Getting Naked With Strangers; Useful Tips For Your Istanbul Hammam (2023)

Istanbul Hammam

This is the post we wish we could have read before our Istanbul hammam experience! I mean, getting bathed by another person while half-naked is slightly terrifying. And not knowing what to expect while laying on a hot piece of marble surrounded by other half naked people – even more terrifying!

We waited until we arrived in Istanbul at the end of three months slow traveling in Turkey to enjoy this ancient Ottoman custom. What better place to experience a traditional Turkish bath than the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, right? It seemed like the perfect excuse to postpone this unfamiliar, and somewhat intimidating, Turkish tradition until the very last minute.

This post shares everything related to our unforgettable experience at an Istanbul hammam. We learned that it’s different for men and women (at least it was in our case). We’ll let you know what to expect during your Turkish bath, a bit of history about the tradition, and where to find the best hammam for you! You’ll find out why you need to add this ritual to the top of your Istanbul itinerary!

Ready to get lathered up and scrubbed down at a luxurious hammam in Istanbul? Let’s go!

WOTW note: needless to say, photos & videos are not allowed in the sauna area. There are a lot of naked people laying around Hammam baths. Sorry in advance for all the stock photos in this post!

*Note: this post was updated in June 2023.

Estimated reading time: 27 minutes

Ready To Learn More About The Istanbul Hammam Experience?

What to expect from istanbul hammam

What Is A Turkish Bath Or Hammam?

A Turkish bath and hammam are essentially different names for the same thing. The hammam is a public bathhouse commonly found throughout the Muslim world. A Turkish bath is simply the local version of this traditional bathing practice, with the use of a dry sauna being the main difference.

Turkish hammams are not only cleansing. Traditionally, they are a place for socializing and tranquility as well. Logically, the body is thoroughly washed during the hammam treatment. But the relaxing experience is also meant to clean the spirit. During their time at the spa, Turks seek ‘keyif,’ which roughly translates to ‘the joy of doing nothing.’

The traditional full-body scrub is still a part of today’s Turkish culture. Locals gossip, catch up on the latest events, or find their zen away from everyday distractions while getting cleansed together.

What To Expect From A Turkish Bath In Istanbul?

Okay, so you’re ready for the elegant and luxurious experience of hammams in Istanbul. Time to pamper yourself like an Ottoman sultan or sultana!

We’ll guide you through the process, but we won’t spoil the experience for you by sharing every little detail. We are only writing about the essential things that we would have wanted to know before our Istanbul hammam.

Keep in mind, that the experience is slightly different for men and women. We list those main differences whenever it applies.

Visiting Istanbul soon? Read these posts next:

The Process Of Our Hammam Bath In Istanbul

Before The Turkish Bath:

It’s finally time for your hammam bath appointment! You enter a grand foyer with little tables and a marble fountain surrounded by a plush seating area reserved for those who just shed a layer of skin.

Then, a fragrant cup of tea arrives at your table. The soothing fountain starts putting you into full relaxation mode. Or, if you are like us and have no clue what’s happening, you will self-consciously look around trying to figure out what you are supposed to be doing or not doing. But at least no one around you is naked! (YET!)

An attendant eventually comes over to explain the next steps. You receive shoe covers, rubber slippers, and a Turkish towel (peştemal). Next, you are directed to the changing room with your new gear. Time to change into your fancy hammam outfit – aka, just the peştemal! Everything else goes into your personal locker.

It’s now time for your Turkish bath to begin!

WOTW Tip: women can bring the bottom part of a bathing suit to change. But you will also be given a tiny set of disposable underwear. I felt slightly exposed with this thing. I would bring the bottom part of my bikini next time.

During The Turkish Bath:

Image Source: CANVA

Not a lot of conversation happens on the way to the sauna. Mostly because English is not widely spoken. So you are grabbed by the hand directed through the process, which unfolds like this:

Stage 1: Just Relax:
  • You are led to a room just outside the sauna and seated next to a water-filled marble sink. The attendant (‘natir’ for women and ‘tellak’ for men) grabs a big ladle and douses you from head to toe. This pre-soak alternates between hot and cold water.
  • Once acceptably rinsed, it’s finally time to hit the sauna. Your assistant leads you into the main room and invites you to lay on the massive marble table known as a ‘göbektaşi.’ This room is stunning, so do your best to ignore all the half-naked people around you, and soak it all in. (just look up and admire the beautiful dome above you!)
Image Source: CANVA
  • Lay down and relax as the warm marble loosens your muscles and softens your skin. This is about the moment where you start wondering… WTF is happening around me? (in a good way!) The fact that you are surrounded by strangers who are being washed, really starts to sink in at this point! Don’t worry about not knowing what’s going on. Just go with the flow and for God’s sake, keep looking up!
  • After about 15 minutes, your hammam attendant comes, grabs your hand and leads you to the marble sinks surrounding the göbektaşi. Now it’s your turn to get washed!
Stage 2: The Rebirth:
  • Time for the scrubbing to commence! In both of our experiences, the attendant put on the exfoliating glove and looked at us like, ‘you have no idea what I am about to do to you.’
  • Sheets of dead skin and dirt are scrubbed from your body and face! All you can do is stare wide-eyed in shame at all the filth leaving your body.
  • We wouldn’t describe this phase as painful, but it also isn’t the most delicate part of the process. If you are like me, you will find it surprisingly satisfying. I felt cleaner by the second! You are literally (figuratively) a new person after this part of the experience!
Stage 3: A Soapy Finale:
  • After the deep scrubbing, comes a crazy ritual of complete soapy immersion. Clouds of soapy suds are whipped over you using a cloth until you are covered in soap from head to toe.
  • Your expert hammam attendant dips the cloth in a bucket of soapy water and then whips the fabric through the air to inflate it like a bubbly pillow. The suds are filtered through this bubbly pillow over every inch of your body.
  • This act defies conventional logic. I couldn’t help watching what was happening even though a waterfall of soap was pouring over my face.
  • Once you are entirely covered in soap, the washing by hand begins. Everything from your head (and hair) to your feet is washed. The only part left alone is your private area. How your private area is covered varies for men and women (more on that below).
  • A brief massage is also part of the cleaning process.
  • There are multiple moments during the Turkish bath where you feel like ‘wtf is going on.’ The key is enjoying the uniqueness of the experience.
Stage 3: Quick Side Note

For men: the towel never leaves the waist area.

For women: the towel opens up. At this stage you are only wearing the tiny set of disposable underwear you were provided with (the bottom part). In other words, you are half naked.

WOTW Tip: As mentioned, women and men are never allowed in the spa area at the same time. And your attendant will always be a member of the same sex.

Stage 4: The Resolution

  • Congratulations, you are a new person!
  • Once the deep cleaning is finished, you head to an adjacent room where you are dried off and given a fresh peştemal.
  • You are taken back into the initial waiting area where you can sit, relax, and order a cup of unique tea off the menu (I went for the mint tea).
  • Time to reflect on what you just experienced and seek your moment of ‘keyif – the pleasure of doing nothing.
  • Personally, all I could think of was…did I love or hate this? After going back and forth in my head, I decided it was such a unique cultural experience that I would do it again a million times!

WOTW Tip #1: note that hammam services are not offered to pregnant women. Also, because of faith-based hygiene principles, women on their period are requested not to partake.

WOTW Tip #2: not interested in being scrubbed while semi-naked in front of strangers? Check out this private hammam experience!

Save This Istanbul Turkish Bath Post For Later!

Ultimate Guide To Turkish Baths In Istanbul

Our Istanbul Hammam Experience

  • Cost: 1350 Lira per person ($57 US at the time of update – excludes tip).
  • Hours: 8 am – 4:00 pm for women, 4:30 pm – 11:30 pm for men.
  • Time Needed: 60 – 90 minutes
  • WOTW Rating: 5/5

We received several recommendations when asking around for the best Turkish bath in Istanbul. We ultimately decided to take the plunge at Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami. This beautiful bathhouse was located a stone’s throw from our apartment in one of Istanbul’s coolest neighborhoods.

We only visited Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami during our time in Istanbul. This particular ‘hamami’ is considered luxury compared with others throughout the city. While the bathing ritual is likely similar at every Istanbul hammam, the decadent space and aura of splendor are unlikely to be replicated at less historic, and more affordable places.

We recapped our crazy hammam experience on our vlog! Check it out to get our unfiltered thoughts about the entire experience.

Is It Possible To Experience All Of This As A Couple?

The hammam is not meant for couples to enjoy in the same space. But, thanks to the power of the dollar, you can now visit some bathhouses with members of the opposite sex.

Experiencing a Turkish bath as a couple is not traditional. In fact, hammam purists consider mixed-gender bathing incredibly taboo. Especially if the bathhouse is part of a mosque complex. But if going as a couple makes you feel more comfortable taking part in this ancient custom, then why not opt for a couples hammam.

The following places offer mixed-gender spa services:

Best Places To Experience A Traditional Turkish Bath?

There are so many hammams in Istanbul to choose from, and picking the best one can be a little bit overwhelming. They can range dramatically in terms of quality, beauty, and price.

For the sake of this list, we’ll focus on the most luxurious and historical hammams in Istanbul. After all, it’s totally worth a bit of a splurge if you’re on vacation. It is what we did. I’m sure the experience would be a lot different if you visited a less historic hammam.

WOTW Tip #1: we include links to reservation pages in the ‘Best Istanbul Hammams’ section below.

WOTW Tip #2: you can book at select hammam spas through Viator or Airbnb. The booking process this way is slightly easier, and the prices are similar, but you don’t get to select the hammam of your choice. Note that this 5-star Airbnb experience includes a guide who takes you for kebabs and baklava after your treatment. Not bad!

Map Of Best Hammam Baths In Istanbul

Ayasofia Hurrem Saltan Hamami

The Ayasofia (Hagia Sofia) Hamami is the most luxurious spot in town. This hammam was designed and built by Mimar Sinan (remember him?) for Hürrem Sultan Roxelana, the wife of Suleyman the Magnificent. Roxelana was initially a slave to an Ottoman sultan. But she made her way up the ranks of the harem to become the sultan’s wife and one of the most influential women in Ottoman history.

The Ayasofia Hurrem Saltan Hamami was one of the few hammams commissioned by a woman. The men’s and women’s sections are the exact same size and just as impressive. And while this bathhouse is a little more pricey than other options on the list, you can expect a diving treatment worthy of the sultana Roxelana herself.

Cagaloglu Hamam

Located in Istanbul’s historic Fatih district, Cagaloglu Hamam is a 300-year-old bathhouse known as the last hammam built during the Ottoman period. It was built to generate revenue for the library of the nearby Hagia Sophia. Like other places on this list, Cagloglu Hamam does not miss when it comes to ornate and luxurious detail.

Several different spa and massage services are offered here. Some of them cost all the way up to 300 Euros!

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı is one of the finest hammam experiences across the bridge from old Istanbul. As you’ll find with every place on this list, the architecture is stunning. You will definitely feel like Ottoman royalty as you watch the beams of sunlight cutting through the openings in the dome ceiling.

Kılıç Ali Paşa was a famous Ottoman general of the 16th century. Fun fact: his nickname was ‘the sword.’ This hammam is another shinning example of the talented Mimar Sinan.

WOTW Tip: friendly reminder, this is where we went for our Istanbul hammam experience. We thought it was great and it’s somewhat more affordable than the luxury options in Istanbul’s old city.

Aga Hamami

Aga Hamami was the first Turkish bath constructed in Istanbul, opening its doors all the way back in 1454! It was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottoman sultan who conquered Istanbul (Constantinople) from the Byzantine Empire.

Çatma Mescit Hamami

When it comes to pure luxury, Çatma Mescit is right up there with the Ayasofia Hamami. Services are private, and there is a range of different spa and massage options to upgrade your traditional Turkish bath experience.

Once again, the chief Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan was responsible for constructing this opulent hammam. If luxury is what you are looking for, then Çatma Mescit might be for you!

Çemberlitas Hamami

Constructed in 1584, Çemberlitas Hamami is recognized as Turkey’s longest continuously running business. How’s that for a fun fact!? And as you can probably guess, Mimar Sinan was also responsible for this beautiful space smack in the middle of Istanbul’s old city.

Çemberlitas Hamami is on this list due to its historical relevance. However, reviews about the service here are hit or miss. Make sure to do your research before visiting this place!

Useful Istanbul Hammam Tips

How To Book Your Istanbul Hammam Bath Experience?

Make a reservation if you plan to visit one of the most famous Istanbul hammams. Don’t try to play it cool and just waltz in expecting to get immediate service! Many of the best Turkish baths in Istanbul require an appointment.

Keep in mind that you will also encounter many touts luring you into their bathhouse while walking through the streets of old Istanbul. These places are unlikely to provide the elegant luxury of the more famous Istanbul hammams.

What Not To Do Before Your Turkish Bath Experience

  • Do not visit after indulging heavily in Istanbul’s best foods! There is a lot of intense scrubbing, deep massaging, and general man-handling that goes on inside the steam room. This would be highly uncomfortable if you just went to town on Turkish kebabs.
  • For the love of everything holy, do not visit a Turkish bath if you are sunburned. You will have the absolute worst time. I cringe even thinking about what this would be like.
  • Keep the volume of your conversation low if you are visiting the hammam with a companion. The experience is meant to be calm and relaxing, and you don’t want to ruin things for others.
  • Don’t ever get completely naked. Full nudity is offensive in the shared spaces!
  • The experience doesn’t end when you leave the sauna! Stick around and enjoy the sense of ‘keyif’ while lounging on the plush couches.

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How To Stay Comfortable During Your Istanbul Hammam Bath Experience

The number one piece of advice we can give you, is to relax and give in to the experience. Everyone is there for exactly the same reason.

Also, everyone in the hammam is very friendly and professional. Feel free to speak up if anything makes you uncomfortable. Unless your Turkish is great you might not have the most fluid conversation, but you will be able to make yourself understood.

What To Wear To Your Istanbul Hammam?

As mentioned above, I would have been more comfortable wearing a bikini bottom in the sauna than the disposable underwear provided.

But besides for that, it actually doesn’t really matter what you wear. Just consider dressing in something comfortable that is easy to get in and out of. The locker spaces are quite large, so don’t worry about storage.

How Much To Tip After Your Istanbul Hammam?

It is customary to tip about 15% of the total cost of the service to the natir or tellak who bathed you. If there were different people in charge of the bathing and massage, then you would divide the 15% between them.

We received an envelope for tipping our respective attendants while checking out of the hammam. This happens after you have changed back into your clothes. Don’t worry about smuggling cash into the spa area.

What Is The History Of The Tradition?

Istanbul Hammem Interior
Image source: Canva

The history of the Turkish bath dates back to when Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, was the capital of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire. If you remember your high school history lessons about ancient civilizations, you’ll recall that bathing was an important aspect of Roman society.

After the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, they decided that this bathing thing was pretty cool. But of course, the Ottomans added their own unique twists to the practice. Turkish baths were often built as part of a mosque complex, where people could cleanse their bodies and minds before entering a place of worship. And definitely don’t think that the Ottomans continued the Roman way, and had men AND women bathing together!

In the 21st century, going to a Turkish Bath can feel almost like an outdated tradition. I mean, do we really need another person to douse us in soapy suds, scrub us down and even wash our hair? After visiting a hammam bath in Istanbul, the answer is yes. Yes, we do!

What Are The Benefits Of Turkish Baths?

The most obvious benefit of the Turkish bath is the full-body exfoliation. Using the trusty exfoliating glove known as a ‘kese,’ your attendant will remove layers of dead skin and dirt from (almost) your entire body. You will leave with skin softer than the day you were born!

The hammam spa experience also includes a brief massage, so you will also have the knots in your back worked on by your friendly attendant. The massage increases blood circulation and reduces all the tension you have built up while exploring Turkey. It’s all about self-care, people!

With the right attitude, your Turkish bath can be a very relaxing experience. Let your mind rest while lying on the smooth marble and transport yourself to a different era of decadent Ottoman luxury.

Final Thoughts On this Bucket-List Experience

So, if we could rewind our Turkish bath experience, would we do it all over again? You bet we would! After we overcame the initial apprehension, uncertainty, and nakedness, getting washed by another person was surprisingly great. It was without a doubt one of the most unforgettable experiences we had while visiting Turkey!

If you give yourself to the moment, you’ll find the unique experience of visiting a hammam in Istanbul is surprisingly relaxing and definitely memorable. Enjoy traveling back in time to participate in this traditional practice that has been part of the local culture for hundreds of years! Plus, you’ll get the added bonus of having an epic story to tell your friends back home.

I wish I was lying on a 500-year-old piece of marble right now.

Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂



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