Program - Sightseeing - Helsinki - Finland
The Finnish Sauna: one of the basic elements of Finnish culture

Bare facts of the sauna in Finland

Saunas have existed in other cultures, but it is in Finland that they have become entwined in the national culture. For Finnish people, the sauna is a place to relax with friends and family, and a place for physical and mental relaxation as well. Finns think of saunas not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Before the rise of public health care and nursery facilities, almost all Finnish mothers gave birth in saunas.

Traditional saunas are heated by wood, burned either in a stove with a chimney or by a stove with no chimney. The latter, a smoke-sauna, is the original sauna and believed by most Finns to be the best. The door is closed after the wood has burned down (and most of the smoke has escaped), leaving the embers to heat the sauna to the proper temperature, but giving a soft heat and the aroma of wood smoke. All saunas have a basket of rocks heated by the stove on which to throw water to increase the humidity. The temperature in the hot room is a matter of preference but the Finnish Sauna Society recommends from 80 to 100 degrees Celsius. Basic etiquette in the sauna is quite simple. You first take all your clothes off. It is considered polite to shower before going in. When you come out of the sauna, jump into a lake, or roll in the snow. In the summertime, you may also be handed a vihta, a bunch of birch branches which you dip in water and with which you then gently flagellate yourself. It stimulates the circulation and gives fresh aroma. In some hotel saunas, the tradition of the washing-lady survives. She takes care of washing you.

It is estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland, for a population of 5.3 million. Big companies and state institutions have their own saunas. The president has an official sauna, as does the prime minister.