I was unbelievably excited to find out that the Southbank Centre had installed a Finnish sauna on their roof this winter as part of their year long exploration into Finnish culture. A Finnish sauna (so a proper hot sauna) and a rooftop view of my favourite part of London – tick and tick!!
So on Sunday evening RBJ and I jumped on the tube to Waterloo to check out the sauna for ourselves and to enjoy an evening sauna session, courtesy of the lovely events team at the Southbank Centre. We followed the signs to the sauna along the Southbank of the river, towards the twisting canary-yellow steps that lead to the roof.
The roof was decked out not only with the sauna but also with an enchanting little festive garden. It felt like we had entered a little secret haven, a sort-of hidden calm up on the roof of the one busiest area of London. Our session was at 8.30pm so it was dark when we arrived and the roof was glowing from garlands of fairy lights and the cafe area was full of relaxed looking people with wet hair and steaming paper cups.
We wound our way round the path past the cafe and into the sauna centre, where we were greeted by the girl on the reception desk. We were asked to take off our shoes and socks before entering separate male/female changing rooms to change.
Unlike the traditional Finnish Saunas we went to in Helsinki, the sauna itself was, much to our delight, a communal one for men and women. Which is of course much more sociable if you are visiting as a couple or mixed group! The sauna was wooden with one long window at the front that looked outwards giving spectacular views over the River Thames. Best of all, it was true Finnish temperature, reaching around 100 degrees at its hottest.
When we first went into the Sauna, we were given a short introduction on Finnish saunas by a sauna expert, Pasi. Pasi told us that saunas are synonymous in Finland with the feeling of pleasure – when you are cold they give you the pleasure of heating you up and then when you get too hot you have the pleasure of going out and cooling down – and then repeating the whole process again and again! He also told us that Fins love their saunas – so much so that there are more saunas in the whole of Finland then there are cars!
In total our sauna session lasted 70 minutes (including changing time). In between saunas we went out onto the decking looking out over the river to cool down. Taking in the sights of the city in my bikini in December is definitely a new London first for me!!
After our time was up we reluctantly showered and made our way home, feeling lovely and relaxed! The big downside to a London sauna? Having to get the tube with faces like beetroot!!
I have been saying for years that Londoners could learn a thing or two from the sociable sauna culture of the scandi countries and Southbank Centre have done a fabulous job of recreating just that on their roof. I just wish it was a permanent feature rather than a pop up!
The rooftop sauna at Southbank is only there until the end of December – tickets can be purchased via the Southbank website here:https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/124134-finnish-rooftop-sauna-2017
The Finnish Sauna at the Southbank Centre scores as follows:
COST: 4/5 Tickets aren’t cheap at £25 a session. If this was a permanent feature I think they would need to reduce the cost a bit however as it is a temporary feature, I think this is a fair cost. Especially given what a unique, one off experience it was.
CLEANLINESS: 5/5 The whole rooftop felt fresh and impeccably clean. I liked that people were asked to take shoes off before going into the changing rooms and to shower before entering – top marks!
IN THREE WORDS: AUTHENTIC, UNIQUE, I-WISH-IT-WAS-A-PERMANENT-FEATURE