The Finnish Sauna

Researching about the culture of the Finnish, I found out rather quickly that saunas are integral part of their culture. Imagine that the estimate of the number of saunas in this country stands at around 3.5 million! (4) This means that all of Finland could be in Saunas all at once!

“There are saunas in studio apartments, at summer cottages and public swimming pools, gyms and hotels, on boats and buses, you name it – Finnish embassies abroad have their own saunas built and there’s even one inside the Parliament in Helsinki.” (1)

So how did this become so popular in this country? And why?

The oldest of Finnish saunas were made as pits in the ground and date back to several thousand years ago. The oldest versions are estimated to bae from 7000 BCE. (2) Unfortunately, there is no written history of how the first sauna in Finland came to be. But there are remnants of saunas that were so-called “ground pit saunas” and were used during the stone age. (3)

Eventually the saunas were built outside, on top of the ground in small log cabins. They became very popular because of their versality. In their cold winters it would keep them warm, it allowed them to take care of basic hygiene and most importantly it was the perfect sterile environment to give birth.

Last year, on December 17, 2020,  it was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. This is the description in their website:

Sauna culture in Finland is an integral part of the lives of the majority of the Finnish population. Sauna culture, which can take place in homes or public places, involves much more than simply washing oneself. In a sauna, people cleanse their bodies and minds and embrace a sense of inner peace. Traditionally, the sauna has been considered as a sacred space – a ‘church of nature’. At the heart of the experience lies löyly, the spirit or steam released by casting water onto a stack of heated stones. Saunas come in many forms – electric, wood-heated, smoke and infra-red. Approaches vary too, with no hierarchy among them. Sauna traditions are commonly passed down in families and though universities and sauna clubs also help share knowledge. With 3.3 million saunas in a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, the element is readily accessible to all. Traditional public saunas in the cities almost disappeared after the 1950s. In recent years, new public saunas have been constructed thanks to private initiatives. (4)

This is a video also in the UNESCO website:

Steps in Taking a Traditional Finnish Sauna (Wooden Sauna)

Taking a sauna begins with having a wash (usually a shower), followed by a sit in the sauna room, the room being typically warmed to 80–110 °C (176–230 °F). Water is thrown on the hot stones topping the kiuas, a special stove used to warm up the sauna. This produces great amounts of wet steam, known as löyly. Only the word löyly is used for this particular type of steam. Its meaning is ‘spirit, breath, soul’.

Occasionally one uses a bunch of leaves form the a silver birch called a vihta (vasta in Eastern Finland) to gently beat oneself. This has a relaxing effect on the muscles and also helps to soothe the irritation from mosquito bites.

If you start to feel uncomfortable it is customary to jump into a lake, sea, or a swimming pool, or to have a shower.

In the winter, rolling in the snow or even swimming in a hole cut in lake ice, an avanto, is sometimes used as a substitute.

Often after the sauna it is a custom to sit down in the dressing room or on the porch of the sauna to enjoy a snack or meal. Because your body looses so much salt, salty food is the usual preference. Bread, sausage, along with beer or soft drinks are typical but now there is even a sauna cuisine blooming there! These photos coming up are from a Sauna Cookbook written by Katariina Vuori. (5)

Photo Cr.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at some famous saunas there!

  1. The Helsinki Eco-Friendly Sauna – Löyly

Read more about its design HERE.

(2) Watching a hockey game from a sauna… oh yeah! You can do this at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. It will cost you around 400 Euros for it!

3) Ylläs Sauna Gondola

Yes! You read correctly. It is a sauna ride! This trip starts at the top of Ylläs fell, goes down to the Gondola station and then up again.
1 sauna trip takes about 20 min. Max 4 persons at sauna cabin.

Because this ski resort is way north in Lapland, if you are lucky you can see the northern lights!

I am not a big fan of saunas but I think Finland could change my mind. What a beautiful and delicious culture of sauna they have! I actually found a Finnish Sauna near Boston… HERE.

Oh! I almost forgot to share that they even have a Burger King with a sauna in it:


(1) visitfinland

(2) wikipedia

(3) taigatimes

(4) ich.unesco



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