I heart hammams. I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy having some unknown person bathe me. I woulda been wrong. Read on for my best insights, tips, and luxuries.
First thing first. If you are uncomfortable with public nudity, hammams aren’t for you. You might not be completely naked but this is a bath and you wouldn’t take a bath with clothes on at home. Some hammams provide disposable underwear to wear during the services, or you could wear bikini bottoms, if you prefer.
Second thing second. If you are uncomfortable being touched, hammams aren’t for you. Again this is a bath, with scrubbing.
Third, if you have sensitive skin, hammams might not be for you. The products used may irritate your skin.
Fourth, your attendant will be wearing a peshtemal (a long thin, handmade cotton towel) and underwear.
Fifth, it’s not polite to stare or to talk loudly.
Sixth, like spas, phones aren’t allowed.
Seventh, if you have any injuries or open wounds, delay your hammam until they have healed.
If you’re still interested, a hammam is a public bathing ritual in the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, Southwest, and Central Asian regions. At it’s most basic you can scrub yourself while in a warm marble room. At it’s most luxurious, multiple attendants will bathe you, wash your hair, massage you, and more. Some hammams in Istanbul (like those pictured here) have been in use for hundreds of years.
The range of services varies, as does the price!
The Basic Hammam
Most hammams are separated into women’s and men’s sections. (But not all of them!) At the entrance, you will be given a special scrubbing mitt, a kese, a peshtemal, and a copper bowl to rinse with, then directed to the appropriate section. In hammams with single sex areas your attendant or attendants will be the same sex as you identify. The changing room will have lockers for your clothes or small locking private changing cabins. In smaller hammams without separate areas, the hours may be different for men and women.
The cold room of a hammam is a lounging area, commonly ringed by multiple levels of wooden galleries of semi-private lounging rooms, private treatment rooms surrounding a fountain. From there you will be directed to the hot room to relax and sweat. If you are bathing yourself, you can stay as long as you want or move on to the hot hammam room.
Typically made of plaster with a high domed ceiling with a large, warm 4, 6, or 8 sided heated marble “naval stone” (gobektasi in Turkish). You or your attendant will spread out your peshtemal on the marble and douse your body with warm water from a nearby basin. Then with long, firm strokes, the kese will scrub layers of dead skin cells off your body. After the whole body scrubbing is done you may be covered in strips of dead skins. Then you rinse.
Your visit could end there. Or it could just be the beginning.
I’m still not sure how this magic works. There’s a bucket of soapy water and a pillow case and suddenly you’re covered in bubbles. The attendant will wash/massage you the soapy bubbles. Another rinse and now you are clean!
It may or may not be included. A conditioner also may or may not be included. TIP: If you have sensitive hair, or use special products, you may want to skip this step!
Typically the kese scrub, foam wash, and then a 30-60-90 min oil massage are the luxury service! Often sauna and steam rooms are available before the scrub and a private changing room. Then lounging afterward in a common area around a fountain with tea, sherbet, turkish delight, fresh or dried fruits, mixed nuts, and bottled water. You can chat with your companions, relax, read, or wait for your massage or next service.
It may be called something else, depending on the hammam. Other add-ons could be mud packs, salt packs, face masks, 4 handed (2 attendant) services, manicure, pedicure, waxing, shaving (men), and a packet of goodies to take home.
My preference is dry sauna, steam room, kese scrub, foam massage, 90 min massage, snacks, and lounge for a bit. Repeat the next day!
- Don’t wear makeup or jewelry
- Bring your own comb or brush!
- Consider showering after your massage, you will be covered in oil including in your hair
- Drink lots of water
Recommended Istanbul Hammams
- Hurrem Sultan Hammam -historic luxury
- Cağaloğlu Hammam -historic, famous people watching, luxury
- Çemberlitaş Hammam -historic + budget friendly