What it's like to get naked at a bathhouse in Sweden

//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js // <![CDATA[

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

// ]]>

My name is D and I used to be, as one friend put it, “a big, girlie prude.”

Never would I think of even taking off my shirt in a public, or semi-public place. In fact, when I first stopped at the baths in Budapest, it took everything I had to shimmy my swimsuit bottom off while strategically keep my towel from covering up the rest of me. I was not ready to take anything off. Getting naked in Sweden? Not. Even. A. Thought.

In Barcelona, I had to prep myself for going topless while on the beach.

In Morocco, I gathered a bit more courage and actually took off my top and walked around (gasp) topless while at the bath.

But, something happened to me between Morocco and Sweden: I got confident. The idea of stripping down to skin didn’t seem to bother me nearly as much. While my body had not changed, my opinion of myself had.

So, when it comes time for me to head to Kallbadhus Ribersborg, to take part in the traditional Swedish bathhouse experience, I don’t even blink. In fact, when Anna tells me she reserved a towel for me, I ask her for details about what I am going to do.

The entrance to the historic Kallbadhus Ribersborg | What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

“Well, you take off your clothes … if you want … and then have a sauna and then go in the water,” she explains.

My mind skips back to the day before when I plunged into the Baltic Sea in a wet suit during my attempt at paddle boarding.

“What do the other people wear at the bath house?”

“Oh, most of them wear nothing,” she says.

Decided. Then I will wear nothing, too.

I don’t know how to explain it, but en route to the bath house via the long wooden walk over the soft thumping water of the sea, I am actually skipping and smiling at the idea of getting naked.

A view of the Western Harbour from the beach |  What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

You’d have no clue just to the left of this photo that there are people naked in a bath house!

Like, I’m super stoked beyond belief. I blame it on the new, improved version of D after my shamanic session.

The point is, I am thrilled to put myself to this test, to prove to myself it is OK to shred the clothing and just hang out naked in the open.

Self-portrait of Diana Edelman |  What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

See … don’t I just look like I want to take my clothes off?!?

I walk up to the counter of the creaky old (and still magnificent)ย Kallbadhus Ribersborg. The large dining room and reception area immediately conjures up images of grandeur when the bath house was first built. I can imagine groups of men and women flocking here on a warm summer afternoon to gossip and dip their toes into the fresh sea.

“I have a reservation,” I announce to the girl at the counter. She produces a scratchy and small white towel and directs me to the woman’s side of the bathhouse.

The changing rooms of Kallbadhus Ribersborg |  What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

Little changing rooms open to the Baltic Sea at Kallbadhus Ribersborg.

I open the swing door and am greeted to wooden platforms a top the water. Lining one side of the boardwalk are little changing rooms — some with doors, some without.

I feel like I have stepped back in time.

Around me, there are a few women lounging naked, soaking up the morning sun.

I walk quietly around them and pick a changing room without a door and stand in front of the mirror.

Here you go, D. Time to get naked.

This time, I don’t even hesitate. I pull my shirt off, my pants down and stand in my little room stark naked. I care so little about being in the nude that I actually take the time to fold up my clothing and place them in a neat little pile on the bench.

 What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

See? I am thrilled to be wrapped in a towel!

Then, with my towel wrapped around me, I head over to the sauna.

So, I’m not quite ready to strut around, but still.

As I walk by a bench filled with naked older women, I feel their eyes on me and remember a conversation I had the previous day with Anna: they may look at you strange if you don’t get naked.

I brush it off and sit in the baking warmth of the sauna for a few minutes, letting a few beads of sweat drip from my brow.

And now for the next part of the tradition — a dip into the sea.

I know it’s cold, but after letting myself bake in the heat of the sauna, I am ready for the cool water to jolt my body back to a more normal temperature.

I walk down the little boardwalk to a ladder, covered with seaweed because it likely has not been used since last summer. I tie my towel on the railing and dip my toes in.

Holyshititscoldwithoutawetsuit.

Shivers shoot through my body and it instantly becomes hard to breathe. But, I persist. I climb down another rung and let the water lap at my thighs.

Still absolutely freezing.

Then, I go for it, dunking my body into the salty water.

I last for about 15 seconds, but what matters to me is that I did it.

Huge smile on my face, I exit the water and pick a post on the wooden planks to lay for an hour. Naked.

At first, I feel weird. It’s just not the norm for an American to lay out without anything covering up anything.

But, as I see more and more people emerge from the changing rooms and splay themselves in the same fashion, I grow more and more comfortable.

I’m laying naked, tanning, in Sweden.

A smile lights up my face and in that moment, I could not be any cooler or happier.

For more information on Sweden, check out these books:

Sweden – Culture Smart!: the essential guide to customs & culture
Lonely Planet Sweden (Travel Guide)
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Sweden

Editorโ€™s Note: My time in Sweden was courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read myย disclosure policy. Want more on Sweden? Follow along in Twitter and Instagram, #myswedentrip.

 

62 comments

  1. I’m so modest–even after giving birth twice–that this post gave me mild heart palpitations! But I suppose I would be more worried about being stared at because I wasn’t naked than stared at because I’m chubby and jiggley. You go girl!

    Like

    1. Oh no!! It isn’t that bad. Especially once you take a look around and realize there are all ages, all body types all doing the same thing. No one looks. No one judges. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  2. Good for you! It has been amazing to read about this incredible internal journey that you have been on! I never realized that bath houses were such an intrinsic part of Swedish culture.

    We do that hot, cold thing here in Minnesota, too (but here, it usually involves a hot tub and a snow bank and a few drinks first!) Sitting in a sauna then jumping into the North Sea sounds so much more amazing!

    Like

  3. I’d have no problem being naked, but I sunburn so easily that the idea of even wearing a tank top for more than a couple hours outside is disastrous. But, like you, I would have followed the mantra: When in Rome …

    Like

  4. Congrats to you D! I visited a nude beach out in Kauai, Hawaii once and it was quite an experience. At first I was a little hesitant about getting fully nude in public but as I saw others doing it, I became more confident of myself and not caring about what others thought. After a while, I finally gathered up the courage and got fully nude! It was an exhilarating experience swimming in the ocean and lying out naked….granted I didn’t stay in the ocean too long for fear of hungry fish! ๐Ÿ˜‰ lol Great story! Can’t wait to check out Sweden!

    Like

  5. Yay for challenging yourself and going au natural! It’s funny how prudish Americans can be about nudity (myself included) – we get so hung up on body “imperfections” and forget to just be comfortable, y’know? If you take away the fear of judgement, swimming sans clothing is so much comfier and freeing!

    Like

    1. It felt so GREAT to just not care and lay there! It may have taken me a bit to lead up to it, but when I actually did it, I was so damn proud of myself.

      Like

  6. I have always wanted to tan naked. I’m not big on being naked at all, but I think when everyone is naked, everyone is less concerned about anyone else, so no one is looking at you and you can just be comfortable. And no tan lines!

    Like

  7. Congrats on your new-found confidence! Your mention of tanning naked made me laugh though – I had a Swedish au pair when I was 6, and apparently my parents had to explain that in the US, it wasn’t really appropriate for the hot 20 year old nanny to tan topless by our backyard pool while people were around to see her.

    Like

  8. Go you! Confidence is such a great thing. I, too, am generally a big prude (aren’t most Americans?) and have no idea how I would react in this situation…knowing me, I’d probably avoid it altogether just to avoid taking my clothes off!

    Like

  9. It’s so awesome that your confidence has improved enough to do this. I don’t even like changing in locker rooms. I don’t like strangers seeing me naked, and I don’t like seeing them naked walking around. I admire you for having the courage to take it all off and just not worry about it!

    Like

  10. What a delightful story! You serve as an inspiration to women everywhere, and not just for dropping your drawers! By your example you demonstrate that we can face our fears and satisfy our curiosity by just applying a little determination.

    We have collected the trio of tales, from Barcelona to Sweden, and linked to them on our website as a trilogy for the enjoyment of our newbies in the naturist community! Your feelings and trepidation are common to those considering social nudity for the first time, and your experience shows other women (and men) that it’s not nearly as traumatic as it seems. Thank you from the nudist/naturist community and please do feel free to continue your explorations into this healthy and fun way of living! (http://all-nudist.com/2012/08/05/her-first-time-nude-a-trilogy/)

    Like

  11. Years after my first time laying out topless in Spain, I still am a prude about such things! I’ve gotten better at getting naked in locker rooms and such, but a public beach is a different story entirely. Kudos to you!

    Like

  12. Wow, you’ve got some guts. I applaud you. As Americans, I think we dwell too much on body image.

    That said, I wouldn’t do it, but I would be afraid of being harpooned as the Great White Whale ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

  13. I had a really similar experience a few years ago when going to a hammam in Istanbul. I had NEVER been nude anywhere public before. I tried going in in undies and a black bra, thinking it would help me blend in, but I was the only one wearing a top! So all it did was make me stand out. I took it off and got topless with all the other women. Nobody seemed to mind. At first, it scared the crap out of me, but then it became kind of liberating. I’m proud of you for overcoming that hurdle! Too bad we can’t tan topless in the US. I hate tan lines!

    Like

    1. I wish we could go topless in America!! It is SO freeing!! I love being able to get outside of our own insecurities and just embrace our bodies the way other cultures do! I did the same thing in Morocco. Kept the undies on but skipped the bra. Should have just ditched the undies, too, though. After being “Downstream” in the hamam there, there was no way I wanted to keep those.

      Like

  14. Amazing!!! I am such a prude and have never tackled a bathhouse. I used to be freer when I was younger — going to college in Miami, where the beaches are topless I’m sure helped. Your photos inside the bathhouse are priceless!

    Like

    1. I was trying to take pics without offending anyone!! So, figured the person who would get least offended is me!!! In retrospect, wish I would have taken some more. Although, just means I will have to go back and do it again! I also think it wasn’t so bad because I was alone. If I had people with me, not sure how keen I would have been to strip down.

      Like

  15. I had a similar experience in Munich. The pools are swimsuit friendly but the sauna and steam room… not so much. I struggled with trying to hide behind a towel for about 5 minutes, then realized that I looked like a total tool doing that and that hell! Everyone else was naked too so when in Rome… or Munich!

    Like

  16. After you’ve been doing it a few years, you can’t imagine wearing a bathing suit. I go to a beach here (Canada) which is 3/4 “textiles” and 1/4 nude. Lots of textiles walk to our end and there’s only really a few metres separation..no big deal. Having conversations with men you’ve only just met is really quite a hoot! My 27 year old daughter loves it, totally empowering…she has also visited hammams in Paris and bathouses in Russia. I think bathing suits should be banned. lol. Vancouver has one of North America’s best naked beaches. Next month I’m returning to France to visit my favorite nude beaches…the Mediterranean naked is awesome.

    Like

    1. I had no idea there was such a culture in Vancouver! I would LOVE to do the Med naked! Topless was pretty empowering … naked is next! Thanks for sharing your story!

      Like

  17. You are ballsy woman! Although, I think if I was surrounded by other people I would have done it too. I tried it once at a secluded swimming hole spot and I think I liked it more than I care to admit.

    Like

  18. You go, D! Public bathhouses here in Korea are very common, and you HAVE to get naked in them, too. I was drunk the first time I went to one. It was a little odd at first (Korean men stare at me a lot due to my body hair) but now I’m like, HEY, LET’S GET NAKED! It’s amazing what body confidence will do for you and what experiences it will open up to you.

    Like

  19. Woohoo – you go girl! I had a similar experience recently. Years I’ve been saying I’m going topless like those Euro girls. I chickened out in Europe and South America. Been traveling throughout Asia the last eight months and somehow found confidence in Japan and stripped down for an onsen (hot spring/ spa) experience. It was liberating. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

  20. Hallo ‘D’ You really brave. Many people like to enjoy them-self not for share with others. You decided to share with others your experience. Its great.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Federico Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s