Helsinki Card
Helsinki Card

When in Finland, Do Sauna

8.3.2016 Text: Violetta Teetor Photos: Sanna Kaesmae / Uusi sauna

Well-being, health, stress relief, mindfulness, all buzzwords for todays’ hectic lifestyle and the pressure we have to cope with on a daily basis. The Finns know how to do it and they’ve been doing it for centuries.

History and Innovation

The first blueprint for a sauna dates back to 1699 consisting of a heap of stones with a hollow cavity almost like a combustion chamber with no window and no chimney and a fire in the middle. Today it’s called a smoke sauna and is not the place where you would want to read a book. Pitch black hardly cuts it. There are more saunas in Finland than cars, 3 million at last count. But that wouldn’t stop the Finns from coming up with new ideas for the most innovative. The telephone booth obviously isn’t enough, neither is the ski lift at Ylläs, nor the yurt floating on Töölö Bay in the summer, yes, these are all saunas. In the meanwhile, while they’re racking their brains, we have plenty of opportunities in Helsinki to enjoy the benefits of heat, steam and cold followed by beer.

Business and Diplomacy


Sauna is a cure for all kinds of ills, both mental and physical. But it’s also a political and economic hot spot, please excuse the pun. President Kekkonen was well versed in the effects of sauna, so much so that he was known to keep his political guests in the heat until an agreement had been reached. Even Khrushchev enjoyed his host’s hospitality until 5 am culminating in him agreeing to Finland opening up its trade doors to the West.

President Ahtisaari followed in his predecessor’s footsteps using the sauna as a cooling down method for hotheaded opponents determined not to agree with one another. Talk, meet, sauna, more talk, and the problem seems to well, disappear like steam. Business people in Finland are more than ready to introduce you to their particular brand of negotiation, perhaps less so now than in the past but it’s still high on the priority list of how to entertain your foreign guests.


Plenty of Choices

Nowadays saunas come in all shapes and sizes. If you can’t find a smoke sauna, purportedly the best kind amongst aficionados who claim that the ‘löyly’ or steam is the softest, there is the wood-burning one found at many summer cottages and of course the electric stove that also comes in various forms the latest being a high cage enclosed in wiring containing a lot of ‘kiuas’ or sauna rocks which creates a less harsh, burning experience that you might find from one with just a few stones.

Some of the better known public saunas in Helsinki give you a full-on experience of this Nordic tradition. Kulttuurisauna (€15) on the shoreline of Merihaka, offers you that body shocking experience of warming up and then dipping yourself in the ice cold Baltic Sea. Now there’s a jolt to the ole ticker but they say the benefits are enormous, even anti-ageing. The classic old-fashioned Kotiharju Sauna (€12) in Kallio prides itself on being the biggest wood-burning sauna in Finland. The original furniture has been kept even the lockers reminiscent of art deco. Arla Sauna is cosy and cute and slightly cheaper than the others at €10 a go for as long as you like. The Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall (2.50-14€) allows men and women to bathe in the buff at different times of course. They have a huge wood burning sauna and washing ladies that give you a workout and not just a scrub. Masseurs are also at your service.

Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall

Helsinki Sauna Day

And here’s the good news for those of you that find yourself in Nordic climes on 12 March 2016. Helsinki Sauna Day gives you the unique opportunity to try out this heat therapy absolutely free of charge. Organised by Jaakko Blomberg, ambassador for togetherness, happiness and health, he has been involved in many projects to gather people together and turn this city into a better place to live.

More info:
w -> Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall
More saunas:

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