The Shy Girl’s Guide to the Naked German Sauna

I’ll admit it.  I’m a prude when it comes to being naked!  That might be fine in Canada where I’m from, but in Germany where I now live?  It’s a little bit odd!

My German husband first introduced me to the naked German sauna, when I was visiting him from Canada.  You can read all about that terrifying experience here.

Clothing optional,  swimsuits are not allowed for hygienic reasons – don’t ask me to explain that one! I swore it would be my last visit to a German sauna.  And it was.  For a couple of years at least.

empty sauna

When we were invited on a skiing trip that would inevitably involve seeing 15 of his male friends and their wives naked, I bailed. I mean, hello, how awkward would that be?

Not so much for my husband as it turns out. Do you want your guy friends to see me naked? I asked my husband in disbelief.  He just shrugged his shoulders.  Why not? It’s just nature. It was one of the many shocks I experienced as an expat in Germany.

It took me two years to recover from my initial sauna experience before I decided to give it another try.  And yes I fully admit I’m a prude.

friends meeting in a German sauna

I’ll be honest. I’m still not a big fan of saunas in general and tend to feel faint after a few minutes.

But I have discovered some tips that can help the German sauna experience a bit easier for shy girls like myself if you aren’t lucky enough to have a sauna at home like this one for two people. Or this portable one for one person where nudity isn’t an issue. I’ve even come to find the “textile-free” areas of spas…gasp….not totally horrible. Albeit it not totally comfortable either.

I’m still much more of a fan of wellness hotels which offer saunas and in addition lounging areas, swimming pools, and beauty treatments.

Tip #1: Choose a Sauna Far From Home

outdoor sauna

Or at least a couple of hundred kilometres.  That way you’re far less likely to run into anyone you know.

Europe’s largest thermal bathing complex, Therme Erding is located near Munich where I live.  I do not doubt that it’s spectacular. And I know that there are areas where you can wear clothes, but most of the areas require you to be naked.

My American friend and her husband were there in one of the naked areas and who did they run into?  Her husband’s boss and his wife!  It was understandably awkward for her. She said even her German husband didn’t know how to react!

By going farther away, you’re less likely to run into people that you know.  And while I won’t go to a sauna at home,  I usually choose a wellness hotel within a 2-hour drive. Otherwise getting stuck in traffic disintegrates the relaxation effect.

Tip #2: Visit the Sauna at Off-Peak Hours

The Mineral bath is part of the naked sauna area at the Aqua Dome in Austria

The Mineral bath is part of the “textile-free” sauna area at the Aqua Dome in Austria. Even with my prudishness, I found it heavenly!

Go at off hours when it’s less likely to be busy.  You can ask the spa if you’re not sure.

If you’re staying at a hotel near a ski hill, you can probably bet that the sauna is going to be busy in the evening when the skiers are relaxing their sore muscles. But perhaps it’s not so busy in the afternoon or first thing in the morning.

By going at off-peak hours, you also reduce your chances of sitting skin-skin beside a sweaty stranger in a sauna – which for me, is the complete opposite of relaxation!

Tip #3: Take Some Time for Personal Grooming

The sauna is not a sexual experience.  Yes everyone looks at everyone else, but it’s not sexual. You don’t have to have the body of a model.

You’ll see all shapes and sizes and some jiggly bits. But the one thing that most people are?  Well-groomed, especially the ladies. I was surprised to see that almost every woman, regardless of her age, paid attention to her grooming situation. And let’s just leave it at that.

And let’s just leave it at that.

Tip 4: Go When the Sauna Has a Women Only Day

friends enjoying a sauna together

Some of the larger saunas have sections exclusively for women. The smaller ones will likely have a day of the week or one day of the month where only women are allowed.  This is a gentle introduction to your first German sauna if you’re nervous.

This is a gentle introduction to your first German sauna if you’re nervous.

Tip 5: Don’t Go the German Sauna With Friends of the Opposite Sex

German saunas are often co-ed

Much to my chagrin, many of my friends have seen my husband naked!  Let me explain.  After playing badminton, he often goes to the sauna before grabbing a bite to eat.  A few of the ladies in our badminton group go as well, so voila, everyone becomes more intimately familiar with each other.

A few of the ladies in our badminton group go as well, so voila, everyone becomes more intimately familiar with each other.

Needless to say, that’s waaaaaay too much familiarity for me. Instead, I head straight to the restaurant and order a glass of wine.

It’s become a running joke now where every week he asks me whether I’ll be joining him in the sauna, knowing full well that I won’t.

Tip 6:  All Saunas Are Not Equal

A relaxation area in the naked area of the sauna at the Aqua Dome in Austria

I LOVED the “Suspended Peace” room, also in the “textile-free” part of the Aqua Dome.

Some, like the one at my badminton club, are small. So, if there are more than 3 or 4 people, there’s a good chance you’ll be in contact with another sweaty body!

Others are pure heaven.  My favourite of all time is the Aqua Dome located in the Ötzal region of Austria.

The spa area is HUGE!  You could spend several days exploring it.  While there are clothing required areas, like the incredible levitating pools, the majority of the areas require nudity.

This is not as much of a problem as you might think. Many of the rooms are dimly lit (as shown in the two above photos). And the saunas are large enough that everyone has his/her space.

Or if you’ve decided that you’re not that shy after all, you could swim lengths – in the naked pool :).

Also check out these wellness hotels in Germany which in addition to having sauna areas, also have wellness areas.

 

Follow these tips, and you may find yourself actually relaxing and even enjoying the German sauna experience…even as a shy girl, who may just emerge not quite so shy!

Interested in travelling to Germany? See more places to visit in Germany.

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.
2017-10-08T10:31:41+00:00

27 Comments

  1. Monique April 29, 2015 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Some Spas offer such so called ‘With and without’-Hours. In the SchwabenQuellen in Stuttgart for example there ist a ‘Mit & Ohne – Abend’ every Tuesday where You can choose if You warnt to go with your bikini or naked.

    • Laurel May 1, 2015 at 9:29 am - Reply

      @Monique – Great point! Thank you!

  2. De'Jav April 30, 2015 at 3:00 am - Reply

    This is something that is new to me about the German culture. Great tips though if looking to explore for the first time.

  3. Sophie @ Sophie's World May 3, 2015 at 8:29 am - Reply

    I’m wondering why Europeans and North Americans have such different views on nudity. Where does that come from…
    (Also, love Aquadome, one of my fave spa hotels in the Alps.)

    • Laurel May 4, 2015 at 10:00 am - Reply

      @Sophie – The different views really are interesting. I’ve lived in Germany for 5 years and still struggle with it.

  4. Rachel May 4, 2015 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    I understand you discomfort, my other half felt exactly the same, although from the male point of view. I’ve never been particularly shy about nudity and happily indulged in saunas in Finland and onsen in Japan, albeit segregated. When I discovered there was an awesome looking Therme in the town we stayed in in southern Germany (Konstanz) I dragged him along, keen for a good sauna. He was dismayed at the amount of people and the fact it was mixed. I wasn’t sure how I’d deal with it, only previously been comfortable in women only saunas but it turns out I’m completely blasé about it, it didn’t phase me one bit! Other half settled in and soon got used to it, it’s not a terribly British thing to do but I love that we could go together, I’d been dying to share my love of proper naked sauna with him!
    I can be pretty shy, but I find naked saunas really empowering.

  5. Meg May 7, 2015 at 12:04 am - Reply

    I want to agree that “it’s just nature!” but I think I would be too shy and I’d have to go for the women-only sauna!

    • Laurel May 18, 2015 at 8:13 am - Reply

      @Meg – I hear ya. I admire how open and comfortable many Germans are with nudity,but I also prefer the women’s only days.

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel May 14, 2015 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Nakedness can be quite the elephant in the room… these are great tips though! I would definitely be destined for the “Suspended Peace” room 🙂

    • Laurel May 18, 2015 at 8:10 am - Reply

      @Mary – Thank you! I spent most of my time in the “Suspended Peace” room as well 🙂

  7. fred May 17, 2015 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    These comments focus on the nudity. What about focusing on the wonderful sense of freedom and liberation without clothes? A naked body is a naked body and we’ve all got one. No big deal.
    I go regularly to a nude swimming club here in the UK. Almost everyone is over 40 but occasionally a family with young children come along. It has sauna, steam room, pool, club room and garden. The sheer delight in walking around, swimming and chatting without clothes is uplifting.

    • Laurel May 18, 2015 at 8:08 am - Reply

      @Fred – True, but I think you need to get comfortable with being naked before you enjoy the sense of freedom and other benefits. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found that freedom.

  8. Noah May 18, 2015 at 2:24 am - Reply

    Didn’t know that nekidness was such a universal thing in Germany … crazy!

    • Laurel May 18, 2015 at 8:07 am - Reply

      @Noah – Yep! Although to be be fair, I do have some female German friends who are not comfortable with it either.

  9. Jeremy B May 19, 2015 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    I have to admit I’ve never done a naked sauna. I’ve been to a bath in Hungary where everyone wore clothes. I’ve been to a nude beach in Portugal and fully participated (it did take me two hours though). Would I do a German sauna sans clothes? Sure. Only thing is I’m not a big fan of saunas.

    For me, it’s not a nudity thing. I’d just rather be out exploring the cities or hiking in Germany 🙂

    • Laurel May 22, 2015 at 1:48 pm - Reply

      @Jeremy – I’m not a big fan of saunas either, even when I can go in a bathing suit. I feel very faint very quickly. I’d also rather be out exploring 🙂

  10. Stephanie - The Travel Chica May 27, 2015 at 12:54 am - Reply

    I remember going to a Turkish Bath when I was in my early 20s. I was so nervous, but then I realized I should just get over myself and appreciate the new experience. Easy to do when you are thousands of miles from home 🙂

  11. Sara October 9, 2015 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    What do you mean by personal grooming situation .. if it’s what I think it is, and depending on the extent, I might feel more confident visiting a salon first?
    Sara

    • Laurel October 9, 2015 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      @Sara – referring to the hair “down there”. You definitely want to give it some attention. The “natural wild look” is not so popular in German saunas.

  12. Sara (and John) December 2, 2015 at 11:56 am - Reply

    I hope you don’t mind an update since contacting you in October, but to some degree your blog helped us. My BF John, plus his mate & GF were holidaying in our home country, Australia in taking the mixed group nude plunge, yes with a few coy giggles at first but with no regrets! It wasn’t like the big open European saunas you describe but was a smaller venue, it was on a “couples night” and it was “clothing optional”. We four got there early, initially having it to ourselves. We all started in bathers, but John after a while in the hot pool announced he was going to make use of the clothing optional opportunity as he put his swimwear onto the side of the pool and I followed suit (both still hidden to the shoulders under the water). Getting out to go to the sauna was the real “intake of breath” moment, but when the other two entered the sauna a bit later it was quite a relief to see they’d also now gone fully nude. Only two other couples joined during the evening, of which everyone was happily naked except one woman kept her bottoms on. The experience was absolutely brilliant, inspiring us to spend another day “skinny dipping” on a quiet but fairly open beach before flying back to Melbourne. We’d become closer as a group of friends along the way too. With thanks, Sara (& John) x

    • Laurel September 26, 2017 at 7:50 am - Reply

      @Sara – Thanks so much for sharing your experience. So glad that you enjoyed it. Kudos to you for taking the plunge.

  13. Lauren December 10, 2016 at 5:36 am - Reply

    I have never had any discomfort with being nude in female only locker rooms. Most of the women that are members at my health club, myself included, are very casual and open with nudity in the locker room. It’s an open shower-room, no stalls, no curtains. Most ladies don’t bother covering up between the showers and lockers.
    I’ve always preferred it that way. I think that the communal nudity of the ladies locker room is quite liberating!
    On several occasions I have been nude in the locker room in the presence of other women who I know well, among them my (Female, obviously) boss, one of my daughters grade-school teachers, and my daughter-in-law. And they too were nude at the time. The nudity was never an issue in those cases.

    However, I would absolutely freak out if I were to be in a locker room or sauna with naked men. I would be very embarrassed being naked in front of any men other than my husband or a doctor during an exam. And I would be even more traumatized by seeing naked men other than my husband! I absolutely could not deal with that!

  14. Lauren December 10, 2016 at 5:47 am - Reply

    On the topic of “The hair down there.” In the locker room at my health club you can largely know a womans’ age group by her grooming or non-grooming down there.
    The women that are in their 60’s and up don’t appear to do any grooming down there. The women in my age group, 40’s and 50’s trim but don’t shave or wax it all off.
    The girls and women ranging from 13 to their late 30’s usually shave or wax almost all of it off. I’m certainly never staring at anyone else in the locker room, but there’s no way of not noticing those things to some extent.

    • Laurel December 10, 2016 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      @Lauren – Very interesting observation, thanks for sharing.

  15. Lauren December 11, 2016 at 1:26 am - Reply

    I probably should have mentioned that I’m an American, not German or Canadian. I know that in general Germans are way, way more comfortable with nudity than most Americans. I’ve been told by one coworker of mine who was born and raised in Canada that she feels that in general Canadians are slightly more comfortable with locker room nudity than most Americans. She said it’s not a huge difference, but that she feels that most Canadian women are a bit more comfortable with being nude in the presence of other females in locker rooms and saunas and places like that than American women are in general.

    Although, as I mentioned, almost all of the women and teen girls at my health club are pretty comfortable being nude in the open showers or walking to and from the lockers and showers.

  16. Savannah December 29, 2016 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for both of these articles!!!!!!! I am an American who now lives in Bavaria. Let me clarify: I was raised in the South, as in the Bible belt, as the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. I wasn’t allowed to roll my sleeves up at soccer practice (heaven forbid the boys see my shoulders), let alone wear even a bikini. I had just, kind of, gotten used to quickly changing from a swimsuit in the women’s locker room at my gym back in the states before I moved to Germany.
    My boyfriend, however, is from New York City. He has absolutely no problem going to naked saunas- he’s all about immersing himself in the German culture- and he, in fact, loves it. Thankfully he’s super busy at work, so he hasn’t taken me yet. Every feeling you expressed about going is exactly how I feel about it. I think it’s pretty gross that there are sweaty balls and vaginas everywhere. The boyfriend says that everyone can wear a towel/ sit on a towel, but I’ve heard plenty of stories to the contrary. I’m terrified of going to my first sauna where clothes aren’t allowed. TERRIFIED.

    • Laurel September 26, 2017 at 7:49 am - Reply

      @Savannah – It is a terrifying experience and you can sit on a towel. I’ve been probably 15 times now and it’s less terrifying now, but I still don’t feel 100% comfortable. Best of luck!

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