For members


11 tips on how to behave in an Austrian sauna

As the days and nights get colder, chances are that you may be invited to join friends at an Austrian spa, or Therme. For Brits and Americans Austria’s spa culture can come as a bit of a surprise - most of the saunas are mixed gender for starters, and swimming costumes are not allowed. For anyone unsure of what to expect or how to behave, here are some pointers.

11 tips on how to behave in an Austrian sauna
Now imagine a lot of sweaty, naked people... Photo: Olaf Tausch/Wikimedia

Dress code. Yes, you do have to be naked, and no, you can’t keep your underwear on like you did in the showers at school. You’ll probably be asked to leave if you insist on wearing any clothing. It’s a good idea to have two towels. One to place on the wooden bench under your feet (this prevents the spread of nasty things like verrucas) and one to sit on. Remember to remove any metal jewellery before you go in the sauna, as it could get very hot and burn your skin.

It’s also a good idea to bring a bathrobe, as larger public saunas normally have a cafe or snack bar serving light meals and drinks, and a robe comes in handy. Flip flops are also a good idea for wearing in between sauna sessions, but leave them outside the door when you go in the sauna.

Cleanliness. Do have a shower first, before entering the pool or sauna. And do hose down the bench where you’ve been sitting in the steam room before you leave. No one wants to sit in a pool of your sweat.

Close the door! When you go into the sauna room itself, you must open and close the door quickly. If you forget, you may hear a cry of ‘Tür zu!’ (close the door). It’s important that the heat is retained within the sauna.

Grooming. Going to the spa and shaving your legs in the shower or steam room is a no no. Same goes for plucking chin hairs, clipping nails or any other grooming routines that should only be done in the privacy of your own bathroom at home. 

Talking. Is allowed but keep it quiet and to a minimum. People do greet each other as they enter the sauna, and sometimes there is a bit of banter but don’t let it get out of hand.

No ogling. Yes, everybody is naked and you will see bodies of all shapes and sizes but this isn’t an excuse to stare. Saunas are about relaxing and Austrians consider them a holistic treatment which benefit the body and mind – especially after a long day hiking or skiing. If you’re looking for a hookup, stick to Tinder.

Laughing. Try not to giggle and snigger when the usually male sauna attendant comes in for the ‘Aufguss’, and whirls a towel around his head. This is when the water is mixed with essential oils and poured onto the glowing coals of the sauna – making the heat shoot up drastically for a few minutes. Try not to go in or out of the sauna during these moments and keep the door closed. Do clap when the sauna attendant has finished.

Fainting. If you feel very unwell and think you might faint because of the heat, please leave the sauna as soon as you can. Vomiting or passing out on the naked person next to you is a no no.

Avoid the top bench if you’re a newbie. This is because heat rises, and it’s a long way down if you start to feel unwell. It’s recommended that those who are new to the sauna only stay in for around 8 to 10 minutes and sit on the middle or lower bench, at a temperature of 60 to 70C.

Sex. Absolutely not. Don’t see an empty sauna or steam room as an excuse to get jiggy with your partner, like these couples did. You will be banned from the spa if you are caught in the act.

Don’t over do it. People generally take up to three sauna sessions in one visit, lasting anything from 5 to 20 minutes each. The ‘rest periods’ in between – either outside in the fresh air or in a cooler relaxation room – should last at least as long as the previous sauna session; 20 to 30 minutes is recommended. A complete sauna visit takes two to three hours. Don’t be surprised if you feel tired after the sauna. Remember to drink plenty of water after your sauna session (but not during) and avoid alcohol.

And don’t forget that some Austrian spas offer free entry if it’s your birthday


Eight habits that show you’ve embraced life in Austria

Living anywhere as an international resident will have an impact on your life, but if you recognise any of these habits then you have truly embraced the Austrian lifestyle.

Eight habits that show you’ve embraced life in Austria

Life in Austria can be similar to many other European countries, but there are some aspects that are distinctly Austrian.

Here are eight habits that show you’ve integrated into the Austrian way of life.

FOR MEMBERS: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

Indulging in coffee and cake

Coffee and cake is almost as integral to the food culture in Austria as the Wiener Schnitzel.

So say goodbye to the diet, ignore any thoughts of guilt and get stuck into a slice of Sachertorte, Punschkrapfen or Linzer Torte

Preferably with a delicious coffee on the side.

READ MORE: Caffeine, war and Freud: A history of Vienna’s iconic coffee houses

Participating in winter sports

Austria, especially the west of the country, is a winter sports enthusiasts dream.

The Alps offer an almost endless choice in ski resorts, gondolas and mountain huts, with winter sports options ranging from skiing and snowboarding to snowshoeing and Langlaufen (cross-country skiing).

Needless to say, if you live in the Alps, winter sports quickly become a central part of the lifestyle during the cold months. After all, it’s healthy, fun and even a bit dangerous (if that’s your thing).

It’s also a great way to explore the landscape of Austria and get a deeper understanding of the central role of winter sports in Austrian culture.

Downing tools for lunch

Lunch in some other countries (especially places like the UK) is often a sad sandwich while sitting at a desk. 

In Austria however, lunch is an important part of the day and many people sit down at midday with their colleagues or families to enjoy a proper cooked meal.

This is a prime example of the healthy work-life balance that residents in Austria enjoy, and is a much-better habit to embrace than working through a lunch break.

Wearing house shoes

In most Austrian households, people do not wear outdoor shoes inside. Instead, they opt for house shoes, otherwise known as slippers in English or Schlapfen in some Austrian dialects.

Also, many Austrian homes do not have carpet on the floor, which means walking around with bare feet or just socks in the winter can get cold – fast.

So if you’ve invested in a pair of house shoes or, even better, you have a backup supply for guests, then you have fully embraced life in Austria. 

READ ALSO: ‘I’ll probably return to the UK’: Moving to Austria as a Brit post-Brexit

Being punctual

Typically, Austrians are punctual people and don’t appreciate lateness.

For this reason, many international residents make an extra effort to be on time (or early), and it’s not uncommon to become stressed if you know you will be five minutes late.

As frustrating as this can be, it’s actually incredibly polite to be early for a meeting and not a bad habit to pick up.

sparkling water

(Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash)

Drinking sparkling water

People like to drink sparkling mineral water in Austria.

In fact, sparkling water is so popular that if you order a Mineralwasser (mineral water) in a cafe or restaurant, the sparkling variety is often served unless stilles Wasser (still water) is specified.

Want to be more Austrian? Then simply switch from still to sparkling water.

Stripping off

Countries in Central Europe are much more comfortable with nudity than other nations, and it’s no different in Austria.

The main place to expect an encounter with naked people in Austria is at the sauna. There are even some saunas that have a naked-only admission policy and won’t let people in if they are wearing swimming gear.

People also like to get naked at lakes – especially at the more remote or quieter locations – or at least go topless (for the women). 

The reality is, no one bats an eyelid. So put your prudish instincts aside and don’t be afraid to strip off.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on working overtime in Austria?

Taking sick leave

Employees in Austria are entitled to six weeks of paid sick leave (the number of weeks increases the longer the worker has been employed in the same company).

This means workers are more likely to take sick leave if they are unwell, rather than dragging themselves into the workplace and infecting their colleagues.

The downside though is that Austria has strict rules when it comes to taking sick leave with explicit orders to stay at home. Workers can even expect to be monitored by private detectives to make sure they really are resting at home, as reported by The Local.

For international residents in Austria, this can be hard to tolerate. But the upside is that you’re not expected to show your face in the office when sick, simply to comply with a culture of presenteeism.

And that’s a habit worth embracing.