I went to the Çemberlitaş Hamamı (Turkish bath), one of the 2 main tourist hamams that is conveniently located next to the eponymous tram stop between the Grand Bazaar tram stop and Sultanahmet tram stop (or a 5 minute walk from the latter). It’s also open from 6am to midnight (slightly shorter hours for women).
It had 3 options at different price points: 45 TL/$26 basic (you clean yourself), 69 TL/$40 inc. being scrubbed by an attendant, or 119 TL/$68 inc. a 30-minute oil massage as well. Tips included.
Tip: go for the middle option – the massage isn’t worth it in my opinion.
So what actually happens? I did the full monty so that I could give you, my loyal (?) readers, a complete report.
First off, the hamam is fully segregated by sex (unlike German spas). The attendants in each section are of the same sex.
After paying, you get soap and a new glove-like scrubber, and tokens for the extra service(s) like attendant scrub and massage.
In the change area, you get a booth to strip down and wear a peştemal, essentially a wrap-around-your-waist towel. You lock the booth door and take the key on a bracelet, so your clothes and wallet are safe.
Men must keep the peştemal on; apparently women have the option of removing it.
Then you go into the big domed hot steam room (well, it wasn’t actually steamy) and lie down on the big ~10m in diameter) heated circular marble slab in the middle of the room and sweat. It was neither comfortable (lying on hard marble) nor relaxing as the noise from conversations and the attendants’ stainless steel bowls clanging on the marble would echo.
After 20 minutes or so an attendant came to wash me (I don’t know if you can ask him to wait longer; certainly if you wash yourself, you have more control over how long you lie there and sweat). Moving to lie along the edge of the circular slab, he goes through various phases of rinsing, scrubbing with soap (using that new scrubber), rinsing. You lie down alternately face up and face down – face down is particularly uncomfortable, esp. on the knees. That clanging stainless steel bowl I mentioned? That’s used to pour rinsing water over you (the water comes from taps and basins that are situated along the perimeter of the round room.
The attendant also does a little head/neck wrenching that I found rather uncomfortable.
Then he leads you into the side room (neither round nor domed) where you possibly, wait for your turn at the massage (go to next step if you followed my tip to not buy the massage). The massage room had 4 massage tables crammed in it, with 4 masseurs who chattered too much, so again, not exactly relaxing. You do get a new peştemal to wear for the massage (since your first one is wet and sweaty). The oil massage was ok, but I wouldn’t call it a serious massage. And you are left all oily, the kind of oily that doesn’t come off easily in the next step:
Showering in one of a set of private shower stalls (with a new towel to dry yourself off).
Afterwards, you get another peştemal and a large dry towel to wear back up to your change booth, which you open with the key that should still be dangling from your wrist.
So did I enjoy it? Yeah, it was an experience that should be done once for sure (minus the massage), but it’s not the best spa experience on the planet.