Helsinki gets steamy with free sauna day

Women in a sauna on Helsinki Sauna Day Image copyright Eetu Ahanen
Image caption Organisers are planning to repeat the event in October

Dozens of private saunas across Helsinki have opened their doors to the public free of charge as part of an event aimed at increasing access to the steamy Finnish pastime.

Fifty venues took part in the inaugural Helsinki Sauna Day, with some bathers even being welcomed into saunas within people's own homes, national broadcaster Yle reports. Organisers say they wanted to give people a chance to use saunas that may be sitting empty, or be otherwise off limits to them, including those in hotels, office complexes and apartment buildings.

While Finland isn't short on saunas - an estimated two to three million of them serve the country's population of 5.4 million - some people are still left out in the cold. "Not everyone has access to a sauna, so there is a clear need to arrange special sauna days like this," says Jaakko Blomberg from Common Ground, which organised the event with the city's tourist board.

Mr Blomberg welcomed guests into his own home for the day, and says many of them headed off to visit other saunas afterwards. "We had really good time and conversations in the sauna and on the balcony," he tells the BBC. "Actually I think it's quite easy to talk with the people in the sauna, we are used to it."

Going to a sauna is a weekly family occasion for most Finns, and is considered an almost sacred ritual. A list of tips for beginners on the Visit Finland website notes: "It is a place for physical and mental cleansing, and many suggest one should behave in a sauna as they would in church."

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