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Austrian habits For Members

The rules and customs of Austrian saunas foreigners need to know

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
The rules and customs of Austrian saunas foreigners need to know
Austrian saunas: do not put your bare feet near the extremely hot stones. (Photo by HUUM on Unsplash)

Saunas are a cornerstone of Austrian culture, and the country is full of public places where people can try them relatively cheaply. However, foreigners should be aware of some specific rules both written and unwritten.

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Austrians love their saunas - they can be found in thermal baths, private homes, public swimming pools and hotels all over the country. And, even though they are much more popular during the cold winter months, anyone can visit them at any time of the year.

There are countless types of saunas, though, and each has its own traditions and (sometimes unspoken) rules, which can be surprising - if not confusing - to most foreigners. 

In most saunas, though, rules are clearly stated, and there are etiquette posts with more details and guidelines on what to expect and how to behave. Take a moment to read these before entering a sauna.

Naked is the norm

We wrote a whole article on whether or not you have to be naked in Austrian saunas, and in general, yes, Austrian saunas are Textilfrei (textile-free) zones and guests are expected to get naked. 

Most public saunas have signs telling guests to remove any piece of clothing, even swimwear. The idea is both to keep things hygienic (everyone naked is better than having someone wearing soggy swimming trunks) and "equal" - all guests are naked at all times, so there's no space to feel self-conscious.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Do I have to be naked in Austrian saunas?

Whether or not you can wear a towel around you is more complicated. It first depends on the type of sauna. In a Dampfbad (a steam bath), where humidity is off the charts, towels are not recommended as they can get dripping wet. In other types of saunas, you should bring a towel to sit on, not necessarily to cover yourself. 

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Some places will ask you to stay nude; in others, the rule won't be enforced, and in some, towels will be more common. You might be in a sauna with a "traditionalist" who will demand everyone is equally naked, or people might not care at all if you cover yourself or not. Etiquette and rules really do vary a lot on the topic. 

One thing is sure: cleanliness is vital. Before entering the sauna, whether you have a tower or not, you should shower. 

But don't people stare at others?

A bunch of people naked and sweating inside a small, hot room could mean awkwardness and that feeling of not knowing where to look. 

A Der Standard article answers the question, "Where do I look in the sauna?": "Staring and suggestive glances are an absolute taboo in any case and can quickly lead to bad moods and be considered sexual harassment. However, eye contact and briefly checking out your fellow sauna users is fine."

Mixed saunas

In some places, it's possible to find separate sauna boxes for men and women - or at least a female sauna and a mixed one. But you shouldn't expect that in all saunas in the country.

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Nakedness is not seen as sexual, and Austrians are, in general, very easygoing in their attitude towards it - it's not rare to find naked people swimming on the Danube River, for example, even outside of the areas where nudity is expressively allowed. 

Of course, though, sexual activity is not allowed (you will see signs clearly stating that). Taking pictures and videos is also forbidden.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about getting naked in Austria

Austrian sauna traditions

One of the most eye-opening experiences for foreigners in Austria who do not expect it is probably inside a sauna when the traditional Aufguss begins. This is almost like a ceremony to heat (even more) the sauna. It could happen randomly in any sauna with heated rocks and a bucket of water, but you can also find Geführte Sauna-Aufgüsse, with scheduled times and even specific infusions and salt treatments. 

What will happen is some variation of this: someone will come in the sauna box (or, if there's an experienced sauna guest in your box, they might do it - the hierarchy is strong and unspoken) and throw water on the stones. Scorching steam will immediately rise up, and the "sauna master" uses a rolled-up towel to either make helicopter movements and spread the heat around or wave the towel at each guest, who then gets a shock of blistering heat. 

@casaledelvalla_fkk_bbspa Sauna&Aufguss!! Se non l'avete mai fatto venite a godervi un fantastico Aufguss al Casale del Valla, nella Sauna più grande del Piemonte!! #casaledelvalla #spignomonferrato #barbaraemario #spanaturista #bebnaturista #fkkholiday #sauna #saunafinlandese #aufguss #aufgussmeister #relaxebenessere ♬ Summertime Sadness (Wren Remix) - Wren

The whole ritual is performed in silence except for some moans as people feel the heat, and after it is done, there may - or may not - be a round of applause. 

There are no set rules, but some things are for sure: you will get in trouble (as in, other guests will argue with you)  if you talk too loudly (saunas are for relaxing!) if you go in or out of the sauna during the ritual, and if you try to refuse the Aufguss if you are in an Aufguss type of sauna.

READ ALSO: Clothes to nudity: The biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Austria

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Some tips for beginners

Some types of saunas can get extremely hot. If this is your first time, remember to stay lower on the steps: as the heat goes up, you might get some relief by not sitting up top. 

Before going, familiarise yourself with which sauna you will visit. Most places, including public pools, have several types of saunas and wellness offers, from traditional saunas to stone saunas, steam baths, infrared cabins and hot tubs. 

If you see a hose in the sauna box, it's there so that you can hose down your seat either before sitting (if you don't have a towel) or as you are about to leave (to prevent people from sitting in a pool of your sweat).

When you enter the sauna room, you must open and close the door quickly - and avoid going in or out when the Aufguss is taking place or shortly after. It's customary to greet people when you go in; a simple nod or "Servus" should suffice. 

Don’t overdo it. People generally take up to three sauna sessions in one visit, lasting 5 to 20 minutes each. The ‘rest periods’ in between – 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. 

READ ALSO: The German language you need for summer in Austria

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.

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