Discovering the soul of sauna in Finland’s Tampere

Did you know that there are around three million saunas in Finland? And given there are only around 5.5million people, that’s an awful lot of Löyly (that’s the steam that is generated when water is poured over hot coals) per head.

And nowhere has more steam than the city of Tampere. Situated slap bang in the middle of two lakes, just over 100 miles north of Helsinki, this compact city is the sauna capital of the world, with around 60 public saunas to choose from.

Now, I enjoy a sauna as much as the next woman, but I was curious to discover if sauna culture was really such a big thing in Finland, or if it is just something that the Fins tell tourists. Perhaps a little like the myth that us Scots regularly eat haggis and all enjoy listening to the bagpipes! And what better time to find out than during Tampere’s Soul of Sauna celebrations, a week of festivities devoted to sauna culture.

Arriving in Tampere on a glorious summer evening I’m delighted to be heading directly to Rauhaniemi Folk Spa and Sauna Temple. A public sauna where locals have been enjoying saunas since 1957. Located on the beautiful shore of Lake Näsijärvi it is the perfect place to enjoy the typical sauna experience combined with a refreshing dip in the lake to cool off.

Rauhaniemi Folk Spa

My visit was timed as mid-summer was drawing ever nearer, and this far North the sun is in the sky for most of the day and the night. It also means that the lake is warm enough for a pleasant swim. But Rauhaniemi is open year round, with just a hole in the ice in winter in which to cool down between working up a sweat in one of the traditional wooden saunas. If you’re curious about the Sauna Temple (I was), then you’ll be pleased to hear that I popped in to enjoy the warmth of this wood-fired sauna tucked inside a yurt and even had a go at whipping my skin with the birch twigs that made the sauna smell amazing. I’m not sure my whipping was quite vigorous enough to reap the circulatory benefits, but when in Tampere…

As a typically bashful Brit I admit to having been somewhat concerned about the accepted dress code for the Soul of Sauna week, and was delighted to discover that swimwear is indeed de rigueur in mixed public saunas. I’m sure you’ll agree that whipping each other with birch twigs is one thing, but public nudity is quite another.

But as well as being famous for its proliferation of saunas, the city of Tampere is also renowned for its industry. And it was a Scot who saw its potential as an industrial city when he founded the Finlayson Company there in 1820. James Finlayson was born in Penicuik, Midlothian and travelled to Finland on a mission to sell bibles at a time when the country was under Russian rule. His original factory produced linen and textiles using water power from the Tammerkoski river rapids and started an industrial revolution that saw red brick factories spring up around Tampere. Although most of the buildings in the city centre have now been converted into offices, shops and public spaces there is still one factory producing cardboard.

The rapids and buildings around Tammerkoski in Tampere

A wander around the city centre allows time to browse the many independent shops, galleries and boutiques, many of these are owned and run by designers and makers, so you’re likely to find something quite unique to take home. There are also countless stalls selling fresh fruit, including the sweetest and juiciest strawberries, which are quite irresistible. I’m wondering how soft fruit can grow so well this far North, and am reminded that the long days provide lots of sunlight for growing. A visit to the Market Hall showcases more local produce with an array of market stalls.

One of the things that strikes me about Finnish sauna culture is how it is combined with so many other aspects of life. There are saunas in restaurants and bars, on boats, in shopping centres and also in art galleries. With this in mind I board the Art & Sauna bus to Serlachius in the nearby town of Mänttä. I should probably mention that I travelled around Tampere by bus with ease, despite my complete lack of language skills. Trams, trains and buses are easily negotiated even if English is the only language you are fluent in.


Serlachius has its origins in the industry of Finland too and this collection of art, housed partially in the former home of a family of Finnish paper barons, and partially in the adjacent architect-designed space, is well worthy of a visit. Situated right by a lake, as so much of Finland is, the old house is full of historical pieces that were collected by the family.

The beautiful gallery space, complete with fine-dining restaurant is home to an ever-changing programme of contemporary exhibitions. I spent the most wonderful day exploring the works, only stopping to sample a gourmet lunch and later tea and cake in the charming Summer Cafe Autereentupa.

But, as is the Finnish way, you are never far from nature (or a sauna) and the art draws me outside to enjoy the pieces that hide on a tiny island accessed by bridge and those that stand sentinel on the lakeside. It is here that I discover the art sauna. A state of the art wooden building housing indoor and outdoor spaces for events, a sauna and a tempting pier that is just begging to be jumped from into the crystal clear lake.

Serlachius Art Sauna

Heading back to Tampere I’m amazed by how much of the countryside is taken up by forest or water. Nature is so important to the Finns and its no surprise that Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for the last seven consecutive years. It’s impossible to underestimate how much spending time in nature impacts our mental health and here it is practically impossible to avoid.

I’m feeling pretty blinking happy the next morning as I wake early to glorious sunshine and a yoga class on the stunning rooftop terrace at Periscope in the city centre. With 360 degree views over the city its hard to imagine a better way to start the day, that is until I’m shown their luxurious rooftop sauna and jacuzzi area.

Views from Restaurant Periscope

I’m keeping everything crossed that the weather is set fair as I’m bound for Viikinsaari Island, a short 20 minute boat ride from the harbour. The island is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend more time in nature with gorgeous swimming beaches, a gentle nature trail, restaurant and cafe to be enjoyed.

As my time in Tampere draws to a close there’s time for another sauna or two, including a smoke sauna, a traditional style sauna without a chimney. For the fellow uninitiated, the smoke is allowed to disperse before anyone enters, so gas masks are not required. It’s actually rather a lovely experience, with the comforting scent of wood smoke in the warm air.

You are never far from nature in Finland

Chatting to Finns, I’ve loved gaining an understanding of their respect and love for nature. I’ve also been surprised to discover that almost every home has its own sauna. But while many people use their home saunas daily, they still visit public saunas too. It seems to me that although the health benefits of sauna and cold water dipping are widely appreciated, the importance of sauna culture is also deeply rooted in social connection. It’s a revelation that will stay with me for a very long time and one that I only wish we could replicate closer to home.


UNITY Tampere Trikootehdas

Formerly a factory making knitwear, this is the perfect, peaceful pad just on the outskirts of the city. The number 10 bus takes you into the centre in ten minutes but here you have access to forest trails and lakeside beaches right on your doorstep. The apartments are huge with kitchen facilities and spotlessly clean and the breakfast is a real treat. There’s a bar, restaurant and gym. Oh, and there’s a sauna on site with incredible lake views.

Nolla glamping cabins, Viikinsaari Island

The island is only a 20 minute ferry ride from Tampere and these gorgeous wooden cabins allow you to stay on this very special island in the middle of a nature reserve. The island is a popular tourist spot, but these cabins are the only way to stay overnight.


Haarla, Tampere

Impressive restaurant in the heart of the city with a terrace in the backyard. Service is great and the atmosphere is relaxed and incredibly welcoming. Try the Pike Perch with roasted garlic and capers. Sustainable and delicious.

Restaurant Gösta, Serlachius, Mänttä

Fine dining with lakeside views at the cultural attraction that is Serlachius. Surrounded by trees and water my highlights were the rich deer taco with lovage yogurt and spruce and the grilled trout with bok choy and rhubarb beurre blanc.

Villit&Viinit, Tampere

There’s a constantly changing four course menu focusing on local and seasonal produce on offer at this intimate little wine bar in the city. You can choose all of the dishes or just one or two, you can choose paired wines or drink whatever you like. There’s a distinctly chilled out vibe here that I really loved. The beef tartare was awesome, as was the basil ice cream.

Restaurant Periscope, Tampere

Ultra-cool and contemporary restaurant with stunning views across the city. If the sun’s out then go to the rooftop terrace to enjoy cocktails with a 360 degree panorama. The lunch of the day changes daily but it would be tough to go past the burger which was impressive in size, presentation and taste.

Sauna Restaurant Kuuma, Tampere

The perfect combination of Finnish sauna, Nordic food and lake views, all in the heart of the city. This bustling restaurant serves up a menu of relaxed dishes and delicious cocktails. The fact you can have a sauna and use their plunge pool to dip in the lake before dinner really makes this a winner.


I flew to Helsinki direct from Edinburgh with Finnair. If you’d like to plan a trip to Tampere there is a wealth of information available at


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