Twitter may be in disarray, but Estonians aren’t phased. After all, they have the original social network: the sauna. When the temperature rises and steam fills the room, Estonians drop their inhibitions and open up. Saunas are places to negotiate, share news, commiserate, and collaborate — the one social interaction Estonians prefer to have in real life rather than online. Visiting a sauna is the most “like a local” experience you can have when you come to Estonia.
To honor this Estonian tradition, 2023 has been declared the Year of the Sauna!
What does sauna mean to Estonians?
Historically, the life of Estonians began and ended in a sauna. New households still build saunas first, and in many ways, life revolves around the sauna, even today.
UNESCO has recognized just how integral the sauna is to Estonian culture by listing the Võromaa smoke sauna tradition — the entire ritual, not just the sauna building itself — on their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Visitors to Estonia can experience the smoke sauna tradition, and many other types of saunas, since over 150 saunas spots and over 20 different types of saunas are listed on the Sauna 2023 website.
Discover the sacred smoke sauna ritual
A traditional smoke sauna has no chimney; a fire is lit, and the room fills with smoke. The smoke is let out, and in you go, clothed only in a felt hat. The steam created by throwing water on heated stones — leil, as it’s known in Estonian — is said to clear the mind and cleanse the spirit. Stimulate your circulation and exfoliate your skin by “whisking” your body with birch boughs. After your body heats up, cool down by plunging into icy waters nearby. You’ll emerge feeling transformed.
What to look forward to during the Year of the Sauna
An innovative sauna booking system is currently under development. Typically, sauna rentals are meant for groups of friends or family members, as the cost is prohibitive for one or two people. With the booking system, you will be able to book a single ticket for a sauna experience (e.g., sauna for 6 women) and be surprised by the company.
The 2023 calendar is already filled with sauna-related events. Here are the highlights so far:
- 1 January — Open Saunas Day
- February (dates to be announced) — the European Sauna Marathon in Otepää
- 11 March — Onion Route SaunafEST
- June (date to be announced) — National Sauna Day
- June (date to be announced) — Kihnu Sauna Marathon
- 5-6 August — Estonian Sauna Culture Days in Narva-Jõesuu
- 21 October — Sauna Party (Sanna Saa) in Rõuge
Starting in February, you’ll also have the chance to attend “sauna university.” These talks will be available on YouTube, making it easy to learn about Estonian sauna traditions before your trip. Make sure to check the Sauna 2023 website before your trip to get the most accurate event details.
Let 2023 be the year you “heat it up” in an Estonian sauna!