Turkish baths, or hamams, are a special part of Turkish culture. For centuries, Turkish people have been bathing in these public bathing houses as not just a means to get clean, but for medicinal and spiritual purposes too.
It is said that bathing in a hamam can help with weight reduction, as well as for relaxation purposes. Bathing is also a special part of the prayer ritual in Islam, as you must wash your hands, head, and feet before prayer.
But in Turkey, men and women are separated when it comes to Turkish Baths. As a woman visiting Turkey, it can be difficult to know what to do at a women’s Turkish Bath and know what to expect.
In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about Turkish baths for women, including what to expect and the what to wear when visiting.
What to expect from Turkish Baths for Women?
If you’ve ever experienced a Roman Bath before and you expect to see yourself sitting in a pool of hot water surrounded by strangers as you stare at the mosaics on the walls, engage in chit-chat with others, and contemplate your life, think again.
A Turkish Bath is not the same as a Roman Bath. Yes, the idea came from the Romans who occupied Constantinople (otherwise known as ancient Istanbul) before it was seized by the Ottomans, but the Ottomans bought their own uniqueness to the concept of public bathing.
The architecture and bathing tradition is the only similarity between the two, and the bathing room at the end (to a degree). But otherwise, a Turkish hamam is very different.
So, what can you expect from a Turkish bath?
As mentioned before, men and women are often separated in traditional Turkish hamams. The bathing ritual is the same for both sexes, but a Turkish hamam is more focused on a massage ritual than an actual bath.
There are usually a number of different services on offer from Bali massages, Thai massages, and hot stone massages, which are operated by your tellak (a male attendant) or natir (a female attendant).
For women, you would only be attended to by a natir.
If it’s your first time, your natir will guide you through the experience.
Traditional Turkish hamams include 45 minutes of washing, which features a traditional body scrub with a handwoven wash cloth, known locally as a kese, followed by a foam wash and then a massage.
Some hamams will segregate their services by time, meaning men can come at one time of day and women at another, so it’s a good idea to check the opening times for female Turkish baths before visiting.
What happens during a Turkish bath?
First, you will be given a peshtemal, which is a thin cotton towel used to wrap around you during your bath. You will usually also be given a regular towel to dry yourself after bathing, but it’s always a good idea to bring your own just in case.
Almost all historic baths will have a dressing room where you can put your bathing suit on and have lockers to store your bags.
Once you’re ready, your bath attendant will take you into a warm section of the hamam. This is where the experience starts.
You will be asked to sit and relax next to a small marble basin known as a kurna. This is kind of like a steam room and is designed to open your pours. You will relax on the marble slab for about 15-20 minutes, and let the steam do it’s magic.
After a while, your attendant will come and get you when you’re ready for the next bit.
After a while sitting next to the kurna, you may either be taken to a sauna or be taken to be scrubbed down by your natir. I was taken to a sauna, but after the steam room, I didn’t feel like I needed too long in the sauna so left after about 5 minutes. It’s up to you whether you stay in the sauna or skip it altogether (I recommend you don’t spend too long in there, as it made me feel quite dehydrated).
The washing will be either be a private experience or in a separate area to the steam room. There will be a dedicated washing space for more privacy.
You will be asked to lie down on a gobektasi, which is like a hot marble slab in a hot section of the hamam, where your natir will scrub you with a very rough Kese Mitt glove. This is a special glove that scrapes all the dead skin off your body and can feel a little unpleasant, but it’s amazing to see how much dead skin comes off.
Your natir will likely ask you whether you want your face scrubbed with the mitt, and it’s up to you whether you do this or not. I opted for this and my face felt fine during the process, but I do admit that I broke out a few days later – this may have something to do with the humidity though.
After you’ve been scrubbed and you see all the dead skin hanging off your body, you will then receive a massage with a foam-filled cloth. This is much more relaxing than the mitt, and the natir will even wash your hair for you and massage your head.
Once your natir is finished, you will be washed off with warm water (usually a bucket of water which is poured over you, or you will be taken to a shower to wash off).
Sometimes you can go back into the steam room, or you can opt for an additional oil massage in a separate area. They may even offer you a Turkish tea or Apple Tea as refreshment after your treatment.
Or you can simply get changed and head home.
Personally, the steam bath section is the best bit and was incredibly relaxing. I didn’t go back in there as I was feeling quite thirsty and wanted to leave, but in hindsight, I wish I had spent more time in there – if only to admire the mosaic-domed room.
It’s usually decorated in an ornate design room and has a high central dome, which is beautiful to lie back and admire. These bathing rooms can sometimes be private but are usually shared with other people of the same sex.
Are Turkish Baths Always Separated?
If you’re visiting Turkey with your spouse and you want to take a Turkish hamam together, then you might be wondering if it’s possible.
We get it, we would love to share this experience together too, but sadly finding a hamam that has services for couples is very rare. This is because it’s not traditional to be mixed, and most hamams like to keep to their traditions.
If you want to do a couples massage, you will be better off looking at the luxury 5* hotels. We know that the Ritz Carlton in Istanbul has a couples suite in their hamam, as does the Ciragan Palace Kempinski and Catma Mescit Hamam.
The good news is you do not need to be a guest to use the spa services. You can simply book the treatment packages from their websites.
Read more: The Best Turkish Baths in Istanbul
What do women wear to a Turkish hamam?
Authentic Turkish baths are traditionally nude or at the very least topless. For women, it’s often left to the woman to decide if she wants to be topless or wear a bathing suit during the bath.
Some hamams will require women to wear a bathing suit, but from my experience, the natir asked me to remove the top half of my bathing suit for the scrubbing so I probably should have just gone topless in the first place.
It really comes down to the place and their individual policies, so do look this up before you go.
If in doubt, just bring your bathing suit. If you forget and you need one, you can usually purchase one from the reception or they will give you a towel to wrap yourself in (though don’t expect it to be flattering).
FAQs about Women visiting Turkish Hamams
Here are what people usually ask us about women Turkish hammams.
Do you need swimsuit for a hamam?
Most of the time, you do need to wear a swimsuit for a hamam but you may feel more comfortable in bikini bottoms. Some traditional hamams allow the woman to choose if she wants to be topless or wear a bathing suit.
Should I shave before a Turkish bath?
You don’t need to ‘prepare’ your body in any way. You can shave, or not shave, the preference is down to you.
Do they scrub your face in hamam?
Usually, it’s an entire body scrub and the natir will ask if you want your face to be scrubbed. If you would prefer your attendant to not scrub your face, simply let them know.
How long should I stay in a Turkish bath?
The bathing ritual usually lasts for 45 minutes but with relaxing in the steam rooms and sauna, the whole experience can last up to 60-90 minutes. It’s recommended to stay in the hot bathing room for 15-20 minutes at the most. Any longer than this and you can run the risk of heat exhaustion without realizing it.
Final Thoughts on Turkish Hamam for Women
So there you have it, this is everything you need to know about visiting a Turkish hammam as a woman. As you can see, there isn’t much different to visiting as a man, you will just need to decide on the level of nudity you’re comfortable with.
Visiting a Turkish hamam is one of our favorite things to do in Istanbul and is the perfect activity to do when it’s cold and snowy in the winter.
Of course, if you have any questions or if you think we’ve missed something, do let us know in the comments!