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Sweating the small stuff: Swedish sauna etiquette

The Swedes do things a little differently to people elsewhere in Europe. If you cast your mind to Sweden, you probably think of smiling people, unique brands, and stunning places to explore. 

You may also know that Sweden is one of the happiest places on earth, known for its laid-back attitude and focus on the comforting things in life. 

If you ever have an opportunity to visit Sweden, then you’ll want to make the most of your trip by soaking up as much of the culture as possible. 

Between visits to Stockholm and Gothenburg, it’s a good idea to check out one of the many Swedish saunas in the region, loved by locals and tourists alike. 

Sweating away your problems or sitting in a sauna to overcome periods of stress is a popular pastime in Sweden (as well as other parts of Scandinavia). 

However, the last thing you want if you’re visiting a Swedish sauna is to stick out as an uneducated tourist. That’s why we’ve put together this guide on everything you need to know about Swedish sauna etiquette. 

Let’s get started.

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Why do Swedish people like saunas?

Let’s start our journey into Swedish sauna culture with a question. Why do Swedish people like saunas so much? 

Saunas are a popular place to relax and unwind in locations all around the world. In parts of Asia, it’s common to find people queuing up for trips to a local hot spring. 

In Scandinavia, the locals don’t generally get a lot of hot spring action, but they do make saunas in abundance. 

The “Bastu” in Sweden appears in virtually every location you can think of, from gyms and yoga studios, to swimming pools and spas or ski resorts. 

Swedish saunas aren’t just popular because Swedes like to get naked with their pals. Many locals believe that sweating out your stresses is the best way to overcome many of the issues we face every day. 

The sauna is all about rediscovering a sense of calm and giving your body a chance to get rid of any of the toxins, tensions, and sweat it’s been holding onto all day. You can switch your mind off for an hours and focus on feeling your pores open up and your muscles unclench. 

It’s worth noting that Sweden can be a cold place — particularly in the winter months. Around Scandinavia, when it gets particularly cold, it makes sense to remind yourself what it feels like to be wonderfully warm with a sauna experience. 

Nudity in Sweden: Is it normal?

The first thing you need to know when you’re preparing for your Swedish sauna experience, is that most Swedes don’t see “baring all” as a particularly strange thing. 

There’s nothing weird about stripping off when you’re sweating in a local sauna, and many locations will expect you to be completely naked. 

Although it might feel a little weird to strip off in an unfamiliar place, you really can enjoy much more of the natural Swedish sauna experience without clothes sticking to your skin. 

Some purists (usually the older people in Sweden) feel that it’s not particularly hygienic to wear swimwear in a sauna either. 

More often than not, the best thing you can do is prepare to get naked if you want to enjoy the full experience. 

However, if you’re a little nervous, you can ask at the front desk whether you’re allowed to wear your swimming costume (and whether people often do). 

Context is important when deciding whether clothes are necessary or not. 

You can wrap a towel around your lower half if you prefer, but whether this seems normal will depend on your situation. For instance, if you’re at a spa offering Swedish massages, there will usually be signs letting you know whether or not you should be nude. 

At leisure centers and community pools, nudity is generally more normal. If the sauna area is mixed, you’ll usually need to go in with a towel wrapped around you.

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What to expect from most Swedish saunas 

Most of the time, Swedish saunas will be single-sex affairs, where it’s common to find people sitting in the nude. Although people in the sauna with you might not mind you having a towel wrapped around you, you’ll also have to accept that others might let it all hang out. 

Lakeside saunas and those located in the mountains are more likely to support nudity. However, if you’re in a hotel with many visitors from overseas, it’s more common to see swimming trunks and bathing suits. 

Probably the oddest experience for Swedish tourists who feel uncomfortable about getting naked will be the drunken Swedish sauna. This is a common practice where groups of friends have a few drinks and enjoy the night in a wood-fired sauna. 

In these conditions, it’s perfectly normal to be naked. You’ll look entirely out of place sitting in your underpants while everyone else is nude and drinking.

Before, during, and after your Swedish sauna

Let’s start simple. If you’re visiting a spa or health center with a sauna attached, then you might have a dip in the pool facilities before you go and start sweating in a wood-fired room. 

If you do go for a swim, either in the pool or surrounding natural water, before you go into the sauna, have a shower. This will help to keep the sauna clean and free from odor. 

Remember, you’re going to be sweating a lot while you’re in the sauna, so it’s useful to drink plenty of water throughout the visit. 

Once you’re ready to relax (with or without a bathing suit), find a spot in your Swedish bathhouse where you can sit. Let your muscles relax and allow the steam to empty your pores and soothe your mind. 

Because hot air rises, in a traditional Swedish sauna, the air will be hotter the further up you sit. Some people prefer to duck down initially to get a bit of cool air from time to time. You can also increase the humidity in your sauna by pouring water over the hot stones provided.

If you’re sitting in a room full of nude Swedes — which is often the case, make sure you keep your eyes at face-level. If you’re talking to someone, it’s not a good idea to look at anything but their face for too long. 

Once you’re done with your sauna treatment, you might decide to close your pores and have a cool shower. Your body will have lost a lot of moisture and liquid at this point. 

Make sure you grab a drink (not alcohol) and apply some lotion when you’re done. You could always treat yourself to a massage after if you’re at a Swedish bathhouse.

Top tips for using Swedish saunas

There’s no one-size-fits-all set of rules when it comes to using a Swedish sauna. There are a lot of different locations available to visit throughout Stockholm and the surrounding areas. Where you go will make a massive difference to what you can expect when you’re in the sauna itself. 

In some Sweden saunas, the best thing you can do to fit in is get naked and enjoy the ambience. You might even find that it’s helpful to bring some beer — unless you’re at a spa or leisure centre, where this is usually frowned upon. 

Bringing drinks to a friend’s house, or when you’re camping in the woods makes a lot more sense. 

Here are some top tips to help you avoid any unnecessary embarrassment:

  • Stay hydrated: You’re going to be exposing yourself to a lot of heat and sweating out a lot of moisture when you’re in your Swedish sauna. That means that it’s important to drink plenty. If you’re going to be drinking alcohol, it’s probably best not to do it within the sauna itself. You’ll also need to top up with regular drinks of water to avoid any lightheadedness.
  • Don’t ask for birch leaves: Don’t believe everything you see on television. Just because you might have seen Swedes whacking themselves with birch leaves in a sauna on TV, doesn’t mean that really happens. Most people don’t actually do this, so it’s going to look weird if you ask for a try. 
  • Avoid taking control of the humidity: If you’re not a Swedish sauna pro, it’s a good idea to let someone else in the room take the lead when it comes to humidity. As mentioned above, you can add more humidity to a Swedish sauna by pouring water over hot stones. However, you should always check with the other people in the room to ensure that they’re comfortable with this. You don’t want to annoy your new naked Swedish friends. 
  • Keep your eyes up: Whether you’re in a mixed Swedish sauna or otherwise, it’s important not to let your eyes wander too much. Although people will understand that you can’t keep eye contact constantly, it’s worth focusing on the view outside instead if you can. Ogling is rude in any part of the world. 
  • Try something new: If the whole concept of using Sweden saunas has gotten you feeling excited about new experiences, then why not try something new? You could consider jumping in an isvak for instance. This is a hole in the ice on a frozen sea or lake, which people jump into while they’re still red-hot from the sauna. The water is seriously freezing, so it’s a real adrenaline hit. 
  • Don’t push yourself: As we mentioned above, the higher you sit in a Swedish bathhouse, the hotter it gets. Some people (often men), have a habit of trying to sit as high up in the sauna as possible for long periods of time to prove how macho they are. However, this generally isn’t a good idea. You could just end up passing out from the heat — which isn’t going to help your reputation or your image. 

Above all else, the most important thing you can do when you’re experiencing a Swedish sauna for the first time is enjoy it! Don’t sit around for too long worrying about whether you should be wearing a towel, or whether it’s a good idea to pop out of the room from time to time to cool off. Ultimately, you’ll need to do what feels most comfortable to you. 

The best saunas in Stockholm

Wherever you go in Sweden (and even the surrounding areas) you’re sure to find plenty of sauna opportunities. If you have a chance, it might even be worth scheduling a trip to a few different kinds of saunas. 

The experience you get from a Swedish bathhouse is very different to the one you’ll have when visiting a gym or a local spa. 

Depending on where you go, you’ll find that many sauna locations come with access to various other treatments for relaxation, too, such as massages

To help you prep for your trip, here are some of the most popular saunas in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital city, and what they can offer. 

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1. Centralbadet

The Centralbadet spa in Stockholm is a wonderful location, located nearby the popular Drottninggatan space. The spa sits in a stunning Art Nouveau building which originally opened back in 1904. 

Considering its location, this spa is impressively large, covering around 3,500 square meters of space. 

Within, you’ll find everything you need for a delightful weekend, including a swimming pool, skincare treatments, and massages. 

Of course, the most attractive feature is the Nordic sauna and Roman bath. You can chill out in the sauna any day of the week — although the space is more relaxed on weekdays. 

The destination also comes with a barber, a roof terrace, and a delightful restaurant too. 

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2. Sturebadet

The Sturebadet is an amazing luxury health club hidden underneath a high-end shopping center. This is definitely one of the many places in Stockholm that you could easily overlook if you don’t have a map and itinerary handy. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a chance to visit, you’ll be able to check out all of the gym and spa facilities the location has to offer. 

Aside from a traditional Swedish sauna, you can also enjoy heated stone seats, a wonderful pool area and a hot tub too! 

There’s a health food café included and complementary fresh fruit for any guest that wants to graze while they relax. 

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3. Hellasgarden

Want to really get a taste for the wonderful natural landscape that Sweden has to offer? 

Visit Stockholm’s largest outdoor activity center — Hallasgarden

Located around 15 minutes away from Stockholm downtown, and just out on The shore of Lake Kalltorp, this location can give you a truly amazing experience. 

Go for a swim in the lake before checking out one of the two Swedish saunas. There’s one for women and one for men here. 

The views that you’ll get from this destination are incredible, with amazing sights of the lake to enjoy. 

If you decide that you just don’t want to leave after you get there, you can also book for a stay at one nearby cottages. 

A weekend break will give you ample opportunity to experience some sledding, skiing, and mountain biking.

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4. Selma City Spa

The rooftop pool in Selma offers fantastic views of Stockholm, making it one of the main reasons you should visit if you’re hanging out in the region. 

Aside from a beautiful rooftop pool and garden, the Selma City spa also offers a brilliant bar, where you can sip on glasses of champagne as you relax and check out the surrounding landscape. 

Day spa options mean that you can pay for access to the sauna, rooftop pool, gym, and surrounding areas, all while having the usual treatments you’d expect from a spa. 

This is a brilliant location for those who want a slightly more modern Swedish sauna experience.

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5. Storkyrkobadet

Don’t let the odd names scare you off. The Storkyrkobadet sauna and Swedish bathhouse dates back to the mid-eighteenth century. 

If you’re looking for a traditional Swedish sauna experience, it doesn’t get much better than this. 

The bathhouse is a brilliant location for those who want to learn about the history and architecture of Stockholm and Sweden. 

Here, you’ll be able to rewind in a traditional shallow pool, or you can just sit in a porcelain bath while you chat to friends nearby. It sounds strange — but it’s surprisingly relaxing. 

Of course, there’s also the fantastic sauna too. 

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6. Urban OM Stockholm

Finally, if you’re keen for a day of absolute relaxation and Zen experiences, then we recommend checking into the premier yoga studio of Stockholm

The Urban OM yoga studio in Stockholm offers a host of amazing meditation and yoga classes, all led by international instructors, so you shouldn’t have to worry about finding someone who speaks your language. 

Once you’ve had a session that helps you to stretch out all your limbs and rediscover your muscles, you can relax in the sauna for a little while. Although this isn’t the largest sauna you’ll find in Sweden, the facilities are very well-equipped. 

We also think that the combination of sauna relaxation and yoga stretching is the perfect mix. 

Ready to sweat it out?

Swedish saunas are just one of the many things you should experience if you ever have a chance to explore the Scandinavian landscape in style. 

Saunas are more than just a treat for the people of Sweden and Scandinavia. These locations are a destination that you can go to whenever you want to let your stress go and rediscover a new style of relaxation. 

Whether you’re enjoying a sauna trip as part of a full spa experience, complete with yoga, massages, and even outdoor events, or you’re just visiting a sauna after a long day — it’s worth getting your fill of this unique experience. 

To learn more about the amazing things you can do in Sweden and Stockholm, check out the other articles here at Scandification. 

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