If you’ve never been to a hammam (Turkish Bath House) then the idea of being washed by a stranger while naked can be daunting.
So, to save your blushes, here’s a girl’s guide to scrubbing up Turkish style.
A trip to the Turkish bath is a delight and a chance to leave shame at the door. Hammams are traditionally separated by sex, so you’ll generally be in an all-female environment – especially in the larger (tourist friendly) bath-houses in Istanbul.
In smaller establishments, you might have male attendants doing your wash, but there will be women on hand if this makes you really uncomfortable.
Step 1: Decide on Your Service
There are usually a few options to choose from at a Turkish bath house. Typically, the attendants at reception will speak English or will present to you a menu in English. In larger places you’ll be given a token corresponding to the treatment you’ve chosen and shown into a changing room with lockers for your things.
Step 2: Change Your Clothes
In female-only hammams, almost everyone will be naked. If you’re not comfortable with this, keep your bikini bottoms. But don’t be surprised if the women attending to you help themselves in taking it off for you.
Remember that nudity here is nothing to be ashamed of. When everyone around you is naked, you realize the sexualization of the female body is an American thing.
Don’t worry if you’re feeling fat, or if you had too much salt the night before. This is not the place for body shame. You’ll see little old ladies in the nude giving absolutely zero cares in the world — follow their lead!
After checking in you’ll be given a thin cloth, like an oversized gingham tea-towel to wrap up in – wear this and grab some flip flops; there’s nothing more slippery than wet marble!
Step 3: The Treatment
Inside the hammam there’ll be a main hot chamber with a marble göbektaşı (belly stone) slab in the middle for your treatment. Seats and sinks will be all around the outside of the slab, used for washing off and chilling out.
Depending on the size, there may also be a couple of pools for a swim or a float. When you first go in, grab a space on the göbektaşı and lie back and relax – you’ll be left to work up a sweat for 15-20mins before an attendant grabs you.
Once an attendant has you in hand, they’ll start off by sluicing you off with cool water and using a mitt to rub off the dirt, sweat, dead skin from your pores. This will finish with another sluicing and a breather to relax a bit more.
Then come the bubbles. These aren’t the mystic perfumes of the east I’m afraid; chances are your bubbles will come from a bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo.
Lying flat on the slab again, your attendant will blow up a pillowcase full of foam, douse you with it and give your limbs a massage each in turn.
Beware that these ladies are seriously strong – consider learning “softer” in Turkish if you really don’t like a firm massage, or “ouch” is fairly universal too!
After a final sluice, unless you paid the extra for an oil massage, you’re free to relax as long as you like.
Most tourists head straight for the changing rooms at this point, but it’s a gloriously decadent and indulgent feeling if you linger – warm up again and sluice yourself off until your limbs feel like over cooked noodles.
Step 4: Time for tea
Every Turkish bath will end your experience differently. But the nicest way I’ve found, is sipping on a glass of traditional Turkish tea wrapped up in your towel before you put your clothes back on again.
Many places will sell traditional towels, loofahs and bathing products if you want to take the experience home with you too.
Our Favorite Turkish Bath Houses in Istanbul
Cağaloğlu Hamamı: By far the most spectacular of Istanbul’s hammams; its steam rooms are lavishly arched and domed, and decorated with tulip tiles.
Çemberlitaş Hamamı: Built by the famous architect Sinan in 1584, this is a classic hamam experience.