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A comprehensive How-To guide for navigating naked saunas and therme culture in Austria – brought to you by a bonafide fan of this relaxing cultural tradition.
‘But will I have to get naked with strangers?’
By faaarrrr the question I get asked the most by newly arrived immigrants and horrified Aussie mates when we start talking about the Austrian therme culture and how amazing it is, is ‘What about the whole nude sauna thing?’
Look, I get it, in most Western cultures being nude in a sauna is SCARY and sexualised and confronting and weird.
We have a helluva lot of hangups about our bodies and can barely allow women to show a bit of nipple when literally feeding their offspring for a short time in a park or cafe.
The idea of sitting calmly naked, surrounded by wrinkly, saggy, sporty, hairy, fit, everyday bodies of strangers is certainly a confronting one to most folks not familiar with sauna culture.
But therein lies the key to enjoying your sauna & therme experience in Austria – consider it a cultural experience. Learning the nude sauna etiquette will make it much easier to embrace the experience in a mixed sauna.
For any cultural experience though, you need a few guidelines and explanations, to ease your way into things.
Having navigated a few friends through the basics when visiting Therme Wien & the glorious Rogner Bad Blumau therme, I figured it was time to enlighten you guys on how on Earth you could actually enjoy your time at a Therme & Sauna in Austria, without being worried or awkward the whole time.
Because the whole point of a sauna, spa & therme is to relax and unwind. So if you are sitting there stressing, then you are absolutely missing the best part!
Your How-To Guide for Therme, Naked Sauna & Austrian Spas.
So what qualifies me to dole out advice on navigating mixed saunas and spas in Austria?
Stefan took me to a local therme sauna on our THIRD DATE EVER back in 2012 (bold move buddy).
I, in my ever enthusiastic embrace of challenging experiences at age 27, was like ‘Sure! No problem! No big deal! This is fine!’
We ran into his uncle within 5 minutes of arriving at the Ellmau Therme nude sauna area.
When we entered the open nude zone, literal tables full of naked oldies were sitting back with a bottle of champagne on a Sunday evening, gossiping, laughing, relaxing together, seemingly without a care in the world.
It was a sudden and complete immersion into a cultural habit that Austrians hold very dear.
Thankfully for our relationship, instead of running screaming for the hills, I took off my swimmers and embraced the hilarious, liberating joy of it all.
(Though I definitely fled the room the moment his uncle entered, and to this day CANNOT fathom going nude in a sauna with family!!)
Since then, Stefan and I have visited therme’s (or ‘wellness spas’ if you prefer) as regularly as possible, with Therme Wien being one of our favourite mid-winter escapes within the city to really unwind and relax.
A short trip there can feel like a mini holiday, if you let yourself embrace and explore all the wonderful features of a well-equipped Therme.
But lets back things up and get a few definitions right, so we all know what we’re talking about when I say Therme, spa and sauna.
What is a Therme in Austria, anyway?
A ‘therme‘ is the Germanic word for thermal baths and hot springs in Austria.
Therme spas and resorts are abundant in Austria, with many naturally occurring hot springs, particularly in the gorgeous Steiermark region, making it very easy to visit and rejuvenate yourself in naturally occurring hot springs.
These therme are also known for their healing qualities, particularly for people suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, aching joints and, for us the most important – skin conditions.
Stefan has suffered from chronic atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema) his entire life, making every day a unique and ever changing kind of hell, not knowing what state his skin is going to be in.
For us, a therme can be a great opportunity to heal and treat his skin and offer some relief from the constant pain and itching.
There are of course, huge industries setup around therme and this kind of tourism and wellness.
Many of the naturally occurring hot springs in Austria are now home to mega resorts, such as Loipersdorf Resort in Styria.
You can typically visit these resorts either with a day pass or overnight, then hop between multiple pools, hotsprings, get massages and spa treatments, enjoy delicious food options and completely relax and indulge.
Similarly at Therme Wien, the huge centre for spa and wellness in Vienna, you pay entry for a day pass or an evening pass after work.
This will grant you access and you can use the huge array of swimming pools, indoor and outdoor hot springs, waterslides, diving boards, kids pools and the adults only huge sauna and spa pool area, which has mixed nude saunas but also a section divided into men and women’s only zone.
There is so so much to do at a therme in Austria, you will easily spend hours relaxing, swimming, eating, napping, reading and enjoying the calm nature surrounding the Therme itself, as most are in very tranquil locations.
So a therme is basically a hot springs resort – but the key difference I’ve found in Austria is, these places aren’t elite, high end ‘day spa’ expensive resorts like you would find back home.
Therme are for the locals, for everyone, for families and friends to hang out, for couples to take getaway weekends, for pensioners to enjoy, for visitors to experience.
Because they are so integrated in Austrian culture, visiting one isn’t just for beauty or wellness treatments, or girls weekends (though they can be!) they are an important part of most Austrians’ health regime.
Which makes them much more accessible and interesting for first timers and visitors – way less intimidating than thinking you would sit in a private spa resort with a supermodel beside you.
Therme’s seem to be for the people, used and enjoyed by folks from all walks of life.
To keep the definitions rolling, once you are inside a therme, you will come across the following language to be familiar with.
Know the lingo when visiting a Therme in Austria
Sauna – a sauna hot room, mostly in 70+ degrees celcius and higher.
Where dry heat & steam is created from throwing water onto super hot rocks that sit in the sauna ‘stove’.
Humidity in the sauna rooms is low, more of a dry heat to get you sweating. The sauna rooms in Austrian therme are normally wooden, with 2-3 levels of bank wooden benches that you can either sit or lie on.
These are normally naked sauna rooms, sometimes small wooden huts outdoors, or sometimes integrated within the sauna area.
The idea is to sit there for 5-15 minutes, sweating to relax muscles and release toxins.
Steam Room or ‘Dampfbad‘ – These rooms are higher humidity and more of a damp, steamy heat.
In therme I have visited, the steam rooms normally have a lovely herb scents and ‘flavour’ infusions in different rooms. So one might be eucalyptus scented, another might be honey scented.
In these rooms there are normally tile, or marble-like seating areas, they tend to be smaller, and you have to hose down the seating before you sit there.
These are, yes, also naked, though because of the steaminess and low lighting it can be slightly less confronting than a naked sauna!
It’s a very different kind of heat to a sauna, and probably a good place to start for first timers. You don’t bring your towel into these rooms though, unless you want it sopping wet and ruined.
In a steam room you can normally stay 10-15 minutes to open out your pores, inhale the healing air and relax your breathing in an ambient atmosphere.
Aufguss – This is what I think of as the ‘whooshy whooshy guy’ who performs inside a Sauna at a specific time.
Aufguss is essentially a performative, useful, ritual-like distribution of heat done by a qualified ‘Aufgussmeister’ at scheduled times in a sauna.
And guys, this is a BIG DEAL. There are championships for Aufgussmeisters, who can best perform the ritual, whooshing their towel and distributing the essential oils, heat and air exchange within an extremely hot sauna, in front of the ‘crowd’ sitting and sweating it out on the wooden sauna banks.
There are different levels of expertise for an aufgussmeister, but in my experience, a hot guy wrapped in a towel does an Aufguss session, where he stands at the foot of the sauna room and is in control of adding more heat to the sauna oven.
In doing so, he creates steam that he then ‘whooshes’ around with a towel, using certain ‘moves’ to distribute the heat and essential oils amongst the sauna.
If you are sitting in the sauna, its like a wave of extra heat when he whooshes the towel in your direction, intensifying the experience momentarily. Good aufgussmeisters perform a little for the crowd, and often people will break out in applause.
It’s a whole thing that’s hard to describe until you’ve seen it, and I’m sure I’ve offended many people by calling an Aufgussmeister the ‘whooshy whooshy guy’ but that’s how I remember it!
Definitely worth trying out if you are game for a total Sauna experience.
Spa – in most therme, a spa is not in fact, a jacuzzi, but the spa treatment centre area.
If you want to book a massage, facial or special service that the therme may offer.
Jacuzzi’s and hot tubs tend to be integrated into the general pool and baths area, with no dedicated area for them in most cases.
Step by Step How-To for Naked Sauna & Therme in Austria
What actually happens in a Therme? It’s surprisingly simple, and is only as terrifying as you build it up in your mind.
To ease you in, here’s a walk through of the process, step by step, so you don’t feel lost or confused if you are heading there for the first time.
(For all you lovely Austrians reading this out of morbid curiosity, I’m sure there are a hundred different ways to approach naked sauna time, but these are my personal steps, happy to hear your suggestions in the comments!)
In most Therme & saunas you will be given a wristband or key at entry, that easily attaches to your wrist. This is used to access storage lockers in the change rooms where you can put your handbag, change of clothes etc.
In some places the wristband also works as a band to use for purchasing food & drinks, where you pay for everything when you checkout and return the wristband when exiting. Very handy system if you spend a day at a therme!
Once you have your wristband, head to the changing room area of your therme to get into your bathers and ideally, some ‘badeschuh‘ or crocs-like shoes appropriate for walking around swimming pools.
You can BYO towels and robe if you want to as well, though most sauna areas have towels available.
I’d also reccommend at this point removing any jewellery, especially necklaces, as they can get super hot in a sauna and burn your skin. I normally leave my small wedding ring on but everything else I remove and lock in the lockers.
Once you are in your swimmers with your wristband, you can head on out to the bathing area of your therme.
Stefan and I normally bring a little bag to put our books, water bottles, little snacks and phones into while we’re in the Therme, similar to how you pack a little beach bag for a trip to the beach!
Now in some places, the sauna and naked area may be off in a separate section that you enter through some specific doorways, so you have a clear demarcation between public swimming & lounge area and the sauna zone.
In other smaller therme, normally the countryside or ski town ones, I have had it happen where you wander through the entrance from the change rooms and its just….SAUNA TIME NUDITY.
Either way, entering into the swimming or sauna area in your bathers is totally fine when you first arrive, so don’t panic that you have to get naked in the sauna immediately.
Best approach is to take your time, stroll around a little bit to get your bearings, if you want to find yourself a lounger to put your towel and little bag down then you can do that first.
Decide whether you are going to chill by the pools and baths first, staying in your swimmers, or if you’d rather head into the sauna zone.
Keep in mind many of the sauna zones have pools that you can swim in nude, as part of the ‘after treatment’ of a sauna.
It is fine to enter a sauna zone with your swimmers on, though you will see once you enter that most people are wandering around either naked, or wrapped in a towel, or wearing a robe with nothing underneath.
So know that once you do enter a sauna area, that there are nudie rudies ahead! It’s all very normal though, no one is being creepy, no one flashes you on arrival, its just people being super comfortable in their bodies – refreshing, no?
Once you have your bearings a little and put your stuff down, the most important thing you have to do before swimming, before naked sauna exploration, is shower off.
This is the rules at any Austrian swimming pool, and is just good hygeine practise anyway.
So you will see people rinsing off, then towel drying themselves first before they enter a pool and especially before entering into the saunas or steam rooms.
What you do first in a sauna area is of course your choice, but Stefan has from the very beginning taught me to start my sauna sessions with the ‘Kniepp Walk’ through knee deep water, alternating between hot and cold water.
The idea is that by first walking through super cold water up to your knees then much hotter water, you encourage circulation and get your blood moving. It’s based on the teachings of a Bavarian monk, Sebastian Kniepp, who was a forefather of hydrotherapy.
You can spot the section for doing this pretty easily as they are normally near the entrance, and have two, longer, skinny shallow pools side by side, or sometimes a round pool with alternating hot and cold bits.
I like starting sauna time this way because;
a) You don’t have to take your clothes off yet, you can do this while wearing a robe or towel wrapped around you
b) It’s a great beginners exercise to do while eyeing off the room and different places of the sauna, so it kind of settles you in and calms you down.
Once your toes are tingly and you’re feeling ready to head into a sauna room, take your pick between a dry heat sauna room, or the steam room dampfbad.
Normally, on the outside wall beside the entrance door to the sauna or steam room, there will be a little sign indicating the temperature inside, any aromatics for the dampfbad and other useful information. You can normally also see inside without opening the door to check how crowded it is.
To start with, especially if you haven’t been to a naked sauna before, I’d recommend a lower temperature sauna or the steam room.
For both types of rooms, you will have to get your kit off – wearing your bathers into a sauna destroys the natural wood and can cost thousands for the sauna owners to replace.
Aside from the fact its bad etiquette and will show you as a foreigner immediately, refusing to take your swimmers off actively destroys the sauna materials, so if you are going to go to a sauna, you have to do so naked.
HOWEVER you can keep a towel wrapped around yourself as you enter the sauna if you’re nervous. No one will police you covering up a little, but they will definitely call you out for entering with bathers on!
My first few times in a nude, mixed sauna I wrapped myself up tight in my towel, until I realised it was ridiculous to bring my western body hangups into an Austrian sauna, and decided to get over myself (more on that below!)
So Step 6 is – take off your swimmers, wrap yourself in a towel, and enter the sauna! Dun dun dunnnnn! You did it!
When entering, be sure to open and close the door as quickly as possible. People already in there obviously don’t want the heat to escape, so don’t dilly dally in the doorway!
You will also maybe be greeted with a quiet ‘Gruss gott’ from others in the sauna, similar to people greeting you when you get on an elevator in Austria. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just polite sauna etiquette.
When you enter the sauna room, you will see 2-3 levels of wooden bank seating, where you can choose to sit or lie down.
In general, leave the top levels to the professionals – its always hottest up there because heat rises, and you will have an equally good experience on the lower levels – no shame!
You should also see on the wall beside the entrance once you are inside the sauna, a little hourglass timer thing that you can rotate to start timing how long you are inside the sauna room.
The recommended time is 15 minutes, but depending on how hot it is and your comfort levels, 8-10 minutes is perfectly fine.
You basically just want to get your sweat on and let your muscles relax. I can normally tell when its ‘working’ when my whole body is warm, my lips start to feel like the dead skin is peeling off (gross but true, sorry) and my toes are lovely and tingly warm.
You should feel comfortably warm and sweaty, breathing slow.
I’m a bit claustrophobic and also have an Australian fear of high heat in enclosed spaces (probably from reading way too much about bushfires for years) so I always seat myself on the lower levels with a view out the door of the sauna so I can see outside, and not feel ‘trapped’.
It might just be my personal hangup, but it helps me relax and calm down when I can ‘see’ the outside world. Most sauna rooms have glass doors to do so.
Once you have spent the time you want in the nude sauna, make sure you slowly sit up for the last 2 minutes before leaving the sauna room, to give your body and blood-rush time to adjust.
You don’t want to be standing up too quickly and getting a headspin.
When you leave the sauna room, head immediately to one of the nearby showers to rinse off. If the sauna room is an outdoor hut, you can also stand in the cold fresh air for a bit first, inhaling the cold air to get more oxygen in after the sauna.
Best practise is to have your post-sauna shower ice cold, but I chicken out a little and add some warm water – just don’t tell the traditionalists!
Its worth trying the cold water thing once though – in some Therme, they have outdoor pools right outside the sauna room so you can take a Nordic style ice-dip immediately after the heated sauna and it is so so invigorating.
Always worth a try if you’re game – after all, you’ve done the hard part!
After you’ve sweated in the sauna, rinsed off in the icy shower, now you get to the best part….relaxing.
You can return to that sun lounger you found before and lay down to let your body decompress and relax, maybe even have a small nap. You’ll be feeling like melted candle wax anyway, so lounging will come naturally.
Essentially the rest of your day in the therme and sauna you can can rinse and repeat the above at your own pace.
This little corner at Kaiserbad Ellmau would be my go-to!
Most people reccommend you don’t go into the high heat sauna rooms more that 3 times and always always leave plenty of time between sessions – its not meant to be torturous.
You’ll very quickly notice that everyone in a therme is taking their time, luxuriating in the slowed down atmosphere and there’s no pressure to do…anything really.
The naked sauna thing & how to navigate being naked with strangers
Ok lets get to the topic you’ve all been stressing about – WHAT ABOUT GETTING NEKKED CARLY HOWWWWWW??!!!
I’m going to give you some tough love here, and know that it comes from a place of support and encouragement when I say….
Know that no one – literally no one – is interested in, looking at, judging or appraising your body in Sauna. They are there for their own relaxation and entirely comfortable in their bodies.
Therme time is not a leery, creepy hookup situation – you’re more likely to be seeing people your parents age or older lying back snoring on a sun lounger than anything remotely sexy.
So my loving advice is – get over yourself, to liberate yourself.
There is something wonderfully freeing about visiting Austria therme, and their FKK swim zones in summer, because people simply do not give a shit about their bodies in the way we cringe and hide and judge and worry in Australian/British/American culture.
It took me a long time to be comfortable with this (you can see some of my earliest blog posts were on this topic <—- comments here are gold!) as my culture had ingrained so many repressed, destructive narratives about how we should feel about our bodies in public.
But this is Austria – not only are they free in their bodies, they are concurrently very civilised & polite in these public settings. So there is no weird vibe, its very respectful and natural to be naked with strangers.
So please, please believe me when I say – being uncomfortable with being naked is all about the narratives your culture has fed you about nudity growing up.
Visiting a therme can be liberating as you can actually see the full spectrum of bodies – hairy, heavy, smooth, wrinkled, rolls, spots, abs, bumps, lumps, scars and all.
It’s somehow humbling, and reassuring to simply see different bodies, happily relaxing in a naked sauna room companionably, outside the images culture normally shows you on TV, Instagram and media.
In Austria and when you visit a therme, getting naked is the correct way to behave in a sauna.
In fact, if anyone came to sauna and behaved outside the respectful etiquette of the sauna environment, they’d be swiftly booted from the establishment.
With that said, let’s look at some quick etiquette rules of therme & sauna.
Sauna etiquette for visiting a Therme & naked sauna in Austria
- Always shower off beforehand, and ensure you have towel dried before entering the sauna room. Otherwise you will drip on the wood and it will take longer for you to start sweating and getting the good benefits of the sauna heat.
- Always bring a towel into the sauna room with you so you can sit or lie on it and not drip sweat directly onto the wooden benches. Again this destroys the wood!
- As the above two points should make clear – wearing bathers into a sauna is a big no-no as it destroys the sauna itself, so never do this! Even in small hotel saunas its very destructive and disrespectful.
- If you are greeted upon entry, reply with a short acknowledgement greeting back.
- Saunas and therme are quiet spaces, so you should not be talking loudly, watching videos on your phone with sound on or any other disruptive behaviours. These places are meant to be an oasis.
- It goes without saying, camera phones and photography are not permitted in the sauna nude areas. Even if you’re doing it ‘for the ‘gram’ and just taking pictures of yourself, you will be ejected by the sauna meister or more likely lectured by an outraged local. Just don’t do it.
- Don’t sprawl your stuff across multiple loungers, be respectful of other guests and just place your towels on the sun loungers you need.
- Make sure you stay hydrated throughout your time in the sauna, there are normally taps around and you can get meals and drinks from the restaurants and cafes within a therme.
- Saunas and therme are NOT about sex or sexual in anyway. You cannot engage in sex acts anywhere in a normal public therme and will be very quickly reprimanded and banned for any inappropriate behaviour. The most you might see is teenagers kissing in a pool, thats it! This also applies to uncomfortable staring, ogling, touching and anything else you wouldn’t do sitting on a public bus.
- Don’t do anything gross at a therme or sauna that you wouldn’t do at a public swimming pool – shaving, nail clipping, personal grooming – just no.
- Best practise is to have two towels – one for sweaty sauna sitting, one for drying off. The real sauna professionals bring their own robe too, so they can sit in the restaurants and public areas and enjoy a meal or a coffee in the sunshine.
- Be respectful at all times. Austria is a civilised country in any setting, but particularly at Therme. Sauna time is respected as a health practise where people allow themselves to unwind, so don’t be weird about it.
With these in depth guidelines and steps to success you should be enjoying your Therme and naked sauna in no time!
Particularly in winter and the grey months between November – April, I love love love sauna for an escape from the world and to keep myself warm.
Reccommended Therme & Saunas in Austria.
Therme Wien – the closest therme to Vienna, perfect for a day trip if you are visiting and wonderful for locals.
This is one of the biggest therme, spa & wellness places to visit in Vienna. We’ve been there multiple times and I still don’t think I’ve seen all of it.
How to get there: Take the U1 ubahn line in direction Oberlaa all the way to the end station Oberlaa and follow the signs to Therme Wien. It only takes about 20 minutes from the city centre.
Pricing: For up to 3 hours, 1 adult costs €22.50. For a full day of 6+ hours is €29,90 + sauna entry for €8.50.
You can check the full price list and current deals by clicking here – the day retreat deals are worth keeping an eye on.
Ellmau Kaiserbad, Tirol – where it all began for Stefan and I!
I recommend this if you are skiing or staying in the Wilder Kaiser region because they have a wonderful outdoor pool beside the sauna huts, and it feels very local.
Most ski towns will have some small therme or local sauna though, we found one in Fiberbrunn on our recent ski trip too.
Pricing: For one adult in winter, for 3 hours, is €17,90. Full price list here (German).
Rogner Bad Blumau – an absolute dream hotel, spa and wellness retreat in the naturally occurring hot springs of Styria in southern Austria.
Visiting Rogner Bad Blumau is a must-do experience, as not only do they have the fantastic outdoor ‘volcano’ healing hot springs, luxurious treatments and delicious restaurants, but all the architecture of the resort is magically designed to imitate nature.
Freidrich Hundertwasser is the famous architect behind the other-worldly designs, and though his apartments in Vienna are cool, his creativity was truly set free in designing the Rogner Bad Blumau spa and wellness resort.
This is a truly special place to visit, and one of the most relaxing, unique experiences of my life. You can see just from the photos how special it is to visit.
Pricing: A day ticket during the week to Rogner Bad Blumau is €46 per adult, and they prefer you to reserve your space in advance in order to maintain the tranquility of the spa.
Alternatively, you can book yourself a short stay at the hotel to really lap up the experience – definitely recommended so you can enjoy the restaurant buffet which is one of the best of my life.
Loipersdorf Resort Styria – a countryside idyll a short drive from Vienna
This is one of the largest hot springs and austrian spa resorts, and it is set in the beautiful rolling hills of Styria. While my visit here was only overnight, I truly adored the expanse of hot pools, saunas and snack options that surround you in the hotel and resort.
Loipersdorf is on my list to return to and luxuriate in for longer on our next long weekend getaway. If you have young kids or a family, know that they also have some magnificent kids pools, waterslides and activities to do, so you can mix it up!
Price: An adult day pass including sauna area is €36,50
There are many, many more therme worth exploring, I’ve only just started delving into the wide world of them! Our Facebook group has some excellent resources on where to go in and around Austria, so come chat to find out more.
How do you feel about visiting a Therme and naked sauna in Austria? Would you brave it?
Let me know in the comments and hope you enjoy these tips.
Whatever you decide, know that visiting a Therme & naked sauna doesn’t have to be intimidating, just embrace it as a cultural experience and you will find your way.