Book your very own sauna and enjoy the most beautiful winter's day in the Oslo Fjord!
"Are you ready? It's insanely cold today," says Fredrik, laughing. He and his colleagues have met up at Amerikalinjen, just a stone's throw from the Oslo Fjord where frosty vapours rise into the air. The gang is ready to enjoy a hot (and cold) trend: saunas and ice bathing.
It's one of the coldest days of the year so far.
The thermometer reads minus eleven degrees. The clock approaches 08:00 and people are rushing to work in Norway's capital, Oslo. Outside, the sound of studded tires from bicycles and the screeching of tram brakes in the freezing cold can be heard.
Inside the reception at Amerikalinjen, the conversation is energetic and excited. One person has brought swimming socks and is accused of 'cheating'. 'Experienced' might be more apt, as this is someone who swims all year round.
"At first, it feels a bit like anxiety," says Katie, talking about the shock when you're suddenly engulfed by ice-cold seawater:
"But then I experience a real sense of calm in my body. In that moment, when you control your thoughts, breathe calmly and deeply - that's when you feel ready to conquer the world."
Bathing with a view in the Oslo Fjord
With thick, white bathrobes under their arms, the six colleagues stroll towards the dock at Langkaia. Just a few metres from the prestigious and historic Amerikalinjen Hotel lies the Oslo Fjord and Oslo's many floating saunas. More and more people have embraced the trend of swimming all year round in recent years, and saunas have popped up in coastal towns all over Norway.
Some of the most popular places can be along the harbour promenade in Oslo. Here, many people like to drop by for a morning dip before work or during their lunch break, or book a private sauna, many of which have a view of two magnificent national symbols, the Oslo Opera House and the MUNCH museum.
"I swim every single Monday morning. With the everyday stress of having two children, it feels like I'm resetting my brain," says Sverre, before adding with a smile:
"I also do it to torment myself a bit."
Why is ice bathing so trendy?
So why has this ice bathing trend exploded? It can feel like torture to subject oneself to ice-cold water and even colder air.
There are several theories: some claim that bathing in cold water boosts the immune system, while others believe it's good for our mental health. Many do it for the thrill.
A Finnish study followed a group of swimmers who swam outside over a four-month period in winter and compared them to a control group who did not swim outdoors. The results showed that the winter swimmers had more energy, experienced better moods, and had improved memory. Sverre agrees with the Finnish findings.
"I firmly believe it's good for the body. I've heard it's supposed to be good for the nerves, among other things, but I don't know if that's true. But I've struggled with a sore knee in the past, and since I started ice bathing regularly, I've had no pain," he says.
The winter sun barely shows itself on the horizon over Østmarka. Although the sun provides little warmth at this time of year, it creates a magical backdrop by the fjord.
Once they arrive at the sauna, the group receives a quick introduction to how things work from a so-called sauna master.
The sauna is wood fired and has a changing room and a music system. It is also perfectly fine to bring your own drinks - always nice to have in a hot sauna.
Katie is the first one to enter the water. Three of her colleagues jump in next, followed by two more who climb down the ladder.
There's a lot of laughter, a great deal of shock, and a focus on calm breathing. The water temperature in the Oslo Fjord is 3.1 degrees Celsius this morning.
"Breathe," says Katie, looking at Guro who's in a slight panic. She quickly leaves the water and return to the hot sauna.
The group is split. Half of the group shuttles rapidly between the sauna and the ice cold water, while the more hardened and experienced ones remain calm in the water. They chat, breathe steadily, and enjoy the view. The sun is indeed on its way up.
Four fjord-side hotels
Strawberry has noticed an increase in visitors seeking active experiences when visiting Oslo, particularly those that can be enjoyed all year round and that stand out a bit. There are many opportunities around the Oslo Fjord, such as kayaking and paddle boarding, and swimming from both docks and at urban beaches.
The six colleagues chose to stay at Amerikalinjen as the hotel is very centrally located. It's close to the airport express train, public transport, restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and the vibrant new Bjørvika district, packed with art, culture, and urban life. And, of course, it's also a short distance to the popular saunas.
The hotel is also known for the excellent breakfast served in its Atlas Brasserie and for its basement jazz club Gustav. Here, you'll find a New York atmosphere and pulsating ambiance. Amerikalinjen also boasts Oslo's best cocktail bar - Pier 42, run by Adrian Michalcik, named the world's best bartender at the Diageo World Class Global Bartender of the Year competition in 2022.
Another option is the Clarion Hotel® Oslo. You'll practically be next door to the Munch Museum itself. You'll even find a private gallery, Sketch, and a genuine Munch painting in the reception area of this hotel. If bathing is your focus here as well, "Sukkerbiten" is within walking distance, featuring several large saunas that can accommodate anywhere from eight to 25 people. You can also sign up for sauna rituals that use herbs, scented steam from the oven, and some rituals include elements of meditation.
Moving to the other side of the city, focusing on fjord and culture, you'll find The Thief. It's within walking distance of the Nationaltheatret train station. Here you'll be close to the National Museum and Astrup Fearnley Museum. The hotel has its own spa and is practically on the water. You and your colleagues will have access to a very good restaurant and a fantastic rooftop terrace. And of course, here too, saunas are ready and waiting for you.
Back at Langkaia, Katie clocks a total of seven consecutive minutes in the water.
She has practiced her breathing technique so that she can maintain her calm in the cold for longer.
Regardless of how long the colleagues are in the water, the experience is equally euphoric:
"There comes the sun. Look at that. So beautiful and refreshing, we couldn't have had a better December morning."
Four great tips for those who have never tried ice swimming before:
Don't swim alone. Always bring a friend or colleague. You don't know how you'll react, it's safer to have company, and it's much more enjoyable.
Don't hesitate. Change beforehand at home, undress on the dock, and go straight into the water.
Focus on breathing calmly, which will make you feel warmer and more relaxed. You can check out Dutchman Wim Hof on YouTube for breathing techniques; he's known as "the Iceman" and is the guru of winter swimming.
Bring slippers, or something to stand on when you get out of the water. And put on warm woolen clothes.
Happy winter swimming!