Most tourists in Istanbul take a hotel either in Sultanahmet or in Beyoglu, and those who want to visit a hamam don’t know which luxury one close to their hotel to go to. If you want my advice, take a boat to Üsküdar and go to Çinili Hamam. Not luxurious, but clean, frequented by locals not by tourists, so just the whole and real experience. After that, you’ll be so clean, fresh and healthy, that it’s no problem that at the most traditional restaurant in Üsküdar, Kanaat Lokantasi, they don’t serve alcohol.
The hamam is not far from my house and I usually walk there. I don’t recommend walking up from the harbour though, because it’s quite a steep walk. So take a taxi for about 5 tl – ask the driver to go to ‘Tsjinili Hamam’ in the neigbourhood of Bağlarbaşı, pronounced “Baalarbasju”. Or better still, take a bus! When you arrive at Üsküdar by boat, walk straight to the right till you come to a bus stop next to a construction site. Ask the driver or other passengers if the bus goes to Capitol (everybody knows Capitol, and most buses from this stop go there), and if so, take it. Get off the bus when you see Capitol shopping centre appear on your right-hand side.
You might want to go inside Capitol, which is a real Turkish shopping centre experience. Or you could walk straight to the hamam. Walk back in the direction the bus came from, cross the street and take Allame Caddesi. Walk downhill (at the intersection take the road to the right, which has the steepest incline), until you pass some shops, and on your right an Armenian church. After the shops, you come to cross roads, where you can see the domes of an old mosque. Turn right here, and shortly you will see the hamam on your left. The entrance from the road is for men, the women’s entrance is at the rear – yes, men and women bathe separately here. It’s a short and very easy walk, and of course gives you more of the taste of Üsküdar than taking a taxi.
The hamam is truly historic, built in 1640. I recommend you just take the full package: soap wash and massage. The women working there don’t speak any foreign language, but the gestures are enough: turn around, sit, lay down, that’s sort of the basics. You can hire a towel to wrap around you body too. Most women wear only underpants, some wear a bra as well, and some very conservative ones a bathing suit. You can easily spend one and a half hours here, and you won’t spend more then 25 lira (11 euro).
Getting back to the centre of Üsküdar is very easy: just walk further down the same road, Cavusdere Caddesi. When you arrive at the centre, choose any street to the right to get to the area of Üsküdar’s oldest and most famous restaurant, Kanaat Lokantasi. It’s situated on Selman-I Pak Caddesi, a big road close to the harbour, easy to find on your map. If you come across any mosques on the way, take a look at the courtyard: these are usually quiet oases in the busy centre of this city area. Kanaat was opened in 1933 and serves traditional Ottoman dishes. All sorts of people come here: modern couples, traditional families, people alone of all ages and groups of friends.
Not only meat lovers, vegetarians too will be happy at Kanaat: there’s a large choice of vegetable dishes. You can either choose your food from the menu, or go over to the big counters to just point out which dishes you want. Whatever you choose to eat, always start with mercimek corbasi (lentil soup), it’s just perfect. I never take dessert because I don’t like all these sweet things, but friends have tried them and said I really missed something, and I have to admit the wide variety of desserts look amazing. After dessert? You’re in a traditional restaurant, so you’d better finish your dinner traditionally too: with tea. By the way, don’t expect to spend the night here. Usually you’ve eaten and burped within half an hour to forty five minutes.
Kanaat is five minutes walk from the boat back to Eminönü or Besiktas/Kabatas, so if you’re totally stuffed, there’s no long walk necessary. Hope my Üsküdar for beginners series helped you enjoy ‘my’ part of town!