Après-steam cuisine: 7 Finnish waterfront sauna restaurants serving delicious meals

Famous for its sauna culture, Finland continues to innovate in the sauna space. Sleek new sauna restaurants have cropped up around the country in recent years. A few have already become classics and local landmarks.

In Helsinki and Tampere and further afield, these modern complexes share a minimalist design ethic that uses wood as a building material. Each houses more than one sauna and has waterfront access for a post-steam cool-off in a lake or in the sea.

Saunas are a big deal in Finland, which is often called the sauna nation. They form an intrinsic part of the country’s culture and daily life, so much so that “Sauna culture in Finland” appears on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Sauna itself is a Finnish term that English and many other languages have adopted.

All under one stylish roof

A wooden building with a triangular archway is snowy on the outside and a window shows people sitting in a cosy room on the inside.

Löyly, a sauna and restaurant complex in Helsinki is atmospheric in the winter when snow covers the patio and the wooden slats of the façade.Photo: Yiping Feng and Ling Ouyang/Helsinki Partners

Finland has a history of pairing sauna experiences with food and drink – there’s even a recipe book of meals you can cook in the sauna, by author Katariina Vuori.

However, “having it all under one stylish roof with a full-service restaurant is a newer phenomenon,” says Finnish journalist, author and sauna expert Tiina Torppa.

Another decidedly Finnish touch is that all of the saunas in this article are located next to natural bodies of water, says Carita Harju. She’s the founder and director of the international organisation Sauna from Finland, dedicated to upholding the authentic Finnish sauna experience.

Harju selected seven noteworthy sauna restaurants for us. It’s only natural that a visit to a sauna, part of an age-old Finnish tradition that nourishes body and soul, can be followed by another kind of sustenance: a delectable meal.

Capital delights

Löyly, Helsinki

The name Löyly comes from the Finnish word for the steam that rises when you ladle water over the rocks on top of the sauna stove. It was one of Finland’s first urban sauna restaurant complexes when it opened in 2016.

It was cofounded by one of the country’s top sauna ambassadors, Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen. He is well known for his roles in Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning movie BlacKkKlansman and the hit TV series Vikings.

Löyly features three saunas, including a traditional smoke sauna, and stairs that lead down to the sea. (In a Finnish smoke sauna, smoke fills the room while the sauna is heating up. Later the smoke is released through a vent and you can go in. The effect is steam that is even more soothing than usual and leaves a sweet, smoky aroma on your skin.)

Après-steam and après-swim, classic salmon soup is one of the most popular items on the menu in the glass-walled sea-view restaurant next to the saunas. There are also several levels of outdoor patios during the warm season. Award-winning Löyly inspired Time magazine to call it one of the World’s 100 Greatest Places.

Urban spa

Allas Sea Pool, Helsinki

This floating sauna and outdoor swimming pool complex nestled in Helsinki’s central harbour offers unparalleled views of waterfront historic buildings in a range of architectural styles from neoclassical to functionalist.

Allas (the word means “basin” or “pool”) has heated and cold-water pools, and saunas where you can see across the harbour to the ferries that supply connections to the local islands and to points further afield such as Stockholm, Sweden and Tallinn, Estonia. 

Allas Sea Pool opened in 2016 and includes a café and restaurant with a range of Nordic fare, along with a summer rooftop terrace for drinks overlooking the city.

Some like it truly hot

Kuuma, Tampere

The western central Finnish city of Tampere is the sauna capital of the world according to the Finnish Sauna Society and the International Sauna Association. It boasts 55 public saunas, ranging from modern to historic and including Rajaportti, the country’s oldest public sauna still in use, which dates back to 1906.

Tucked into the city centre lies the modern, sweat-swim-dine-drink location Kuuma (the name means “hot” in Finnish). It features two mixed public saunas and a cold plunge pool outside in the harbour. The onsite restaurant serves a range of food, from casual cuisine to fancier fare such as whitefish ceviche, tartar and crème brûlée.

Making waves

Sataman Viilu, Jyväskylä

Jyväskylä in central Finland is famous for its connection with renowned architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), including a couple dozen of his buildings and a museum that bears his name. The city is also home to Sataman Viilu (“the veneer of the harbour”), a set of saunas in a striking wooden structure at water’s edge.

Its three different types of saunas are open year-round. There’s also a sheltered terrace with jacuzzis and a lakeside pool. The airy, light-filled restaurant focuses on seasonal ingredients.

One of Jyväskylä’s most popular sights is just outside Viilu: a wooden boat that Alvar Aalto designed and used in the 1950s, now housed in a permanent glass-walled exhibition space.

Island vibe

Luoto, Kuopio

In the eastern Finnish city of Kuopio, on a terrace overlooking Lake Kallavesi, wooden swings suspended by ropes set a playful but subdued Nordic tone. Luoto is a sauna restaurant close to the city centre, yet removed from its hustle and bustle. The name means “small island,” and the building perches on a breakwater that juts out into the lake.

There are two general mixed saunas: a traditional Finnish sauna, Hehku, as well as modern smoke sauna called Haiku.

From the sauna terrace, it’s possible to go for a dip year-round in the lake, which has been affectionately dubbed a natural “infinity pool.” During the frozen winter months, a hole in the ice is kept open for quick icy plunges.

Luoto’s restaurant serves hearty dishes, from gourmet burgers to mushroom risotto and salmon soup.

Bucket list

Kiulu, Ähtäri

In Finnish, the word kiulu refers to a wooden bucket or pail for holding water in the sauna. Using a long-handled ladle, sauna-goers pour water over the rocks of the sauna stove to create the gentle steam called löyly.

Located in the central Finnish town of Ähtäri, Kiulu features two saunas, a 20-person main sauna and a ten-person maisemasauna (“landscape sauna”) that looks out over Lake Hankavesi.

The onsite restaurant serves casual to formal fare, and all of the spaces share an outdoor terrace that frames the surrounding nature.

Summer sauna island

Lonna, Helsinki

The tiny picture-postcard island of Lonna is just a short ferry ride away from Market Square in the capital. Lonna’s design saunas, dreamed up by a firm with the intriguing name Office for Peripheral Architecture, are located right on the coastline, so visitors can go for a refreshing swim in the Baltic Sea in between steamy sessions.

Though not under the same roof – but a very short walk away (less than one minute) – Lonna’s charming restaurant serves seasonal fare with an emphasis on organic Finnish ingredients. As both sauna and restaurant are very popular, advance booking (available online) is recommended for Lonna, which is only open during the summer season.

By Katja Pantzar, February 2024