For hundreds of years, the Russian banya has provided longed-for respite for weary workers. Slowly, its steam-filled rooms have taken on the heavy shroud of collective ritual, its supposed healing powers interwoven in Russia’s social fabric.
The first recorded mention of the banya dates back as far as the 10th century, when they not only served as a place for villagers to clean themselves, but also as a temple, a hospital, and venue for baptisms, weddings, births, and wakes. Village banyas were small and lacked ventilation: soot rested on walls, benches, and bodies, leaving everyone inside clean but black from head to toe.
Сommercial steam houses appeared under Peter the Great, before becoming public bathing and laundry complexes for the masses during the privacy-starved Soviet era. Later still, amidst the turbulent 1990s, the banya was stripped of its sacral meaning as steam houses became havens for the nouveau riche, synonymous with billiard tables, dry fish, vodka, and brothels.
Now, centuries of banya tradition is being revived amid growing interest in Russia’s pre-tsarist culture, especially in St Petersburg. We asked Anna Artemieva, founder of @nudeblog— a dedicated blog sharing the best of banya culture, aesthetics, and expertise — to share her top five city steam houses for explorers seeking ancient experience in the heart of the modern metropolis: from contemporary gems to rural getaways.
The Krugliye Bani — or simply the Round Banyas in English — sit amid the constructivist splendour of north-east St Petersburg. Known locally as The Puck, the space was built between 1927 and 1930, and designed by Alexander Nikolsky, one of the architects who defined St Petersburg in the early Soviet era. He originally planned to cover the heart of the building with a large glass dome, but was unable to realise his vision for technical reasons. Instead, the bath house was left with a gorgeous open-air pool at its centre that’s available all year round, with a thick layer of steam blanketing the warm waters as temperatures drop below freezing. The Round Baths are open every day except Thursday, from 10am to 10pm. A 600 ruble entrance fee (approx. £7) will give you an hour in the water and steam baths. Wednesdays and Saturdays are designated as women-only days.
Address: 19 Karbyshva St, St Petersburg
Price: 600 rubles/hour (approx. £7)
If you’re seeking a more meditative banya experience, then head out into the countryside and discover a traditional firewood steam house in the village of Vsevolozhsk. The wide, wild courtyard outside gives visitors space to cool down after an intense steam session inside by hugging birch trees amid the lush green foliage in summer, or jumping into a snow drift in winter. The banya shop is also a highlight, featuring an eclectic commercial mix of ham, icons, cosmetics, spiritual reading, and imported goods from neighboring Finland. What can we say? It might be offbeat, but it’s also the Russian village banya at its best. It takes about one hour and a half to reach Vsevolozhsk from the centre of St Petersburg — check the train schedule at the Finlandsky Railway Station to plan your journey. Suburban trains leave every hour starting from 7am each day, while the banya itself is open everyday except Tuesday, from 9am to 9pm.
Address: 13 Kommuny St, Vsevolozhsk
Price: 250 rubles/hour (approx. £3)
Based in a beloved seaside resort right outside St Petersburg, the luxurious Honey Banya in Olgino merges age-old tradition and contemporary design. The newly-renovated complex at the Olgino Hotel targets a more moneyed clientele by offering a range of tailored treats, such as ice massages, salt and honey scrubs, or herbal aromatherapy. The suite itself was built by James Larkin, who has made his name constructing steam rooms and saunas across the globe, including the Russian banya at the Burning Man festival. An all-wooden lounge area with an open fire and panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows offer an experience to remember.
Address: 4/1 Primorskoe Highway, Olgino
Price: 6000 RUB/hour for up to 10 people (approx. £75)
The House of Public Health, best known as the Cossacks’ Banya (named after the Don Cossacks barracks located nearby) is one of the oldest bathing houses in St Petersburg. According to St Petersburg tradition, banyas were built on the city’s central streets, rather than in the outskirts, and designed by prominent architects of the time. The Cossacks’ Banya is no exception: the project was awarded a gold medal at an architecture exhibition in Vienna after it was opened in 1879.
These days, the banya is kitted out with some more modern luxuries, including a high-pressure healing Charcot shower, a swimming pool, hammam rooms, and treatment rooms, making for an authentic – and comprehensive – experience. The bath house is open everyday apart from Monday: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are designated as women-only days, while Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday are men-only.
Address: 11 Bolshoy Kazachiy Lane, St Petersburg
Price: 300–350 RUB/2 hours (approx. £4)
Nestled in Siversky, a small town south-west of St Petersburg, the Siverskaya Banya occupies a former stable, 10 minutes away from the Rozhdestvenno mansion once owned by the family of writer Vladimir Nabokov. Once a popular summertime haunt for St Petersburg’s tsarist-era intelligentsia, the town evokes a mood of reflection for a bygone Russia. The renovated building of the banya itself is now suffering a plague of plastic window frames, but this is soon balanced by a more rustic feel in the interior. The baths are only open at the weekend and there’s no option to rent or buy towels or slippers, so make sure to either bring your own, or stop in at the local supermarket for essentials.
Address: 22 Krasnaya St, Siversky
Price: 200 RUB/2 hours (approx. £2.50)