Saunas and Scandinavia have long been synonymous, but what is it that makes them so appealing? They're part of a deep tradition in this region of the world, reap health benefits and, more simply, are wonderfully relaxing. And, in countries where snow covers much of the north for months at a time and summer rears its head relatively briefly, it could be that saunas are, in essence, just a year-round comfort. Wherever the boundless allure lies, the tradition of broiling in a small, hot room, often before leaping into a freezing lake, is going nowhere. They are particularly integral to Finland; first documented in the 16th century, they were used as stove kitchens, winter shelters, shrines and, due to their sterility, midwiferies and hospitals. So it’s not all that surprising that Finland holds its own Helsinki Sauna Day on the 10th March, dedicated to this tradition so wholly ingrained in Finnish culture. In celebration, we've compiled a list of our favourite places to immerse yourself in the ultimate Scandinavian pastime, from paradoxical snow saunas to boat spas, as well as suggested itineraries where you can combine this age-old tradition with other seasonal activities that make the most of all that Scandinavia has to offer.
The population of Finland is only 5.4 million, but there are 3.3 million saunas – this probably gives you an idea of their importance in Finnish culture. Unsurprisingly, there's a whole event dedicated to celebrate the pastime – and where better than the capital to hold the celebrations? Helsinki Sauna Day falls on 10th March, but there are several places dotted around the city that offer year-round opportunities to indulge in that oh-so-Scandi pastime of broiling in a small, hot room with friends and jumping in cold water – or even snow.
To get a taste for yourself, head to Löyly, in the centre of the Helsinki, the name itself meaning the evaporating steam that comes off when you throw water on the hot stones. Head here for wood-burning and smoke saunas, dotted along dimly-lit paths and enjoyed with snacks and drinks afterwards on the sprawling terrace, and a dip in the sea in between. Or, head to the Allas Sea Pool, also in Helsinki's centre, offering special wellness experiences, such as wild herb face masks, yoga experiences in hot saunas, and winter saunas, where dips in the cold water are rewarded with hot berry juice and cinnamon buns. There are also two warm water pools if you'd rather complement your sauna with something less frosty. Discover Helsinki on our Belles of The Baltic itinerary, where you'll spend a couple of days exploring the charming capital, with plenty of time to indulge in a sauna or two. Or, a visit to Helsinki can be combined with any of our tailor-made Arctic adventures in Finnish Lapland.
Snow Sauna, Arctic SnowHotel, Finnish Lapland
The name 'snow sauna' may evoke some confusion, but this unique experience in the Arctic SnowHotel manages to retain the delights of the sauna alongside a winter wonderland setting. It maintains its heat with the thick steam that comes from the stove, keeping the temperature high, even against the walls made entirely of snow and ice. There's also log-built saunas and outdoor Jacuzzis, and under the probable glow of the Northern Lights, it’s a magical experience. Stay here on our Glass Igloo and Ice Hotel Holiday in Finnish Lapland, where you'll spend your days enjoying both the snow sauna and a classic Finnish version, finishing each day with traditional Lappish meals and drinks in the Ice Bar before settling down for the night against a backdrop of the dancing aurora.
Tromso Boat Spa, Norway
Finland isn’t the only Nordic land that offers unique sauna experiences, and Norway's offer certainly fits the bill in the form of the Vulkana Spa Boat. In the centre of lively Tromso, guests embark at the Bangsund bridge, boarding a Norwegian fishing vessel wonderfully transformed into a boat spa. It features a salt water hot tub on deck, hammam steam room and, of course, a sauna, enjoyed as you cruise along the icy fjords of northern Norway, framed by distant snow-covered peaks. Enjoy fresh fish soup and local drinks in a cosy robe and slippers, and if you're feeling brave, take a dip in the surrounding fjords. You can experience this with any of our Tromso itineraries, such as our Tromso & Malangen Resort break, where you'll also stay in picturesque red cabins on the shores of a tranquil archipelago.
Camp Ripan, Swedish Lapland
Swedish sauna culture is integral within the country, a ritual both in summer, after a dip in the abundance of lakes, and in winter among snowy expanses. A delightful offering comes in the form of the Aurora Spa in Camp Ripan, Kiruna, high above the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. Stone-tiled floors, log-wood walls and furs provide a stunning setting for heated swimming pools, saunas and a steamy outdoor hot tub. A serene 'mountain stream' blue-tiled room is part of the focus on stone, wood and water – natural elements to reflect the nature, communities and cultures of Lapland. Guests can choose from the aroma sauna with pine oil or the mineral sauna, and it's all enjoyed using the spa's local products such as coffee face masks. It's particularly magical when surrounded by the thick, silent blanket of snow that covers Kiruna for much of the year, enjoyed under the Northern Lights, luck depending, or alternatively in the magical midnight sun. Stay here on our Camp Ripan Winter Weekend, where you'll spend your days husky sledding, skiing, and enjoying an enchanting taste of Swedish sauna culture.
Arctic Bath, Northern Sweden
Saunas in unusual places shouldn’t come as a surprise in Scandinavia, but this is a new revelation in Scandi design that may be even more iconic than its predecessors. It comes in the form of the Arctic Bath, a ‘floating’ spa lying on the banks of the Lule River, just below the Arctic Circle. With inspiration taken from Sweden’s forestry industry, with criss-crossed logs providing the spectacular architecturally-designed exterior, it’s evocative of its nearby Treehouse Hotel, similarly created with elements of the natural world as its foundation. Arctic Bath's focus is on wellness, with a central cold bath, several saunas, treatment rooms and relaxation rooms. It’s set to open towards the end of 2018 and will be available to book from June 2018 onwards. If interested, let us know and we'll inform you as soon as spaces can be reserved.