Last updated: March 24, 2023
The Russian banya has played an important role in Russian culture for many centuries.
Banya is essentially the Russian version of a traditional sauna or steam room, although the word can also refer to bath house.
Let’s find out more about the Russian banya and why it is so popular.
What Is a Russian Banya?
There are different parts to a complete Russian banya experience, with the sauna part being very similar to the Finnish sauna experience.
Just like a Finnish sauna, a traditional Russian sauna is a wood-fired, dry sauna. A stove with sauna rocks is used to warm up and humidify the room.
A typical Russian banya is often a little stand-alone house, or more like a cabin, with different rooms or areas:
- Entrance Room
- Steam Room
- Washing Room
Let’s discuss these rooms in a bit more detail.
1. Entrance Room
The entrance room is basically a pre-bath room and is used to take off and hang clothes. It is common to undress completely and to enter the steam room naked.
The room also has benches that bathers can use to rest on after spending time in the hot steam room.
2. Steam Room
As the name suggests, the steam room is where all the sweating happens.
The room typically has benches at different heights. Sitting on a top bench means you will cop more heat. If you want to cool off a little, simply take a seat on one of the lower benches.
Water is gently thrown onto the sauna rocks in the stove via a hole to create that wave of heat and steam effect.
Russians generally are able to stand the heat quite well, so the steam room can easily reach a temperature of well over 90 degrees Celcius or 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
When it’s nice and warm in the steam room, and everyone is sweating, a venik is then used to clean and massage the body.
A venik is essentially a bunch of soft tree branches, dried in winter and fresh in summer. The venik is used to gently “beat” the body, from head to toe.
Not only will it clean the skin, but it also improves blood circulation. It is meant to have similar effects as a massage.
When warmed up enough, it’s common to go outside for a moment and cool off in a pool, or even in the snow, if there is any.
3. Washing Room
The final step in the Russian banya experience is washing.
The washing room has basins that have a mix of hot water (heated by the stove) and cold water to create a temperature that is comfortable enough for washing.
Strangely enough, the washing room is often part of the steam room. One would expect these to be separate so that a bather can cool off when washing, but the rooms are actually often combined.
The Russians have embraced the banya experience as an important part of their lifestyle and culture.
It’s no surprise that the banya is so popular in Russia, with large parts of the country having a very cold climate. A banya is a welcome relief from the freezing temperatures, especially in the brutally cold winter months.
Fortunately for the rest of us, traditional Russian banyas have also been popping up in other parts of the world, so more people can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of this pleasant sauna experience.
Read about more sauna and spa traditions around the world in our guide.