A beginner's guide to German sauna culture

Your first trip to a sauna can be daunting, but fear not! Tips and tricks for blending in at the sauna. Our founder Emily explains.

I’m British; the idea of topless sunbathing scares me, meaning the thought of getting completely nude to visit the sauna was paralysing. 

Saunas started out in Scandinavia as earth pits covered by animal skins, and evolved into what we now recognise as traditional saunas where wood is burned in a stove. Now, the ritual of visiting a sauna is a key part of culture for many northern European countries.

So, after just a few months of living in Germany, I found myself ready to embrace this part of the country’s culture and see what the fuss was about. After a few awkward moments (created by my own projection and not the reality), it wasn’t so bad… it turns out that a body is just a body! 

In Germany, going to the sauna is a normal activity to do alone or with friends, and is revered for its relaxing effects and circulatory benefits. But going for the first time can be daunting, so we’re here to help!

"Ultimately heading to the sauna is a form of relaxation and meditation"

What are the benefits of using the sauna? 

Ultimately heading to the sauna is a form of relaxation and meditation, and as a nice side effect, there are many health benefits associated with sauna use. 

These include the improvement of cardiovascular performance, reducing the likelihood of developing dementia and flushing toxins out of your body. Check out the round us of studies and specific benefits, here

Pro tip: if you’re feeling brave after you get out of the sauna, either submerge yourself in the icy-cold plunge pool or take an icy-cold shower. The temperature extremes trigger your blood vessels to constrict rapidly and as a result, your blood flow will improve, leading to a faster recovery from any muscle damage or soreness.

Do I really have to go into the sauna without swimwear? 

Yes! It might seem like a shock at first, but in Germany, wearing swimwear in a sauna is considered to be unhygienic, hence why nudity is required.

Saunas are a strangely sexless place. Of course, there are individual exceptions, but if you feel bothered or excessively stared at, you should report it; sauna owners want their spaces to be free and not places where you’re made to feel uncomfortable.

So how long should I stay in the sauna? 

It depends a little on your tolerance to dry heat, and how hot the sauna is (there is no “standard” temperature, and it varies from place to place). 

A rule of thumb is to start small and see how your body reacts. Five minutes is good for a first attempt while it’s not advised to stay in a sauna for more than 15-20 minutes. But the Fins, who invented the word sauna, simply say: the sauna is meant for relaxing, not ticking off minutes, so leave once you feel hot enough.

For many, a standard sauna routine is 3 rounds of up to 15 minutes in the sauna, with a minimum of a 20-30 minute break in the middle. It’s key to take a break so as not to overstress your body. But, if you want to only take one or two rounds in the sauna, that’s absolutely ok! Listen to your body.

In larger spaces with multiple saunas, you’ll find that there are different temperatures with different humidities: play around and find out what you like. 

How is a sauna different from a steam room?

It’s a question of humidity and temperature; steam rooms are cooler and wetter (obviously…).In Germany, saunas are much more commonplace.

Sauna tips and things to note

  1. Saunas are great places to hang out with friends! Yes, it might feel weird to strip off and chat with people who are close to you while in the buff, but once you relax, you’ll be able to have beautiful, intimate conversations 
  2. Pack a linen robe or kimono to wrap yourself up in after you get out of the sauna; a huge fluffy one tends to be too warm (alternatively pack a second towel).
  3. Good hygiene is key: While in the sauna, you need to make sure you have a towel under you at all times (including under your feet); this is so your sweat (and others’) doesn’t soak into the wooden benches. You also need to shower before getting into the sauna.
  4. Drink lots! You’ll lose a lot of liquid, so be sure to replenish it 
  5. Many saunas are mixed-sex: (as are the changing rooms) if this bothers you, not a problem! You can find single-sex saunas - just be sure to ask before you pay and go in.
  6. Try an Aufguss, a word that translates to infusion. These are little events that intensify the benefits of the sauna! The person leading the Aufguss will pour water enriched with natural essential oils on the stones - such as orange and eucalyptus or clove - and move the hot, fragrant air through the sauna with a towel or fan. Note that you can’t enter a sauna if an Aufguss is in process, but you can leave whenever you want.
Sauna-ing, simply put: sit still (or lie down), breathe deeply, feel your muscles relax, leave when you feel hot enough. Easy!

For those of you who want to enjoy a session in the sauna, but still aren’t convinced by public spaces, check out our collection of places to stay with semi-private or private saunas!

The Staycation Collection is a where-to-stay guide and travel inspiration platform for travel in Germany. Think travel agency for the digital age! 

We exist to showcase Germany’s most beautiful and affordable places to stay from cabins to B&Bs to apartments, and give you insider tips shared by the owners on what to do in the area while you’re there.

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