Why are Scandinavian saunas naked

Sauna culture

Sauna culture with tradition

If you want to go to the sauna in Finland, you usually don't have to travel long distances. The sauna is part of everyday life and so it can be found in private houses, in summer houses, in rental apartments, sometimes even in one-room apartments.

According to the European Union, there should be around 1.7 million saunas in Finland. Everyone saunas as often and as long as they like, depending on their mood. That can be minutes, but also hours - of course, repeatedly interrupted by showering or jumping into cold water.

Finns have been used to being in hot steam since they were children. It used to be common practice to use the sauna as a spare bathroom, and some women went to the sauna room to give birth to their children. Such times are over in Finland, but the sauna remains an important institution.

Clothed or naked?

Small families go to the sauna together. Even at family celebrations, it is common to relax in the sauna from time to time. But here is the decisive difference to German sauna customs: As soon as it goes beyond the closest family circle, women and men are saunas separately. The mixed sauna like in Germany is unthinkable for Finns.

Even the variant of wearing bathing suits is extremely alien to the inventors of the sauna. The sauna is generally naked. So if you want to go to the sauna in other countries, it is well advised to inquire about customs or regulations beforehand.

Clothing is not permitted in Scandinavia, German-speaking countries and the Baltic countries. In most other countries the opposite is true.

Sauna instead of conference room

Textile-free pleasure definitely makes sense in Finland. Everyone is equal in the sauna - and that offers a good basis for negotiations, for example when making business decisions.

You don't go to the conference room or to an extended business lunch, but sit on the bench and sweat. Many large companies therefore have their own sauna, which they particularly like to use when business partners from abroad are present.

Naked diplomacy

What works well in private and business life should of course not be missing in politics. The special features of the Finnish parliament building include a swimming pool and a sauna. This is where the cabinet members meet in order to be able to discuss in a relaxed atmosphere.

Both in business meetings and in politics, however, this tradition gradually becomes problematic: Since more and more women are represented in politics and business, but the Finns do not sauna together, women fall behind.

Former Finnish President Urho Kekkonen has made sweating a fine art of diplomacy. He gladly invited Finnish politicians as well as foreign state guests to his sauna, which he had built shortly after his election as president in 1956. However, both his guests and the content of the conversations were kept as secret as possible and led to constant speculation.

Among his most famous guests were Nikita Khrushchev and the later Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin. Guests in the Finnish parliament sauna include the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.


It is quite common for work colleagues, students and other groups to meet in Finland's saunas. The casual meetings or even parties improve the interaction with one another. This is intended to reduce tensions in working life.

Foreigners visiting Finland are also happy to be invited to the sauna by their hosts. If you don't want to make a fool of yourself, you should definitely accept such an invitation! Even if you can only stand it for a few minutes: The invitation is an honor and you should act accordingly.

Here, too, the following applies: You should know some rules in order not to attract negative attention to the other sauna users. Those who enter the sauna politely take the ladle and make an infusion - there are no sauna masters in Finland. Absolute silence does not have to prevail in the sauna, but there is an unwritten law: There is no arguing in the sauna!

And anyone who enters a sauna in which, in addition to people, actually stews a pair of sausages, should take this calmly. Finland has its own sauna sausage that is braised in the heat and then eaten with mustard.