“Sauna culture in Finland” is on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the country is known as the sauna nation – English and many other languages have adopted the Finnish word sauna, making it part of the global lexicon. Nowhere else is the sauna woven as closely into the fabric of daily life as it is in Finland.
It’s only natural that people in Finland don’t overlook any aspect of the quintessential Finnish steam bath, and that includes interior design.
A sauna’s interior is as important as its setting – preferably in or near nature – and as significant as the quality of its löyly, the gentle steam that emerges when you pour water over the rocks on top of the sauna stove.
With 3.3 million saunas in a country of 5.6 million people, the whole population of Finland could, in theory, enjoy its national treasure at the same time, says Carita Harju, founder and director of the international organisation Sauna from Finland.
She chose seven different types of saunas based on their unique interiors and experiences. They all tap into the ancient ritual that soothes mind, body and soul.
The Art Sauna at Serlachius (Mänttä-Vilppula)
The stunning and highly original round sauna represents a circular first. Most saunas in Finland are rectangular or square-shaped. An international trio of celebrated Barcelona-based architects – Héctor Mendoza, Mara Partida and Boris Bežan – designed it, with Pekka Pakkanen as the Finnish architectural project partner.
“The round shapes emerged as an idea of ‘gathering’ and ‘embracing,’ where the architecture becomes an integral part of the visitor’s experience,” says Mendoza. “Having everyone facing one another sets the place for sharing thoughts, comments and coexperiences of sauna culture.”
High-end art adds to the unique milieu in the foyer and outdoors en route to the dock for a quick dip – part of the Finnish sauna tradition of cooling off in a natural body water after basking in the hot steam. The Art Sauna is adjacent to one of Finland’s leading private art collections, the Serlachius Museums, housed in two grand buildings in the countryside between the central Finnish cities of Tampere and Jyväskylä.
Furuvik Seaside Sauna (Helsinki)
At a yellow seaside villa built in the late 1800s, Furuvik has two picturesque saunas, one inside the house and another in a charming red wooden cottage on the water.
The seaside sauna’s large window looks out over the water and brings natural light into the steam room. The changing area is furnished like a cosy family cottage, complete with wooden tables and benches and colourful traditional rag rugs made from old clothing and textiles.
“History and traces of everyday life are not hidden here,” says owner Tea Lindberg, who runs Furuvik and lives there with her two young children. “In fact, we want to emphasise them.”
Eco-style wilderness getaway
Cottage saunas at Hawkhill Cottage Resort (Nuuksio)
Nestled next to Nuuksio National Park, this collection of upscale log cabins, each with its own private sauna, has been created with a strong focus on peace, quiet and the restorative qualities of pure nature. You can enjoy the authentic Finnish experience of alternating hot and cold by going for a post-steam dip in the freshwater pond.
Located just 45 kilometres (30 miles) from Helsinki city centre, Hawkhill is a family-owned, family-run business with a strong commitment to the planet. Every element has been carefully considered, from the low-emission heating solutions to low-impact catering options that include local food.
Sweet sauna suites
Hotel room saunas at Lapland Hotels Bulevardi (Helsinki)
This modern hotel in downtown Helsinki includes an original feature in 100 of its guest rooms – chic, easy-to-use ensuite saunas that offer a view directly into the hotel room. All rooms are decorated in a style that calls to mind Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region.
Special sauna packages can be customised to include ways to relax, stretch and practice mindfulness, along with an informative intro to Finnish sauna culture for newbies. A mystical Nordic twist rounds out the experience: Guests can listen to music in the sauna while enjoying the soft steam.
Smoke sauna with a view
Seven Star smoke sauna (Ruka-Kuusamo)
On the shores of Heikinjärvi, a lake in the breathtaking wilderness of northern Finland, the Seven Star smoke sauna offers a unique experience.
As a Finnish smoke sauna heats up, the smoke fills the room. Later the smoke is released and the sauna-goers can enter. The steam is especially soothing, and you leave with a sweet, smoky aroma on your skin.
“Our traditional smoke sauna has a big window that offers a lake view that’s like a changing work of art, different every day and every season,” says Katja Vira, who runs the family-owned sauna with her sisters.
Unlike many smoke saunas, which are almost dark inside, Seven Star is tastefully furnished with soft lights and lanterns – a nice touch that first-timers and others may appreciate.
World’s largest smoke sauna
Tupaswilla (Laukaa, near the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä)
Up to 160 people at a time can be accommodated in Tupaswilla’s smoke sauna. It is known for its traditional women’s smoke sauna evenings featuring an extra touch: skin treatment with peat, touted for its health-promoting effects. This popular event, held once a month, is often sold out.
The log beams of the sauna building, which includes a spacious changing area, date back to the 17th century. Much of the interior is made from recycled materials, and the shower water comes straight from a freshwater pond about 100 metres (110 yards) away.
Lapelland sauna wagons (anywhere you put them)
Interest in portable saunas is growing. Lapelland sauna wagons can be towed from place to place, allowing aficionados to enjoy a good steam just about anywhere.
The wagon range serves as another testament to the national significance of saunas in Finland. It includes a tiny-house model complete with a kitchen and lounge area whose sofa converts into a bed, making it possible to live the sauna lifestyle around the clock.
The sauna wagons are designed and made in Finland and delivered ready-to-use. The idea is to provide an on-the-go sauna experience that is authentic in every detail, right down to the heat-treated aspen benches.
By Katja Pantzar, December 2023