Enjoy urban sauna culture in Helsinki
It all starts with a flick of the wrist. Water flies from the ladle in a perfect arch, hitting the hot rocks with a loud hiss and creating a column of steam. The logs in the stove crackle and backs are bent as a wave of heat sweeps across to the farthest reaches of the sauna. Bouquets of fresh young birch branches give off a beautiful fragrance as they strike against the skin to stimulate the blood flow.
The traditional Finnish sauna is a holy place, quiet and dark, where loud voices and swearing are frowned upon so as not to the upset the gods.
“If sauna, liquor and tar don’t help, the disease is fatal"
This old Finnish proverb reflects well the importance of the sauna for Finns. The sauna was a place where babies were born, the sick were cared for and the deceased were washed before burial. When new homes were built, the sauna was often the first construction to go up and provided shelter until the main building was complete.
The sauna continues to be an important part of Finnish culture, even if many traditional beliefs have been confined to history. The sauna is still one of the main rituals of festive holidays, especially Christmas and Midsummer Eve. The sauna has also been a place where Finnish politicians have negotiated, business leaders have made deals, and brides-to-be are given last-minute marriage advice.
The sauna is a place for relaxing and cleansing. So leave your stress and smart phones outside and climb up to the top bench!
Enjoy hot saunas all year round
There are over three million saunas in Finland, and they are heated up regularly throughout the year. Finns like to heat their saunas up to almost 100 degrees Celsius, so it’s good to take regular breaks to cool down. The most refreshing way is to take a quick dip in a lake or the sea – in wintertime you can even take a dip through a hole cut in the ice. Alternatively, try rolling in the snow!
When trying a real Finnish sauna, leave your clothes and towel in the changing room and go naked! Public saunas usually have separate times and sections for men and women, although occasionally men and women are allowed to sauna together – in which case it is perfectly acceptable to wear a towel or swimsuit in the sauna.
Where to enjoy the heat in Helsinki
Apartments, summer cottages, hotels – saunas can be found everywhere in Finland, even in fire trucks and mines! There are also many public saunas in Helsinki where visitors too can experience the magic of an authentic Finnish sauna.
In the district of Kallio you may see sauna-goers cooling off by the side of the street in their towels. Kotiharju Sauna is the last remaining wood-heated local sauna in the city where you can also enjoy a massage or try the ancient remedy of cupping.
Other popular public saunas in Helsinki include Sauna Hermanni in the district of Hermanni and the Kulttuurisauna “Culture Sauna” in Merihaka, where you can even enjoy a dip in the sea. You can also swim and sauna year round at Rastila Camping and Uunisaari, where you reserve a sauna for your private use.
A breathtaking range of sauna experiences
A hot sauna feels especially good after exercise, as the heat relaxes both muscles and the mind. A great way for visitors to combine sports and sauna is with a guided bike tour, during which you can learn about the Finnish sauna culture and, of course, enjoy a sauna too.
In spring 2016 a brand new sauna complex named, fittingly, Löyly was opened in Hernesaari on the southern tip of the Helsinki peninsula. The complex also serves delicious Finnish food, which you can enjoy on huge terraces while admiring the fabulous view to the sea. Constructed out of wood and covering over 1800 square metres including the terraces, the impressive 9-metre-tall building is also a top design attraction.
If you want to enjoy a sauna in the archipelago, stay tuned, as a new public sauna is planned on the popular island of Lonna! If you can’t wait, then you can also book a sauna year round at Suomenlinna. And of course, there’s an entire island off the coast of Helsinki devoted to saunas: Saunasaari! This island has three smoke saunas that you can book for yourself and friends – or even as an after-work event for you and your colleagues.
So what is the best sauna according to Finns themselves?
Your own home sauna, of course!