Reviewed: Lonnan sauna

I have been described more than once as more Finnish than the Finns, and my love for the sauna is definitely a part of that. So, when I heard that there was a new public sauna being built on an island, I had to give it a try. So, on Wednesday, May 17th (the day after it opened to the public), my friend Ludvig and I took a boat ride to to the island of Lonna to visit the sauna. Now that we’re safely back on land, here’s my review of Lonnan sauna.

The sauna building

Before you go

Lonnan sauna is open between 14.00 and 19.00, Tuesday to Saturday, during the summer season (May to September), with the last bathers leaving at 21.00. It’s recommended to book your places in advance, since they only take 10 at a time in each sauna (one for men, one for women). You can do this at their website. The cost is €16 for adults, and you can enjoy the sauna for about two hours. Apart from a towel (which you can rent or bring your own), everything you’ll need is provided.

Getting there

From the market square, you can take a ferry directly to Lonna, which leaves one or two times an hour (timetable here)
during the high season and costs €4.50 for a round-trip ticket.

If you screw up and miss the boat (as we did), you can get on the regular ferry to Suomenlinna, run across the island, and catch the boat you just missed on it’s way back to Kauppatori via Lonna. I do not recommend this approach.

After a roughly 10-minute boat ride, you will arrive at beautiful Lonna. Walk straight ahead (along the old railway tracks), veer a bit to the right, and you’ll find the waffle bar which doubles as the reception.

The experience

We arrived and were greeted immediately by one of the many friendly and helpful staff members. She took us to the reception and gave us our individual wooden baskets with a towel to sit on, a key to the lockers, and a nice cup for drinking water. Then it was off to the sauna, which is in a beautiful log building next to the sea. Our host took the time to explain how everything worked, made sure we were okay for drinks, and left us alone. We were lucky enough to be the only ones at the sauna at that moment, which suited us just fine.

The sauna itself is a loft-style design, with Finnish summer cottage-style showers beneath the stove and benches. The stove is wood-heated, with the fireplaces located on the outside of the building. We were the first ones to be using the sauna that afternoon, and while it wasn’t particularly hot to start out, it warmed up quickly, with a really pleasant soft heat that is particularly to good wood-fired saunas. We both agreed that this was the sort of sauna where you could stay for a longer time and comfortably have a good conversation. It’s important to mention the view, as well – there’s a great big window in the sauna through which you can see out to the Gulf of Finland.

The showers and benches

After a turn in the sauna, we went for a dip in the sea. The approach to the water is a bit difficult right now, since it’s very rocky, but we have it on good authority that there are plans to make a small sandy beach outside the sauna. We were also warned about the waves from the Stockholm ferries that pass by the island, but we managed to make it in and out in one piece. Cooling off in the sea was one of the best parts, and you can enjoy the view of Suomenlinna from the water and while sitting on the deck catching your breath after nearly freezing to death.

The view from the “beach”

Our two hours in the sauna went by quickly, with one of our hosts coming by a couple of times to see if we needed anything to drink. After showering and getting dressed, we walked over to the waffle bar to have a bite to eat and another beer. Ludvig had the salmon waffle and I had the rhubarb, both of which were delicious. Lonna offers a selection of beers from Saimaa Brewery, quality ciders, and soft drinks, and the prices are reasonable (for Helsinki). There’s also a nice-looking restaurant that we didn’t have the chance to try, but I plan to come back and try it some other time. Once we finished up, it was time to hop back on the ferry and head back home.

Sauna fuel

Wrap-up

We had a great time at Lonna, and of the public saunas I’ve visited in Helsinki (most of them) it’s probably the best and most complete overall experience. Considering that they just opened, and most places need to work out the small issues before getting things right, it’s very impressive. Lonna is probably best enjoyed if you make a day of it – get there mid-afternoon, relax in the sauna, and have dinner afterwards before returning.

The good:
The service. Really nice and helpful staff, and a welcoming atmosphere
The sauna’s design and construction
Getting all the details right

The bad:
The boat schedule isn’t ideal for the sauna start times
You need to throw a lot of water to heat things up. Probably not a big deal if you don’t like it so hot

In case it wasn’t clear, I’ll be making a return visit as soon as possible.

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