Letting off steam: How to discover the perfect Helsinki sauna for you
There’s no sound more satisfying to a Finn than the sizzle of sauna steam. Yet until you visit Finland, you don’t realise how important sauna is to Finnish life. Check out our quick guide on how to get hot in Helsinki.
The brief history of Finnish sauna
There’s no sound more satisfying to a Finn than the sizzle of sauna steam. Yet until you visit Finland, you don’t realise how important sauna is to Finnish life.
Hardly surprising when you discover that saunas have been used in Finland for an estimated 10 000 years.
In the beginning, they were just a hole in the ground with a fire and an animal skin thrown over the top. As they evolved, saunas not only granted Finns warm respite from the harsh winter, but were a central part of everyday life:
Finns bathed in them, gave birth in them, and even prepared for weddings and funerals in them.
These days their uses might be less varied, but that doesn’t make them any less popular. In fact, when you visit the Finnish capital you’ll find a public sauna for every taste. Don’t believe us? Check out our quick guide on how to get hot in Helsinki.
Helsinki Sauna Guide
1. Kotiharjun sauna
- Best for: Urban explorers
- If you’re one of life’s urban explorers, the type of person who gets off on discovering the places locals hang out in, then you’ll love Kotiharjun Sauna.
- The real deal
Located in the heart of Kallio, once a down-trodden edgy neighbourhood and now one of Helsinki’s most vibrant, Kotiharjun Sauna is the perfect spot to sauna like a local.
Opened in 1928, it’s Helsinki’s oldest public sauna and the best place to go for a traditional urban sauna.
When the heat gets too much, toss on a towel and head outside for fresh air and people-watching while you enjoy a cold beer. For the most authentic experience, ask for a vihta – you can use this bunch of birch leaves to gently whip your body to improve circulation.
Practical info: Kotiharjun Sauna is wood-heated with separate saunas for men and women. Sauna-goers are expected to kick back in true Finnish fashion – in other words, you’ll need to strip down to your birthday suit, as swimsuits and towels are not welcome. However, if you need some Dutch courage before letting it all hang out, you’ll be pleased to hear alcohol is allowed. So, feel free to bring your own beer or cider.
2. Kaurilan Sauna
- Best for: Zen masters
- If you like to kick back, chill and find your inner Zen, whilst getting at one with nature, then Kaurilan Sauna is going to be your spiritual home.
- The cozy cottage experience
Helsinki may be a million strong, but it doesn’t take much to get lost in the wilderness.
Consequently, if you’re looking for a peaceful countryside escape without leaving the city, Kaurilan Sauna is your best bet.
This sauna is housed in the original train station of Kaurila, a small village in Karelia, and was built in 1894. It moved to its current location in 1994, and is today one of Helsinki’s most soothing sauna spots. It’s about as traditional as it gets.
hat’s more, owner Saara Lehtonen makes her own sauna linens and organic cosmetics in a next door workshop, ensuring a beautifully spiritual experience that will stay with you long after the löyly, or sauna steam, has gone.
Practical info: The "Lenkkisauna", or weekly public sauna hours, are held on Monday to Wednesday from 18-22h. There are women's, men's and mixed sauna sessions. Individual tickets are required and need to be bought in advance. You can also book a private sauna, with space for up to 15 people. As guests you can bring your own drinks and snacks. Kaurilan Sauna provides the cutlery, tableware and glasses. Linen towels, sauna seat covers and shower products are also provided for guests in the dressing area.
- Best for: Thrill seekers
- If you’re adrenaline rush junkie or simply get a buzz out of pushing yourself to new limits, then this is the sauna for you.
This sea-side sauna not only offers a spectacular view, but most importantly, the opportunity to experience something uniquely Nordic: ice hole swimming. In winter, when the sea is frozen solid, Kulttuurisauna maintains an ice hole for invigorating dips in between bouts of sauna steaming. The change between extreme temperatures is not only exhilarating, but it’s fantastic for your health too. Of course, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re the daredevil type, it’s something you should give a go. There’s a reason that fortune is said to favour the brave.
Practical info: Swimsuits and towels are not provided, so take your own. You can't wear either in the sauna. However, you can use them for swimming and chilling outdoors. Alcohol is not welcome, but water is provided. You don’t need to make an appointment, so feel free to drop anytime from 16.00 to 21.00.
4. Allas Sea Pool
- Best for: Sea lovers
- Love the sound of the ocean swell and the cry of the gulls? Feel invigorated by the mesmerising rhythm of the waves and a brisk swim in the salty brine? You’re in luck.
As you’ve probably guessed from the name, the Allas Sea Pool is right by the sea. In fact, the unique spot, which is built from Finnish pine wood, actually floats in the harbor, giving you unbeatable views of ships coming and going.
Popular with Helsinki families, it has three saunas – one for women, one for men and one mixed gender. On top of this you have the three pools, a heated pool, sea water pool and a children’s pool.
If you didn’t think this could get any better, you’ll be happy to hear The Allas Café and Neighbour Bistro both offer tasty snacks and meals to help you recharge after a relaxing day of sauna, sun and swimming.
Practical info: To make it easier to go straight from the sauna to the pool, you are welcome to wear your swimsuit in the sauna. You can buy tickets online or on location, and they are valid for until closing, or up to 10 hours after purchase.
- Best for: Party people
- Enjoy getting down on the dance floor or spending a night out hanging with your friends? Imagine doing that with a sauna on hand and a sea-side terrace to chill on. You've just imagined Löyly.
Löyly –the Finnish word for the steam you create by splashing water on hot sauna stones – is one of Helsinki’s favourite social hotspots. Its mixed gender sauna is the perfect place for get-togethers with friends.
The structure, which has won a ton of awards for its amazing architectural design, has both a wood-heated sauna and a traditional smoke sauna, as well as a restaurant and three levels of terraces.
Once you’ve finished sizzling in the sauna, you can chill in style with a fancy cocktail on one of its sea-view summer terraces or —if you've gone for an ice hole dip in winter —snuggle up by the fireplace.
Practical info: You can buy tickets online or on location. Swimsuits are required at Löyly.
6. Sky Sauna
- Best for: The wonderfully wacky
- You’re one of those crazy people who loves doing the insane, the silly and the downright daft. Someone combines a ferris wheel and a sauna and you’re front of the queue. Well, today you’re in luck.
Sky Sauna is exactly what it sounds like: a sauna which flies through the air. Yes, you heard me right. The Sky Wheel, a large Ferris wheel located near the Market Square, has converted one of its cabins into a sauna.
Needless to say, this offers the best views of any sauna in town.
Consequently, if the idea of soaring as you sizzle tickles your fancy, you should put the Sky Sauna top of your list. While the sauna isn’t huge, the vista is vast. Add to the fact that this might well be the only Sky Sauna on earth and you can see why it’s worth giving it a go.
Practical info: You can rent this sauna cabin for up to 15 people, taking turns flying in the sauna and soaking in the hot tub. Sky Sauna is only available through reservation. Drinks and towels are provided.
7. Saunas at St. George Care -spa
- Best for: Lovers of luxury
- You care about wellbeing and love to kick back and relax in fine style – without doing it in the nude.
If you’re looking for something a little more refined, it’s worth checking out the saunas at Hotel St. George, part of our St. George Care spa.
Especially designed as a tranquil retreat in the heart of Helsinki, we’ve made use of the healing power of water and its minerals and nutrients in our treatment philosophy.
Based on the philosophies of two brands, both of which embrace the power of nature – the Hungarian skincare line Omorovicza and Finland’s own Lumene – these treatments have been created to bring mind, body, heart and soul together in harmony and balance.
Add to this a beautiful pool, fully equipped gym and a chance for a massage and you can see why St. George Care spa is well worth considering.
Practical info: St. George Care spa is open Monday to Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Swimsuits are required. Age limit is 16 years. The spa is open to hotel guests, spa and gym members, and anyone booking a massage or a treatment.
So, there you have it: seven super saunas for all tastes, all with their own unique qualities. Whichever of the many options you choose, we hope you enjoy letting off steam.