Every November, RBJ and I go away for a long weekend for our anniversary. This year was our ten year anniversary and after a fabulous dinner with a few of our nearest and dearest in London, we headed to Helsinki for 4 nights of saunas and sushi! While researching which saunas to visit, we quickly discovered one thing about Finnish public saunas: bathing suits aren’t permitted.
I was brought up in a pretty open household when it came to body awareness. I don’t remember ever being embarrassed by my own or other people’s bodies and when I look back at old photos or home videos, as children, my two big sisters and I were nearly always running around the garden or swimming in freezing lochs, naked. As an adult, I guess I have body insecurities like most, however I wouldn’t have a problem with changing in front of my female friends and family and like to encourage a healthy attitude towards bodies and nakedness to my inquisitive young nieces.
But as a nation, I think we Brits tend to be quite prudish about being naked beyond an early age and the majority of gyms and pools tend to have individual changing rooms. I have certainly never found a straight sauna in the UK which encourages nudity. On my travels, I have been to one naked sauna on Lake Geneva in Switzerland but nudity wasn’t obligatory and so I chose, (probably out of habit more than anything else) to wear my bikini.
But not ones to be put off by a little local etiquette, we planned our weekend around visiting the saunas, starting our weekend by visiting Kotiharjun sauna near Sornäisten metro stop and then the following day, after a morning shopping in the design district and visiting the Design Museum, we visited the much talked about Kultuurisauna.
Needless to say: Finland gets dark early in winter!!
Kultuurisauna instantly felt very different from Kotiharjun: serene, modern and a bit more wild, located on the edge of the Baltic Sea looking back over the lights of the city. We were greeted by the man on the front desk and reminded of the sauna rules: men and women separately and no bathing suits allowed. We were given mini hand towels (for sitting on) and a locker key. It was possible to hire towels but we didn’t need them this time. We were also told that some visitors choose to take a dip in the Baltic Sea (which in November is approx. 2 – 3 degrees) between saunas!!
At first it did feel a little bit odd stripping off and going in naked to the saunas, but it very quickly became very normal! It wasn’t entirely clear to me what the etiquette was with adding water however as I like my saunas hot, I topped it up quite regularly! There was a long glass window in the sauna from which you could enjoy the heat of the sauna and look back over Baltic sea to the shining lights of the city. Possibly my new happy place 🙂
The only down side to Helsinki public saunas is if you chose to visit as a couple, it isn’t particularly sociable. RBJ and I created a system whereby he knocked on the adjoining wall when he left his sauna so I knew he was going out and could go and join him for chill-out time and a VERY nippy dip in the Baltic Sea:
In the chill out area, there was a brilliant wee book which set out the purpose and criteria behind building Kuluurisauna in 2013:
We enjoyed a fabulous weekend in Helsinki and I would definitely recommend both Kultuurisauna and Kotiharjun to sauna lovers. The other highlights included the amazing Sushibar and Wine (no need to explain – the clue is in the name), our very cool hotel, GLO Art Hotel in the Design District and Hakaniemi Market for all sorts of tasty Finnish food (pickled EVERYTHING!!)
COST: 5/5 (15 euros entry, which in the context of Helsinki (which isn’t a cheap city) seemed very fairly priced)
IN THREE WORDS: SERENE, CALM, MODERN
For more information on Kultuurisauna and its facilities go to: http://www.kulttuurisauna.fi/