The Finnish Sauna Experience

It should be with little surprise that a culture which embraces their frosty winters with such relish also has a fondness for intense exposure to hot steam.

Saunas are not a new thing to the world, but they are not just a “popular thing-to-do” in Finland, they are engrained into the national culture. Throughout our travels in the Kainuu region, we often saw small wooden huts speckled along lake edges, just a few feet from the house. On average, saunas in Finland number one for every household. They even exist in city apartments and the Parliament House. Finnish people typically try to make it to the sauna at least once per week, even in summer.

Finland Sauna-003


The sauna is a sacred place. We were told that it is not a place to think about politics (how strict is that rule at Parliament?), talk about business, and it’s definitely not a place to curse. It is meant to be as cleansing for the mind as it is for the body.

And forget about being bashful – the established sauna tradition has you sitting naked with several strangers – bathing clothes are not allowed. (Which is fine by us, incidentally, as both of our Finnish experiences were just with each other, although we’ve never been shy of these sorts of things in the past.)


This is a tradition we could get very used to.


For our first experience, our hostess Suvi suggested that even though most people expect that they will stay only a few minutes, they end up in the sauna for over two hours. We said the same, and had the same result! With just a few occurrences of needing to step outside to cool off (read: get another beer), the wooden cocoon of billowing warmth was just too good to give up. We returned to the house only at the urging of our rumbling tummies.

Finland Sauna-002


Finland Sauna-001


The peat sauna, however, may have been our favourite. As unappetizing as it appeared at the get-go, the benefits were incredible.

We were instructed to smear this peat moss “paste” all over our body and in our hair. It was mixed with herbs (for a pleasant smell, thank goodness!) and felt like chalky mud.

Finland Sauna-004


The heat felt a little more intense this time, and even though we were constantly rubbing water on ourselves to smooth the peat into our skin, we didn’t even come close to lasting the recommended twenty minutes in the sauna.

Finland Sauna-005


The *fun* part was the shower afterwards, where we scrubbed constantly for almost a half an hour to get rid of all the peat (and we were still unsuccessful, finding spots of it stuck in random places a day later).

Our skin, however, had never felt better.

And our mind? Well, that was cleared out too. (But that might have had something to do with the beer.)



Many thanks to Routa Travel and Hotel Kalevala for introducing us to the Finnish sauna culture!

Our trip to Finland was courtesy of Visit Finland and Wild Taiga. As always, all opinions are our own.

30 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • March 13 2013

    Looks wonderful! We stayed in a city apartment in Helsinki, and it had a sauna in the basement…no peat moss though!

    • March 15 2013

      I hope you partook in the sauna plenty though…peat moss or not!

  • March 13 2013

    This is something I would love to experience. My friend and I go to the sauna every couple of months and pay for a private room (only men are allowed in the bottom, public portion).

    I had no idea the Finnish used a sauna that much.

    • March 15 2013

      We had no idea either! But, it makes sense, considering how long the winters can be. I’m not sure why we haven’t adopted this in Canada!

  • Carmel
    March 13 2013

    I don’t know if I could do it. A friend of ours built a beautiful sauna in their backyard and while I enjoyed the experience and took frequent trips outside and to the shower to cool off, I woke up in the middle of the night very nauseated. It’s too bad because it was more fun than I thought it would be. I love the surroundings, too! Wow…

    • March 15 2013

      Oh wow, that really is too bad! Maybe there was TOO much beer? πŸ™‚

      • Carmel
        March 15 2013

        Cocktails and wine…perhaps may have contributed…

  • What a fun experience! My husband would absolutely love this. I can imagine how wonderful this feels in the winter.

    • March 15 2013

      It is pretty divine! And would your husband also like the tradition to run and jump in the frozen lake in between sauna sessions? πŸ™‚

  • March 13 2013

    I missed (skipped) the Finnish sauna on my first trip to Finland. I definitely won’t be skipping it when we head there in a few weeks! Looks so relaxing!
    Jennifer recently posted..Wine Wednesday: Spritz Aperol

  • Sam
    March 13 2013

    Sounds fun! I’ve never had the Finnish version of this experience, but the Swedish one sounds quite similar. Definitely something I could easily get used to!

    • March 15 2013

      Yup. Need to travel in more places that have lots of saunas, I reckon!

  • March 14 2013

    I loved the sauna’s in Finland. I think all the hotels and even hostels we stayed at all had sauna’s.

    • March 15 2013

      Probably! And every house down the street, too. πŸ™‚

  • March 15 2013

    I’m a huge Finnish sauna fan! I was lucky enough to fall in love with a Finn when I was last in Finland. She brought me to her cottage in the middle of the Lake District and we spent an amazing week relaxing in the sauna and cooling off in the lake. Such an amazing experience. The hottest I was able to get up to was 162 F. She was telling me that she and her friends would have competitions to see who could last in the hottest temperature, and her best was 200 F. The thought of that makes me want to pass out πŸ™‚
    Jeremy Fischer recently posted..Cruising Along the Geirangerfjord in Norway – Photo

    • March 15 2013

      Holy crap – 200F! Yeah, that makes me want to pass out too!

  • Fantastic article. I’ve never been to a sauna in Finland but have spent my fair share of time in them here in America. Looks extremely rejuvenating…I must try it out!
    Ron | Active Planet Travels recently posted..Inspirational Photo of the Week | Embracing the Detours

    • March 15 2013

      It sure helps on chilly winter days!

  • March 16 2013

    A good friend of mine has a sauna in her house in Austin and I LOVE to sit and chat and be awesome with her. There really is nothing else like it.

  • Alouise
    March 17 2013

    I remember loving the wooden sauna my local pool had, and that place smelled like chlorine – this looks like it would be even better.

    • March 20 2013

      No chlorine smell here. πŸ™‚

  • March 17 2013

    2 hours in a sauna…I thought that was dangerous!

    • March 20 2013

      I thought the same thing and asked, someone told me it had something to do with positive ions? Anyways, I took lots of breaks. Mostly to get beer. πŸ™‚

  • Kim
    March 19 2013

    Looks heavenly… something about the heat of the sauna set against that white, cold snow just feels healthy and fresh.

  • March 20 2013

    That is their belief! And I am now firmly on board.

  • March 21 2013

    That peat looks…. interesting…. hahaha
    Sounds like an awesome experience! πŸ™‚

    • March 22 2013

      It looked kinda icky, but it turned out to be pretty cool. It smelled good and made our skin feel amazing!

  • March 26 2013

    This is the number one reason I want to go to Finland. What a great and exhilarating tradition. I do my own version on cold northern California nights, jumping from my hot tub into my I heated swimming pool. Not as extreme or ritualized, but exhilarating none the less.

  • October 19 2014

    I’m a Finnish woman living in Ecuador and it’s been two years since I last time visited sauna. I really miss the sauna and the relaxed feeling after that! Also the skin feel so much better after a sauna than just after a shower.
    Hanna recently posted..Why Should You Travel to Ecuador

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