Updated: July 2015
One of the reasons why I love Istanbul are the hammams, the famous
Turkish baths. I have been visiting them since the first time I went to Istanbul in 1996.
In recent years I had the impression that the have gotten better at marketing themselves. Most hammams have a website and better signs. I usually book the full program: scrub, foam massage and oil massage – and I end up relaxed and very clean!
My advice: avoid the most advertised and touristic hammams (Cagaloglu and Cemberlitas). They are expensive and sometimes rather rushed, especially when they are visited by groups of tourists - it's like being on a conveyor belt.
Among all of the hammams that I have tested so far, I liked it best at the Gedikpasa Hamam. It’s one of the oldest (built in 1475) and as an additional sauna room and cool water pool. The massagers take their time and give a good scrub – but you won’t have the impression of being skinned alive….
The Sultanahmet Hamam is smaller and the men’s and women’s section aren’t separeted very well. The services are rather limited.
The Galatasaray Hamam belongs to the more expensive ones but it very nice and agreeable. Sometimes they even light the cupole in different colors (if you go in the evening) and play relaxing Oriental flute music. A beverage is included.
General advice: If you plan to arrive early or in a group it’s better to call in advance to make sure that there will be enough staff. Even if the hammams open early in the morning officially the massager might not have arrived yet. Anyway, it’s best to go alone or by two. If there’s a group the treatments are often shortened because there aren’t enough massagers. And I find it much more relaxing to just lie on a hot stone and sweat in peace. Chattering will only be a disturbance to the relaxing, calm atmosphere.
If you book an oil massage, bring some shampoo to wash the oil out of your hair. If you do only the scrub and foam massage, bring some body lotion because your skin will be very dry.
Only few hammams take credit cards, it’s best to pay cash.
www.galatasarayhammami.com - Video
The pictures of people on the websites are more modest than reality – you
will be naked for the massage, the pestemal (towel) is only used to
walk around or to sit on.
More information: www.hammamguide.com
If you prefer Western beauty treatments, you might like the California Nail bar. It’s a very nice beauty parlour under American management which offers facials, manicure/pedicure and massages. www.californianailbar.com, Valikonagi Caddesi no: 103, Nisantasi
There are many ways to rest after a long day of shopping in Istanbul from simple to luxurious. It's also worth to ask hotels for the "special price" - there usually is one. I like to stay in Beyoglu - hotels in the classical tourist area of Sultanahmet are often double the price!
Büyük Londra Oteli (Grand Hotel de Londres)
Mesrutiyet Cad. 17
One of the oldest hotels in Istanbul, the entrance and lobby look like a museum. The rooms are not quite as impressing and everything has clearly been used, but it's clean and friendly and very conveniently situated.
Sadri Alisik Sok. No: 19
Rooms are a bit small but very affordable and quiet. Great location.
Holiday Home Rota
Pürtelas Sokak 36
How would you like to have your own little house in Istanbul? Complete with kitchen and washing machine this is great for independent travelers.
Yerebatan Cad. 35
Not exactly cheap but very charming hotel close to the famous sights.
Eating is no problem in Istanbul. From the simple kebab stand to the gourmet restaurant, there is everything. AND if you love deserts like me, you have to go to Özsüt, nobody does calories as well as they do!
One of my absolute favorites is Ficcin near Istiklal Caddesi. Simple, cheam and very delicious. It has become very popular for a reason!
The best (and one of the most expensive) Kebap can be found at Hacibey - it's really something else than you have ever tasted!
Shopping opportunities in Istanbul are nearly unlimited. There's something for every taste and budget! Besides the already mentioned classics like Grand Basar and Istiklal it's also worth to take the Metro to Osmanbey. The area is called Nisantasi (pronounced Nishahntashe). There's also a big shopping mall right at the Sisli (pronounced Shishly) station. Both are great for clothes and accessories shopping.
Let my travel blog inspire you for more things to do - I go off the beaten track quite often.
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