Going to a hamam (aka a Turkish bath) can incite a lot of apprehension in a lot of travelers: it’s not clear exactly what’s going to happen to you, there’s often a language barrier, you’re generally going to be naked, and the stories range from very positive to very negative about the experience. Or at least this is how I felt when my friends and I decided that we had to check out a hamam while in Istanbul.
Our Airbnb host suggested the Galatasaray Hammam, as did a Turkish friend of one of my traveling partners. But looking up the place on Trip Advisor did not inspire confidence, and I can’t really remember ever seeing such negative reviews of an activity. So while Turkish people recommended this hamam, nearly all of the tourists thought that they were essentially abused. Did not sound promising.
While walking around our apartment, however, we passed by a place called Nur Hamami several times. It’s a non-descript hamam off of a side street of Istikal, and about the only thing on the internet we could find about it was an old blog post. But the blog post and the few comments seemed positive, and it was super close to where we were staying, so we figured, why not try it out.
Nur Hamami is quite small, and there didn’t appear to be separate facilities for men and women, which was surprising, as most everything I had read said that hamams were sex-segregated because you’re often naked in them. Or maybe they just thought that we wouldn’t care about using the same facilities since we came as a group.
When we stopped by, we happened to interrupt the dinner of the two men working there, but they didn’t seem to mind and were incredibly friendly to us. They spoke enough English to make it clear what we had to do, and they gave us pestemals (a stretch of fabric to wrap around your body) and led us to small changing rooms to put them on. After donning the pestemals, we were led into the bath area, which was not particularly large and was rather plain. This definitely seemed to be a working man’s hamam and not some ornate bath built centuries ago.
The center of the room was a large, hot marble stone. We were motioned to lie down on the marble slab at first, but then we were sent to hang out in the sauna. We received water to keep us hydrated, and after a bit of time in the sauna, I felt that I had sweat enough and went back into the main room and lay down on the marble stone. Soon after, a man came in to give me my scrub, wash, and massage.
I was a little apprehensive about the treatments since I had heard that all parts could be a little bit painful and traumatizing. Stories like being scrubbed so hard that it hurt, being doused in boiling hot water or ice cold water, being bruised and beaten up from massages, or essentially being sexually molested by smelly and unsightly men (or women). But I have to say that the whole experience was quite enjoyable.
The man, who had also changed into a pestemal like my friends and me, put on a scrubby glove and gave me a head-to-toe scrubbing, avoiding my face and genitals. I was on my back first (with the pestemal unwrapped but still covering my private parts), then on my front, and then sitting up. At the end of scrubbing, while still sitting up, I was doused with a giant bucket of water. I didn’t notice that much dead skin coming off, but one of my friends said it was remarkable how much dead skin came off of her body.
After the scrubbing came the washing with massage. The man had a bag that he blew into that somehow produced massive amounts of bubbles that he sprayed on me. After covering me with bubbles, he did a quick massage of my body parts, along with a little bit of moving my arms around and applying pressure to crack various areas of my body. Again, I was first on my back, then on my front, and then sat up for the end. While sitting up, I also got a good hair scrubbing, and then got doused with another giant bucket of water. I was then told to head back into the sauna for a bit.
I think part of the reason why we were sent to the sauna multiple times was to in effect create a sex-segregated experience. So my two female friends mostly hung out in the sauna while I got my scrub and wash and massage, while I was sent back into the sauna afterward while the next person received their treatment (note: this meant that a male was scrubbing and washing females; something to keep in mind if you’re female).
I sweat some more in the sauna, but then went back into the main room and used a side basin to rinse off the sweat. I headed back out into the non-bath area where the other man helped me put on a new pestemal (as my old one was soaked in water) and wrapped me in towels. I hung out watching Turkish television for a while before I went back into my room to change into my clothes. Since there was only one man doing the scrubbing and washing and I got to go first, I had a fair amount of time after changing to just sit in the reception area, drink Turkish tea, and watch Turkish TV. My friends and I ended up spending quite a while watching a Turkish game show with the two men working at the hamam, which was an awesome experience in and of itself.
Overall, I am incredibly glad that we found Nur Hamami. Although it wasn’t fancy, it was enjoyable and relaxing, and we definitely avoided any sort of tourist trap Turkish bath. An added bonus of it not being too fancy was that the whole experience was quite affordable, costing 35 Turkish lira (not including tip) per person for the hamam, scrub, and massage, which was considerably less than other hamams that we had looked at. The experience for one person probably took around an hour: 20 minutes to sweat and relax in the beginning; 15 minutes of scrubbing, washing, and massaging; 10 minutes of sweating; and then 15 minutes of chilling with Turkish tea.