Have you ever wondered what it’s like to step into a traditional Turkish hammam? Well, it’s time to find out! From the ancient marble floors to the steam-filled hot rooms, a visit to a hammam is a journey through centuries of Ottoman period culture mixed with modern relaxation techniques.
In this traditional Turkish bath guide, I’ll walk you through the whole process, from the changing room to the deep cleansing sudsy massage in the treatment room. Think of it as a spa day with a cultural twist, where high temperatures and hot steam meet honey masks and essential oils.
Whether you’re a first-timer feeling a bit nervous or a seasoned spa-goer looking for a unique experience, I’ll make sure you know what to expect, right down to the Turkish lira you’ll need for those extra special treatments.
So, let’s dive into the world of hammam rituals, where mental relaxation and muscle soothing are just the beginning of your Turkish spa experience.
Not only will you leave feeling cleaner than you’ve probably felt since birth, but it’s also a relaxing experience. Of course, you’re also experiencing Turkish culture and traditions that date back centuries.
Before you have your first Turkish bath experience, there are a few things you’ll want to know. Not only to avoid embarrassing yourself but also to prevent upsetting anyone!
Skip Ahead To My Advice Here!
What Is A Hammam?
Hammams exist all over Türkiye, and in Istanbul alone, there are 237 in place, with 60 still used daily.
Hammam is the Arabic spelling of the word, but in Turkish, it is actually ‘hamam.’ You’ll see Hammam referred to in different ways and spellings, but they’re all identical. You’ll also hear ‘Turkish bath’ used commonly in tourist resorts, but they refer to the same experience.
A Hammam is a steam bath, but the Turkish version has a few added extras, i.e., it’s far more thorough and leaves you squeaky clean.
The History Of Hammams
In the day, hammams were built very close to mosques or within mosque complexes as a cleansing ritual before prayer. As a Muslim, washing and purifying the body before praying is extremely important, especially before going into a house of worship.
When taking a hammam, you are clean and go through the sauna, which means you sweat out any toxins and impurities, leaving you as clean as possible. Not only are you physically clean, but spiritually clean, too.
During the Ottoman Empire, hammams were also considered a social activity. If you think about the ruins of Roman cities we find these days; there are usually remnants of public baths – this is roughly the same kind of thing. Istanbul was formerly under Roman rule, and the Ottomans carried on this tradition and tweaked it to fit in with local life.
Traditionally, hammams were places to discuss events and even gossip. Hammams were (and many still are) separated for men and times for women, which gave women a chance to get out of the house and gossip with their friends. This could even be considered a great time to find potential marriage matches for their sons.
These days, hammams are much less formal; however, in Istanbul and other large cities, you’ll find that they tend to resemble those from back in the day. Most large coastal and Istanbul hotels and tourist resorts have more modern versions of hammams, with extras offered, such as pedicures, fish pedicures, and Swedish massages.
Different Types Of Hammam
It’s important to know that there are different types of hammams.
The hammam you’ll experience in the Turkish hotels differs from the traditional Turkish baths you’ll find in cities, especially those in Istanbul.
If you’re new to the hammam experience and you’re feeling a little nervous, perhaps try a hammam spa in a hotel first, though you should know that these Turkish spa experiences are not the same as you’ll find in the traditional hammam!
Each hammam service varies slightly. For first-time visitors to a Turkish hammam, be sure to select a service that includes scrubbing and bubble washing. You can also opt for an additional oil massage.
Brands We Use And Trust
What To Wear In A Hammam
You will be given a wrap to wear, known as a peştemal. What you wear underneath the wrap is up to you. Most tourists keep their bikinis or swim shorts on.
What Do Men Wear To Hamman
The traditional way is for men to wear the wrap around their waist and remove their underwear.
What Do Women Wear To Hamman
However, women should keep their underwear on, although it is acceptable to remove your bra, as the wrap covers you at all times.
For either sex, be sure that you do not accidentally flash! This is not a good thing to do in a traditional Turkish hammam and will be highly frowned upon!
What Shoes To Wear To Hamman
You’ll be given slippers to wear, so there is no need to bring your shoes to wear inside.
Where To Have A Turkish Hammam
You will find Turkish Hammams in all major towns and cities. It’s a regular thing that locals often do, but if you head to a touristic resort, you’ll notice that these are all present in large hotels, usually those with spa facilities.
If you want the authentic experience, you’re much better off asking someone where the local hammam is. You may find it’s men only; however, large cities and resorts tend to do mixed hammams nowadays.
If you’re in Istanbul, you’ll find some very old and extremely popular hammams. Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Bath, Suleymaniye, Cağaloğlu hamamı, and Cemberlitas are some of the most historic hammams in the city, and they’re often quite busy. However, you will get a more authentic experience. Galatasaray Hammam is straightforward to find, just off Istiklal Street in Taksim, and accepts mixed groups of men and women.
If you find that your only option is to go to a large hotel hammam, you’ll no doubt hear it called a ‘Turkish Bath.’ Do some research and ask which is the best, as some aren’t of the highest quality. These tend to also put the hard sell on you and get you to buy extras, such as manicures and pedicures, fish pedicures, extra massages, and other treatments. Of course, if that is what you want, go for it, but if you’re just after the authentic experience, it’s going to be a little annoying.
Booking A Hammam
You should book in advance. To be sure not to miss out, some places offer separate times for men and women to come.
Turkish Hammam Options In Istanbul
- Hurrem Sultan Hammam
- Suleymaniye Hammam
- Kilic Ali Pasa Hammam
- Tarihi Çeşme Hammam
What Happens In A Turkish Hammam
Let’s concentrate on the traditional experience here, as most hotel versions follow the same pattern, although they are a little more laid back.
No Mixed-Sex Coupling
You will be separated if you’re a mixed-sex couple; no mixing of sexes is allowed in a traditional Turkish hammam.
The person performing your hammam will also be of the same sex as you.
You’ll be given your wrap and slippers when you arrive and shown where you can change. You leave your clothes in a locker and keep the key around your wrist on an elasticated bracelet or pinned to your wrap.
From there, you’ll be taken to the sauna area, which is sometimes on the same floor as the hammam itself and sometimes downstairs.
This is the hard part for many – you have to sit and literally sweat all the impurities and toxins out of your body for around 15 minutes.
It’s hot, hot, hot!
This is referred to as the ‘hararet,’ and this part of the hammam is iconic. You would have seen it in many magazines and websites promoting the best hammams.
Some hammams allow sexes to mix in the sauna area, and some don’t; this depends again on where you go. Once you’ve sweated all those impurities out, you’ll be taken into the hammam itself.
Next, you’ll be asked to lay on a marble slab on your back. This is called the gobektasi. You’ll be left there for a few minutes, and your attendant will enter the hammam room.
You’re first soaked with warm water, and many soap suds come your way. While these suds are coming at you left, right, and center, you’re massaged with what can only be described as a huge loofah known as a – kese – this mitten will scrub off the dead cells of your skin (though it may feel like a layer of skin comes off too!).
Time To Get Clean
This loofah will eliminate all the dead skin cells and impurities that the sauna released, and you’ll be asked to move around the slab as it’s happening from your back onto your stomach.
Does A Turkish Hamman Hurt
It’s meant to be that way because you can’t become as clean as you’re supposed to without a bit of scrubbing! Once the cleansing is over, you’ll be rinsed with cold water, and yes, it is cold! It’s not pain, but it’s sometimes a little uncomfortable.
This is part of the process and not torture they’re inflicting on you; it’s designed to eliminate all the cells that have been scrubbed away and improve circulation.
You’ll feel as smooth and fresh as a daisy afterward, so remind yourself of that when the cold drench comes your way!
Time To Relax
Once the rinse is over, you’ll be taken to a cooldown area where you sit and relax. This is the best part; you will feel like you’re floating on air. There are usually toilets and showers here, too, so you can have your own rinse-off if you please.
If you choose to go down the route of a hotel hammam, it’s at this point where you’ll typically receive an oil massage and be offered many other services (pedicures, fish spa, etc.). Be warned, they will try and give you the hard sell, so if you really don’t want them, be firm and say “no thank you.”
Chill Out Time
Once your cleaning experience is over, you’ll be able to linger a little and enjoy the ambiance. If you go to a traditional hammam, you’ll find that all locals do this, and it’s actually really enjoyable. If you look up, you’ll probably see a large glass dome on the ceiling, which allows light to stream through. This is the traditional architecture of a hammam, and it does a lot for the R&R part of the process!
Regulate Your Temperature
As you leave the hammam cleaning area, you can sit in cooler temperatures and enjoy a drink. You may be offered cay (tea) or perhaps juice. The idea here is that your whole body allows itself to heal and brings your temperature back to normal before you head back outside.
If you’re visiting during the hottest summer months, cooling down before you go back outside is important so you don’t end up feeling dizzy as you try to navigate your way back to your hotel!
It’s normal to tip your hammam attendants before you leave. You’ll find a tip box strategically placed and go whatever you want. However, 10% of the cost is considered normal.
Hammam Tips To Remember
So tell us, will you try a hammam on your Turkey travel!?