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.
Stockholm’s fab five saunas
This spa can’t be beaten in terms of location, right in the heart of Stockholm. There are a range of facilities and services including gym, spa treatments, restaurant, swimming pool and steam baths as well as the saunas. Our favourite is the herb sauna which offers a unique and therapeutic experience as the herbs and spices act as aromatherapy. Guests are given luscious bathrobes for use upon arrival.
Centralbadet, Drottninggatan 88
This is a luxury health club in town hidden under a high-end shopping centre. As well as the standard gym facilities, the spa features a large hot tub, a stunning pool, heated stone seats and of course, a large sauna. There is a health food cafe as well as complimentary fresh fruit for all guests – perfect if you feel like having a detox day.
Sturebadet, Sturegallerian 36
Storkyrkobadet in the Old Town dates back to the mid-18th century and is housed under the arches below an ancient Estonian School. The bathhouse is old fashioned for those interested in history and architecture, and features a traditional shallow pool, small porcelain tubs where you can sit next to friends and talk, and saunas.
Storkyrkobadet, Svartmangatan 20-22
Hellasgården is Stockholm’s largest outdoor activity centre a little further out on the shore of Lake Källtorp, about 15 minutes from downtown by bus at Slussen station. It is at this lake that visitors go for a swim before enjoying the saunas, of which there are two – one for women and the other for men. The views from the saunas are spectacular, overlooking the lake and landscape. There are cottages should you wish to make a weekend break of it, as well as a host of outdoor activities including skiing, sledding and mountain biking to keep all the family entertained.
Hellasgården, Ältavägen 101, Nacka
For those seeking a day of complete zen why not check into Stockholm’s premier yoga studio Urban OM Stockholm. They offer over 50 weekly yoga and meditation classes led by international instructors (so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to find an English speaker), and after sessions, of course, there is the treat of the sauna. While modestly sized, facilities are well equiped and the combination of yoga session and sauna flow beautifully.
Urban OM, Wallingatan 20-22
For more information on flights to Stockholm, visit singaporeairlines.com
PHOTOS: TUUKKA ERVASTI, IMAGEBANK.SWEDEN.COM, CENTRALBADET FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, STUREBADET
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.