Just a while ago BBC featured the Yrjönkatu swimming hall in Helsinki as having one of the most beautiful swimming pools in the world, along with the likes of baths in Budapest and Switzerland. And how true it is – Yrjönkatu is my favourite place to swim, as it is peaceful and pretty as a picture.
Yrjönkatu is the oldest swimming hall in Finland being built in 1928. The hall was designed by the architect Väinö Vähäkallio and the style is classism. You will be pleased to find that it still looks like it’s original!
Unfortunately this unique swimming hall is easily overlooked as the entrance is extremely inconspicuous. You need to first find the doorway with the sign “Simhall” and text “Uimahalli” at Yrjönkatu 21 b. You must then walk all the way to the back, where you will find the entrance.
However, before actually showing up, you must research the swimming hall’s website to make sure that you are going on a day suitable for you. The swimming sessions are separate for men and women. So, for example on Sundays only women can enter. The reason behind this is that swimmers may choose to wear a bikini/swimsuit/swimming trunks or not. Actually, before 2001 swimming costumes were not permitted at all! But fear not, these days you have the choice to wear what is most comfortable for you.
There are two storeys in the hall, of which the second floor is not open on all days and has different opening hours than the first floor. I will run you through both first and second floor experiences, so that there is no reason you should be too nervous to go!
Inside the swimming hall on the first floor you will find a 25 meter swimming pool. This pool is used for both first and second floor customers. In Finland aqua running is extremely popular and you will find that the largest lane is reserved for that only. The other two are for slow or fast swimmers. For aqua running, you can borrow belts from the edge of the pool.
Around the pool you will find lockers on one side and dressing closets on the other. On the first floor you will also find two electric saunas, one hotter than the other – these are near the showers.
If you are not coming for the whole bath experience because of your timetable or you simply want to concentrate on swimming, then you can do the “first floor experience” only. This means that once you come in, you buy your ticket for either a locker or dressing closet. The lockers are a bit cheaper than the closets.
If you are buying a ticket for the locker, then you will be undressing and dressing at the edge of the pool in full view of everyone. I would not think this is a problem and in the end you will have to get naked anyway! If you opt for the closet, you will be able to dress inside a closet in your own peace.
Once you have your ticket and key, take off your shoes and put them in one of the shoe lockers in the hallway. Then venture into the swimming hall and look for your locker/closet with the same number as your key.
I would not imagine you need instructions on what to do next. All your clothes go into your locker/closet and you take your bathing costume (if you want to wear one), towel and sauna seat cover (you will need this to sit on in the sauna, for example a small towel or you can buy a disposable one at the ticket counter), shampoo and whatever you need with you and proceed to the showers. The bathrooms are located at the end of the hall, before the showers.
If you are coming for the whole bath experience, you will then want to go on a day that the second floor is open. Do note that sometimes there might not be any room upstairs as it can be popular. The second floor is a bit more expensive than the first floor lockers and closets but definitely worth it. You cannot go on the second floor if you do not have a ticket that entitles you to do so.
First – you must in the same way – buy your ticket at the ticket counter at the entrance. Then you proceed with your shoes on upstairs (the stairway is opposite the ticket counter) where you must present your ticket. You will be then told what time your swimming time will end (you have two hours – extra hours can be bought separately) and shown where to put your shoes. The number of the shoe locker is the same as of your resting cabin which you will be shown to. You will also be given a towel, a disposable sauna seat cover and a bathrobe!
The resting cabins contain a bed and a box where to lock your valuables. It’s not actually a “cabin” since there is no door but you can draw curtains in front for your privacy.
Outside the resting cabins are tables and chairs – you can actually have a drink or meal after your swimming and sauna from the Café Yrjö! You will see people sitting in their bathrobes or towels relaxing and enjoying refreshments.
Cafe Yrjö serves all kinds of drinks and food from snacks to dessert. Some Finnish specialities include the drink “sima” or creamy salmon soup. The waitress will walk around the second floor, so just wait a while if you do not see her immediately. You can even order your meal and drinks before going downstairs for your swimming. In that case, you arrange with the waitress what time you will want your order to be served. There are also tables and chairs downstairs, so if the cafe is open, you can order with the phone provided or let the life guard know but only non-alcoholic drinks will be served.
On the second floor you will find the most interesting and typically Finnish sauna – one that is heated with wood. Apparently the sauna stove is one of the largest in Finland! Anyone can throw water on the stove and I recommend you do so to get the whole sauna experience. There is also an infrared sauna and a steam sauna if you have time to try those.
Please note that you are required to shower without your bathing costume and you must rinse your hair. You cannot use any spray products in the swimming hall (deodorants, perfumes, body lotion, etc). You must be naked when entering the sauna. Photography is not allowed.
If you master Finnish, then you might be interested in reading Hanna Hannus’ master’s thesis on this particular swimming hall for more fascinating information.
Summer visitors will be disappointed to hear that Yrjönkatu is closed most of the summer months. But you need not discard your wish for a historical Finnish swimming and sauna experience because you can visit the outdoor swimming stadium instead. It was built for the olympics in 1940. But that is another story..