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The health, mythology, and relaxation of Finnish saunas

Picture of Barona employee Maria Duca.
Maria Duca Palarie Barona
“If sauna, booze and tar don't help, the disease is fatal.”

The sentence above is an ancient Finnish saying familiar to every Finn. It reflects the almost religious connection that Finns have with their saunas. In this article, we will tell you all there is to know about the Finnish sauna culture and give you pointers on how to make the sauna culture your own.

Sauna in Finland – A place of supernatural powers

Saunas have always had a more profound meaning to Finns than just a place to wash oneself. Saunas represented healing and spirituality and even brought a mythological level to the everyday life of Finns way back in history. And history goes way back, for the Finnish sauna culture and all its traditions go back almost ten thousand years. In the past, people have given birth, treated the sick, and dried grain in the sauna.

Back in the day, saunas also represented supernatural powers. People believed that in every sauna, there lived a sauna elf or spirit. Sauna elves protected the sauna and its owners and made sure that people behaved well in the sauna. At the same time, the elf also set the rules of the sauna and punished those who broke them severely. Old stories tell of elves that skinned the sauna visitors alive for breaking the sacred rules of the sauna. One of the most important rules was leaving the sauna early enough so the sauna elf could enjoy the steam in peace in the evening. People gave the elves gifts like food or drink to keep the murderous elf happy.

From mythology to modernization

Although the past, with all its spirituality, still holds a place in the minds of Finnish people, the sauna has managed to evolve and transition into modern times. There are many types of different saunas in Finland nowadays. For example, wood-burning saunas (the traditional ones), electrically heated saunas, saunas made of ice, tent saunas, sauna boats, barrel saunas, smoke saunas, steam saunas, and infrared saunas, to name a few. There’s a sauna to every taste.

A sauna is a place of silence and solitude, but equally, it is part of a common, shared life. You can go to the sauna to enjoy complete silence and sit alone with your thoughts or throw a loud and alcohol-infused bachelor party in the sauna for your mates. Both options are equally classical and appreciated.

Finnish Sauna – More than just a room

No matter what kind of sauna experience your heart beats to, saunas are an essential part of the Finnish culture. There’s an estimation that 99,5 % of Finns visit the sauna regularly. That’s a respectable number that doesn’t have a match anywhere else. There are more than three million saunas in Finland, meaning there are more saunas than cars in the country. Finland is, in fact, the most sauna-dense country in the world.

Many Finns have a sauna in their private home. It’s also very common for apartment buildings to have a sauna in the basement which all residents have the right to use. Usually, Finns have their weekly sauna slot every week at the same time, and you can see the Finns slip from their apartments down the stairs into the basement dressed in their bathrobes and carrying a beer in their hand every week at the same time. (The beer is for the Finns themselves, not for keeping the sauna elf happy.)

Good for your health

Even though we now have a wider selection of medicines than just saunas, booze, and tar, the healing benefits of saunas are still recognized today. People who spend a lot of time in the sauna stay healthier than those who don’t go to saunas or go rarely. The most effective health benefits are obtained by visiting the sauna 4 to 7 times weekly. This is quite rare, however. On average, Finns visit the sauna twice a week.

There are numerous health benefits you can gain by visiting the sauna regularly. It lowers your blood pressure, increases life expectancy, and reduces the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia, to name a few. It also relaxes you, lowers your stress level, and improves sleep quality. Come to think of it, this could explain why we Finns are so happy.

Saunas are for everyone

If you have just come to Finland and the sauna hype is new to you, don’t let the confusion stop you from going to the sauna and making the sauna culture your own! After all, no murderous elves will attack you even though you would accidentally break a few rules. Just to be on the safe side, there are two essential rules. You need to check if you have to wear a swimsuit and assess if the sauna is a more silent one or if it’s okay to be chatty. If you’re new to the sauna, reading the room is always a good idea.

Still, saunas in Finland are more about relaxation and enjoyment, not about rules. It is also an excellent way to bond with Finns and a new-found hobby you can share with other enthusiasts and co-workers. Read our tips for smooth integration and excellent social life in Finland >>

You don’t need to have your own sauna, for Finland is full of public saunas. You can find them in many gyms and swimming halls, for example. Visiting a public sauna is usually not expensive, so it’s a very affordable luxury in Finland.

Most famous public saunas in Finland

To get you going, we want to introduce you to the most famous and loved public saunas in Finland. They represent both traditional and very modern takes on the sauna culture. But remember, in Finland, you have saunas all around you, and they are all just waiting for the chance to make you fall in love with them.

  1. Löyly, Helsinki. Löyly, located in Helsinki’s Hernesaari, has stunning architecture and a unique view. They offer a traditional smoke sauna and a wood-burning sauna, both open daily. The saunas are mixed, so bring your swimsuit. You can also rent a swimsuit on-site. Both saunas offer direct access to our outdoor seating area and the sea, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim all year round. The admission fee for a two-hour sauna visit is 23 €. The price includes a towel, seat liner and shampoo, and shower gel. Children under ten years can visit the sauna for free. After your sauna experience, you can sit in the restaurant for lunch, brunch, or even coffee on the terrace.
  2. Rajaportin Sauna, Tampere. This sauna is the oldest public sauna in Finland: it was opened over 100 years ago. Since 1906, the sauna has been attracting sauna lovers from all over Finland and the world. The large steam room is divided into men’s and women’s sections, so you don’t need a swimsuit. The sauna is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. You can buy refreshments in the courtyard and hire a towel or seat liner. The fee for the sauna is 8-12 €, depending on the weekday. Children under the age of 6 can use the sauna free of charge.
  3. Allas Sea Pool, Helsinki. Allas Sea Pool is a marine spa near Helsinki’s Market Square. The pool is open every day from early morning until late at night, with separate sauna facilities for men and women. Here you can also enjoy a dip in both the cold seawater and the warm pool water. The terrace overlooking the sea offers views of both the sea and the center of Helsinki. Tickets to the sauna cost 18-22 €, depending on the weekday. Children under two years old are admitted free of charge. You can hire a swimsuit, towel, and various swimming equipment.
  4. Kotiharjun sauna, Helsinki. For those looking for a traditional public sauna, the Kotiharju sauna is the best-known option. Operating since 1928, the sauna is known for its relaxed atmosphere. Kotiharju is ideal for both solitary relaxation and larger group gatherings. It’s the oldest wood-fired sauna in Helsinki, and you can enjoy the sauna separately in the men’s and women’s saunas. You can enjoy the sauna at Kotiharju from Tuesday to Sunday. A ticket to the sauna costs 14 €.
  5. Rauhaniemi Folk Spa, Tampere. This sauna is conveniently located just a few kilometers from the Tampere city center.  Rauhaniemi was opened in 1929, and the atmosphere is in a class of its own. There are two saunas, and both are mixed saunas, so be sure to bring your swimsuit or swim trunks. A ticket to the sauna costs 10 €. You can take a dip in Lake Näsijärvi in summer and winter, and you can walk to the open-air pool on a warm mat. A summer café is open during the summer.
Image of two people sitting outside in front of a residential building and talking to eachother.

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