This post is an ode to Sompasauna which is the best public sauna (Helsinki region, or perhaps in the whole world). I’ve also listed it in this post about the 25 Free (and Frugal) Things to Do in Helsinki so you might want to check it out too.
Finnish Sauna Culture
Historically, sauna was the place where people gave birth, the sick were healed and eventually, bodies were washed before burial. It was believed that sauna had many healing benefits and different herbs and spells were used. Every sauna had its protector, the elf who was to be respected and looked after.
As everyone knows, sauna comes from Finland and we are sauna-crazy people. No denying that! Some years ago they even had competitions who could last the longest in the sauna. Let me tell you. This did not end well… Most dedicated houses have a sauna and many apartment buildings have a communal sauna if the flats don’t have one of their own. It’s a tradition in many Finnish families to have sauna on Saturday nights (at least). Old folks always suggest having sauna (or perhaps younger ones as well) if you have a common cold or feel that you are getting sick.
For some, sauna is a social gathering but I quite often like being there on my own and very untypical to Finnish, don’t necessarily even throw water to the stones and prefer milder heat. If I’m in solitude, I never drink any alcohol but if I’m at a summer cottage with friends, almost always, a few beers and/or ciders go hand in hand with sauna.
I know this is something many are very curious about. I can tell that the clothing (or lack of it) depends on who you have sauna with. Obviously, if you are with your family or only with the same sex, people are naked. If you have sauna with your friends eg. at a summer cottage, the customs vary depending on the people: sometimes girls might prefer to wear bathers whereas guys not. Or everyone has a swimming suit (or trunks) on or if it’s a chilled out crew, everyone is naked. In Finland, at the swimming pools, you usually have to go naked in the sauna.
If you are a foreigner or feel bashful, don’t worry, it’s ok to have your bathing suit on or you can use a towel. Just don’t expect Finnish people to wear it, hehe. If you are visiting Finland for the first time, this post about 10 things to know before travelling to Finland might be useful.
Sompasauna – the Best Public Sauna in Helsinki
This extraordinary place was built in 2011 by a inventions group of guys after having found an abandoned sauna stove: a sauna shag was build in the derelict urban area of Kalasatama (without a permit). The following years, the sauna was always rebuilt with leftover construction material by a growing group of volunteers. The sauna is still free but if you want, you can join the Sompasauna association and support it modestly (20-30 euros/year). By the way, if you are a thrifty person, more Helsinki budget tips here.
The City of Helsinki has had an ambiguous attitude towards this place and at first, they took down the constructions. In recent years, the attitude has shifted and the sauna can stay for a few more years at least before the Kalasatama neighborhood will be fully built.
Sompasauna has got a webpage on their own and there is a brief introduction in English so you can read it too to get more instructions.
The different saunas have had different models over the years. Sometimes there is only one sauna while in the last couple of years there has usually been more than one. There are no toilets, showers or any renting services so you need to bring your own towel and accept the fact that you are not going to have a refreshing shower after the sauna. Oh, if the nature calls, there are still a few bushes around.
However, bring your sausages as you can barbeque here. It’s pretty close to the Finnish kesämökki or summer cottage experience when you come to Sompasauna or just Sompis, as the locals call it. You can have sauna, barbie (Aussie lingo for barbeque, pardon me) and drink a few ciders with your friends while enjoying the nightless night.
You can go swimming as well if you dare. The descent down to the sea is not always the safest so be careful!
How to do the Finnish Sauna Experience
Nowadays there’s wood ready so you don’t need to bring your own anymore (quite a relief, to be honest). You are free to start the sauna on your own but quite often it’s already on as the active sauna-goers are there already. The place can get packed especially on the weekends and if it’s good weather. If you are a prude and don’t feel like being close to many naked bodies, perhaps this is not your place, hehe.
Most people bathe without bathing suits but it’s up to you. Perhaps girls prefer often to have something on but many guys don’t seem to matter.
Don’t leave any rubbish behind you and leave the place as it is. Unfortunately, some stupid imbeciles have tried to burn the whole place down every couple of years (and sometimes succeeding) but that hasn’t stopped Sompasauna, the best public sauna in Helsinki, being rebuilt. On a more positive note, there is nowadays actually a recycling bin for bottles. How cool is that!
In summer, they have held a few events here, such as the old-fashioned ‘lavatanssit” dances where they play old Finnish hits typical of the countryside romanticism. A few years back there were also some underground techno parties nearby where I’ve spent some of the best summer days with my friends.
This reminds me of one of my best date nights ever actually. I took this guy there a few years back and we had such a good time at this unique place in Helsinki. And that’s all I can say about that 😉
Other Sights Around the Area
Kalasatama area has also one of the cutest container cafes, called Cafe Ihana. You can chill on the beanbags or sit on the fake grass and soak the sun. A very chilled out place and definitely worth a visit! You can visit by land or better yet, if you have a boat, cruise around with style!
Next to Kalasatama is Suvilahti. It’s an awesome old factory area that is now used for organizing festivals (the famous Flow Festival for instance), parties, events and in addition it has a circus school and a restaurant to name a few. You are free to stroll around and see what you can find. Architectonically, the place is mesmerizing.
Ok, now you know the best public sauna (Helsinki area). I know we have quite a few awesome and grand saunas nowadays but, in my opinion, nothing beats this rustic, DIY- sauna made with love by the people and for the people. Actually, Sompasauna would be one of my favourite Helsinki sights altogether. If I have a friend visiting me this would be one of the first things I’d show him/her. What about you, do you like sauna yourself? Have you been to any in Helsinki?
One more thing, I would like to thank the whole crew behind Sompasauna for the work they have done for this magical and unique place. I don’t think there will ever be a similar, unique spot!
If you wondering what else to do in Helsinki, have a look at this post about the best cafes in Helsinki.
Or if you want to know about the Finnish summer cottage experience in the Finnish archipelago you can’t miss this post!
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