The Ultimate Helsinki Sauna Crawl
Finland and sauna are synonymous, this country is the birthplace of sauna! With a population of 5 million, Finland is home to over 3 million saunas. Best statistic ever? Yeah, I thought so too. I am a sauna fanatic, and the benefits of sauna for health and longevity just keep piling up, so making my way to Helsinki (Finland’s capital) was a no brainer after I made the move to Europe.
You’ll find all sorts of saunas across Helsinki, but the 2 main types are electric saunas (rocks heated up electrically) and wood burning saunas -which branches out into the more common wood burning sauna with a chimney, and the traditional smoke saunas. Unlike wood burning saunas with a chimney (which require regular re-loading of wood), smoke saunas do not release the smoke, so although they take a while to heat up- they don’t require constant burning of new wood. These smoke saunas are the OG Finnish sauna, and are a really special experience (most saunas are no longer made like this); the inside of the sauna is quite black, and depending where you go it can get a little heavy on the lungs.
Löyly (which happens to be the name of one of the newest Helsinki saunas) means steam in Finnish, and all of the saunas mentioned above (yes, even electric!) are made to take water poured over them (which causes steam, aka löyly). You’ll see 1-2 buckets sitting on the ground of saunas with a ladle, and anyone can take turns splashing the rocks with water to heat up the sauna even more. If you see a bucket running low, do the neighbourly thing and go fill it up with fresh water!
The one thing I found odd about the sauna culture here, is that there is no nudity in the mixed saunas. I found this odd because I was coming off a tour of Switzerland and Germany- where every sauna I had visited was indeed either enforced textile free (no bathing suits) or at least optional. It took me a while to get comfortable being completely nude around the opposite sex, but by the time I got to Berlin I was truly loving the freedom of non-sexualised full nudity in mixed (men and women) saunas. From what I experienced in Finland, nudity is optional in men only/ women only saunas, and not allowed in mixed saunas. This makes no sense to me in the land where sauna was invented, but needless to say you’re at the mercy of rules in public saunas- so it is what it is. One thing to note is that if you are swimming in a pool in between sauna rounds, shower before re-entering the sauna (and preferably take it off completely if you’re going into a single gendered sauna) because the pool chemicals like chlorine will vaporise and are incredibly toxic.
Most public saunas in Helsinki are on the water, meaning you can hop out of the heat and jump into the Baltic Sea, which is an especially incredible experience in the winter! Holes are cut into the ice and you can partake in a true cold plunge before heading back in for another sweat. A few rounds like this, and I can guarantee you will feel reborn! Experiencing the cold plunge/ sauna cycling is one of the reasons I think everyone should visit Helsinki in the winter time!
Long gone are my pub crawling days…. but a sauna crawl? Sign me up.
The Ultimate Helsinki Sauna Crawl
This sauna (well, two sauna!) set up was undoubtedly my favourite experience in Helsinki. Sompasauna is a volunteer run, totally free, open 24/7, illegal sauna located on the Sea of an old boating yard. It’s illegal because when the first sauna was built (and subsequently the second), it was done so with no permits or land ownership- just a sauna by the people for the people… sauna anarchy! I was there during winter and the (slippery) stairs led down to a large hole cut into the ice, for mid-sauna cold plunging. At night, Sompasauna has a real vibe. As the city lights up, so does the sauna, and the area becomes a hangout zone for locals and tourists alike 6-9pm seems to be the ultimate time if you want to experience Sompasauna in it’s full glory.
As I mentioned, these saunas are always open to the public, and run with small wood-burning furnaces. Because it’s run by volunteers, it’s a good idea to make yourself a part of the community and consider bringing paper, a bundle of wood (both available at the nearby shops), as well as bottled water (not only for drinking, but also for löyly, aka to steam up the sauna, because sea water cannot be splashed on the rocks). Volunteers will also not hesitate to dish out tasks to the sauna visitors; while I was there I actually washed down the small sauna completely solo (scrubbing down the whole thing, and then rinsing it), which is rad because you really feel like you’re a part of keeping this iconic Helsinki tradition alive. There is also a way to donate money to help run the project
Although the sauna used to be out in the middle of nowhere, they are building a massive complex that is slowly encroaching on the sauna. You can still access it, but will have to pass through the construction zone (you’re allowed to). By the looks of it, I can’t imagine Sompasauna will exist in its current location much longer… so if you’re keen to check it out, better book your trip to Helsinki!
While I was in Helsinki for 2 weeks, I actually bought the month membership to Allas because they were one of the only saunas that opened early morning. Not sure why but many of the city’s saunas open around 3-4pm, and knowing my early-bird habits, I figured that I would be visiting Allas quite a few times for morning saunas during my stay. A single (full day) visit is 14€, and a monthly pass is 55€, so if you’re in town for a while- go for the unlimited pass! You can rent bathing suits there too.
Allas has 3 saunas: one mixed, one women’s only, and one men’s only. Aforementioned, the mixed requires wearing a bathing suit and the single gendered is bather optional. The lockers operate with your bracelet, so no need to worry about a lock. The pass comes with access to the pools, which one is heated (and chlorinated), and the other isn’t (aka perfect for a winter cold plunge or swim). To be honest I didn’t love the set up, because getting to the cold plunge pool is a hefty walk in the negative weather, but all in all Allas is pretty rad and definitely worth the investment if you’re an early bird like me. Plus the views of the port and neighboring islands is really pleasant, and there is also a free outdoor gym right next to the gates!
If you make it to the Allas Sea Pools, visit the market, or take a stroll along the harbour- you’ll be hard pressed to miss the enormous blue ferris wheel, and if you look close enough you might even notice that one of the wheels cubicles is black instead of blue. Believe it or not, that black “VIP” box is actually a sauna (!!!!!). #onlyinhelsinki
Sky Sauna is no doubt one of Finland’s most unique sauna experiences, that will run you 240 € an hour (for 1-4 people) and additional hours are half price. You also have access to a private (….chlorinated…) hot tub, drinks, and towels are included in the price; bathrobes and sandals can be rented separately. The wheel turns and a button inside the sauna enables you to request stop whenever you like. The Sky Sauna is not operational during the winter, and reopens up in the spring through fall.
This is Helsinki’s newest (and hippest) sauna, and for a good reason- the whole property is incredible looking. The building is like a work of art, right on the water, and no doubt the café/ bar/ sauna is a hangout spot for the Helsinki cool crowd. The sauna spots here are limited to the amount of lockers available, which isn’t very much- it’s advised you book online ahead of time if you want a guaranteed place. Rates are 19€/ 2 hours, plus 10€ for every extra hour, and entry comes with a seat cover and towel rental. You can rent bathing suits there too.
Löyly has two saunas, a traditional wood burning one and a smoke sauna, as well as access to the sea for year-round swimming (in the winter, they cut a hole in the ice). The sauna area also has a lounge, with a fireplace and epic views of the Sea. (There is actually a third sauna that can be rented privately). To be honest, I was rather let down by my experience there, perhaps because of how hyped the place is. I found the saunas (especially the traditional wood burning one) barely hot. While I was there (a Friday late afternoon) the vibe was also sub-par; I found the crowd almost exclusively tourists that were more interested in taking pictures of themselves cold plunging (or pretending to), and complaining about the heat (which I found to be non-existent) whether than actually being there to sauna. The smoke sauna was a bit warmer when multiple löyly were applied, but ironically (given the sauna’s name), it was incredibly hard to add water to the stones because the furnace was tall and you had to dump water in a small hole without having eyes on where you were putting the ladle.
Anyways, the space itself was so beautiful that I reckon it’s worth the visit, but given the price tag, time limit, and inner workings of the sauna itself: meh.
Mon - Wed: 16:00 - 22:00
Thu: 13:00 - 22:00
Fri - Sat: 13:00 - 23:00
Sat morning sauna: 08:00 - 10:00
Sun:13:00 - 21:00
Hernesaarenranta 4, 00150 Helsinki, Finland +358 9 61286550
Arla opened its door to Helsinki in 1929 and is one of the oldest public saunas in the area. This sauna is nofrills, a stark night an day from facilities like Löyly (you’ve been warned). That being said, Arla has old school charm and is widely popular with Fins. The place has soul, and the Finnish banter going on in the sauna will make you feel like a local. They offer birch twigs to visitors to beat themselves with (yes, seriously!), this ancient tradition stimulates the lymphatic system and circulation- so you can get the most out of your sweat. Arla actually offers old-fashioned bloodletting as well. Prices range from 12-14€.
Wed- Fri 3–9:30pm
Sat- Sun 2–9:30pm
Kaarlenkatu 15, 00510 Helsinki, Finland +358 9 719218
Kaurilan has got to be Helsinki’s most romantic sauna; it’s located in this little rustic 19th century house and the sauna is still run using a wooden stove. The sauna is run boutique style, almost like a spa, best to book in advance to make sure you get a spot. Two hours will cost you 16 €.
Men, Mixed or Mixed for Singles 18:00 - 20:00 (check available dates online)
Women 20:00 - 22:00
Mixed 18:00 - 20:00
Mixed 20:00 - 22:00
Women 18:00 - 20:00
Women 20:00 - 22:00
Heikinniementie 9, 00250 Helsinki, Finland +358 50 597 33 59
There are multiple floating sauna boats available for hire in the Helsinki area, including Sauna Boat! The rental will set you back 180,00 €/h (for 1-6 people) or 250,00 €/h (for 7-10 people). They recommend 2 hours of float time, which includes the the birchwood to burn, the boat’s gasoline, seat covers, and towels.
This sauna has been operating in Helsinki’s Hermanni district since the 50’s, although they have updated their gear to use modern IKI Sauna stoves instead of burning wood. This is definitely a more causal vibe, and another great opportunity to feel like a local. They have an outdoor area to cool off (although no cold plunging in the Sea here!), as well as food available (potato salad and sausages). Their outdoor space often hosts parties and live music; you can also tent the sauna for a private event if you like. A drop in sauna will cost you 12 € (8€ for students), and towels are available for hire.
Mon thru Fri 3pm to 8pm
Sat 2pm to 7pm
(The sauna is open for bathing for one hour past closing time)
Hämeentie 63, 00550 Helsinki, Finland +358 9 7012424
Three smoke saunas can be found on Uunisaari (aka Oven Island), just minutes by ferry from Helsinki pier. The ferry over to the island costs only 1 Euro in the summer, and there’s a bridge during the winter. The saunas are separated (men/ women), and there are also hot tubs, and swimming in the Sea is also available year round. This sauna space is picturesque, you’ll find it hard to believe you’re just minutes from the city. The sauna also has cheaper prices in the morning.
Tues - thurs 3–10PM
Saunasaari, 00140 Helsinki, Finland +358 40 7664394
This sauna is located on the UNESCO World Heritage site, Suomenlinna Island. Accessing the island is easy, a ferry runs to-and-from all day long (same ticket or transfer as a bus ticket), and the island is definitely worth exploring whether or not you hit the sauna!
Steps from the ferry dock is Bastion Bistro, which is a restaurant built into a historic barracks building dating back to 1892. Access to the sauna requires passing through the restaurant! The sauna only holds 8 people at a time, and can be booked out for parties (150 Euros/ 1.5 hours).
Suomenlinna C8, 00190 Helsinki, Finland +358 40 1799890
Located below a former mental institution, and next to a military cemetary, you’ll find Lähteen sauna. If you’re sensitive to vibes, you may want to skip this one, but at one 7€ per sweat, this is no doubt one of Helsinki’s cheapest sauna options. Apart from the neighboring horrors, this sauna is located in otherwise lovely Töölö neighborhood (home to the famous Töölö gym, and lake) and the building itself actually has a lot of old school charm.
Tue 12-13.30 men, 14-15.30 women
Wed, 12-13.30 women, 14-15.30 men
Thu 12-13.30 men, 14-15.30 women
Sun 12-13.30 Women, 14-15.30 men
Lapinlahdenpolku 1, 00101 Helsinki, Finland +358 40 1783454
This spot is technically not in Helsinki, but a short 30 minute drive (or 40 minute bus ride) from the Helsinki centre will get you to Kuusijärvi, a popular all-season outdoor recreational center. This spot is worth the visit even without the saunas, for it’s walking/ running trails, cross-country skiing, summer swimming (and winter cold plunging!), and epic sausage grilling fire pits (BYO sausage!).
Kuusijärvi is home to Vantaa’s only smoke sauna, and this one is a much different (/more authentic) experience than Löyly IMO. Kuusijärvi actually has two smoke saunas and multiple electric ones as well. The smoke saunas are very popular and a limited amount of bracelets are sold at a time, so I suggest you get there early or prepare to wait (reservations cannot be made in advance)! Your entrance fee (6€ for the electric saunas or 12€ for the sauna and electrics) also gets you access to the electric lockers (no need to bring your own lock). In the winter, the lake is used for cold plunging, and out of all my (many many) Helsinki cold plunges, this setup was one of my favourite because you could actually stand on the sandy bottom, and I found this much more conducive to a longer, more zen, plunge.
Note: bring footwear if you plan on going from the sauna to the lake; the road is icy and so cold, it’s a non-negotiable that you need either flip flops (or shoes, but that’s annoying to put on / off in between saunas). I didn’t plan ahead and literally had to wear (and soak/ destroy) my wooly socks.
Electric Saunas open everyday 9-20:30
Smoke Sauna open every day 13-20:30
Kuusijärventie 3, 01260 Vantaa, Finland +358 10 3227090