Navigating the etiquette of a Norwegian sauna can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated. Here we break down the rules, the rituals, the culture, and the benefits of these hip public hot boxes that are popping up all over downtown Oslo.
Saunas are an integral part of Nordic culture. Traditionally found in private homes and holiday cottages, these high-heat, wood-lined rooms are designed to make you sweat, to flush out built-up toxins, improve circulation and aid muscle recovery after intense exercise. The traditional hot-cold sauna cycle concludes with an icy-water shower or dunk, a jump in the ocean or lake (any time of year) or a roll in the snow. In the past few years, Oslo has seen an uptick in public saunas located in convenient downtown locations where visitors and locals alike can sweat it out year-round. But before you step inside, make sure you know what to expect—and what’s expected of you.
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Go to the Right Sauna
Most often, public saunas are separated by gender—one sauna for men, another for women—with corresponding change rooms and often a shared resting area. Be on the lookout for the sauna that suits you best and head for that one.
To Suit up or Not to Suit Up
Many saunas have a strict “no swimsuit” rule to limit bacteria brought in by wet bathing suits; guests are asked to use clean towels to cover up instead. Check the protocols of the particular sauna before going—and check in with your own nudity comfort level.
Hygiene Before Heat
Before entering the sauna, always take a thorough (naked) shower with soap and shampoo and rinse off well. A light rinse under the water isn’t going to cut it here—Norwegians take their hygiene seriously and if you don’t, you will get dirty looks.
Now that you’re in, there is one important rule you must follow: Never let your skin touch the wooden benches. Sauna seats are lined with porous wood planks—they don’t retain heat so you’re able to sit down without burning yourself, but they also soak up moisture. Always sit on a towel; this not only prevents sweat seeping into and staining the wood, but it also keeps things clean.
When you’re sitting inside the sauna, silence is golden. If you absolutely must talk, to pass important information to a friend or neighbor, hushed voices are appreciated. If you go above a whisper, you may get some judgmental glances or even be asked (quietly) to go outside to talk.
Talk Amongst Yourselves
That being said, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to friends and family while in the changeroom—this is supposed to be a fun social event after all. Hoots and hollers are even encouraged when you’re plunging into the brisk North Sea or cooling off outside before going back inside for round two.
Hot and Steamy
The one time it is okay to talk while sitting in the sauna is when it comes to adding water to the stove to create more steam. Always ask (or knowingly gesture to) those sharing the sauna before ladling out a single drop of water. This is a shared space and everyone must be in agreeance that it needs to be hotter—but you will rarely get a head shake!
Cold as Ice
While gently lounging in a hot sauna floating on the edge of Oslo may seem like a nice relaxing way to spend an afternoon, you’ll never gain the respect of locals without intermittently throwing yourself in freezing cold water. This may be in the ocean or a cold-water pool or shower; whichever it is, taking that leap will be expected (and be a serious full-body experience).
Floating saunas have been cropping up in Oslo Harbour, making use of the readymade cold-plunge option of jumping directly into Oslo Fjord. Kok Oslo is a 10-person raft sauna, which you can enjoy lashed to the dock or captained out for a harbor cruise; Sorenga has two sauna floats—one made of driftwood, the other a modernized masterpiece—at the back of the Oslo Opera.
Boasting one of the world’s largest saunas, SALT Village is a hipster hub on the oceanside promenade with multiple saunas, an outdoor theatre and concert space, a busy café, and art exhibitions.
For a more luxurious experience, head to The Thief Spa for a sauna “guss” where essential oils and heat-distributing techniques are used. While a 10-minute drive from downtown, a visit to The Well is well worth the journey—it’s the largest bathhouse in the Nordic region with a whopping 11 pools and 15 unique saunas and steam rooms.
Cost and Kit
Entrance to city saunas start at around $11 USD per person (SALT, Sorenga) and go up to $55 (The Well)—booking ahead is often necessary to secure your spot. If you don’t have a towel, you can often rent or buy one onsite; The Well has a no-suit policy for saunas but allows them in the pools—it just has to be one of theirs (purchased at reception). Flipflops are also a good idea as the sauna floors can get very hot.