The use of a sauna is so embedded into Finland’s national culture, that there are more than 3.5 million saunas across the country for a population of just under 5.5 million. In fact, it’s written into law that if the accommodation doesn’t have a private sauna, they must be given access to a communal sauna. A centuries-old tradition, locals young and old take adopt the practice as part of their everyday life so here’s why you should say “yes” to this unique cultural experience.
From one tourist to another, here’s some word of advice to make the most of your visit. So let go of your inhibitions, bare your birthday suit and let’s get started.
What to Expect
Well, in short, you can expect nudity and heat in abundance – the saunas are usually heated from 80 to 100 °C – it’s HOT! And are I say you may find a dip in the sea appealing after a session.
There is nothing sexual about the nudity, in fact, it was quite refreshing to be amongst women just taking a moment’s calm – it even felt quite natural.
Whilst visiting the wood-heated saunas were gender-separated and so swimwear was optional. In the mixed-gender and public saunas at both the Allas Sea Pool and Löyly swimwear was required. Not all saunas permit swimwear, so do be sure to check before entering.
There are three different types of sauna – wood heated, electric and smoked. We encountered both the wood-heated and smoked at Löyly, only the wood-heated at Allas Sea Pool and were fortunate enough to enjoy an electric sauna in our AirB&B.
Unlike British spa retreats, there are no bird songs or wafting oil aromas. Instead, you can expect wooden benches, dimly lit without music. While these weren’t available at Allas Sea Pool or Löyly, it’s common to use fresh birch twigs to whip yourself in more traditional sauna locations.
Despite the saying that you should behave in a sauna as you would a church, you are permitted to talk in the saunas – they say the best decisions are made in a sauna rather than a meeting!
And lastly, to increase the ‘Löyly’ or steam that in turn ramps up the heat you simply ladle water on it. Everyone is welcome to ladle the Löyly and there’s no right or wrong amount. You may find you need to add some water after people entering the sauna when the door is opened.
The Sauna Cycle
So it’s pretty easy to get the hang of and the cycle is repeated in any sauna you visit – public or private.
- Undress or change into your swimming costume
- Sweat in the sauna
- Jump into the sea, lake or ice water bucket (I recommend trying it at least once)
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 as often as you’d like
What to Pack for Your Sauna Experience
So besides an open mind and a little bit of Dutch courage, there’s a few things you’ll need.
- Flip flops
- Swimming costume
- Hand towel or peflet
- Water (although usually provided complimentary)
- A dry bag for your wet swimwear
Which public sauna should you visit in Helsinki?
Since there are literally millions of saunas to visit, it can be a bit of a minefield finding the right one for you. I experienced three during my time in Helsinki, perfect for beginners and I was provided information about three further saunas.
Open until 9pm (except Sundays), the use of the saunas and pools is € 14.00 per adult. There didn’t appear to be any time limit.
Allas Sea Pool is a ‘garden-like oasis’ with gender-separated saunas and three pools – a warm water pool, a children’s pool and a sea pool filled with UV filtered sea water that is by no means heated. The average sauna temperature is 80°C.
Swimming costumes are permitted in the female sauna, it was a 50/50 split between those wearing them and those nude or partially nude.
Disposable peflets are available prior to entering the sauna, and a wristband is provided on arrival that operates the complimentary lockers.
If you forget your towels, these can be rented for 8 euros.
There is a restaurant on site.
Top tip: there is free access to the terraces all year round – morning to night.
This was by far my favourite public sauna experience of the two (I also visited Allas Sea Pool). The architecture is enticing, they have an open fire you can relax by with a drink and they have direct steps access to the Baltic sea.
The € 19 price includes towels, peflets and a two hour session. I highly recommend making a reservation in advance – it gets very busy!
On entering, remove your shoes and jackets and store them into the communal closet. When checking in, you are given the option to leave a bank card that starts a tab for you to purchase food and drink during your visit – this is perfectly safe.
Water is provided complimentary, there is a self-service tap in the lounge area with clean glasses.
They have two publicly available saunas – an 18m2 smoke sauna and a 22m2 traditional wood sauna. The saunas and lounges are mixed gender so swimwear is compulsory, but they do also offer a rental swimwear for € 6. Changing rooms are gender-separated but incredibly small!
Charged at 15 euros for an adult, this is about as simple as you can get. Swimsuits are not permitted at this public sauna, but be reassured that there are separate male and female areas. Towels are also not permitted inside the sauna, but you will need to bring one with you.
Dating back to 1928, this is Helsinki’s original public wood-fired sauna. This information is second hand as I didn’t visit myself, but you can expect to pay 14,00 € for a standard use. The saunas are gender separated, towels are available for rent and there are further options for a massage or a scrub.
Whilst free, this is a public sauna and likely to be a more authentic experience. This also means that there will be nudity and mixed genders.
You’ll need to bring your own towel, swimsuit is optional and drinks. There’s even a grill to fire up your own BBQ! Firewood is usually available on site, but in the event it is not it’s advised to pick some up from a local shop or garage.
I’m just throwing this one in here for good measure for those looking for something novel – but it comes with a hefty price tag! For around 240 € / hour, the four-person SkySauna is part of the Helsinki Sky Wheel inclusive of a drinks package.
Besides the stellar sea and city views, you will also have use of a ground-level hot tub as part of the experience.