Authentic Finnish saunas – not for the faint-hearted

Sitting in a hot sauna until your blood and skin are seething is a vital part of the quintessentially Finnish experience. A group of friends from Norway visited Löyly, one of Helsinki's most famous sauna facilities, and were told in no uncertain terms that they were softies.

  • "With the water at six degrees Celsius and between 80 and 100 degrees of heat in the sauna, this isn't for the faint-hearted," says Alex from Norway.

  • Together with his mates Tord, Espen, Jørgen, Adrian, and Mathias, he's taken a weekend trip to Helsinki.

  • They're trying out the traditional and much-discussed Finnish ritual.

  • To do it properly, they've chosen the traditional Finnish sauna experience at Löyly in Helsinki.

  • Sweat, cold drinks, and steady breathing are the order of the day.

Impressive Architecture at Löyly

With a facility designed by the Finnish architectural firm Avanto Architects, Löyly is known for its unique architecture and its sustainable approach. The building is an attraction in itself, boasting a sauna, restaurant, bar, and outdoor seating. The sauna is located by the sea in the Hernesaari district and is a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

The name Löyly, "the soul of the sauna", originates from the Finnish name for the puff of steam that occurs after you pour water over hot stones in a sauna.

A group of friends having fun before outside of a sauna in Helsinki.

Finnish Saunas – a Vital Part of the Culture

Several of the Nordic cities have jumped on the trend of city-centre saunas, like KOK in Oslo – where you can swim with both the Opera House and the Munch Museum as a backdrop. But in Finland, sauna is no trend — it is an integral part of Finnish lifestyle and culture, and there is hardly a home in the country that does not have access to some form of sauna. For the group of friends from Norway, visiting an authentic Finnish sauna was one of the highlights of the trip and something they recommend to everyone visiting Helsinki and Finland.

"This is the most important thing to experience if you're in Helsinki," believes Alex.

"I agree. The sauna is something you have to experience, the whole Löyly and the surrounding experience. This is authentic Finnish culture," Tord says, adding:

"This is absolutely fantastic. I haven't been to a sauna in 15 years, but this definitely won't be the last time."

  • Local Guidance on the Finnish Sauna Rituals

    The fact that the locals are keen to share and discuss the rituals that are an integral part of the sauna visit enhances the experience even more.

  • Among other things, the Norwegians are guided into the smoke sauna, a type of sauna heated differently than a regular one.

  • However, there was one thing that the local Finns were particularly unimpressed by:

  • The Norwegians thought the six-degree Celsius sea was too chilly for a dip.

  • "The Finns thought we must be Swedes because we were so soft when it came to both the sauna and bathing," Mathias laughs.

How to Experience an Authentic Finnish Sauna

Finnish sauna rituals are a key part of Finnish culture and tradition. The sauna is a place where people come together to relax, cleanse their bodies, and socialise. It is commonly said that the most crucial decisions in Finnish politics and business are made in saunas.

But how do you sauna like a true Finn? Here are some key elements in Finnish sauna rituals:

1. The Preparation

Before entering the sauna, it's common to shower to cleanse the body. Many find it comfortable to wear a bathrobe or a towel inside the sauna. Most Finns take saunas naked, but this isn't mandatory. In communal or public saunas, swimwear is often required.

2. The Heating

The sauna is heated with a wood-burning stove or electric heaters. The temperature can vary but typically lies between 70 and 100 degrees Celsius. It's common to pour water on the stove to create steam, which increases the humidity and heat inside the sauna. It's customary to ask the others in the sauna if it's okay to add more water. It's also considered rude to leave while waiting for the löyly, so step out before or stick it out.

3. In the Sauna

When entering the sauna, it's common to sit on wooden benches that are placed at different heights along the walls. Traditionally, men sit on the top bench and women on the bottom, but few adhere to such "rules" these days.

4. Use a "Vihta"

A traditional Finnish sauna ritual involves the use of a "vihta", a bundle of birch branches tied together. You can gently tap yourself or others on the back with the vihta to stimulate blood circulation and release the scent of birch leaves.

5. The Cooling Down

After spending time in the sauna, you head out to cool down. This can be done by taking a quick dip in a lake, the sea, or a specially cooled pool. Some choose a cold shower with icy water or to lay down in the snow during winter.

6. The Relaxation

After cooling down, you can return to the sauna for another round, or you can relax and rest. Remember to drink plenty of water. While many Finns enjoy a beer during their sauna visit, it is very rarely brought into the sauna itself.

7. Social Interaction

The sauna is often a place where friends and family come together to talk, share stories, and socialise. There are few rules, but it is considered disrespectful to be loud or intoxicated in public saunas.

Friends holding colorful drinks.

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