Friendly disclaimer! We want to be as accurate as possible, but given these challenging times, we urge you to recheck that the venues are open when you decide to travel.
The oddly interesting fact about the Finns is that their word ‘sauna’ is the only word that made it to the English dictionary! But considering the Finnish steamy-chill out sauna culture is so integral and distinctive, it is not surprising. Of the 5 million Finn homes, 2 million have their own saunas. Soaking in hot tubs during informal family meetings and even business meets, it is every Finn’s favourite way to relax and enjoy this once-a-week ritual. To sample this Finnish way of life, we highly recommended these spots.
Fancy a truly traditional experience, in a wood-heated public sauna in Helsinki? Kotiharjun sauna, in service since 1928 and located downtown, was once a working-class neighborhood. Today with its hipster restaurants, bars and clubs, it enjoys its unique distinction, rivalling the newer, updated saunas in the vicinity.
Heated with burning wood and the soft steam of its famous stove, it is a haven for detoxification, rejuvenating body and soul. You get to choose from three saunas – the traditional saunas that are exclusively for men or women, while the electrically-heated custom sauna is preferred by families and smaller groups.
Rent towels, buy snacks and relax knowing your time here isn’t limited. The cleansing ritual is part of the sauna culture too, and services are available for scrubs and massages, manicures, pedicures and more. One of the fun things you can do here is listen to storytelling on the benches, chatting and conversing while you look across the streets of Kallio. The sauna is open Tuesday through Sunday from 2 pm to 8 pm.
Unravelog Tip: Pick up a beer or two before you go to the sauna, as you cannot buy it at Kotiharjun. You can keep it chilled in the refrigerator provided at the entrance.
Löyly (for ‘steam’ in Finnish) is among the most iconic and acclaimed fusion saunas that artfully combines tradition with trendy design. It cleverly offers privacy while bathers enjoy the stunning views of the city and the Baltic Sea. But it’s not just the sauna that is so attractive. The restaurant complex serves great Scandinavian classics, eco-friendly food made with locally produced ingredients. Soak up the sun and the sensations on this scenic outdoor terrace while sipping a refreshing beverage.
Löyly’s sculpture-like architecture adds a distinctive feel to the harbour skyline, in this summer city, when visitors throng the capital. Summer weekends at the bar with DJs are usually buzzing with activities in town. If you arrive in winter, and are brave enough, try this – plunge into the icy cold waters of the sea after steeping yourself in the sauna – you’ll experience the extreme version! If you live to tell the tale, we grant you bragging rights for life!.
Unravelog Tip: Before you travel, check Löyly’s website as both the sauna and the restaurant may require prior reservations.
SkySauna and the SkyWheel
To sit high in a sauna in the sky on a Ferris wheel is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience that must make it to your bucket list. Rising 40 metres above the harbour, in temperature-controlled gondolas that operate the year round, the SkyWheel Helsinki observation wheel offers spectacular, panoramic views of central Helsinki that include landmarks like the Uspenski Cathedral and Suomenlinna, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Each gondola on the SkyWheel can accommodate six to eight people comfortably and the ride lasts about 10 minutes. Longer tours can be arranged too, such as on New Year’s Eve when visitors are greeted with a glass of champagne while the sky fills with fireworks. The VIP Experience includes a completely private VIP-gondola, with plush leather seats, tranquilizing music, air conditioning and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.
If there are more people in your group, it is possible to switch visitors from the slowly rotating sauna gondolas to the relaxing hot tubs on the ground level, the private lounges or terrace.
Unravelog Tip: If you prefer to rent the sauna experience for private use, please take your own bathrobes and sandals, as these are not included in the package.
Vying for the reputation of the most ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘authentic’ Finnish sauna is Sauna Arla. A gem in this vibrant, youthful district, Arlo dates back to 1929, when it was built as a public bath to serve factory workers. Their public sauna bathing ritual became part of the neighbourhood’s culture. Today, as you enter its magnificent iron door, paintings made by the popular rock and blues singer Marjo Leinonen, greet you. Arla exudes authenticity for its equipment, wardrobes and doors that still retain their original aesthetics, while being an essential part of this hipster district, Kallio.
Sauna Arla is one of the oldest and best public saunas of Helsinki and enjoys a reputation as a ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘authentic’ Finnish sauna. So if you want to people-watch or meet locals from Helsinki and better understand traditional and contemporary Finnish culture, Arla it is!
Unravelog Tip: Arla does cupping therapy (a Finnish practice since the 15th century), which uses the oriental suction method on the skin for chronic conditions, and continues to be a part of Helsinki’s sauna tradition. Give it a try!
Allas Sea Pool
Quite an unexpected experience from the other saunas is the Allas Sea Pool – with 3 impressive swimming pools and 3 magnificent saunas that can accommodate up to 3500 people at a time! Situated in the city’s South Harbour at Market Square, it has a floating pool deck on top of the sea. The seawater pool is filled with the water of the Baltic Sea that is sourced from a distance and filtered for use.
The three saunas include a women-only, a men-only and a mixed-gender sauna, normally rented out for private events. Try and catch some DJ nights, events and concerts, hosted year-round. In addition to the pool and sauna, there are a slew of restaurants, stalls, conference rooms and so much more to enjoy.
Allas pools and saunas are open daily at varying times. so do check their website. From Monday to Thursday all pools are open 6.30 am – 9 pm at night. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Allas Sea Pool is open from 6.30 am – 11 pm. Sunrise and sunset/night times on this day are quietest in the spa. It gets busy on Sundays, open from 9 am to 9 pm. Sessions are limited to two hours and you must enter 40 minutes before closing time or you won’t be allowed entry! Entry to the swimming pool shuts 20 minutes before closing. Tickets cost €9 for adults.
Unravelog Tip: Reserve tickets online! Off-peak times are highly recommended. If simply turning up, visitors may get turned away, due to the lack of spa and locker areas at peak times.
Looking for a simple, Nordic aesthetic that is eco-friendly? Situated in Helsinki’s urban Merihaka district, Kulttuurisauna (designed by Finnish architect Tuomas Toivonen and Japanese designer Nene Tsuboi) opened as a part of Helsinki’s World Design Capital year in 2012. Kulttuurisauna (translates as ‘culture sauna’), is a no-frills experience, not for large gatherings and limited to just 3 guests per group. No alcohol or cameras are allowed, which you won’t miss since the views of the sea from the panoramic windows are so stunning, it’s hard to capture on camera!
You can pick up a towel and swimsuit, sit in the sauna and relax after, in the lobby or outside. There are separate steam rooms in the sauna for men and women, as well as a shared living room. Feel brave enough? Go ahead and take a cold plunge in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea.
No prior booking needed. Doors open to visitors, Wednesdays through Sundays, from 4 PM to 9 PM. A huge oven gives soft warmth and a nice wooden aroma wafts in the atmosphere. It costs 17.80 USD (€15) and 11.80 USD (€10) for students.
Unravelog Tip: A great place to relax after a sauna is the extremely comfortable and cosy patio. Watch boats pass by while you cook and enjoy a barbeque on an open fire!
There’s nothing like the community endeavour of Sompasauna, built by the people, for the people, and is hugely welcoming and hospitable. The sauna is open 24 hours and is free for anyone to use. It was built by and is now maintained by a group of Helsinki’s volunteers. This wood-burning self-service public sauna is the country’s ‘most public sauna’, just a 15-minute walk from the Kalasatama metro station. While shuttling between the sauna and the seashore, locals and strangers alike can get in a sauna, to escape the freezing air.
Since the saunas have no lifeguard or staff on-site, visitors are advised to be cautious in the use of the sauna and venture into the sea at their own risk. If you are visiting in the winter, try the Finnish tradition of avanto, or ‘ice swimming’. Even during the warmer months, the amazing contrast of the cool sea with the humidity and warmth of the sauna is refreshing. Bring your own towel (swimsuit optional) and refreshments. An open-fire grill is available in the area to cook sausages.
Unravelog Tip: Before you arrive, it helps to buy your own bag of firewood (which is also available on-site) and a bottle of spring water from a 24-hour gas station or supermarket.