Sauna culture in Sweden

In Germany we appreciate the mixed sauna culture, but what about in Sweden? In Sweden, people sweat both naked and sometimes with a towel - but always separated by gender. We have compiled some great facts for you.
The peculiarities of the Swedish sauna culture
© saunazeit

The peculiarities of the Swedish sauna culture

Sauna culture in Sweden. For the Swedes, the sauna is not only a place for relaxation, but also for socializing. This preference certainly has its roots in Scandinavian sauna enthusiasm. Thus, it is an integral part of sauna customs and not uncommon that during a sauna session, perhaps a business deal is negotiated or saunas become a group activity.

The Swedish Bastu

For the Swedish people, coziness begins with the sauna bath. Therefore, traditional sauna bathing takes place in a “bastu” or “badunna” – a so-called bathing room. Here, the classic sauna session is directly combined with a hot and cold bath, the first of which is often compared to a kind of whirlpool.

A long-standing group activity

Those who like to be anonymous and among themselves definitely do not live the sauna culture of the Swedish people. In fact, in that country it is said “the more the merrier” in terms of people participating. Due to this fact, it is not unusual to visit a sauna with 20 to 50 people. Taking a sauna is clearly understood as a communal experience. Nevertheless, there is one exception in sauna culture and unclothed group fun: there is strict gender segregation!

Sauna mores start with the “simple”.

And that is in this case already a special wooden barrel, which is at the same time also the highlight of the Swedish sauna. The history of the wooden barrel goes back several centuries and is an integral part of the traditional sauna ritual.

Procedure of a Swedish sauna

The Swedish inhabitants also begin with the classic sweating. With a temperature of 80 to 100 degrees Celsius (212 °F), they make themselves comfortable regarding their philosophy in a log cabin. As soon as the body was pleasantly heated up, it is radically cooled down in the snow, bath lake or a special dipping basin. But that’s not all – directly afterward, the sauna guests climb into a large wooden barrel, whose water has been heated to about 45 degrees Celsius (113 °F).

The Swedish wooden barrel

This rapid change between hot/warm and cold is what the Swedish sauna is all about. According to the Scandinavians, it strengthens the immune system and hardens the body. Thus, the Swedish way of sauna is considered unsuitable for beginners. Due to the rapid change of temperatures, inexperienced guests may experience pain on the skin or circulatory problems.

Another element that complements the Swedish sauna customs is the preference to go through the previously described procedures several times in a row. For people, going to the sauna is an intense experience, for which they take their time. Often the joint excursion ends with stimulating conversations in the traditional wooden barrel.

Nature and landscape – The ideal sauna location

In Sweden, the location of the sauna is almost as important as the sauna itself. Many saunas are located in picturesque places on the shores of lakes or deep in the forests. This creates a harmonious connection between nature and relaxation. Often the sauna owners have direct access to the lake, so that after the hot sauna session a refreshing bath in the cool water is possible.

Ritual infusions

One component that occurs in many cultures, but has its own flavor in Sweden, is the ritual infusions. In Sweden, fresh herbs and aromas from nature are often used, such as birch twigs or pine resin, to fill the steam with a pleasant and refreshing scent.

Vasta or Vihta – birch twigs as a massage instrument

Another highlight of Swedish sauna culture is the use of “Vasta” or “Vihta”, a bundle of fresh birch twigs. It is used during the sauna session to gently beat the body. This not only improves blood circulation, but the hot sauna air also gives off a pleasant scent of fresh birch. For many Swedes, this ritual is an indispensable part of their sauna visit.

The sauna as an extension of the house

For many Swedes, the sauna is not just a separate building, but an extension of their home. It is not uncommon for Swedes to have their own sauna on their property, especially in rural areas. These sauna houses are often comfortably furnished and provide a place to relax and retreat.

Social aspect

While sauna visits are a quiet affair in many cultures, in Sweden it is not uncommon to have conversations and exchange ideas. This can range from everyday topics to profound life issues. The intimate and relaxed atmosphere of the sauna often encourages open and honest communication.

In short, Swedish sauna culture is deeply rooted in the country’s traditions and lifestyle. It is a blend of socializing, connection with nature and a strong sense of community and wellness.

Aurora Borealis – The celestial phenomenon after a sauna session

Another magical moment that Swedes can experience after a relaxing sauna session is the awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Imagine stepping out of the hot sauna into the cold, clear night and being greeted by a dance of green, pink and purple lights moving vividly across the sky. This natural spectacle, also called the Aurora Borealis, adds an extra dimension of beauty and mysticism to the sauna experience.

Especially in the northern regions of Sweden, far from the lights of the cities, the winter months offer the best opportunity to observe this impressive celestial phenomenon. The optimal time to experience the green, purple and red dancing lights are the dark winter months from late September to late March. After a refreshing dip in a nearby lake or a round in the snow, it’s a breathtaking experience to wrap up in a warm blanket, enjoy a hot cup of tea and watch the spectacle of the aurora borealis in the sky.

© saunazeit

For many Swedes, this is not only a visual experience, but also a moment of reflection and deep connection with nature. Watching the aurora borealis after a sauna session is a reminder of the wonders and beauties of nature that enrich life and refresh the spirit.

So a sauna visit in Sweden not only offers physical and social benefits, but can also be a spiritual experience topped off by viewing the aurora borealis on a clear, cold night. It’s a combination that balances body, mind and spirit and reflects the magical atmosphere of the Scandinavian winter in all its glory.


Melanie Sommer