Istanbul’s five best hammams

From Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı to Çukurcuma Hamamı, here are five of the best places to experience a relaxing steam bath in the Turkish capital.

For centuries, Istanbul’s hammams have been a source of pleasure and relaxation for visitors and locals alike. These storied bathing houses are part of the city’s rich cultural and historical fabric, representing a physical manifestation of Ottoman tradition. What makes the experience unique is that hammams are really more than just bathhouses – they use a combination of heat, water and massage to achieve both physical healing and spiritual rehabilitation.


• When entering, you’ll receive a hammam kit: towel, peştamal (a cotton wrap), soap and kese (exfoliating gloves). Bring your own swimsuit unless you’d prefer to use the hammam’s disposable ones.
• Hammams are generally less crowded in the morning compared to the afternoon.
• You can customise your experience, so feel free to let your attendant know what you prefer, such as more or less pressure.

An estimated 230 hammams were once found amongst the streets of Istanbul, although only around 60 are still in operation. Their traditional marble floors and domed ceilings intricately decorated with calligraphy and tiles offer visitors a chance to submerge themselves in a unique atmosphere that feels closer to ancient Ottoman palaces. Each hammam has its own individual amenities, as well as spa treatments, providing authentic hospitality that few places in the world can offer.

Tour guide and TV host Elizabet Kurumlu is one of Turkey’s foremost hammam experts. During her career spanning more than 30 years as a licensed tour guide, she has taken the plunge in 2,000-year-old hammams, luxury hotel spa hammams and hole-in-the-wall hammams, experiencing more than 160 during her travels throughout Turkey and beyond. She is also the co-host for an upcoming documentary on hammam culture. 

Here, she shares her favourite hammams in Istanbul and explains what makes them great.

Hurrem Sultan Hamami was built in the 16th Century on the site of Turkey’s first bathhouse (Credit: Hurrem Sultan Hamami)

1. Hurrem Sultan Hammam 

Providing a luxurious bathing experience worthy of the sultans, this opulent hammam is the only one constructed by and for royalty that sits outside a palace. Named after the chief consort and wife of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and designed by the 16th-Century Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, it was intended to be used exclusively by sultans and important visitors.

The building was erected in the 16th Century on the site of Turkey’s first bathhouse known as Zeuxippus in the ancient Greek acropolis of Byzantium. Not many people know this, but over time, it’s been used as a prison and rug shop before ultimately being restored back to its original purpose: an opulent royal sanctuary with crisp, white marble interiors and exquisite gold detailing. 

Its tranquil atmosphere includes the hammam’s very own custom soundtrack for optimal resonance within the ancient building’s walls. There are four different hammam sessions designed for different needs, from more traditional scrubbing and massage on a heated Marmara marble platform to full-body clay masks and aromatherapy. After your session, Kurumlu recommends refreshing your senses with a glass of homemade sherbet (a sweet traditional Ottoman fruit drink concocted especially for guests). 

Neighbourhood: Sultanahmet
Address: Cankurtaran, Ayasofya Meydanı No:2, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul
Phone number: +90 212 517 35 35
Instagram: @ayasofyahurremsultanhamami

Kilic Ali Pasa's history and opulence is apparent from the moment you enter (Credit: Kilic Ali Pasa)

Kilic Ali Pasa’s history and opulence is apparent from the moment you enter (Credit: Kilic Ali Pasa)

2. Ali Paşa Hamamı

“Housed inside a historic, grand building, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı has been meticulously and intensively restored to provide a truly authentic hammam experience,” Kurumlu said. Walking into the camegah (lounge), the grandeur of the building is apparent with the impressive main dome that’s considered among the largest hammam domes in Istanbul. Designed by Sinan and commissioned by the famous Ottoman admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa as part of the mosque and school complex, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was constructed between 1578-1583 to serve the Ottoman navy. It quickly became a landmark building in the trendy Karakoy neighbourhood on the bank of the Bosphorus. 

The hammam has one large area and offers separate sessions for women and men. “This hammam is special because it always reminds me of women taking over,” Kurumly said. “Historically it only ever served men up until it reopened a decade ago. Now it serves women bathers in the day and men in the afternoon and evenings.”

A special attendant – natır (for ladies) and tellak (for men) – assists you along your hammam journey, from donning your peştamal (the classic cotton hammam wrap) through to the various rituals, including scrubbing, exfoliating and rinsing. Afterwards, Kurumlu recommends resting in the lounge and indulging in some of the traditional refreshments and delicacies at the cafe, such as sweetened soda water infused with lemon or seasonal specialties such as quince or cherry sherbet.

Neighbourhood: Karakoy
Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Hamam Sk. No:1, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Phone number: +90 212 393 80 10

Çemberlitaş Hamamı retains much of its original 16th-Century design (Credit: Çemberlitaş Hamamı)

Çemberlitaş Hamamı retains much of its original 16th-Century design (Credit: Çemberlitaş Hamamı)

3. Çemberlitaş Hamamı

Çemberlitaş Hamamı is a stunning example of the renowned Ottoman architect Sinan’s work,” Kurumlu said. “I love the slightly aged, patina look to it.” She explained that this hammam dates to 1584 and pointed out that its multi-domed structure boasts an impressive vault system and palatial ochre interior. Combining functionality, elegance and tranquility, the hammam retains much of this original design. 

The hammam is situated near some of Istanbul’s greatest monuments, such as the Grand Bazaar and Blue Mosque. Upon entering, you’re greeted at the door by no-fuss staff who guide you to a heated room where the pampering begins. From the sıcaklık (hot room) to scrubbing in the sultan’s bath, every cell of your body will start to breathe after emerging from each room, which are separated by arched doorways with carved inscriptions and marble slab walls. 

For additional relaxation, opt for the Indian head massage and body clay masks. 

Neighbourhood: Sultanahmet
Address: Mollafenari, Vezirhan Cd. No:8, 34440 Fatih/İstanbul
Phone number: +90 212 522 79 74
Instagram: @cemberlitashamami

Only five guests are allowed inside Çukurcuma Hamamı at a time (Credit: Çukurcuma Hamamı)

Only five guests are allowed inside Çukurcuma Hamamı at a time (Credit: Çukurcuma Hamamı)

4. Çukurcuma Hamam 

Çukurcuma Hamam has a completely different look than other hammams: all white-washed look and a bit of mysticism to it, as we don’t know the original architect,” Kurumlu said. 

Located in the bohemian neighbourhood of Çukurcuma, Çukurcuma Hamamı has been an iconic landmark for nearly two centuries. “The original one was wood and burnt down, but the new one that replaced it kept some wood accents as a tribute to the original,” Kurumlu added.​​ It was originally built in the 1830s. After a long renovation period, the hammam was finally reopened in 2018. Retaining its white marble interior with neutral stone and timber features, it attempts to recapture the magnificence of a bygone era. 

However, Kurumlu says that Çukurcuma Hamamı brings a breath of fresh air into the hammam scene, combining its traditional dome roofs with modern interior terraces and hidden lounge areas. Natural lighting bounces around the high ceilings, and small windows and skylights keep the place bright and airy. “Take some time to explore the neighborhood around it, too, as it’s one of the only hammams that’s worth going for the neighbourhood as well,” she said. 

To offer a feeling of seclusion, only five guests are allowed into the hammam at a time. Interestingly, this is one of only a few mixed-gender hammams in Istanbul today, yet the hammam provides a traditional experience, with body scrubbing and bubble wash on a heated marble stone. Add the body massage with organic oils to extend your revitalisation.

Neighbourhood: Çukurcuma
Address: Firuzağa, Çukur Cuma Cd. NO : 43, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Phone number: +90 530 933 05 13
Instagram: @cukurcumahamami/

Kurumlu says Cinili Hamam is an off-the-beaten-path option that's well worth the trip (Credit: Cinili Hamam)

Kurumlu says Cinili Hamam is an off-the-beaten-path option that’s well worth the trip (Credit: Cinili Hamam)

5. Cinili Hamam

Unlike other grand hammams, Cinili Hamam is intimate and cosy. You’ll find this slightly offbeat choice tucked down an obscure street in the non-touristy neighbourhood of Uskudar on the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus. While this makes it more difficult to reach, it offers a low-key and authentic experience from the minute you enter. “When you walk in, you can smell the cedar wood of the traditional changing cabins and see the iconic fountain in the middle of the welcome area,” Kurumlu said. 

Çinili Bathhouse was ordered to be built in 1640 by Kösem Sultan, the chief consort and wife of the Sultan Ahmed I. Unfortunately, she died before the women’s section of the bathhouse was finished and the construction was continued by her brother. To this day, the architecture of the bathhouse has not changed; even the outer domes are preserved with minimal restoration effort. Çinili means “with blue porcelain” due to its stunning interior that has since been restored with blue stones and tiles. “Usually we have multiple ‘elephant eye lights’ in hammam domes, but this only has one opening, so it’s a bit darker and moodier as a result but also cosier and cocoon-like. It makes it more human scale versus a grand royal hammam,” Kurumlu said. 

The hammam maintains its original antique heating system, heating its rooms with a huge wood-fired boiler that spills its warmth through pipes running around the bathhouse. Offering a simple and traditional hammam menu, Cinili’s scrubbing, bubble massage and optional oil massages are combined to leave both men and women feeling completely cleansed. 

Neighbourhood: Uskudar
Address: Çavuşdere Cad Çinili Hamam Sok No 6, 34664 Üsküdar/İstanbul
Phone number: +90 216 334 97 10
Instagram: @cinilihamami


Join more than three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter called “The Essential List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

You may also like...