There’s almost one sauna per person in Finland, and sitting inside a refined sweat-box has become a national pastime. But don’t expect to find candles, soothing music, and aromatherapy: Finnish saunas are a bit more traditionally old-school.
Deeply entrenched in Finnish culture, saunas are a way of life and are places where everyone is welcome. Here are five things to know before you step in for a steam:
Brace yourself for heat
If you can’t take the heat, get out of the sauna. In Finnish saunas, temperatures can hit 80 to 90 degrees Celsius (176–194 F) — even in the height of summer. And if the temperature feels fine when you first step in, don’t be deceived: the loylykauha, which is the ladle used to throw water on hot rocks, can turn the room into a steamy furnace within seconds.
Some people — mostly men — consider intense perspiration a symbol of bravado, and can be a little overzealous with their ladling.
Develop body confidence
If the ferocious warmth of a sauna doesn’t deliver a shock, the sight of naked bodies just might: in classic Finland saunas everyone goes naked — no matter their shape or size.
Fortunately, the Finns are a forgiving bunch, so if the mere idea of full exposure makes you break a sweat, take solace in the knowledge that foreigners are free to wear a swimsuit or a towel if they like.
Get set for networking
In addition to offering relaxation and rejuvenation, saunas are also a place to share gossip, resolve issues, and even make business deals. That’s right: baring sweaty, bare skin in front of work colleagues is normal in Finland.
So be prepared to engage in conversation. After all, you never know where it might lead.
Avoid butt-on-board contact
Stripping off may be standard practice in the sauna, but that doesn’t mean naked skin should make contact with shared surfaces. To avoid this, it’s advisable to carry a pefletti. Usually a wooden board — although it could be a cloth or a piece of rubber — the pefletti acts as a divider between your bottom and the seat. (“Peffa” is slang for butt in Finnish.) Helpfully, it also prevents bottom burns should the sauna happen be especially hot.
Make room for one more
Even if every spare centimetre of seating is occupied, Finns will never turn a sauna-goer away. At busy times (usually after work or on weekends) be prepared to shuffle up to your neighbour. By the end of a session, you’ll be close friends in body and mind.
Combine hot with cold
Closing pores after a sauna session is essential, and one of the only ways to that is by leaping into cold water. In summer, Finns head for lakeside saunas, and then swim or walk into the water via a stairwell.
In winter, people sometimes cut a hole in the ice to leap into the icy water — and then quickly out. It sounds like madness, but it does stop you melting for the next few hours.
Keen on a trip to Finland? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our Baltic Adventure tour here.