Naked in Helsinki: Baring it All in a Public Sauna

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 North of the Arctic Circle, where I also experienced one) 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.

sauna mixed gender

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. There is, however, one exception, which you can learn more about here.

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 in a Finnish sauna continue reading, otherwise you may want to read about other things I learned while visiting Finland.

nude sauna finland

Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall

I looked online for a public mixed sauna in Helsinki 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.

helsinki swimming hall

The 90 year old swimming hall. The saunas are on the right and left sides at the end of the pool.

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.

finnish sauna

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 two or three times, and after 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.

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Finnish Sauna Etiquette

Any mixed sauna in Finland follows the same unwritten rules, which do differ from those in other countries. These tips will help you understand what Finnish sauna culture is like.

  • In Finland, anybody can throw water on the stove; the person sitting closest to the water bucket is responsible.
  • Pretty much all places have separate saunas for women and men, specially in hotels and swimming halls.
  • It’s normal to be naked if your new sauna neighbors are of the same gender as you. If you feel uncomfortable, wear a towel.
  • If it’s a public mixed sauna, you must always use a swimsuit or towel.
  • This said, you don’t usually wear a swimsuit, because it has chemicals that react with the warmth of the sauna. If shy, use a towel.
  • You sit on a towel while in the sauna. Public saunas have a specific disposable sauna tissues available; there should be a roll or a pile of them near the sauna.
  •  Saunas are usually heated to be around 80 Celcius degrees, around 175 Fahrenheit. If it’s too hot for you, sit lower.
  • If heat is not your thing (like it isn't for me) you might want to take the seat closest to the sauna's door. It usually isn't as hot close to the door.
  • You can talk in a Finnish sauna. It’s not forbidden, although Finns are pretty quiet in the sauna despite saunas being described as a "social event".
  • It's very common to have a drink after a sauna session. This can be a beer, soda, juice...whatever! Heck, if you're lucky you might even be able to have it while in the sauna!
helsinki sauna

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.

Perhaps a sauna experience in a nice hotel is something entirely different?

It may have been this Helsinki public sauna in itself as I had heard that there is another popular sauna. But it was further away from the hotel, and I didn’t feel like making my way there. 

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.

Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall Location

Leave a Reply 22 comments

Bruce Dahlgren - November 26, 2018 Reply

I married a Finn and she likes the California hot tub and I am Swedish and I like the Finland sauna. It’s really true that regardless where you are from that the new or different captures your attention. Will we ever agree on anything? Yes, Kids.

    maitravelsite - December 3, 2018 Reply

    Hey And then kids mean more disagreements anyhow…haha. Thanks for stopping by!

NESTOR - May 11, 2017 Reply

I went to a very nice place in Baden Baden, Germany. There were pools and sauna and two different areas. One was for couples and families and you have to wear bath clothes and other area for adults and mandatory nude. In this part the people did not socialize at all with others and the silence seems to be a cemetery. The place was the Caracalla terms and the organization was ten points.

    maitravelsite - May 11, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for sharing your experience Nestor! From what I know saunas and bath houses in Germany are not as popular as in Finland though, right?

Tyty - August 7, 2016 Reply

Well it’s not really a “sauna”, it’s a swimming hall, and every swimming hall in Finland has a sauna. The only thing that makes this one special is that it’s so old and has a nice architecture and you can swim nude because that’s how it’s always been. People go there to swim, not to have a sauna, and they won’t chat, either, if they don’t have anything to say. If people want to go to a public sauna then they go to one that really is a public sauna, and “only” a sauna.

    maitravelsite - August 9, 2016 Reply

    Hey Tyty, I guess you are right, though they do market it as a sauna as well…and they do have them. It was an interesting experience nevertheless! Thanks for dropping by!

      Tyty - August 10, 2016 Reply

      Public wood heated saunas are quite rare in Helsinki, and it’s probably one of the best and maybe the only one in a swimming hall. It has also three different saunas which is special for a Finn, and some other services, too. But it also does have a bit of a reputation of being popular among the gay population, so the regular (straight, slightly older) clientele might be a bit warier (maybe especially when it comes to foreigners who may or may not understand the Finnish sauna culture). But anyway, it’s probably nicer when visited with a friend with whom you can spend time there. This is probably a better place if you just want to experience a traditional Finnish sauna: https://spindriftglobal.com/2012/12/26/at-home-in-a-finnish-sauna/

        maitravelsite - August 24, 2016 Reply

        Hey Tity, thanks for dropping by and sharing this info. I saw the swimming hall being mentioned everywhere not only because of the sauna and swimming experience, but because of the architecture as well, and was not aware of that reputation (though everyone seemed to mined their own business)…thanks for this other recommendation!

Jason - July 29, 2013 Reply

While I haven’t made it to any nude saunas yet, I think I would enjoy trying it at least once. Although, I must admit that it being single sex would actually make me more uncomfortable I think.

I recently got to enjoy some natural hot springs in Ecuador that your story kind of reminds me of. It was interesting, but after 20 minutes I was board.

    maitravelsite - July 30, 2013 Reply

    I hear you, as you read I found it kind of boring too. I guess since I spend a lot of time in the ocean a pool is not that exciting…thanks for dropping by Jason!

Emily in Chile - July 15, 2013 Reply

Swimming laps naked doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time! So thanks for trying it out and reporting back so that I know it’s ok to skip it if I’m ever in Helsinki 🙂

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2013 Reply

    Yeah, it isn’t that exciting, really. Though I do understand that after a year in cold weather and fully clothed they enjoy the freedom…

Atika Quraishi - July 13, 2013 Reply

actually i was expecting very interesting post..:-P

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2013 Reply

    haha…sorry it didn’t quite go that way 😉

Erica - July 6, 2013 Reply

Still kinda curious about the sauna culture. I’ve hung out in a sauna with my good girlfriend but I can’t imagine strangers!

Camels & Chocolate - July 5, 2013 Reply

The reserved Southerner in me had a hard time with this the first time I was in Finland and Estonia! In the end, I think I just wrapped a towel around me…

    maitravelsite - July 8, 2013 Reply

    Haha…I understand you. I guess it just takes a bit to overcame the embarassment and you’re good to go!

Suzanne Southall - July 5, 2013 Reply

An interesting read! Being British I’m a bit of a prude so I wasn’t looking forward to going to the sauna in Hamburg. There was only me and my friend there and she had no problem letting it all hang out. After some persuading I removed my towel and didn’t find it too bad. I presumed I’d got over my fear and would be fine the next time, but for some reason I was even more chicken (even though it was just the two of us again), that I wore my bikini in there, haha! Don’t think I’ll be trying out the one in Helsinki, hehe!

Alex - July 5, 2013 Reply

I absolutely loved my trip to the Hammam in Turkey, which is the only experience I have that would compare to this. It’s all about the people and the setting though… maybe you just need a different sauna 🙂

    maitravelsite - July 8, 2013 Reply

    A couple of weeks later I was also in a Hammam in Morocco… a different experience but unique as well. Yup, I have the feeling too it had to do with the place itself…

Abby - July 4, 2013 Reply

An honest review! I also would think this could be great if done on a regular basis, although honestly, not by me. Shedding clothes in a locker or sauna? Fine. For an athletic activity? Not for me! I am so fascinated by Helsinki and can’t wait to hear more!

    maitravelsite - July 8, 2013 Reply

    Kind of unusual right?

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