Around the world you’ll find the sauna situation changes depending on the culture. What’s traditional in Turkey may be totally frowned upon in Finland. Some countries see the sauna as a shared experience while others are strict about making sure men and women sauna separately. The last thing you would want is to make any embarrassing sauna slip-ups, so we’ve put together this fool-proof guide. We’ve listed five countries that encourage mixed saunas and included some easy-to-remember etiquette tips.
Saunas in Turkey
In Turkey taking a sauna is serious business – the process dates back to the early days of the Ottoman Empire. Traditional Turkish bath houses are called “hamams” and there are several that encourage mixed bathing.
First up you’ll be given a pestemal – AKA “bath robe” – that is used to cover yourself up. In most hamams men and women go topless, while rocking the pestemal on their bottom half.
Ladies, it may seem strange, but wearing a bra will actually make you stand out more. Typically you kick things off in the hot room – designed to make you sweat and loosen up. After this you can either opt for a massage, skin scrub or simply head to the cooling down room. The massage and wash is the most popular sauna-style in Turkey and it’s worth shelling out for. The attendant will scrub you down – but it’s on you to take care of your private parts.
It’s expected you’ll tip all employees – a few Turkish Lira is fine – and it’s considered poor form if you fail to do so. Once you’re done detoxing you’re free to roam the bath and mingle – just make sure you keep your pestemal in place!
Best mixed sauna: Suleymaniye Hamam
Expect to pay: $55 AUD
Saunas in Hungary
There’s a reason they call Budapest the “City of Spas” – bathing in Hungary is less of a pastime and more of a religion. In Hungary it’s all about thermal baths with water sourced from natural hot springs. The majority of complexes are mixed, which means men, women and children can all enjoy the healing powers of a hot bath. A thermal bath takes at least two hours – so make sure you plan accordingly. When you first enter you’ll be expected to shower – bring a bathing suit! The mixed aspect means you can’t be nude and – unlike Turkish baths – you may not necessarily be provided with a towel. Also if you’re not keen on being tagged as a tourist, leave the board shorts at home – most men will be rocking speedos. Hygiene and Hungary go hand-in-hand, so footwear is a must. Just pack some thongs for when you’re moving between baths. Once you’ve found the bath for you – relax! Any kind of swimming or splashing will result in some unimpressed looks from the locals. Much like Turkey, tipping is essential.
Best mixed sauna: Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Expect to pay: $28 AUD
Saunas in Japan
If you’ve ever been to Japan you’ll know the people are polite and ordered. So it’s no surprise that when you bathe you must behave. Japanese saunas are called onsens and when you arrive you’ll be expected to scrub down on a stool. Be careful not to splash your neighbour – interrupting someone’s onsen is disrespectful.
Once you’re done, flip the stool over to indicate you’re ready to be shown to the bathing room. At a mixed onsen you must cover yourself with a towel while walking around but bathing naked is the rule. Do not let your towel go in the water – this is seen as a rookie error – instead leave it near the edge of the bath.
While we’re on the subject of not putting things in the water – NEVER put your head under. It’s viewed as unhygienic and your fellow onsen-lovers will judge you. Unfortunately as much as you may love your tattoos, the Japanese will not. Body ink is a bathing no-no and you may be turned away. If it’s only a small tattoo, cover it with a water proof bandage and you should be fine.
Best mixed sauna: Hirayu Onsen
Expect to pay: $22 AUD
Saunas in Finland
The Finnish love to sauna so much that they actually invented the word “sauna”. Traditionally men and women sauna separately but mixing is increasingly common. When you arrive at the sauna, it’s polite to knock and then enter. Once you get the all clear enter quickly and be prompt in shutting the door. Letting cold air in will earn you a tongue lashing in Finnish from the purists. We also advise taking a towel to stop the sweat flow. Finns love to have a chat in the sauna, but the correct etiquette is to keep the conversation light – go for pop music over politics. Finally if someone hands you a bunch of leaves, don’t freak out. This is called a “vihta” and you’re supposed to brush them over your shoulders – it helps blood flow.
Best mixed sauna: Jätkänkämppä Smoke Sauna
Expect to pay: $28 AUD
Saunas in Germany
Whether you’re a Ger-man or Ger-woman, taking a sauna is all about loosening your inhibitions. In Deutschland they love to do it nude, so if you’re booking in a sauna session, be prepared to bathe in your birthday suit. The Germans call this Freikörperkultur or Free Body Culture and it’s been a part of their sauna-style since the 19th century. While being stark-naked is normal, staring is not! It’s considered rude to gawk – and even ruder to giggle. If you can’t handle a bunch of bare bodies around you, perhaps German-sauna ain’t for you.
Unlike in Finland and Hungary, taking a spa in Germany is all about self-reflection, so keep the chit-chat to a minimum. Don’t be afraid when a burly bath master barges in, throws waters on the rocks and whips their towel around in the air. This is just the Bademeister carrying out the Aufguss – it’s a part of the German tradition and helps create extra steam so you sweat more. You’re expected to clap after the Aufguss is done – as a way of saying, “thanks for making me super sweaty.”
Best mixed sauna: Kaiser Friedrich Therme
Expect to pay: $28 AUD
So if you love taking saunas while travelling to loosen up your muscles, use this survival guide wisely to know just how to get through your next sauna session no matter where you are in the world. You’ll know exactly when to robe up and when to strip down!
Looking for another way to relax? Check out these naturally warm travel destinations for a whole different take on the sauna.
Have you have a good or bad nude sauna experience on holidays? Share with us in the comments!