Helsinki is a fantastic city – you should DEFINITELY visit if you get a chance. A good way is to fly FINNAIR if you travel to Europe – all flights go through Helsinki so you can easily book a short lay-over (even 24 hours!) to have a look around. If you’re reading this page, it means you’re also interested in sauna – Helsinki is your playground.
(Note: Finnair isn’t paying me to say this. I just think it’s a great idea.)
I spent 3 days in Helsinki in August 2015 with the express intension of having lots of saunas. You can read a full account here (I had an excellent time!). This QUICKGUIDE cuts the bullshit and provides a guide for anyone heading to the Finnish capital looking to sweat.
In this post: (1) general planning notes; (2) a list of public saunas with summary information; and (3) suggested itineraries.
Let’s assume you’re only in Helsinki for a few days. If you want to have some great saunas, YOU NEED TO PLAN. Some basic pointers:
- See below for a list of saunas in Helsinki.
- Only plan to visit one (1) per day. Most of them only open in the afternoon – aim to spend 3-5 hours at one place. The main exception is if you can have an early morning sauna too, e.g. at Yrjönkatu swimming hall (see below).
- Don’t rush. Take your time. You’ll spend plenty of time outside the heat in the relaxation area. A good sauna session involves multiple sets of heat. Make sure you spend plenty of time relaxing outside too. As above, 3-5 hours is a good timeframe. Minimum 2 hours (not including travel time).
- Make sure you stay hydrated – bring a water bottle. Take regular small sips. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty!
- Bring a book if you’re going alone. It’s nice to spend 45 minutes between sets sometimes.
- Most places allow you to BYO beer. You’ll occasionally hear warnings about not mixing sauna and alcohol. But if you’re not an idiot, you’ll be fine. It’s fine to have a few beers.
- Bring a salty snack (e.g. salted peanuts), especially if you’re staying for a while. A fridge-cold sour dill pickle is divine if you can manage it.
- Lockers are generally available.
- Bring a towel if possible, but they can usually be hired.
- Bring fresh clothes for afterwards! If you’re travelling, you might be in smelly clothes that haven’t been washed for days. Make sure you at least have fresh socks and underwear, but try for fresh clothes too. Trust me! The last thing you want is to feel blissfully clean then have to put on damp yucky socks.
- Talk to the locals. They all speak English, even older people. Everyone is friendly. Don’t be shy to chat if you’re in the mood.
- Ask the owners/staff/patrons if you have any questions at all, whether about the facilities or sauna culture in general.
- Ask anyone else in the sauna before you put water on the rocks. You’re welcome to do it, but watch people a few times first. (You may not need to do it, but it’s a lot of fun when it’s empty and you can really crank it yourself).
2. PUBLIC SAUNAS IN HELSINKI
The following list is based on the great Wikitravel page on Helsinki, with my own modifications (including the addition of Kulturisauna). There are definitely more than this (e.g. at the old Olympic stadium), but this is the main list.
- Sauna Arla, Kaarlenkatu 15. This is an old public sauna in Kallio (just north of downtown). Founded in 1929, the second oldest only behind Sauna Kotiharju. Separate saunas for men and women. Gas oven. Excellent heat. Make sure you use the long ladles if you get a chance! Located in an appartment complex but has a clear sign out front. Relaxation area is in the terrace courtyard. Soft drinks available. €12 for adults, students €10. Website. Open Wed-Sun, 2-8pm. Perfect option for Sunday afternoon.
- Sauna Kotiharju, Harjutorinkatu 1. Wood burning public sauna founded in 1928 (a year before Arla). Separate saunas for men and women. I didn’t get a chance to go here but it’s also in Kallio and looks pretty vibesome. €12 for adults, students & pensioners €8.5, towel €3 extra. Website. Open Tues-Sat, 2-8pm.
- Sauna Hermanni, Hämeentie 63. Founded in 1953 and recently renovated back into that style, Hermanni is another excellent public sauna. It has an electric heater – an awesome massive cage holding 300kg rocks. Really fun to pour water on. Small tunnelesque room creates powerful löyly (steam). Soft drinks and snacks available. Separate saunas for men and women. Relax in change room or outside at garden table. There’s a hammock near the table – use it if you can. Open from Monday to Saturday – so it’s your best option on a Monday. Mon-Fri 3-8pm, Sat 2-7pm. Sauna is open for bathing one hour past closing time. €10 for adults, students €8. Website. Very easy to reach with tram 6 or 8 – the stop (Hauhon puisto) is right outside. Say hi to Mika for me!
- Kulttuurisauna, Hagnäskajen 17. This is a cool looking place. I even walked right past it, but didn’t have time to go. Sitting right on the harbour, there are steps down to the water, so it’s the perfect plunging scenario (though I’m not sure if they cut through the ice in winter). It was built only recently (2013) – there’s a cool article about the project here (check the pics). Apparently it’s an “eco-efficiency sauna, based on renewable energy”. The ‘culture’ part is because it is “A new urban concept for bathing enthusiasts where different cultural events are organized, from poetry recitals to lectures.” Open Wed-Sun from 4-9 pm. Last entry at 8 pm. “No swimsuits, no towels allowed in the sauna proper.” Website asks you to BYO towel. Adults €15, students €12. “No photography or alcohol on premises.” Website.
- Yrjönkatu swimming hall, Yrjönkatu 21b. Just across from the iconic Torni Hotel (which has a roof bar I believe), this an art-deco bath house built in 1928 – my kind of pool! It was closed when I went, but there appears to be 7 saunas (2 of them for private booking) over 3 levels. Level 1 (pool deck) opens at 6:30am and has 2 electric saunas, Level 2 opens at 2pm and has electric, steam, and a big woodfire sauna. Clothing isn’t banned but most people swim nude here. Men’s swimming days are: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday; Women’s days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. 1st Floor €5.00 (€5.40 with locker), 2nd Floor €14. The second floor also has a café. This place is downtown just near the big Kamppi shopping mall, so is one of your best options if time is really limited. Website.
- Kämp Spa, Kluuvikatu 4B (Kämp Gallery 8th floor). I only saw this place on Wikitravel – a day spa for those looking for heavy-duty pampering. The website reveals that they even won Finland’s Best Luxury Spa 2015 in the World Luxury Spa awards. It has 3 saunas in addition to the spa/beauty treatment stuff. Open Mon–Fri 9am – 8pm, Sat 9am – 8pm, Sun 9am – 1pm and 4pm – 8pm. Price isn’t on the website but I’m sure it’s expensive. Only go if you want beauty treatments. Located downtown. Website.
- Kuusijärvi, Kuusijärventie 3, Vantaa (just outside Helsinki). This is your best chance for a savusauna – the traditional smoke sauna where no chimney is used and the room is cooked for 6-8 hours before use. It’s located in Vantaa, which is easy to reach from Helsinki Railway Station. Situated in a big recreational park complex (Kuusijärvi Outdoor Centre) next to a big lake, it looks like a spectacular day trip. Rebuilt in 2011. €10 for adults, students/children €6. Take swimming gear, as the sauna is mixed-sex. Wikitravel notes that “Kuusijärvi is one of the rare places in Helsinki area where winter swimming is possible for public every day during the winter season.” Sadly I wasn’t in town for long enough, or at the right season. Next time. Website.
- Sompasauna … oh sompasauna. See the post “Sauna in Helsinki” (see Day 2) for a description of this place. When I visited in August 2015 there were two saunas, but the large one has since been taken down for some reason. I will investigate. You can see the new smaller box on the website. The place was never properly legal but the authorities let it slide for a while. Maybe it’s crunch time with the new building development nearby, or maybe they are just building something bigger and better. If you visit, I’d recommend going by push bike – it will save a lot of time. Follow the signs to Ihana Kahvila, a shipping container cafe that’s just nearby (next to a random surf shop). The cafe is pretty cool even if very out of the way. (But lots of people with kids seem to drive there. It’s a lovely spot, I had a coffee there in the afternoon sun.)
- Saunasaari – which translates to “Sauna Island”! This is another option for smoke sauna right, actually right in the heart of Helsinki … The catch is that it’s for large group bookings only – like a private function situation. It’s an island in the harbour. Check the website for information. Check a googlemap of the place if interested. A great idea if travelling with 10 people or more – you can even host a conference there, up to 50 people! More photos here.
**NOTE: Many places close over the height of summer – check before you go if travelling May-July.
3. SUGGESTED ITINERARIES
Read everything above and still not sure what to do? Here’s a few ideas:
a) I’ve got 12-24 hours in Helsinki.
You have time for 1 sauna (unless you’re hellbent on having more). It depends what time of year you’re there AND what day of the week. For example, the only place open all week (it would seem) is Yrjönkatu swimming hall. This is also downtown right near the city centre, so it could be your best option.
But if you have a whole day and want a nice longer session, you can hit Arla, Hermanni, Kotiharju, or Kulttuuri. All would be good. It’s hard to recommend anything. All of them have a different charm. Arla and Kultuurri are your options for Sunday. Hermanni is the option for Monday. The rest of the week, it’s up to you. They’re all pretty close to each other.
b) I’ve got 3 days in Helsinki
This means you should visit 3 places. In addition to the four listed just above, you could also plan for a day trip to Kuusijärvi – a short train ride out of Helsinki to a traditional savusauna with the option for ice swimming. I would have planned for this if travelling at a colder time of year.
Again it is not possible to recommend one place over others – follow your gut. You can choose two in addition to Kuusijärvi, or hit three in the city. Maybe four if you also visit Yrjönkatu.
*NOTE: If you plan well, there’s still plenty of time to do other things in addition to a sauna each day.
c) I’ve got 5 days or more in Helsinki
This means you could sample almost everything. One each day: Arla, Hermanni, Kotiharju, Kulttuuri, and even a trip out to Kuusijärvi.
If you have even longer, think about ranging out of Helsinki. VisitFinland.com has some great articles on sauna, and if you link hop far enough, you can even find the route for an 1192km drive called “Tour for Sauna Lovers”!
May you sweat well!