This guide will help you prepare for your first German Sauna visit. Further below I cover each point and explain the dos and don’ts of a sauna session in Germany.
If you are a first timer to German spas and saunas, then this is a must-read!
Going to the sauna is part of the culture in German-speaking countries as it helps one unwind and there are numerous health benefits from the exchange of heat and coolness to the body and mind.
The popularity has just increased over the decades!
Table of Contents
📕 German Spa and Sauna Culture 101+ What to expect
Saunas are textile-free areas because germs and mold can grow in swimsuits and because the body shouldn’t be covered with anything when going through a sauna session.
You will find saunas connected to public swimming pools and thermal spas. Thermal spas are usually located over a therapeutic water source, but there are spas that do not contain therapeutic waters.
Every thermal spa has a thermal water section, sometimes simply referred to as Therme, and a separate sauna section, known as a sauna village (Saunadorf) in German.
Thermal water areas are textile-only spaces, accessed dressed in swimming suits, bikinis and swimming shorts. Here you will also find children and people of all ages.
Typically, thermal spas offer entry tickets for each section separately, yet some spas, such as the Aquadom in Austria, require you to buy a full thermal and sauna combo ticket to access the sauna area.
So, if you are just going to spend your time in the sauna section, you won’t need to get a thermal bath area ticket, as it can increase the price of your ticket. (except if that spa offers only combo tickets).
A great example is the Therme Erding near Munich, the world’s largest spa, where you can get access to three different sections separately, the children’s slide area, the regular thermal bath area and the sauna world.
Furthermore, some thermal water spas are not that exciting, and you are better off getting just a sauna area ticket (i.e., the Bad Aibling Therme).
Again, sauna areas are nude areas, and you will see people of all ages moving about nude. Some saunas allow teenagers of 14 or 15 years in accompaniment with their parents and guardians. You will see 18 and 90-year-olds going to the sauna regularly in Germany.
Most people tend to visit the sauna on cooler days. That means saunas are more popular in the winter months, but rainy days in the summer can turn out busier as well.
Every sauna area is fitted with themed sauna rooms. The most basic rooms are fitted with an automatic infusion system, heating the stones to create steam and heat periodically in the room.
Manual infusions take place in larger rooms at exact hourly intervals and set times and those are curated and handled by a so-called sauna master (Saunameister). He or she pour the aroma infused ice or water over the stones in the sauna oven, and they create heat by moving the air in the room with towels.
The sauna master is the person that you can approach anytime, and they take care of the people in the sauna area.
You will also find steaming rooms in saunas. These rooms are high in humidity, and they are cladded with tiles. Special themes are periodically held in these rooms, such as a full-body mud cure or a salt rub.
Sauna areas always include hot and cold dipping and relaxation pools, a resting and napping area, unisex showers, a bar, and a restaurant with wellness and comfort food options.
Most established saunas have an outdoor lawn area which is an extension of all the sauna rooms.
Separate men and women, showers can be found near the communal changing rooms and changing rooms don’t always have a changing cabin.
All the sauna rules and tips below also apply to saunas in Austria, South Tyrol (Italy), Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Sauna rules might differ in the Scandinavian and other neighboring European countries, such as Finland.
1. Saunas are a safe nude only area
Saunas are a safe place where people from all walks of life, from all over the world meet. You will find teenagers there with their parents, 60 – something couples, 30 – something groups of boys and girls and 90-year-old male and female sauna veterans.
People are courteous and mind their own business most of the time, but you can get into a friendly chat with other sauna visitors.
People walk around nude without swimming wear. Some people have a towel wrapped around their body or waist, others like to move about in robes.
Sauna visitors usually sit on a towel on the wooden benches, some lie on it to take a nap in the sauna room.
Your upper and lower body will be exposed, just try to sit comfortably but in a normal fashion and in time you will get the flow and forget that everyone else is nude as well.
Mobile phones are not allowed, you can’t take pictures or film in a sauna. If you see someone doing this, you can report them to the sauna master.
2. Cabins to changing in are not the norm
German sauna areas don’t always include a private changing cabin in the changing rooms.
The changing rooms are fitted with lockers, which are opened and locked with RFID bracelets. Most people simply take off their clothes in plain sight in front of their lockers and wrap a towel around their bodies.
We have only encountered a few saunas with an optional small changing cabin.
3. Use your towel properly
The sauna rooms, are nude only areas. You enter with a towel, and you place the towel on the wooden bench so that your sweat doesn’t drip on the wooden benches to keep things hygienic and clean.
Make sure to not forget your back, if you lean on the bench behind you, and your feet should not touch the wood.
If you forget to bring a towel, you can rent a clean towel at the cash counter, which can cost about €20. You can only enter the sauna area with a clean towel.
4. Do get pool shower shoes
It’s not a compulsory rule to have and move about wearing pool or shower shoes, but I advise it for several reasons.
Wearing slippers is more hygienic, especially when you have to go to the restroom, it’s also a save way to get around outdoors in the gardens. Winter and ice make it difficult for one to walk around bare foot.
When you intend to enter a sauna, keep your footwear outside the room. Slippers on the wooden benches are a big no-no which will earn you angry stares or result in a rude remark.
You can use clean shower shoes, pool slippers and flip-flops in the sauna and thermal pool area.
5. Respect others
Respecting others can mean many things.
Don’t stare at people, it’s considered rude, and it will make others feel uncomfortable.
Touching someone inappropriately and stalking people is a punishable offense and will get reported, and you will get prosecuted for that! If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, speak to the sauna master.
No body shaming!
Be courteous and keep other people in mind at all times.
Behave like an adult. Yes, there are nude people running around, it’s normal and ok.
Don’t yell around, don’t speak too loud with your friends in a sauna room. You are not alone and there are other people using this public facility.
6. Close the sauna doors
A popular pet peeve from regular sauna visitors are newbies who leave the door wide open.
Some doors don’t always close properly, so, make sure that the doors are closed to avoid little gaps. This is when you go in or out, especially if you are the last one in and out.
The sauna collects heat and the heat should stay inside, unless the sauna master opens them wide to clear the air in the room.
The sauna master typically keeps the sauna room doors wide open just before a manual infusion to allow the exchange of fresh air before the grand heat.
7. Shower regularly
Make sure to shower off all street dirt before entering the sauna area.
It is also common place to take a naked cold shower after a sauna session to wash off all perspiration. Toxins are released when you are perspiring, and you will enjoy a cool wash after intense heat.
The exchange of hot to cold will activate your immune system and the extreme temperatures improve your blood flow while expanding your blood vessels.
You can take your pool sandals to the shower area and the towel or robe hooks are just outside the communal shower space.
A dedicated men and women showering area can be found at the entrance of most sauna areas. Here you can bring along your toiletries to wash yourself properly after a day in the bathhouse. Shaving is never allowed!
8. Learn to relax and have fun
Most of us are tense the first time they enter a nude German sauna. That’s ok but in time you will learn to let go and relax.
The whole purpose of a sauna day is for the body and mind to find a moment of relaxation. A sauna day should take away stress, reduce bodily soreness and help you to get used to nudity around you.
Going to the sauna is a fun activity and experience and at the same time you do something good for your body. It’s a win-win!
9. Learn the manual sauna infusion etiquette
Most saunas are automatic infusion saunas, and they are simple to use as you can enter anytime and stay as long as you wish.
Manual infusions are done by the sauna master, which can be a man or a woman. Occasionally, it’s two of them in large saunas.
Manual sauna infusions take place at set times during the day and usually, it’s hourly, and they have introduced themes to the regular sauna tradition.
The themes are varied with pop music themes, special aroma therapy themes and free alcoholic drinks after a session.
Infusions held by sauna masters are highly popular and people will come early for a great spot. The busier the area, the earlier I recommend showing up, 10 to 15 minutes is most common. Sauna masters can refuse entry if the room is packed.
When you are about to enter, keep your footwear outside the room and search for a place to sit. The higher up, the hotter it gets, beginners will prefer to sit at the bottom.
Place and spread out your towel over the wooden benches and take a seat on it. Wait for the session to start.
Fortunately, since COVID happened, people have learned not to squeeze in too much, but, it can get tight, especially in the top rows.
The sauna master will enter, introduce himself and explain the theme of the session. Then they will start to pour the infusion over the hot rocks in the oven and the heat will be circulated by the sauna master with a towel or a large hand fan.
Infusions are poured in a set of 3 times over the rocks and the sauna masters announces at the end when he is done. Usually people leave the room right after that, or you can just stick around a little longer.
You can leave anytime the room if you feel uncomfortable or unwell. You don’t have to prove anyone anything.
10. Clean your space in the steam sauna
Steam saunas are set up differently than conventional saunas. They are basically steaming rooms with high percentage humidity. Their purpose is to open up your skin pores and to help you breathe better.
You won’t find benches but rather tiles in steam saunas and periodically a stream of humid air comes out into the misty room.
The sauna master can come by at set times and bring mud or salt to rub into the skin. People rub it in and then sit down for a couple of minutes.
What many fail to do, is to take the water hose and wash off the salt or mud from the seating area before leaving. Especially elderly people tend to “forget” this common courtesy to others.
Hence, why I recommend just clearing the seating area where you intend to sit with clear water from the water hose. The water hose is attached to a wall somewhere in the room and larger rooms have more than just one such unite.
11. Keep yourself hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential during your sauna session. Perspiring continuously will want you to drink more water.
Fortunately, every sauna will have a water fountain or a tap water option. Some are more lavishly thought-through with various minerals enhanced water, others are simply a small tap.
The water is free to drink and some even offer a paper cup or a cup shelf where you can write your name on a cup and place on the shelf to use during your day in the sauna.
Going to the sauna and sitting in the water can be very draining, so keep on drinking fresh water!
12. Take it easy with your time spent in a sauna room
With that, I mean that you don’t have to stay overly long in a sauna in the heat.
Most people stick around for 20 minutes, and they track it with an hour glass fixed on the walls. Yet, you are free to sit for 5, 10 minutes in a sauna to get your body used to the heat.
You will also find different temperatures in the saunas, and you should act according to your preferences and bodily needs.
If you feel dizzy or out of breath, take a break from the sauna rooms.
13. Do take a swim in the nude pools
Yes, also the pools in the sauna area are a nude only place. I recommend taking a dip in the pools, it’s very relaxing, and you will be able to feel a bit free as your body is submerged in the water.
Some pools contain ice-cold water, which is great after a hot sauna session. Most pools are heated, and a few contain healing waters, such as mineral-rich salt waters.
14. Rest regularly or take a nap
Sauna worlds or sauna villages as they are known, contain plenty of resting areas. These include sun beds in the garden area or beds and sitting nooks in various rooms.
I recommend taking a rest after every major sauna session because you have to take it easy and not take your body to extremes.
You can also take a nap on a bed because these are all quiet zones.
15. Don’t reserve seats in the sauna
Some people think it’s ok to place their towels on the wooden benches to reserve a seat.
The result will be people staring at you, someone making a snarky remark or the sauna master might just expulse you.
Just don’t do it!
16. Do ask the sauna master for help if needed
The sauna master is here to help, and his job is the well-being of all visitors. They will periodically check into the sauna rooms to ask if everything is ok.
If you feel unwell, approach the sauna master. They are trained for all situations and the worst-case scenario, and they will help you feel better.
If someone is harassing you, let the sauna master know, he or she will take care of that person quickly.
The sauna master keep order in the saunas, and they make sure that everyone is safe and in the best health.
Yet, if you are new to the sauna world, feel free to ask them for help. They are super helpful, and they so speak English too.
💡 Some more Tips
- I don’t recommend visiting a sauna with a larger group. The best experiences are made with a friend or two, with your partner or alone.
- You can bring your snacks, sandwiches, and juices to the sauna area
- Don’t reserve a sun bed if you are not going to use it. You can reserve a bed for an extra fee at certain spas.
- You can choose to visit a spa for the day or just for a few hours. A few spas offer special evening rates. If you come for the day, come early enough to get the best beds.
- The spa asks visitors to pack up 30 minutes before they close the premises for the day. That leaves you with enough time to take a shower but keep in mind that other people will wait in queue to take a shower.
🔠 German Sauna Word Translation
More German translation resources: German to English phrases for travelers, Austrian German to English words for travelers, English to Austrian German food words. Note that the people in Bavaria speak a dialect that resembles Austrian German.
What’s Thermal water?
Thermal water is naturally heated water by geothermal underground activities. These waters can contain various minerals and are considered healing waters. One good example are the waters in the historical Belle Époque bathing town, Bad Gastein or the waters in the high society town Baden-Baden.
What other experiences can you find at a German thermal spa or sauna?
Most thermal saunas and spas also offer other health related services. This can include a gym, a massage center, a hammam, and pool related courses such as a swimming course or water aerobics.
Are there only old people and men in the saunas?
No, you will find a good mix of ages and equal quantities of men and women in saunas. The sauna culture is well established across all age groups in German society.
Can I drink alcohol in a sauna village?
Yes, pool bars (in the water bar) are popular, and you will always find a bar serving alcoholic drinks in a sauna.
What do you wear to a sauna in Europe?
A clean towel is compulsory in a sauna. You are free to use pool sandals ad a robe. You cannot enter the sauna area in a bathing suit or in swimming shorts.
Are saunas in Germany unisex?
Yes, everyone, women, and men use the same sauna rooms, pools, bars, and showers.