Visiting a hammam for the first time can be a daunting experience. So, let us advise you through the expectations, along with how to choose the type of hammam you’ll visit, and which services to buy.
Remember to also browse through our hammam tips, so you can take full advantage of everything your hammam has to offer.
Historical vs Modern
While you could visit a Turkish bath provided by your hotel for its guests, it will never compare to an authentic experience of a historical hammam. These bathhouses of Istanbul are the same ones from the stories of Constantinople.
So many rulers and emperors have bathed here, so why not feel the roots that are firmly embedded in the hammam’s past. The deeper you relax in clouds of soap, the closer you become to feeling like you’re living in a history that has long past.
Once you’ve made your choice of a modern or historical hammam you must then choose which services you wish to experience.
This is the authentic version with all the traditional elements included. You will receive a very soapy Turkish bath and a massage from your hammam attendant who will then rinse you off and pamper you in products.
The typical cost for this service is 250 TL.
This a cheaper option for those who go often and who just want the bathhouse ambiance while they bathe. Generally, you pay an entrance fee of 150 TL and the rest is up to you.
This is a do-it-yourself party, where you bring your own soap, bathing gel, shampoo, towel, etc. and the washing experience is fully in your hands.
Besides gaining entrance to a dated a Turkish bath, this option will most likely leave you wanting and is not recommended for first-time bathers.
You can also opt for additional services like facial masks or experience other relaxation techniques like aromatherapy oil massages or Indian head massages.
The available options and their pricing will vary from hammam to hammam, but there will always be something extra to tempt you into deeper states of relaxation.
Once you pay the service fee, you’ll get access to all facilities of the Turkish bath and you can remain there for as long as you like.
When selecting a traditional style bathing procedure, you will receive a new scrubber, just for you. Then an attendant will take you to the camekan, which is the Turkish term for a big oriental-style hall divided with wooden dressing spaces.
Here, you will receive sandals to wear while walking through the hammam, and a Turkish style cloth, called a pestemal that will cover your most private parts.
It might seem obvious, but you should know that if you’re going to a bathhouse, you can’t really bathe properly if you keep all of your clothes on. That being said, you don’t have to get fully naked nor be semi-naked in front of anyone but your hammam attendant if you don’t want to.
All the hammams of Istanbul follow very strict rules so everybody can feel at ease. One of the main rules is that sexes do not mix while bathing. Even the massage attendants will always the same sex as you.
Depending on the facility you are attending, you could find two separate rooms, one for men and another one for women. Or, if they do not have enough space, the Turkish bath will only admit either men or only women during certain intervals of the day.
Then, there’s the pestemal rule that requires you to keep your groin cloth on at all times. Whether you choose to wear your underwear or a bikini underneath it or not is entirely up to you.
First, you get undressed and put on your sandals and pestemal. Each wardrobe cubicle comes with a locker, so you only take a key and your scrubber with you into the bath.
The Hot Room
A masseur will then guide you towards the hot room, called a hararet, and then leave you alone for 15 minutes. It’s purpose is to get you to relax, loosening up all of your tight spots through steam induced sweat.
The hararet is usually a beautiful traditional Turkish architectural space, made of decorated marble. All through your bath you will lay or sit on a central platform placed over the heating source, call a gobektasi.
There are water basins all around, and a big dome above. The beauty of this space is intended to further help you relax and detach from the outer world.
Next, the masseur comes in and soaks you with warm water and soap while they massage your slippery body on the gobektasi.
Though relaxing, the Turkish massage is not a gentle one and you will feel deep pressure on your whole body throughout.
For the next step, you and your attendant will shift over to the water basins where your entire body is deeply scrubbed.
Even if you shower and moisturize daily, you cannot escape this step without leaving a trail of evidence behind. When all is said and done, you’ll be amazed at how much smoother your skin has become.
Rinse and Repeat
The next step is to be soaped up, washed again, and finally rinsed with cold water which takes another 15 minutes.
This contrasting shift from hot to cold can be a little shocking at first, but as long as you this know in advance, you can prepare for it.
Cool Down Room
Now that you’re all by yourself again, you can choose to remain in the hararet for some extra heat or to go to the cool-down room next door.
Also known as the sogukluk, the cool room is intended to help you lower your body temperature down before going out to the outside world.
You can also opt for going back and forth between the hararet and sogukluk several times, which is said to be a great method for increasing immune system strength.
Cleanliness is Godliness
At the end of all procedures, the personnel will provide you with a new covering cloth and a towel to take a shower, which along with the toilet is also located in the cool room.
To Nap or Not to Nap
Next, you can order something to drink, relax some more or opt for a nap on one of the hammam beds. If you notify the attendants, they’ll even wake you up at your desired time.
When you’re done for the day, it’s time to change back into your street clothes in the camekan.
As you leave, now feeling super clean, a confident smile might appear on your face along with a steady determination to take on the world!
To enjoy yourself more fully, be sure to follow hammam etiquette and to take advantage of all the wonderful features of the bathhouse you are visiting.
Tan on Schedule
Sweating, scrubbing, and washing and will remove several layers off your skin. If you’re looking to rock a Turkish tan then it’s best to hit the hammam before the beach, rather than have the attendant scrub your bronze away.
Since you’ll also be missing a little skin protection after your scrub down, be extra vigilant with sunscreen afterward.
All Day Service
Hammams usually start their programs around 6 am and don’t close until around midnight. So, stay as long as you like to get your money’s worth.
Hammams generally just use regular soap, so if you want another variety, such as your favorite fragranced soap, you’ll have to bring it in with you.
Cashing Out Tips
Attendants are generally tipped 10-20% of the procedure costs, so be sure to bring enough cash with you to cover gratuities (i.e. 25-50 TL).
If you plan on keeping underwear on under your pestemal, be sure to pack an extra pair as they will be soaking wet after your bath.
If you were expecting a happy ending of another kind, think again. While your attendant will wash your body, the cleansing of your most intimate parts is entirely up to you.
Makeup Your Mind
If you’re wearing makeup of any kind, it’s best to wash it all off before entering the hot room; the steam alone will make it run all over the place.