Combining relaxation and a memorable cultural experience, a trip to the hamam adds insight to traveler’s impressions of Türkiye’s most vibrant city. Here are some of the best Turkish steam baths Istanbul has to offer, and what to expect.
While today we might consider a trip to the hamam a luxurious retreat from the hustle of daily life, the Turkish hamam originated as a public bathhouse to ensure everyday cleanliness for the population. Introduced to the Ottoman Empire around the 15th century, the hamam quickly became an intrinsic part of Turkish culture. Several hamams were commissioned and supervised by celebrated Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who was the mastermind behind structures like the beautiful and intricate Süleymaniye Mosque. Featuring domed ceilings, often decorated with star-shaped vents and carved or inlaid marble interiors, hamams are classic examples of Turkish architecture uniting form and function.
In Türkiye, hamams are often separated by gender, with separate changing rooms and treatment areas to preserve modesty. The treatment packages differ, but the traditional offering begins with a hot steam on a raised marble platform called a gobektasi. Here, you can gaze up at the domed ceiling while the gentle heat works to open your pores, increase circulation, and relax the muscles. Afterwards, guests are treated to a full-body exfoliation. Using a kese, or exfoliating mit, your attendant (a tellak for men, or a natir for women) will scrub the entire body. This deep exfoliation will leave skin feeling incredibly soft, but this is just the beginning. Next comes a layer of foam, as the therapist thoroughly cleans your limbs (some hamams include shampoo treatment) before leading you to alcoves where you will be rinsed, and sometimes treated to a surprising blast of cold water to close the pores. Indulge in a revitalizing treatment at one of Istanul’s historic hamams to unwind while connecting with Turkish culture: here are five of the city’s most authentic experiences.
One of the oldest hamams in Istanbul, Çemberlitaş Hamamı was completed in 1584. Designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the Ottoman’s most celebrated architects, the hamam was commissioned by the wife of Sultan Selim II. Today, Çemberlitaş Hamamı is one of the most famous hamams in the city and a favorite for travelers, thanks to its central location near major attractions like the Grand Bazaar, Ayasofya, and the Blue Mosque. Late opening hours make it easy to end the day with a relaxing treatment regardless of your agenda.
Mollafenari, Vezirhan Cd. No:8, 34440 Fatih
Çukurcuma Hamamı has served Istanbullus since 1831, offering an ideal experience for newcomers discovering hamam for the first time, particularly those traveling with friends or partners of the opposite sex. With only five guests served at a time, this is one of Istanbul’s more intimate, exclusive steam bath experiences. The black and white marble design lends a chic ambiance to the traditional hamam experience, but what truly sets Çukurcuma Hamamı apart is its rare co-ed policy. Now surrounded by art galleries and antique shops, this hamam can offer a refreshing end to an afternoon of exploration.
Firuzağa, Çukur Cuma Cd. NO : 43, 34425 Beyoğlu
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam
Commissioned by renowned admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa to serve the Ottoman navy in 1583, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam offers an extremely authentic hamam experience as well as a deep connection to Istanbul’s history. While Kılıç Ali Paşa may be a new name for many, classic literature fans may know him as Uchali in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Architecturally, the main domed ceiling is one of the largest examples of this feature of the city’s hamams, and recent restoration has returned the complex to its former glory. Be sure to check their website for opening hours, as the hamam separates gender by offering different service hours for men and women rather than separating treatment areas.
Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Hamam Sk. No:1, 34425 Beyoğlu
Ağa Hamamı is one of the oldest hamams in Istanbul, dating back to 1454. At this time, Beyoğlu was unsettled, and the structure was conceived as part of a hunting lodge for Mehmet the Conqueror and his sons. Following large-scale renovations in 1844 and 1986, Ağa Hamamı combines old-world elegance with contemporary functionality. Similar to Çukurcuma Hamamı, the steam room is co-ed, allowing mixed gender groups to participate together. Ağa Hamamı is also one of the more affordable options of the prominent historical hamams, without cutting corners on cleanliness or service.
Kuloğlu, Turnacıbaşı Cd. No:48, 34433 Beyoğlu
Zeyrek Çinili Hamam
Both an art museum and a hamam, Zeyrek Çinili Hamam offers a robust afternoon of activities, nourishing you inside and out. Following a 13-year renovation, the building proudly displays its 500-year history in a resplendent space that welcomes contemporary comfort while honoring tradition. The name references the blue and white Izmir tiles (çinili means ’tile’ in Turkish) that provided lavish interior decoration up until the 19th century, fragments of which were rediscovered during the renovations, and are now on display alongside other items of archeological significance, at the hamam’s museum.
Zeyrek, İtfaiye Cd. No:44, 34083 Fatih