Few traditions are as rooted to the Finnish way of life as the sauna experience. So much, in fact, that most hotels have them (even if they are in remote national parks) and even families tend to have one in their homes, when they can. If not, will often visit the closest one for a good dose of extreme heat and humidity. As a visitor this may seem a bit odd, but when you remember that the average temperature of the country is around 0ºC things begin to make some sense- Finnish people don’t really have too many opportunities to experience heat and humidity, or wear few clothes.
First things first: Finnish public nude saunas in spas and swimming halls are gender separated. This means that while the same swimming hall or sauna is open to both genders, they will not be in the sauna at the same time. Public saunas by the lake tend to be mixed, but everyone wears swimming suits.
Thus if you were hoping to find something like in the picture above, keep dreaming. You won’t. If you want to learn more about what to expect continue reading, otherwise you may want to read about other things I learned while visiting Finland.
Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall
I looked online for public saunas that would offer the quintessential experience during my visit; I’m not much of a fan of saunas but nonetheless wanted to see what the big deal is here anyhow. Unlike in most places, public saunas in Finland are not just about heat and humidity, but are more of a social event where strangers and friends come together to discuss whatever is relevant or not at the time. My search didn’t yield too many options and I opted for the Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall, a public bath house in the center of Helsinki that opened in 1928 and for decades was the only indoor swimming pool in the city. Anticipating a possible fee for borrowing a towel I grabbed one from my hotel and walked to the hall, and after some trouble found it hidden in a little alley- I expected to find a big sign which apparently does not exist.
Drop Your Inhibitions- and Clothes
Once I found it I stepped into an old, dark wooden room- it did not even feel right. But I then saw a booth, and proceeded with the standard routine: pay 4 € (saved one because I had my own towel), walked to locker number 88, got rid of my clothes, placed the key-bracelet on my ankle and decided to go to the sauna first. Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall is a mixed gender nude sauna, but there’s a different schedule for each gender. As I made my way to the sauna I realized that unlike what I had expected, all swimmers were by themselves and not socializing, swimming back and forth in their lanes- butt naked.
The sauna was a little bit of the same. There are two saunas, one slightly hotter than the other, and each had about 5 -8 males sweating and letting time go by, no discussions or friendly conversations as I had been told is the norm. After about ten minutes I went to the pool and swam a few laps, and made my way back to the sauna. I repeated the process three or four times, and about 30 minutes later I had had enough; I currently live in the tropics and preferred the cold weather outside than the steam in the hall.
Is it Worth it?
Been there, done that. It was not as interesting as I had thought it would be, or as entertaining as my improvised sauna session a few days before in Inari, where I did have some fun (and beers) with a few locals excited about speaking with a traveler who was North of the Arctic Circle at that time of the year. It may have been this Helsinki public sauna in itself as I had heard that there is another popular sauna but further from the hotel, but I didn’t feel like making my way there, or perhaps the mood of the guests. In any case I can understand that if you’re spending a few days in the city swimming a few laps without clothes in a warm environment can be soothing and rewarding, even an experience on its own, but if I have just one or two days to spend in Helsinki I wouldn’t go again.
Address: Yrjönkatu 21b, 00120
Is there a sauna tradition in your country? Do you like spending time in sauna or is it just too hot for you? Would this be something you’d like to try? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you think others might find it useful!