Danish Sauna Culture

Your guide to winter bathing in Denmark and Danish sauna culture

Denmark is a unique corner of Europe that is seldom explored outside its capital city, and foreigners moving here are often met with a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. Some of the most common surprises are Danish sauna culture and winter bathing in Denmark. 

You’ll find that both of these wellness routines are popular throughout the Nordic countries. Saunas are certainly more popular in Finland, but they still exist in Copenhagen and elsewhere. 

As for winter bathing, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve moved to a country of crazy people when you see a few people dipping into the Baltic in January. 

It might seem absurd to find enjoyment in an activity that is so painful in the moment, but it has plenty of benefits. Often, it’s combined with a sauna — so it’s worth talking about both of them in the same place. 

Anyway, enough waiting around. In this article, we’ll give you a complete rundown of winter bathing in Denmark — along with the country’s sauna culture. 

What is winter bathing?

In its simplest form, winter bathing involves getting into the water during the year’s colder months. Though to be truthful, the water is usually cold in Denmark for all but around three months of the year. 

Generally speaking, the winter bathing season in Denmark runs from around October until the end of March. If you typically associate bathing with spending several minutes or hours in the water, don’t worry — you don’t need to do that if you don’t want to. 

You’ll see plenty of people going into the water for a few seconds before getting out. Some *ahem, the writer of this article* won’t even get that far; as soon as the water gets up to knee height, that’s the cue to get out. However, we should note that the latter doesn’t technically count as winter bathing. 

In some cases, you will see people spending a significant amount of time in the water. 

Do the Danes like to go winter bathing?

Winter bathing in Denmark is nowhere near as extreme as Sweden or Finland; you’ll hardly ever need to drill a hole in the water because it’s -20ºC and the entire lake has frozen over. But while the water temperature isn’t as cold, that doesn’t make it warm — not by any stretch of the imagination. 

Many Danes enjoy winter bathing, and you’ll see plenty of people doing it if you live by the water in Copenhagen, Aalborg, or Aarhus. In the capital, the city has clamped down on the number of areas it’s allowed — so it’s a little more organized than before. 

One tradition in Denmark is to go swimming on New Year’s Day, and this is popular throughout the country. 

While many Danes like winter bathing, it’s by no means universal. The activity undoubtedly divides opinions, and you won’t be pressured into doing it if you don’t feel up to the challenge. 

Danish Sauna Culture

Is winter bathing good for you?

Why do the Danes take part in winter bathing, then? Are they simply trying to re-enact their Viking genes more peacefully? 

Maybe that’s true for some, but there are plenty of genuine health-related reasons to go winter bathing. One of the most considerable benefits is that it can boost your immune system, making it the perfect remedy if you feel like you always get shot down with a case of the common cold. 

Another perk of winter bathing is that it can reduce stress levels. Many Danes will go for a quick dip in the water either before or after work, and it’s an excellent way to switch off for a few seconds. 

Trust us — when all you can think about is how your legs feel like someone’s poking them repeatedly with a pin, you’re not going to care about that email you forgot to respond to yesterday. 

Winter bathing also releases dopamine, giving you a healthy natural high. It also teaches you how to do something uncomfortable, which is ideal if you want to improve your mentality and live a better-than-average life. 

Since winter bathing is so common in Denmark, it’s also an excellent way to make friends with the Danes — who can be notoriously tricky to know on a personal level. Throughout the main Danish towns and cities, you’ll find societies that are open for Danes and foreigners alike. 

Many people in Denmark view winter bathing as a social activity, so it’s worth hopping down — even if you don’t plan on making it a regular thing. 

Moving back to the health-related perks for a moment, winter bathing is also a useful tool if you want to improve your blood circulation. You’ll also feel more energized after going — so if you’re trying to go against the grain in Scandinavia by not drinking coffee, this might be a worthy substitute. 

How do you stay safe when winter bathing? 

Despite the numerous benefits related to winter bathing, you also need to remember that it’s something you must perform safely. If done incorrectly, you can put your life at risk and also threaten the safety of others. 

First and foremost, always go winter bathing when sober. Alcohol and drug use affect how we think and react to situations, and you’re more likely to do something stupid when under the influence. If you’ve been for a night on the town, go home and put your head on a pillow before you decide to dip in the harbor

Another potential threat to safely practicing winter bathing is if your ego comes into play. It’s easy to think that you’re going to look like the tough guy if you manage to stay in the water for 10 minutes on your first go. However, that’s almost certainly not going to happen unless perhaps you’re a polar bear. 

Take the time to acclimatize to the cold water. Set yourself weekly goals to increase the time you spend in there and don’t feel ashamed of getting out if things get too much. Remember that hypothermia can settle in if you’re in there for too long, so it’s worth buying a suit if you plan to stay in for extended periods. 

While you will see some people dive into the water during the winter, we don’t recommend that you copy them. If you’re not careful, the shock can give you a heart attack. Needless to say, that’s not a pretty situation, and you’ll probably want to steer clear of that one. 

It might be challenging to do when it’s dark for most of the day, but you should also ensure that you always swim when it’s light. If something goes wrong, you’ll at the very least be able to see the shore or something to latch onto. 

When you’ve plucked up the courage to finally go winter bathing, it’s also essential to bring warm clothing with you. Put these somewhere that the wind won’t blow them into the sea, and ensure you’ve got easy access to them. 

Some winter bathing zones have locker rooms, though you’ll likely need to pay for these. 

Danish Sauna Culture

Where can you go winter bathing in Denmark?

If you want to go winter bathing in Denmark, the good news is that you’re certainly not starved of places to do so. You’re never more than 50 kilometers from the sea, and almost every large town and city will have designated spots for you to swim. 

In Copenhagen, you’ll find a couple of larger designated bathing areas along the waterfront — notably at Kalvebod Brygge and in Nordhavn. Amager Strand also has a winter bathing zone. 

If you’re moving to or visiting Denmark, there’s every chance that you’ll spend at least a bit of time in Aarhus. Here, you’ll also find a selection of bathing clubs — and the same is true in Odense and Aalborg. 

Make sure that you’re allowed to go winter bathing where you are before getting into the water; if it’s not permitted, you could land yourself a hefty fine. 

Does it cost money to go winter bathing in Denmark?

If you simply want to go winter bathing, it’s possible to do this in most places for free in Denmark. Generally speaking, you can use the bathing facilities without paying — as long as you don’t plan to use the lockers and changing rooms. 

You’ll typically need to become a member for lockers and changing rooms. These memberships aren’t too expensive, though; you shouldn’t pay more than 250 Danish Kroner per year in most instances. You’ll have to pay an initial fee on top of that for the first year, but that won’t be necessary after that. 

What is the Danish winter bathing etiquette?

When winter bathing in Denmark, the etiquette is a little looser than if you were to go to a sauna. However, you should still keep a variety of things in mind. 

Regardless of where you winter bathe, you can get changed on the shore — even if you don’t have access to a changing room. Nudity isn’t a massive deal in the Nordic countries, and Denmark isn’t an exception in this respect. 

When winter bathing, be considerate of others around you. Don’t do anything that could put someone else in danger, and—as we’ve mentioned earlier in this article—refrain from drinking alcohol beforehand

What do you do when others are around you, though? Are you allowed to say “Hej” to strangers, or do the unwritten rules remain firmly in place? 

The simple answer is that it depends. You’re more than welcome to greet others, and many will do likewise to you. But it isn’t mandatory, and nobody will scorn you for keeping yourself to yourself. 

How to make the most of your Danish winter bathing experience

Once you get past the initial phases, winter bathing in Denmark can be an enjoyable experience. If you plan on staying here for the long run, it’s worth getting more out of it by using your daily plunge as an opportunity to socialize. 

When you winter bathe in the same spot, you’ll naturally meet the regulars — and they’ll be more than happy to have a conversation with you in most cases. Joining a club is an excellent way to grow your social circle. 

If you don’t feel comfortable wearing your swimming trunks (or even less) initially, you can get more out of your experience by investing in a warm suit. Doing so will allow you to at least tackle the first hurdle of actually getting into the water. 

Another way you can get more out of your Danish winter bathing experience is by setting yourself challenges. Doing so will also give you a reason to continue going, even when you’re ready to throw in the proverbial towel. 

Do Danish people use saunas? 

So far, we’ve almost exclusively covered winter bathing and its importance in Denmark’s culture. But believe it or not, Danes—like most other humans—enjoy being warm from time to time. 

Saunas are a cornerstone in Scandinavia, and they’re pretty popular in other nearby countries like Estonia. In Denmark, many people use saunas quite frequently. In Copenhagen, the scene is particularly big; plenty of innovative businesses have taken it upon themselves to develop interesting concepts. 

Examples of the above include being able to go to a sauna as part of your dining experience, along with another that involves getting steamy in the back of a van. 

How are saunas part of Danish culture? 

In Denmark, saunas are typically used as a means of rest and recovery. On a more granular level, the use cases are pretty diverse. 

Many Danish swimming centers have multiple other facilities, and many include saunas. In many cases, you can purchase an annual membership that grants you access; this tends to be pretty affordable. 

Most Danish saunas are public, and the culture is pretty lowkey compared to in, say, Finland — where many apartments have one. 

In Denmark, and especially in Copenhagen, you’ll find a lot of high-end saunas that are more catered towards single-day experiences. These tend to be a little more luxurious and are typically placed with a good view of some of the city’s most picturesque locations. 

One widespread practice in Denmark is “saunagus”, which involves a person swinging steam throughout a sauna with a towel. Generally speaking, the saunagus also involves a fragranced oil of some kind. 

You’ll find saunagus experiences throughout the country, and they’re available in both local saunas and more exclusive ones. 

What makes a Danish sauna?

Defining a Danish sauna is somewhat tricky. Generally speaking, they’re relatively similar to the other Nordic countries. You’ll step into a wooded room and stay for a specific period in most instances. 

Throughout Denmark, saunas usually stay within a range of 70ºC to 90ºC, roughly 158ºF and 194ºF, respectively.

Danish Sauna Culture

Is going to the sauna good for you?

Saunas have been lauded for their health benefits for centuries throughout the world. Regularly using one can significantly improve your well-being, especially when paired with winter bathing. 

Before we talk about the physical benefits, going to the sauna is an excellent way to switch off from the world for a while. You can stay present with your own thoughts and allow yourself to destress, along with pondering life’s great decisions. 

If you’re thinking about improving your skin, saunas can be an excellent option for this. Using them will clear out your pores, making you look younger and feel healthier. Going to the sauna is also suitable for strengthening your skin, which might protect you in certain situations. 

Going to the sauna can also help to improve your heart health. Over time, you could potentially lower your chances of suffering from strokes and more severe heart attacks — helping you live a happier and healthier life. 

If you’re a regular exerciser, you’ll be pleased to know that using the sauna regularly can help you perform better as an athlete. Sitting in this warm room for a decent period can relieve tension in your muscles, along with flushing out any toxins that might have built up in your body. 

Like going winter bathing, saunas can also be an excellent way to meet new friends. Many saunas in Denmark are public, allowing you to talk about life and get to know the person sitting opposite you a little better.

Does it cost money to go into a Danish sauna?

Unless you’ve got a sauna in your home, you’ll usually need to pay to use a sauna in Denmark. The pricing varies depending on the type you use, with discounts available in some instances. 

If you want to use one of the more exclusive saunas in Copenhagen, the price is pretty steep for one person. For example, CopenHot can cost you over 1,000 Danish Kroner if you were to go on your own. 

However, you can very easily knock back this price per person if you bring a group of friends; the cost stays the same regardless of how many people you bring along, though the maximum group size is capped.

On the flip side, the more accessible local saunas are surprisingly affordable. For example, Øbro-Hallen in Copenhagen’s upscale Østerbro district lets you use the sauna for 110 DKK per go on weekdays and 160 DKK on the weekend. 

If you’re a pensioner, you can get discounts on both of these and also buy an annual membership for 1,500 DKK. 

If you’re staying in a Danish hotel, some of the higher-end ones have a sauna that’s free for guests to use. Typically, you’ll find these in larger chains like Scandic — which operate throughout Northern Europe. 

How to act in a Danish sauna 

If you’ve been to Finland, you might be familiar with the saying that you should behave in a sauna like you would in church. Denmark doesn’t have its own version of that, but you should still pretty much apply those rules. 

You can have conversations with someone, but try to keep your voice at a minimum and stay respectful of others’ desire for quiet. Similarly, it’s better to steer clear of the alcohol unless it’s stated that you can bring this. 

The rules differ in Danish saunas regarding nudity. Some are happy for you to bear everything, whereas others will ask you to wear a swimsuit. Make sure that you’ve checked the rules beforehand. 

How to make the most of your Danish sauna experience

If you want to get the most out of your participation in Danish sauna culture, you should 100% consider trying a saunagus experience. At the very least, you’ll have tried a somewhat authentic local experience and something most people wouldn’t bother with. 

Other than that, it’s worth trying one of the more expensive sauna options with a group of friends. These saunas tend to be private, and you’ll often get fantastic views of downtown Copenhagen if you happen to be in the Danish capital. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to hygge

Another way to make the most of your Danish sauna experience is by simply trying all of them. Compared to many places in the world, Danish sauna culture is a lot more experimental — and there are plenty of fun variations waiting for you to give them a go. 

If you’re struggling for inspiration, we’ve written a full article on the best saunas in Copenhagen to get you started.

Winter bathing and Denmark and Danish sauna culture go hand-in-hand 

Winter bathing makes foreigners freeze at the thought of it when they first come to Denmark. However, it has several benefits — and you might find that you love it if you give the activity a chance for an extended period. 

Fortunately, winters in Denmark aren’t as cold as many parts of Sweden or Finland — or even Norway, where it’s possible to go winter bathing in Oslo. That doesn’t make it any less intimidating, but it’s a bit of a consolation at the very least. 

Danish sauna culture isn’t as big as in other parts of Northern Europe, but that doesn’t mean the existing ones aren’t high quality. The country has a diverse range for you to try, so the best thing for you to do is give each of them a go and see which is best for you. 

Finland is probably the best-known Nordic country for its sauna culture, and you’ll find plenty of places to let off some steam if you ever happen to visit Helsinki. Why not get inspired with our guide to Finnish sauna etiquette?

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

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