In parts of Asia including Japan, Taiwan and China, a visit to a hot spring, usually a public spring of geo-thermally heated groundwater, is a way of life. In Scandinavia and certainly in Sweden, the sauna represents a similar culture whereby heated rooms or buildings provide guests with a way to relax and sweat, in addition to promoting various health benefits.
Saunas are in abundance all over Sweden where they are commonly known as ‘bastu’. These can be found at gyms, yoga studios and swimming pools, while for a more luxurious experience you can opt for saunas in spas and ski resorts. Here’s how to sauna in Stockholm for the first time.
Disrobing is standard
Just as with hot springs or onsens, saunas are typically enjoyed nude in Sweden. If nudity makes you feel uncomfortable, then it is worth remembering how normal it is when indulging in Swedish sauna. For Swedes, being naked in the sauna is not sexy, nor strange – it’s just how it is and always has been enjoyed. It would be stranger and more attention grabbing to be wearing clothes, while everyone else is without. Besides, T-shirts and swimwear make the sauna experience uncomfortable, with sweaty material sticking to your skin.
There are some mixed male-female saunas, and it is on those occasions that swimwear is sometimes permitted. Even so, put away those huge board shorts because most men will be wearing Speedos, and women will be wearing bikinis. In other instances, you may still go in with just a towel wrapped around you.
What to pack
Always bring a towel, not just for drying off but also to bring into the sauna with you. Most people use them for sitting or lying on (it makes lying on hard wood much more comfortable and reduces the chance of a sweat pool when you get up), but also to wrap around in between sauna and changing rooms. For those enjoying lakeside saunas in woods outside of Stockholm, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a cheeky beer or wine while having a catch up with pals inside the sauna. This can be done in some Stockholm city saunas too – check before visiting.
Before entering the sauna
Many enjoy a swim in the pool facilities before entering the sauna, but always take a shower before entering in order to keep the saunas clean and odour free. You’ll sweat a lot of water during the duration, so another tip is to drink plenty of water before entering, as well as throughout the visit. Most saunas will have water coolers and taps available.
Inside the sauna
Find a nice spot and let the heat relax those muscles, empty your pores, and soothe your airways. As hot air rises, you’ll find that the sauna is hotter the higher up you sit. Some people like to duck out of the sauna for a bit of cool air every 15 minutes or so, but timings vary depending on the person. Humidity can be increased by pouring water over hot stones using giant cup-shaped wooden spoons. If sitting among a room full of nude people is new to you, keep your eyes at head level if gesturing or talking to other sauna-goers; alternatively focus on the views outside.
After the sauna
Swedes like to close up their pores and have a cool shower after the sauna experience. Your body will have lost a lot of liquid and moisture, so be sure to bring some lotion and drink a beverage right after to replenish lost water. If you’re at a hotel sauna, then why not treat yourself to a Swedish massage afterwards.