Tip: If you want to go to one of the popular ones, be sure to book ahead! We tried to book the morning of our desired visit (looking for a time around 7pm), but they were all booked up. The hotel sent us to another bath – it wasn’t as nice, but the price reflected that so at least we saved some money!
First of all, a few logistics. Men and women are in separate areas – at some of the baths, the times for women and men are actually different, so be sure to check on this before you plan! For example, there was one that had men in the morning and evening, and women in the afternoon. This wouldn’t have worked for us because we planned to go at the same time. Women = naked (you don’t HAVE to be, but it’s normal) and men = naked with a towel kept around them at all times. At least this is what we experienced at ours.
The bath we went to is called Cagaloglu Hamami. It was open to both men and women from 8am – 10pm, and we were told by our hotel that we didn’t need reservations (it wasn’t very busy when we were there – around 6:30pm). They offer a range of services, starting from self-service at €30 (you could also pay in TL or USD, but they did only accept cash – so we had to run to the ATM) all the way to the €110 “Sultan service” – full body scrubbing, a 15-minute dry massage, then a 15-minute foam massage (with two attendants!). Ryan and I both chose something in between – the “exfoliating service,” which was €45 or 135 TL. More about what that included later!
After paying, we went our separate ways. I was brought to a large changing room (pictured on the left – picture from the website), with separate locking rooms around the edges. Each of the small rooms had a bed/cot, which I used to keep my clothes and purse. We were provided with the key to our room, a towel, and wooden shoes. I stripped down and brought only my hair tie and key with me (with my towel wrapped around and wooden shoes on!) and walked into the large marble bath room.
Upon entering, I was a bit disappointed. There were two women wearing bathing suits, with 3 kids (maybe about 6-8 age range). The kids were running around, splashing water, and being loud (or just being kids). It was a bit frustrating because it was supposed to be a relaxing experience, but maybe that’s what you get when you don’t pay as much! Luckily they didn’t stick around the whole time.
My attendant, Arzeau, told me to lay on the slab, which I did. I put my towel down first and laid face up on top if it, and just tried to relax as best as I could. Another woman came in a few minutes after me and did the same – laid down, waiting for her attendant to come back. I stared at the domed ceiling, which had holes through it shaped like circles and stars, letting sunlight stream through. The room was warm and somewhat steamy, but not as much as I expected.
About 15-20 minutes later, Arzeau came back in with a few bowls full of water and started dumping them onto my body. I was still laying face up as she started to scrub me down. She started at my face and worked her way down. I was ready for it to hurt, since I had heard that the attendants are generally pretty rough with the scrubbing, but I was never uncomfortable. Once she was done with the front, Arzeau instructed me to turn around and she scrubbed my back all the way down to the backs of my feet. The last section to scrub was done while sitting up – my armpits, arms, and sides of my torso.
Once she was done scrubbing, Arzeau led me over to one of the sinks that surrounded the walls of the room. She quickly rinsed me off, put my towel on the ground, and had me sit on it while she went to get the shampoo. She came back and dumped water all over me until I was soaked, and then lathered up my hair with the shampoo, continuing down to the rest of my upper body. Once that was done, I stood up, was rinsed off once more, and she was done!
The entire service took maybe about 15-20 minutes, but as I mentioned above, there were other, more extensive services that were available for purchase. The length of mine was just about right (for me). I was allowed to stay in the bath area, so I went back to the marble slab to relax for another 15 or so minutes, not wanting to take too long because I figured Ryan would be waiting for me.
When I exited, I found myself in a room with dry towels, so I grabbed one and dried off before heading back to my locker room (I kept the towel with me, since I would have been naked – which is okay since it was still females only at this point). There were also hair dryers available, but since my hair doesn’t cooperate well without some type of conditioner, I opted to leave it wet. Arzeau came by and handed me a plastic bag with the scrubber she had used on me (a souvenir!) and I thanked her and tipped her 30TL – she was a good attendant and was not pushy at all about being tipped, which I’ve heard can happen.
What an experience! I met Ryan at the outdoor cafe where he had already finished his coffee or tea, and had been waiting for me for 30 minutes. His experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable as mine, and he was just ready to get a drink.
Would I recommend a turkish bath? Yes, I think if you have the time, it’s a fun and different experience, assuming you are not too uncomfortable to be naked in front of strangers. If we were to do it again, I would have made reservations and gone to a more upscale one, but the one we went to was fine and there were no real issues. The bath was a nice break from a hot day of site seeing and, while it didn’t leave me without wanting a real shower later on, it did leave me feeling refreshed for the evening.