part.
Under no circumstance should a woman remove her peștemal if the masseur is male. During a couple’s hamam, a woman will receive less scrubbing and a less dramatic massage than in a women-only facility. The back and belly won’t be scrubbed since the peștemal needs to be kept in place for modesty.
After the masseur has finished, the formal part of your hamam experience is done. The masseur will direct you to another part of the hamam where you can rest the way of other bathers. You can stay as long as you want.
When you’re ready, there’s usually a cooler room to sit in for a while, or you may go directly to the showers. Many hamams have a dry area with lounging beds to relax in, where tea or juice may be brought to you. Many people take a nap; request a wake-up time if you .
Your masseur may appear looking for a tip. Expect to tip 10% to 20%. It’s wise to have cash ready; staff will make it clear to you when to hand it over. In some hamams, you can leave a tip at the reception desk when you leave.
Don’t plan on doing anything after your hamam other than stumbling back to your hotel and re-hydrating. You will be woozy and exhausted. Your glowing newborn baby skin and the blissed-out look on your face will make it apparent to everyone where you’ve just been. This is not the time to negotiate for a carpet.
What happens in a Turkish bath? Top tips for first-timers
During our travels, we always do our best not to miss out on unique experiences. In a strange way, while travelling, we are also more open to trying things that we wouldn’t easily try back home. I wouldn’t know how to explain this but it’s the truth. So, although there are very good hamams in Athens, we never thought of visiting one.
However, making reservations for a traditional Turkish bath was among the very first things we did in view of our recent trip to Istanbul. But what happens in a Turkish bath anyway? We are assuming that many of you are sceptical about the idea of being bathed in public. We know we were.
This is why we decided to write a useful guide with everything you need to know so as to enjoy your first Turkish hamam as much as we did.
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Istanbul is one of the best destinations to indulge in a Turkish bath experience.
What is a Turkish bath?
Hamams are a vital element of the Islamic culture in general. Throughout the centuries, far from being simply the place where bodies were cleansed, public baths functioned as extremely important social hubs as well. Nowadays, hamams are revived and offer their guests the unique experience of an authentic ritual which withstands the test of time.
Istanbul is dotted with domed buildings which house centuries-old hamams.
Turkish baths in Istanbul
Hamams in Istanbul are intertwined with the very essence of the Ottoman Empire. They are also quite spectacular in terms of architecture. We can loosely divide them into two categories.
There are the small, rather plain, ones that everyday people used to frequent in the past. On the other hand, there are the glorious ones which formed part of large mosque complexes and were commissioned by sultans and other officials.
Many of Istanbul’s impressive baths were designed by the Ottoman Empire’s chief architect Mimar Sinan.
Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque and Hamam
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Top tips for your first Turkish bath experience
Since this would be our first time in a hamam, we researched a lot before actually visiting one. We now combine all of this knowledge with the feelings the actual experience evoked in us so as to present you with a comprehensive guide on how to make the most of your own Turkish hammam experience.
We are assuming that you are not yet entirely sure whether you want to partake in a public bath semi-naked or not. At least, this is how we felt.
This is why we have included all the information we deem necessary for you to feel comfortable and enjoy a unique and authentic experience that you will cherish for life.
The cosy reception area at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami.
1. Choose a historical hamam
In Istanbul, probably elsewhere too, there are two kinds of Turkish baths. First of all, there are the ones which are housed in centuries-old domed buildings which were built for this purpose. On the other hand, there are modern hamams inside luxury hotels and spas.
They both offer pretty much the same services. That said, you should definitely indulge in a historical hamam experience.
There is nothing wrong with modern spas and baths but it would be a huge shame to miss the opportunity to experience a centuries-old ritual right in the place where this whole public bathing culture was actually born.
The magnificent dome as seen from inside the hamam.
©Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
2. Choose the right service
Services offered vary from hamam to hamam. However, there are basically two types of Turkish bath. First of all, there is the self-bathing option. As its name suggests, you literally bathe yourself which means that you have to bring your own soap, towel etc.
This is obviously the cheapest way to go but keep in mind that this option is not available in every Turkish bath house. Secondly, there is the traditional Turkish bath service which is actually the real experience you should be after.
In essence, you are given a relaxing bath by an attendant. We’ll get into more detail later on. Last but not least, you can complement either Turkish bath experience with other services such as body massages or face masks. We went for the second option and we loved it.
Taking a Turkish bath in the traditional way is a fantastic experience.
Beautiful details. ©Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
3. What to bring with you at the hamam
During the Turkish bath, you will only be wearing your underwear so it’s a good idea to bring an extra pair along.
Good hamams offer disposable underwear but bringing our own bikinis made us feel super comfortable. Also, keep in mind that you will have an actual bath.
Therefore, you should bring along everything you will certainly need afterwards (for example, make-up, deodorant, hair products you can’t live without etc).
The make-up area at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami is complete with hairdryers and various beauty products.
4. What you can’t bring with you at the hamam
Before you enter the private hamam area, you will be asked to leave all your personal stuff in a locker. You cannot bring mobile phones, cameras etc inside the actual Turkish bath area. So, if you’re dreaming of a bubbly selfie, forget it. It’s not going to happen.
Lockers at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami.
5. Choose the right hamam
We saved the most important tip for last so that it sticks. It is of vital importance to choose the right hamam so that your first Turkish bath experience is more of a dream than a nightmare.
First of all, if the idea of being semi-naked among strangers sounds even slightly awkward to you, make sure you choose a hamam that has completely separate hours for men and women.
It will be a lot less uncomfortable if you know for a fact that there is no chance of you stumbling upon the opposite sex during the time you will spend at the hamam.
At the entrance of Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami you can see posted the separate opening hours for men and women.
Furthermore, when choosing a hamam, you should focus on cleanliness and comfort. In Istanbul, there are many top-rated hamams which are sometimes accused of having a sterilised feeling.
There are people who claim that you should choose one of the somehow shabbier, thus more authentic, hamams in the city. In our humble opinion, this would be a huge mistake for newbies.
Go for a top-rated one, even if that means that it will set you back a few extra TL/euros/dollars. It will be worth every penny, trust us.
A typical Istanbul Turkish bath at Balat neighbourhood.
Our experience at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, one of the best Turkish baths in Istanbul
This would be the first time in a Turkish bath for both of us. Therefore, we made sure we chose one of the best hamams in Istanbul. Not to mention an insanely clean one. We decided to try the Hamam Ritual (45€, worth every single penny) at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami and, honestly, we couldn’t have made a better choice.
Mimar Sinan himself designed Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami and its construction took place between 1578 and 1583. It is an impressive domed building and it has been restored in an amazing way. Now, before I go on, I have to admit that, having read various articles about what to do in a Turkish bath and all, we felt quite awkward and uncomfortable.
However, as soon as we stepped inside Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, the girls-only staff made us feel incredibly at home.
One of Istanbul’s oldest hamams.
As soon as we sat in the lounge area, we were offered a cold refreshment and each of us was given a pair of quality flip flops and a pestamal. The latter is the special towel used in Turkish baths and a true symbol of the Ottoman hamam culture. Then, we reluctantly went to the changing rooms. Why reluctantly? Because we still didn’t know if we’d this whole public bathing thing or not.
To be 100% frank, I didn’t think I would go through with all of this. Confession alert: I have major privacy, personal space and touching with strangers issues. Therefore, although I did want to live this experience, in the back of my head I pictured myself running a crazy lady the hamam covered in a cloud of bubbles. Yet, to my astonishment and absolute bliss, the exact opposite happened.
The wonderful lounge area at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami.
So, with nothing but our swimsuits on and the pestamals wrapped around our bodies, we stepped inside the abaton. First we were led in a small marble area where a lady poured water all over us. From top to bottom.
Drenched and dripping we then entered the spectacular main hall of the hamam and we lay down on the heated marble surface dominating the room. Did I mention that I also hate the heat? Well, I do. However, I can’t even begin to describe how good all this felt. In fact, both Katerina and I had never ever felt our bodies so relaxed before.
Ever. The experience would have been amazing even if it ended right there and then. But, no, the best was yet to come.
Entering the private hamam area. ©Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
After 15′ or so, each of us was led by her attendant to one of several marble basins surrounding the central heated surface. We were literally led by them as we were in a superb sleepy mode by then. I was asked to take my bikini top off (Katerina wasn’t). However, I was already too relaxed and happy to even care.
Then it was time for the actual bath ritual. I can’t even try to put it into words. Far from making us feel uncomfortable or weird, this was the most relaxing, the most purifying experience we have ever had. Moreover, it was a trip back to our childhood.
We closed our eyes and felt as though we were 5 years old again and given a bath by our mothers.
The impressive heated marble surface inside the hamam. ©Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it. Having a look around the room made me realise that Katerina and all the other ladies were also in that state of sweet trance I was in.
Detached from the outer world, with all our material belongings left outside the door and far one from the other (we noticed that, ourselves, all ladies were separated from their friends instead of being led to neighbouring basins), this traditional bath ritual felt an actual rebirth of body, soul and mind.
As if all this wasn’t good enough, at some point my attendant started singing in a calm and beautiful voice which reminded me of my grandmother’s lullabies. Had I just died and gone to heaven or what?
The marble basins where the actual bath takes place. ©Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
When our bodies were clean, our souls soothed and our minds carefree as a baby’s, we were wrapped in fresh towels and led to the lounge area to relax on the comfortable sofas for as long as we wanted.
In a previous communication I had with the hamam, I had mentioned that it was Katerina’s birthday on that day.
So, as soon as we sat on the sofa, Katerina was greeted with a small but super cute birthday surprise which involved Turkish tea, mouthwatering almond cookies and birthday candles. What more could the party girl ask for?
I swear there were cookies but they didn’t make it to the photo shoot. We devoured them!
When it was time to leave, our feet felt incredibly light. It was as though we hadn’t walked all those kilometres the previous days. This is why, as a final tip, we would advise you to plan your hamam pampering towards the end of your trip so as to get all the rest you will definitely need by then.
A very happy and relaxed birthday girl!
What happens in a Turkish bath stays in a Turkish bath?
Before writing this post we faced the huge dilemma as to whether we should describe our Istanbul Turkish bath experience in such detail or not. You see, we didn’t want to spoil the magic for you. Because this is exactly what it is. Pure magic.
In essence, you are left into the caring hands of a total stranger who gives you the best bath of your life. However, we know how awkward this may sound.
This is why we finally decided to go ahead and give you as much information as possible so that you don’t let your (understandable) inhibitions get in the way of an unmissable experience.
IMPORTANT: In case of pregnancy or any health problems, please consult your doctor prior to visiting a Turkish bath.
You will most probably be hungry after such a relaxing experience.
Check out our guide to the best Turkish food in Istanbul here!
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Disclosure: 1. We were guests at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami but, as always, we express nothing but our honest opinion about the experience we had.
In fact, the Hamam Ritual service at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami was one of the best experiences we have ever lived and one that we can’t recommend enough. 2. Taking photos inside the private hamam areas is strictly forbidden.
Therefore, wherever you see ©Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı at the caption, it means that those images are owned by the hamam and we were kindly given permission to use them in this article.