How to Behave… at a Russian Banya

As the British love tea and the Americans love Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, so do Russians love the banya. Visit with friends, to catch up on gossip while submitting to the steam.


  • Fling modesty to the wind, donning only a felt cap to protect your hair from the heat. The banya is a place to delight in the liberating equality of nakedness.Kustodiev's Russian Venus

  • Ideally, you’d work up a sweat in the ferociously hot interior, then jump into the snow or an icy lake to give your metabolism a jolt. You may have to make do with a cold tub or a chilly shower in city banyas. Amidst the apparent madness is the desire to purify the body of toxins and aid blood flow. You’ll feel relaxed and invigorated once you’re over the shock.

  • Buy your birch twigs on the way in (or bring them with you to country banyas). They are an essential element in the process. Also bring a friend willing to apply repeated thwacking action to your inaccessible regions.

  • Men invited to a business banya have the chance to bond in the buff; expect vodka and zakuski snacks between steaming sessions.

  • Banya parties in country dachas can be an excuse for high jinx: furtive groping under cover of steam may be followed by snow frolics and thrashing of derrières with birch twigs – all in the name of improving circulation.Russian banya

  • If it’s the night before your wedding, save your ‘dirty’ banya water for your groom to drink; it will cast an enchantment, keeping him forever in love.

  • In women’s only banya rooms, battle baboushkas for space in the ‘relaxation’ hall, to which you retire between bouts in the steam. Apply your mudpack, shave legs, wash your hair and, simply, relax. Don’t forget a flask of cleansing green tea. Be assured, after several hours of blissful sweating, scrubbing, birch beating and tea drinking, you’ll float out feeling about 4kg lighter and without a care in the world.  hosted an original version of my article.

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.