Finland in London: London’s Finnish Sauna

Finnish blogger Aapo Markkanen, a London-based mobile industry analyst and sauna enthusiast joins in with our World in London challenge, to talk about the joys of having a Finnish sauna in London.

In the old days, the sauna linked both ends of life in a rather profound manner, functioning both as a birthing room to bring new people into this world as well as a tranquil retreat for the elderly who sensed they didn’t have much time left here. Modernity understandably phased out that side of the sauna culture, but for many of us Finns it still adds something reflective to the concept.

Today there are more saunas than households in Finland. While most are private, serving homes or summer cabins, there are also a plenty of public ones, operating normally as part of pools and various ice-swimming venues. Some are lavish and expensive, some others entirely improvised and ascetic. A sauna doesn’t basically require anything more than a stove (“kiuas”), water and enough of physical structure to contain the vapor heat (“löyly”) that results when these two meet, so with some extra skill and dedication one can be even built out of, say, snow and ice

London’s most (yet not exactly its only) authentic sauna is more of an underground thing, found in the basement of the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe, but its purpose is very much the same: to relax and cleanse you, physically and mentally. 

It’s available as communal sessions (at separate times for men and women) and on private booking, and what essentially sets it apart from gym saunas, for example, is that the kiuas is there for creating proper löyly rather than that frustrating bone-dry heat you experience elsewhere. The other main difference is that most of us enjoy our sauna fully naked, simply because it’s better that way. 

The etiquette is simple. Take a shower. Enter the sauna, and stay in there until you feel like going out. Take another shower, ideally cold, and then a break in the dressing room. Rehydrate yourself. Close your eyes and relax, or converse with others. Avoid topics touching on money and status. Don’t complain about the löyly, unless your complaint is about the lack of it. Repeat as many times as you like and the opening hours permit.

Do you have any other tips for enjoying Finnish culture in London? Let us know in the comments below…

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  1. Claire Doble says:

    Can anyone attend the Sauna at the Finnish church? How much does entry cost?

    • Aapo says:

      The sauna is available for absolutely anyone – no memberships or anything like that!

      A communal 90min costs five pounds per person, with students and some other concession groups paying slightly less. Every tenth visit is free of charge, so ask for “loyalty card”. The private sauna slots (available on booking) cost 18 pounds, which includes 60min for two persons.

      The communal saunas are on Thu and Sat, 1730-1900 for women and 1900-2030 for men. Bookings can be made by calling the reception of the church on 020 7237 4668.

      • Aapo says:

        In fact, I learnt yesterday (while in the sauna, of course) that there’s now also a third communal day. Every Tuesday, at 1830-2000 for men and 2000-2100 for women.

  2. Larry J says:

    Brilliant article written by a nonbleman!

  3. Thanks for the article – will have to check it out.

    There is a pop-up Finnish restaurant as part of London Design Week from 15 Sept to 3 October – http://www.helyes.fi

    And the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square can satisfy cravings for cinnamon buns, blueberry pie or Karjalanpirakka.
    http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/venue/2:2016/nordic-bakery

  4. martin dowland says:

    But where is this sauna? I want to go! I have been suggsting we need this for a long time….

    • Aapo says:

      The address of the Finnish Church is 33 Albion Street, SE16 7HZ – Rotherhithe and Canada Water are the closest stations.

  5. Petri says:

    Terve Aapo

    Kurkkaapa saunasivuillemme http://www.visitsauna.fi
    Tulossa myös englanninkielinen versio.
    Miten sinuun saa yhteyden?

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