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Work up a sweat

A bucket, ladle, and birch leaves on a bench inside a sauna.
Photo: Emilia Hoisko Photography/Visit Finland

If you try to explain the idea of a sauna to a first-timer, it is fair to say that it does sound slightly mad. No matter how you phrase ‘strip down to your birthday suit, step into a heated wooden box, and prepare to get sweaty with some strangers’, the concept does not come across as entirely appealing. 

But the truth is, taking a sauna leaves you feeling cleansed and rejuvenated in mind, body, and spirit. It has long been embraced as a way of life here in the north; it is how families bond, how friends celebrate, and even how bigwigs come to decisions. Not long ago, the sauna was also revered as the place where babies took their first breath and where a person’s body was washed for the last time upon their death.

Nowadays, it is estimated that there are around three million saunas strewn across the country. Some are old-fashioned, others are more trendy, and many are near a lake, beach, or river, where you can soothe your sweltering skin mid-steam. No visit to Finland is complete without taking part in this much-loved ritual, so read on for the best places to sweat it out in the archipelago. 

Forum Sauna

Renowned as the only public sauna in Turku, Forum Sauna is an unexpected oasis right in the heart of the city. Forum was established almost 100 years ago and still holds true to its time-honoured traditions. Here, you can experience the true meaning of sauna as well as age-old treatments like cupping therapy.

Storfinnhova Gård

Further south, in the midst of an enchanting forest on Kimitoön, lies the extraordinary Storfinnhova Gård. Unlike the more common electric or wood-heated varieties, the sauna is heated by smoke and even more incredibly, it has been built underground. There are only a few public sessions each month, so call in advance.

The dark interior of the sauna at Storfinnhova Gård, lit only by candles.
If you fall in love with the sauna at Storfinnhova Gård (and let's face it, why wouldn't you?), you can also stay overnight in the forest village here. Photo: Visit Kimitoön

Ruukin Sauna

The historic Ruukin Sauna is situated in the heart of Dalsbruk Ironworks Village. First opened more than 100 years ago, the sauna was once used by factory officials as a place to relax. Visit in the summer months to admire the renovated building, which pays tribute to this long history, and then join in the tradition.

Saaronniemi Beach

Saaronniemi Beach, found on the far end of Ruissalo, is home to a popular seaside sauna. It’s managed by Ruissalo Camping in the warmer months, so why not enjoy a steamy session and then a night under the stars? Come wintertime, you can combine your sauna experience here with a sub-zero dip.

Ispoinen Beach

Just a few kilometres from the centre of Turku, you’ll find Ispoinen Beach. The sauna here belongs to Turun Avantouimarit, the oldest outdoor winter swimming club in Turku, but everyone is welcome. Spend some time frolicking on the beach and then unwind in the sauna.

Book a cottage with a sauna

Given there are only five and a half million people living in a country with three million saunas, there is a fairly good chance that your accommodation will have one. But stack the odds in your favour and book a cottage with Lomarengas. Enjoying a sauna at a cottage, especially over summer, is a beloved tradition that is usually done in tandem with grilling sausages, playing games, and having a refreshing swim. 

A woman, sitting in a sauna, throws water on the stones.
If you memorise only one word before you jump in a sauna, make it löyly. This is the word for the steam and heat that is produced when you throw water on the stones. Photo: Emilia Hoisko Photography/Visit Finland

Do I need to wear a swimsuit in the sauna?

Well, it’s complicated. Say, for example, there are two saunas, separated into men and women, then prepare yourself to get naked (or get creative with a strategically placed towel). But if you’re there to try ice swimming, or there is only one sauna that men and women share, then you should use a swimsuit. You might also find that some places have their own rules, so as always, it is best to simply ask. 

A person's legs stepping on moss-covered stones in the forest.
Sauna culture is beloved here in Finland. In fact, in 2020, it became Finland’s first ever inscription on the UNESCO Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Photo: Kari Ylitalo/Visit Finland