February nights in London are usually pretty chilly, and I am instinctively reluctant to make them any colder than they already are.

But there is one wellness craze sweeping the capital promising freezing baths and plunging body temperatures that has been hard to miss.

London has become home to an emerging community sauna movement in recent years, allowing bathers the chance to work up a sweat before taking an icy dip.  

I am admittedly suspicious of new health fads.

It is in recent memory that not one, but two, fish pedicure shops opened up in the rural town I grew up in, riding a wave of dead-skin nibbling mania.

Both closed down quietly within a couple of years amid reports the practice could spread diseases.

But saunas and cold-water immersion have a long history in many cultures, particularly among people living in Nordic countries, as well as providing numerous reported health benefits.

Newham Recorder: Community Sauna Baths in Hackney Wick is one of the best-known spots to try the ritualCommunity Sauna Baths in Hackney Wick is one of the best-known spots to try the ritual (Image: Elliot Cyriax)

The 19th century Finnish national epic poem, Kalevala, is full of references to the country's prominent bathing culture.

The practice has also been credited with increasing blood flow, boosting immune function, reducing stress and improving sleep.

Some also claim that the combination of steam and plunge can even help treat depression and anxiety.

And why not? Finland after all, a country with three million saunas for a population of 5.5 million (according to its tourism board), has been ranked the world’s happiest country for six years in a row.

So, hoping for my own slice of Nordic happiness, I decided to leave my reservations beside my flipflops at the sauna door, and jump into London’s best-known recreation of the ritual.

Community Sauna Baths 


Community Sauna Baths first opened on a derelict site at the back of a 1930s public bathhouse in Hackney Wick at the beginning of 2022.

This site has 10 saunas of varying sizes, some built in converted horse boxes, and various metal tubs and wooden barrels for plunging.

The operation has since expanded to another site in the community garden in Penny Brookes Street, Stratford.

For eight dates last month, the not-for-profit also hosted a pop-up sauna in King’s Cross to help raise funds for education charity Global Generation’s garden behind the British Library.

I was adamant before I went to the pop-up last Saturday evening (February 24), that I would be politely declining the opportunity to leave the warmth of the sauna for the shock of the ice bath.

Two saunas had been set up in Global Generation’s Story Garden, and I first tried the less sweaty of the two.

Newham Recorder: The two saunas at the King's Cross pop-upThe two saunas at the King's Cross pop-up (Image: Alex Marsh)

Approaching the wooden box, it was hard to make out how many people were already inside – there were few lights and we were by now hours past sundown.

Apprehensively poking my head around the door, I found a space among the hazy figures near the back, placed my towel over the wooden bench and sat down.

In most cases, being stuck in a dark box with a bunch of sweaty strangers would have zero appeal for me.

But there is a reason these sauna baths have “community” in the name – I have never found it so easy to strike up conversations with people I have never met before.

Amid the chatter, your temperature slowly rises, the air becomes harder to breathe, forcing you to take longer, deeper breaths, relaxing the body and calming the mind.

After ten minutes in the sauna, I realised that not only did I need to get out, but I had an undeniable desire to be as cold as possible.

To my shock, I found myself stood staring into the cold metal tub that had been placed next to the sauna I had just left.

Newham Recorder: An ice bath at Community Sauna Baths in Hackney WickAn ice bath at Community Sauna Baths in Hackney Wick (Image: Elliot Cyriax)

My yearning to be at the opposite end of the temperature scale did not last long – the water was cold enough to make me gasp, and it only took a minute for my legs to feel uncomfortably numb.

Drying myself off, I headed back to the other sauna, this one hotter and better-lit, repeating the process with delight over the course of the next hour.

I admit that it was with regret that I gave up my final perch on the sauna bench and headed towards King’s Cross station to catch the bus home.

A week has now passed since my trip. Am I happier? Probably not. Am I a sauna convert? Maybe. Will I be back? Of course.

I can definitely say that sauna and cold plunge is the wellness craze you have to try. We can only hope it fares better than all those fish pedicure shops from 2010.