There’s heated debate about when exactly sauna was invented, but it’s thought the practice has been around for at least 4,000 years. The original set-up was little more than a pit in the ground warmed by fire. And now, just a few millennia later, these sophisticated saunas in London have perfected the genre (after, you know, a little influence from Finland). Dip into a Victorian bath-houses or take it easy in a five-star luxury spa… there can’t be many better places in London for a hot date.
Banya No.1 | Hoxton
Find traditional saunas too – ugh – relaxing? Then sip a couple of vodkas before entering one of the only authentic banya – Russian saunas – in London. It’s possible to book a basic package that includes a slow broiling in the steam room followed by a swift cooling off in an icy plunge pool. But that would mean missing out on parenie. The Siberian treatment involves a vigorous rub-down using tree branches and foliage and is believed to improve circulation and relieve muscular tension. Fully invigorated, you’ll be glad to recover in the ‘rest and relaxation area’ with helpings of crayfish, beetroot soup, gherkins and, of course, Russian Standard vodka.
Details: 17 Micawber Street, Hoxton, N1 7TB | Book here
Community Sauna Baths | Hackney
The friendly folk behind the Community Sauna Baths are on a mission to bring the benefits of sauna to every neighbourhood in the UK. If that sounds like a noble endeavour, you can selflessly get behind the project at their first opening. They’ve three saunas at the old Eastway public baths in Hackney Wick – two community saunas holding up to 18 people, and a barrel sauna available for private bookings and holding six. Of course, in a true sauna experience, you can’t have hot without cold – that’s achieved in a novel way here by dunking yourself in an old whiskey barrel filled with icy water.
Details: The Baths, 80 Eastway, Hackney Wick, E9 5JH | Book here
St Pancras Spa | King’s Cross
It’s a little difficult to spend any time in the sauna at the St Pancras Spa – you’ll have a job persuading yourself to stay out of its pool for long enough. With restored decorative tiling, arched doorways and tall windows, it counts as one of London’s prettiest. The small subterranean spa is set in the original kitchens of the Victorian-era Midland Grand Hotel (now the St Pancras Renaissance). As well as the sauna and pool, there are six treatment rooms, a gym and steam room at your disposal. Once you’re fully soaked and scrubbed, it’s worth wandering through the Gothic hotel, to ogle more examples of its careful restoration.
Details: St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, King’s Cross, NW1 2AR | Book here
Espa Life at The Corinthia | Westminster
‘Villain’s lair’ is very much the vibe at ESPA Life, the in-house spa at the Corinthia Hotel. It’s a place of high drama, with rooms clad in polished black or white marble and lit by flickering firelight. The sauna is a thing of beauty – a sunken ‘amphitheatre’ surrounded by glass walls, so you can peer out at your fellow spa-goers as they pad about around you. It’s easily one of the most luxurious saunas in London, and once you’re done in there, there are four floors of spa to explore. There are whole host of treatments available, too, from facials and hot-stone massages to acupuncture and sound therapy.
Details: Whitehall Place, Whitehall, SW1A 2BD | Book here
Porchester Spa | Bayswater
There are no sound-bowl therapies or oxygen facials at the Porchester Spa – a visit is more about enjoying the no-nonsense charm of the 1929 bath-house. A set designer wouldn’t have to do too much here before the film crew for the latest Agatha Christie rolled in – the Art Deco lights and green and white tiles remain, alongside some of the original signage (“refreshments available at moderate prices” – how quaint!). The sauna is just one of many facilities on offer, including Turkish hot rooms, steam rooms and a lovely plunge pool. If you want to add a dash of extravagance, there are treatments such as scrubs and massages available.
Details: Queensway, Bayswater, W2 5HS | Book here
Aire Ancient Baths | Covent Garden
Confession… it’s not a sauna. But no guide to any type of therapeutic ritual in London can exclude AIRE Ancient Baths. And it does have a steam room, which is a slightly damper cousin of the sauna. Set beneath the streets of Covent Garden, in a house once occupied by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, AIRE is a deeply atmospheric place. Beneath exposed brick arches and illuminated only by candlelight, guests waddle between six thermal baths, from the 10°C Frigidarium to the 40°C Caldarium. It’s worth considering a treatment, if only to prolong the stay for as long as possible.
Details: 2-3 Robert St, Covent Garden, WC2N 6RL | Book here
Finnish Church | Rotherhithe
‘Sauna’ (meaning bath or bath-house) is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary, which gives some clue as to the origin of the custom. Given the reverence with which it’s treated in its homeland, it’s only right and proper that the only Finnish sauna in London is found in the basement of a church. Public single-sex sessions are held on various evenings, or you can book out the whole place yourself (maximum eight people). It’s an experience for the purists, with just a changing room, the sauna itself and showers – though you can always snaffle a cinnamon bun from the church café on your way out.
Details: Finnish Church, 33 Albion St, Rotherhithe, SE16 7HZ | Book here
So there we have it. There are actually a surprising number of saunas in London, given our general propensity to avoid having to make any kind of small talk with a group of strangers. But settle in to one of these fine places, and reap the benefits of improved heart health, reduced risk of dementia, and quantifiable stress relief. And now, fittingly, our guide must…
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