Has an adventurous friend recommended visiting a Turkish bath, but you’re not sure if it’s right for you? A communal bath may seem like a foreign concept to anyone who lives in the Western world, but for others, it’s part of the fabric of their culture. If you’re ready to try something new and rejuvenating, you might add a Turkish bath to your bucket list. In this post, we’ll show you what to expect and reasons to consider treating yourself to a traditional cleansing ritual.
What Is a Turkish Bath?
A Turkish bath is a public bathing facility with roots in ancient history. Some travelers may visit a Turkish bath to have a cultural and historical experience, while others can’t wait to relieve stress and muscle tension. You’ll find Turkish baths throughout the world, particularly in countries once ruled by the Ottoman Empire, like Turkey, Greece, Hungary and Syria. You’ll also find Victorian Turkish baths in Western countries, such as England.
Turkish bathhouses somewhat resemble Roman baths. The ancient Romans had palatial bathing complexes, with rooms for relaxing, washing and socializing. Depending on where you go, the Turkish bath may feature domed ceilings and marble interiors. You may also find colorful mosaic tiles adorning the walls or floors. Some bathhouses have a cupola with tiny star-shaped windows. These small windows let in just enough natural light to play with steam and create a dreamy atmosphere.
Although each Turkish bath is unique, here’s an overview of what you might expect:
- First, you’ll tell the person at the front desk if you only wish to pay for entry or would like additional services, such as a massage.
- You’ll then receive a pair of sandals and a checkered cloth called a peshtemal to wear.
- You’ll head to a dressing room to remove your clothes, store your belongings and wrap the peshtemal around you.
- Next, you’ll enter a magnificent, heated room to relax on a marble platform and sweat out impurities.
- If you paid for service, an attendant will join you at the platform and pour warm water over you.
- The attendant will vigorously exfoliate your skin with a coarse mitt, covering just about your entire body.
- After the attendant rinses you, they will whisk together soap and water to form large foamy clouds and cover you with suds from head to toe.
- The attendant will then wash you and rinse you with bowls of water.
- If you added a massage to your experience, the attendant would perform a quick deep-tissue oil massage.
- Afterward, you’ll enter a cooling room to relax and enjoy fruit, traditional sherbet or Turkish tea.
Today, you can find Turkish baths in hotels and spas. If you want an authentic experience, you can still visit centuries-old Turkish bathhouses in Turkey, Greece, Morocco and various other countries.
What Is a Hammam?
A hammam, or hamam, is an Arabic word for a Turkish bath. People may use it to describe communal bathhouses associated with Islamic culture. You might expect slight differences between a Turkish bath and an Islamic hammam. For example, in a Victorian Turkish bath, you might find dry, hot air rather than the steamy air. Victorian-style baths may also have a communal pool to take a dip after spending time in a hot room. Typically, hammams do not have pools, but feature basins of cool water for visitors to use instead.
The History of Turkish Baths
The Turkish bath originated in the Middle East and may have combined Indian bathing rituals with Roman plumbing and heating techniques. It was a notable feature of the Ottoman Empire, which began around 1299 and reached its peak during the 16th century.
Hammams were vital parts of every city. Since homes did not have showers or tubs at the time, residents relied on public baths to maintain hygiene as they relaxed and socialized with others. Some hammams are near mosques, as it was a ritual to bathe and purify oneself before prayer. Hammams were also the place to go to celebrate major events, like weddings and births.
Turkish baths eventually spread to Western Europe. Variations of the hammam’s cleansing and relaxation methods became popular during the Victorian era.
To many, communal bathing continues to be an essential part of social life and a way to restore skin, hair, body and mind. It also has cultural value as spiritual purification and a necessary custom.
Why You Should Get a Turkish Bath
If you’re a spa lover, naturally, you won’t want to miss a chance to visit a Turkish bath on your next journey abroad. Even if you’re not a spa aficionado, it’s still worth adding to your bucket list. Here’s why.
- It’s invigorating: A hammam bath may be exactly what you need after a long journey. The goal of the cleansing ritual isto detoxify your body, relieve muscle tension, stimulate circulation and moisturize your skin. It also allows you to mentally de-stress and leave Western worries behind.
- It’s a culturally immersive experience: When you walk into a Turkish bath, you enter an ancient tradition that continues to hold importance in many regions of the world. You’ll see your destination through the eyes of locals and can relax as you absorb your surroundings. If you want a completely immersive experience, consider paying an attendant to wash, scrub and massage you rather than doing it yourself.
- You’ll step back in time: Do you love delving into a region’s history during your travels? A trip to a Turkish hammam lets you follow the footsteps of 14th-century sultans or envision life as an ancient Roman. It’s hard not to feel you’re in a different time as you gaze at ornate Islamic architecture from a marble platform.
Turkish Bath Etiquette
You’ll want to consider specific cultural rules before heading to a Turkish bath. The more you know, the easier it will be to enjoy the experience like a local. Here are a few things to know to help you feel more comfortable during your Turkish bath excursion.
- Men and women have different sections: If your traveling companion is of the opposite sex, know that hammams typically have gender-specific areas. Large hammams may have separate sections for men and women, while small ones might allow both sexes at different times. Staff members are usually the same sex as the bathers. If you want to enjoy the experience with your partner, make sure you do some research beforehand to choose a facility that offers a time for couples to attend. Some large hammams for both men and women require a bathing suit, but these are usually for tourists.
- Keep your towel on: As a general rule, hammams do not allow complete nudity, and you may have to keep a towel covering you from your waist down. The cultural expectation is for men to remove their clothes, including their underwear, and keep their peshtemal wrapped around their waist. Women should also remove their clothes, but they may or may not keep their underwear on under the peshtemal wrapped around their torso or waist. Your attendant may ask you to remove the peshtemal and use it to lie on when it’s time for your massage.
- Take your time: Visiting a Turkish bath should be a slow, soothing experience. In general, you can spend the entire day in a hammam if you wish. Even though your time with an attendant might last around 25 to 45 minutes, you can relax in the cool room as long as you want. You might even find lounge beds in the cool room, inviting you to take a nap. If you’re going to include a Turkish bath excursion on your itinerary, make sure you don’t pack your day’s schedule with other events. That way, you can linger and enjoy every part of the experience without feeling rushed.
- Hammams for couples are different: If you plan to attend a Turkish bath with your significant other, you can expect a different experience. Some hammams set aside time just for couples. Typically, you’ll have a wash and massage in a small room away from other bathers. During this experience, the masseur may often ask the male visitor permission before touching the female. Women must not remove their peshtemal under any circumstance if the masseur is a male. A woman usually receives a less vigorous massage during a couple’s visit than if she went to a female-only facility.
- You’ll need to tip: You’ll want to have some cash when you visit a Turkish bath, especially if you choose services such as a massage. After your massage, your attendant will lead you into a cool room where you can take a shower or sit as long as you want. At this point, your attendant will expect you to hand them a tip. If you’re in Turkey, for instance, bring lira with you, or enough to leave about a 15% tip.
How to Prepare for a Turkish Bath
Going to a Turkish bath doesn’t require too much preparation. If you choose an attendant’s services, you won’t need to do much other than relax and let them take care of you. Still, there are a few ways to prepare and make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Research first:Every hammam is different, so you’ll want to research your options first before you make plans. It may help to think about the type of experience you wish to have. For instance, do you want to join locals in the bathhouse, or are you more comfortable being around fellow travelers? If this will be your first time visiting a Turkish bath, and if you want to have an authentic experience, it may be best to choose a hammam in a small town familiar with travelers. Also, find out what the hammam provides and what you may need to bring.
- Consider your comfort level: If you don’t feel comfortable removing your clothing, it’s generally acceptable to wear a bathing suit or bikini. Keep in mind that locals will not be wearing anything but their peshtemals, so you may feel more comfortable blending in than standing out.
- Think about the services you want: Before you visit a Turkish bath, consider if you’re going to pay for a full-service experience, which may include a massage, wash and accessories. For example, you may get a metal bowl you can fill with cool water to splash yourself whenever you want. You may also receive a scrubbing mitt, which is usually yours to keep.
- Bring toiletries: You may wish to bring shampoo, conditioner or soap to the Turkish bath to avoid paying extra for these items. It may also be a good idea to bring a comb and an extra towel.
- Bring clean clothes: Once you’re ready to leave the bathhouse, you may feel more comfortable slipping into a fresh set of clothes. Keep in mind that if you leave your underwear on, they’re going to get soaked, so you’ll at least need to have a clean, dry pair of underpants waiting for you in your locker. You may also wish to bring a pair of flip-flops.
- Grab local currency first: As mentioned above, your attendant will expect you to tip them before you leave. Be sure to have some local currency on hand before entering the hammam, so you can avoid any awkward moments.
- Don’t bother with makeup: If you usually wear makeup, you may want to go bare-faced on the day of your Turkish bath excursion. However, you’ll have a chance to wash your makeup and sunscreen off before entering any heated areas.
- Plan to feel sleepy: The steam, heat and massage can make hammam visitors feel sleepy. Keeping this in mind, you might schedule your bath later in the day, rather than first thing in the morning, or plan to rest afterward.
Contact Windstar Cruises to Learn More
A Turkish bath trip will leave you with glowing skin, relaxed muscles and an unforgettable story to tell. It’ll be even more pleasurable if you have a cozy cabin to return to after your excursion. If you book your journey with Windstar Cruises, you can expect a plush, queen-sized bed and attentive staff to keep that pampered feeling going.
At Windstar Cruises, we share our guests’ passion for travel and take joy in sailing them to the most memorable places around the globe. Our intimate, uncrowded ships carry fewer than 310 passengers and can dock at ports too small for larger vessels. You can also expect a more immersive cultural experience with Windstar, thanks to our unique excursions. If you’d like to learn more about your options and where to go to experience a Turkish bath, please contact one of our Vacation Planners or browse our destinations to find the cruise that calls you.