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A little something about Finnish sauna

By: Catharine
Last Updated: 25/05/2021

When in Rome you take your cues from the Romans, but when in Finland, you do as the Finns and you sauna.

The sauna is a hugely integral part of Finnish culture, so we've rounded up some quick facts and fun pointers about this national pastime.

A sauna in every home

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This image: Helsinki | Cover image: Wood sauna ©Visit Finland - Harri Tarvainen

Finland's population of 5 million boasts 3 million saunas among them. That's one per household! In larger cities public saunas are still around, as well, so you won't have to look very far to enjoy the experience. Finns tend to sauna at least once per week, with Saturday being the traditional day to partake in the activity.

Get naked (or not)

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It's not traditional to wear a towel or swim suit in the sauna, but it's not unheard of.

Taking a sauna is akin to taking a bath or shower, and you don't do either of those things in your swimsuit, do you? Finns are raised to be comfortable in the nude with one another, so it's no big deal for them to strip down and sauna in groups (generally women and men sauna separately, with the exception of family members).

If you ere on the side of modesty, then feel free to wrap up in a towel or don that swimsuit. Finns may find it odd but they won't shame you for it.

You do what with those branches?

Finnish sauna
A few good whacks with a vasta (also called vihta) will get the blood flowing! (Source)

The sauna experience is a cleansing one, and a traditional part of the process is gently whipping oneself with a bundle of fresh birch branches. This action serves the dual purpose of softening the skin and improving circulation.

Stay hydrated

Sauna Makkara
Delicious makkara make for the perfect mid-sauna snack. (Source)

As you can imagine, sitting in a heated room for any stretch of time will make you sweat. So it's important to stay well-hydrated while you sauna. Rarely will you see a Finn on route to sauna without a couple of cold beverages in tow — more likely than not it'll be beer or cider. And what better way to fill your belly while you cleanse your body and mind than with a makkara (Finnish for sausage)?

Silence, please.

While many cultural stereotypes are easily disproved, the old chestnut about Finns being a rather quiet bunch is undeniable. And silence in the sauna is particularly important. You won't be hearing any new-age spa soundtracks pumped into the room, and you should generally keep your conversations quiet so as to respect others taking their sauna with you.

Respect that post-sauna glow

If you feel like just kicking back and relaxing post-sauna, go for it!

The feeling one gets after spending time in the sauna is one of utter relaxation. With the mind and body thouroughly cleansed and relaxed, many choose to do absolutely nothing for a good portion of the day afterward. This post-sauna time, called saunanjälkeinen in Finnish, is when you absolutely must respect somebody's wishes to just be alone, enjoying the afterglow.

Are you as mad about sauna as the Finns? Check out the amazing packages offered by Nordic Visitor. We'll show you the best of Finland and maybe even toss in another Nordic wonder or two with a combo trip!

Post by: Catharine

Catharine Fulton is a journalist and travel writer. Though born and raised in Canada, she found herself stuck in the Nordic region since moving to Finland in 2007 to pursue her MA and then migrating to Reykjavík, Iceland in 2009, where she lives with her Icelandic husband and tries (albeit unsuccessfully) to master the Icelandic language.

Find Catharine on LinkedIn.

More posts by Catharine

Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.