Where to try Russian banya in Moscow?
What is “banya”?
Winter is the best season to visit a traditional Russian banya. The wet heat of it will battle the big winter freeze. Are you going to visit a bathhouse in Moscow? Here are some tips for you to enjoy your banya evening.
To start from, let’s be sure that you know where you go. “Banya” is a Russian word for a bath-and-steam house. The tradition goes deep into ages. However yet seventy years ago people who didn’t have the luxury of having a private shower at home, used to go to a banya once in a while and wash there. For a typical Soviet person, who lived in a kommunalka and shared a bathroom with several other families, bathing time was really restricted and fixed by an apartment schedule. Therefore a public banya was a way to relax longer under a stream of hot water in a washing room. The person could also dream a bit in a steam room and talk to his buddies casually drinking tea in a resting room. Until nowadays banya stays a place for increasing your peace of mind and chit-chatting with close friends. You can see it as an alternative to going out to a restaurant or bowling. So not to miss a new experience, we recommend you to spare one night in Russia for a banya.
What’s the difference between Russian and Finnish sauna?
Coming to more practical matters, the Russian banya is not the same as the Finnish sauna or the Turkish bath. Only in the banya, you can be hit by hot dried birch branches (called “venik”), with your permission, of course. It helps blood circulation and it’s Russians’ favorite banya ritual ever. You can try an oak or birch venik, both should be dried and brewed in a certain way to get a wonderful scent.
Expect it to be hot and humid inside- the humidity is usually about 50%, and the temperature can rise higher than 90 Celsius. It’s more intense than a sauna. People around you will be wearing a felt hat- do follow the suit! A felt hat serves to protect your head from overheating. Bring this funny-looking but so useful accessory home as a souvenir from Moscow.
What are the rules in Russian banya?
If you’re the first time in the banya, learn the right sequence of actions: first, you take a shower, then you go to the hot steam room and sit or lie on the benches. You take a cold shower after or pour a bucket of cold water on yourself or jump to the snow (in case of countryside banya) and again run for the warmth of the wooden steam room. Repeat this exercise several times –and be healthy. Do not push your limits, even though a session is 2 hours, 40 minutes can be enough if you’re not used to high temperatures. Just make a full circle twice, ensure that you sweat a lot, and rest with a cup of warm tea with berries.
Do not drink in a steam room even if you have a strong tolerance to alcohol. It’s not safe for your heart and brain. Plus in a room as hot as Sahara desert a tipsy drunk feeling will appear really quick. You don’t want to get into a situation when you board a wrong plane- that’s what happened to the main character in a Russian comedy film “The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!”
It’s better not to plan anything grandiose for the evening after the Russian sauna: you will be super relaxed and sleepy. The best you can do to round off a banya ritual is to eat soup and have a nice long sleep. The next morning you won’t recognize a person in the mirror: look how fresh and rosy you are, all due to a couple of hours in the banya.
Below is a list of magical places in Moscow where you can go for a nice banya experience. You can buy a so-called banya set in a banya. But if you can, bring your own slippers, a big towel to wrap and a bedsheet with you, it will save you some money.
“Sanduny” is the most popular banya in Moscow. Its reputation for being the most beautiful steam house in Moscow is well-deserved. Sanduny was opened in the 19th century, and since then its name has gone viral. Now Sanduny is a place that is often attended by famous Internet stars and businessmen. They offer state-of-art public bathrooms and private family cabins. To underline, the authentic Sanduny is a public banya, where men and women will have to visit separately. Private family cabins are not in the original Beaux Art building but they also look nice.
In the banya, they offer massages and spa and beauty procedures. In addition, they have a restaurant and a laundry in the same building. When you plan a visit, bear in mind that it’s closed on Tuesdays.
On a scale of popularity, it’s the second most-visited banya in Moscow. It’s not far from the Moscow Zoo, hidden from a busy street.
They offer a Russian steam room and Finnish sauna, a hammam, and have a swimming pool. The body-and-mind services are as varied as in Sanduny: a beauty room, Ayurveda massages, and rich spa programs.
There are men and women zones and private VIP zones for companies. The banya is open daily from 8 am to 11 pm.
While the women department is on renovation (as of November 2019), they have split the week into men days and women days. Mo and Tu are for women to visit and the rest of the week for men.
One metro station away from Moscow city center, you can take a steam bath in Vorontsovskiye bani.
The local steam is infused with different herbs, such as melissa, eucalyptus, lemongrass, horseradish and wormwood. The banya offers juniper and silver fir “veniki” for hitting your fellows in addition to traditional oak and birch branches.
They have private and public departments. If you take a private room, you can choose between a Russian bath, a Turkish hammam, saunas and two other rooms in a modern style.
The food menu is available. To tell you a secret, the Explorussia team was spotted not once in this banya. We can guarantee that you will like it!
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by Natalia Motorina, a local travel writer