For Finns, the act of enjoying a sauna is an inherent part of the national culture, which explains why there are more than three million saunas in the country, an average of one per household. Offering a meditative space in which to cleanse oneself physically and mentally, as well as commune with others over the heat of the stove, saunas are considered essential to one’s well-being. The fact that they offer a break from the harsh Finnish winter weather might be another reason they became – and remain – so popular.
The versions you’re likely to come across on your trip to the Helsinki area are the smoke sauna or savusauna, which are considered the traditional, highbrow choice, or the electric sauna. Whether you prefer the heat of real wood smoke or the convenience of the city-based variety, you are sure to leave your Finnish sauna experience relaxed and revived.
Encompassing much more than its name suggests, Cafe Kuusijärvi is a year-round outdoor recreational centre offering ice swimming, cross-country skiing and public smoke saunas, as well as a café. Though there are also two electric saunas, most people come to Kuusijärvi to experience the smoke sauna, the only public one in the Helsinki metropolitan area. Emulate the locals by working up a sweat in the heat, then taking a cooling dip in the lake. It takes some getting used to in winter, but the effects are wondrous.
Cafe Kuusijärvi, Kuusijärventie 3, 01260 Vantaa, +358 (0)10 322 7090
To add a touch of romance to your sauna experience, visit Kaurilan Sauna. Dating back to the 19th century, this picturesque rustic building offers a beautiful setting in which to enjoy a sauna. Originally private, Kaurilan was opened to the public in 2009. However, it is still possible to hire the entire space for groups of up to 15 people. Drinks and snacks are an essential part of the sauna experience, and Kaurilan allows guests to bring their own for a mid-session pick-me-up.
Kaurilan Sauna, Heikinniementie 9, 00250 Helsinki, +358 (0)50 597 3359
Founded in 1953, Sauna Hermanni offers a touch of kitsch cool to your Finnish experience. Using contemporary Iki stoves as opposed to wood ones, Sauna Hermanni has a different feel from wood-smoke saunas, but is perhaps better suited to the city-tripper. Women and men have their own separate saunas, with room for 30 men and 20 women. If you turn up on a whim, you can rent a towel and a locker and even order a bite to eat in the wood-panelled dressing room. The sauna can also be booked for private groups if you are travelling with a crowd.
Sauna Hermanni, Hämeentie 63, 00101 Helsinki, +358 (0)9 701 2424
Located in the hipster area of Kallio, Arla offers a traditional no-frills sauna experience that has served locals well since 1929. It also appeals to the environmentally conscious traveller as its stoves have recently been switched from natural to bio-gas. There are separate saunas for men and women, and towels can be rented. Soft drinks and beers are available to buy for those looking to quench their thirst after their relaxing experience.
Arla, Kaarlenkatu 15, 00101 Helsinki, +358 (0)9 719218