If you’re looking for a rejuvenating, quintessentially Turkish experience, then head straight to a local hamam.
Hamams are traditional Turkish bath houses that offer a variety of cleansing services (soaks, saunas, scrubs, massages, tea, etc.).
Historically, Hamams served not only as cleansing centers (the were the main baths in Turkey until plumbing became prevalent in Turkey in the mid-20th century) but also as social centers.
There are still many Turks who visit hamams on a weekly basis as a way to relax and connect with friends.
There are various hamams throughout Istanbul that range from traditional (with intricate Ottoman architecture) to modern (simple and sleek), quaint to touristy.
If you are looking for a more traditional hamam experience (typically simpler than the larger, ornate hamams that cater to tourists), ask around to see where the locals go. Some of the most popular hamams for tourists (located in the heart of the city) include:
Cemberlitas Hamami is a traditional bathhouse designed by the same architect who designed the famous Blue Mosque, Mimar Sinan. Cemberlitas is conveniently located (only a 10-minute walk from Sultanahmet and the Hippodrome west).
Address: 8 Vezirhan Caddesi
Çemberlitaş Istanbul 34440
Telephone: 90 212 522 79 74
The historic Cagaloglu Hamami is also centrally located (a short three-minute walk from the Hippodrome) and features ornate Ottoman architecture and mosaics.
Address: Prof. Kazi Gurkan Cad. 34
Telephone: 90 212 522 24 24
The elaborate and touristy Galatasaray Hamami is located near the historic Galatasaray Square.
Address: Sutterazi Sok 24, Beyoglu Istabul
Phone Number: 90 212 249 43 42
For a detailed description of the hamam experience, read Alexia Brue’s bathing memoir, Cathedrals of the Flesh (Bloomsbury, 2003). There’s also a comprehensive list of Turkish hamams in the back of the book, including many located in Istanbul.