Sauna etiquette around the world

Posted on 21 February 2020

If you’re hitting a few spas and saunas on your next holiday abroad, make sure you keep up with the customs while you relax and rejuvenate.

Finnish sauna. Image by ckohtala, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The concept of the sauna first originated as far back as the 12th century in Finland. The first ones involved digging a hole into the ground, and thereafter were built above ground with wooden logs. Rocks were heated on a stove and using a wood fire to keep them hot, and sauna bathers would enter the hot room once the smoke from the fire had cleared.

The Finns and Scandinavians also believe in cold plunging – taking a dip in cold water afterwards such as a nearby lake, pool or take a cold shower – which maximises the benefits.

Nowadays, saunas are more accessible to everyone, but still carry connotations of wellbeing and even luxury. The primary benefits are relaxation and health, as well as enhancing one’s natural beauty. Here are a few noteworthy benefits to sauna-users:

  • Helps maintain health of blood vessels, as well as strengthening cardiovascular system
  • Improves circulation
  • Good for the skin
  • Burns calories
  • Relieves pain, muscle tension and symptoms of arthritis
  • Helps body sweat out toxins

At saunas and spas around the world, not all cultures and rules are the same. It may be confusing to know whether you’re allowed to enter and destress in the buff, or are required to cover up.

According to SpaDreams, a travel and leisure booking agency specialising in spa getaways, these are some of the social and cultural customs you may want to adhere to when stepping into a sauna room while on holiday in Europe.

Birthday suit In Finland and Sweden it is not uncommon to enter a sauna naked, although men and women may bathe separately.

Please do throw in the towel In Norway, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Great Britain and Croatia, however, it’s more common practise to bring a towel along.

Hats on In Eastern Europe and in Russian banyas (steam bath houses), the locals tend to just cover the bare essentials with a towel, and the Latvians do the same. The men are known to wear traditional felt headgear called sauna- or banya hat, with some that cover the ears.

A woman wearing a traditional felt hat at a sauna in Estonia. Image: Unsplash.

Swim-spa Bathing costumes are required in countries considered to be more religious, particular those traditionally Catholic such as the Irish nations, Italy, Portugal, Spain. In France, Poland and Hungary, you’ll need a cozzie and a towel.

In the USA, naked steaming is a no-no and wearing a bathing costume or bringing along a few towels is mandatory.

In Japan, you may wish to know that in onsen, public hot spring bath houses, stripping down is mandatory. There are separate facilities for females and males, however.

Reasons for restrictions against nudity or in favour of covering up may have to do with hygiene, or else cultural customs. Some spas will require that you take multiple towels – one or two to cover yourself with, and one to sit or relax on while in the sauna. Other requirements may include making sure that you are clean before entering the sauna.

Featured image by ckohtala,  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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