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How, where and when can you get naked in Sweden?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
How, where and when can you get naked in Sweden?
A woman leaps into the lake by the sauna in Hellasgården in Stockholm. Photo: Helena Wahlman/Imagebank Sweden

The biggest culture shock for many foreigners arriving in Sweden comes when they are invited for a swim or a sauna and discover that everyone is expected to be naked. But this being Sweden, there are rules.


Swedes traditionally love to strip everything down to its bare essentials, and the body is no exception. To be ashamed of being naked is, to some Swedes, a form of old-fashioned superstition that modern, sensible people have long ago dispensed with.

But Swedes also understand that, when it comes to nakedness, people from other cultures are, let's say, a little less enlightened. So, if you, as a foreigner, reveal your embarrassment as you sit naked in the sauna, or bastu, among your new partner's friends or relatives, they will understand. 

That is, unless you go about it the wrong way.

Here's our best stab at the rules for nakedness in Sweden. 


This man is perhaps making a little too much of an exhibition of himself. Photo: Hasse Holmberg / TT

There is nothing funny or liberated about being naked 

For some cultures (we're looking at you, Brits), swimming naked, or "skinny-dipping", especially while drunk on holiday, is seen as hysterically funny and a little bit naughty. For Swedes it is mostly just practical (no wet swimming costumes to deal with), although it is also sometimes a bit magical, a little mysig.

For other cultures -- or at least subcultures -- being naked can be a bit performative. People walk around uncovered and unashamed, flaunting it a little, to demonstrate how physically liberated they are. 

Neither of these approaches go down well in Sweden. 

If you approach a naked midnight swim in a Swedish lake in the British fashion, giggling hysterically, people will find you tiresome.

Similarly, the more performative approach seems, to Swedish eyes, a bit ridiculous. Don't make a big deal out of it.

This New Year's Day dipper has more of the right approach. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SCANPIX

Don't flaunt it

It is more or less acceptable to swim naked in almost any lake or patch of coast in Sweden so long as it's not too crowded and there is enough space to allow you not to impose yourself too much on anyone else. 

If you set anchor off a Swedish island, or take a walk to the lake near a summer house, you are generally expected to move just a little bit away from the main pontoon or the most crowded areas before you take off your clothes and jump in. Early in the morning or off-season you might swim naked at a popular beach or pontoon, but not during a busy mid-afternoon.

If it is difficult to get to a more out-of-the-way place, and you strip off and leap in to the water quickly, no one will be shocked. But you are expected to show some consideration. 


A sign at Ågesta Naturist beach near Stockholm says "here we sunbath and swim naked". Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

There is nothing sexy about being naked 

This should hardly need saying, but it's not done in Sweden to make a sexual move on anyone while naked, either when swimming or in a sauna.

Nakedness is not an invitation or a signal to flirt or to make a move on someone, and it is best to treat people the same way you would treat them when clothed.

If you do make a move, you are quite likely to be called out publicly by the person, and while there is no shame in Sweden at being naked, there is shame at being a sex pest. 

In a mixed sauna with strangers, you should also be a little careful not to let your eyes linger too long on anyone else's body. It's rude to stare, and staring at someone else while they are naked is, frankly, a bit weird. 

It's not done in Sweden to wear your swimming costume in the sauna. Photo: Emma Ivarsson/Imagebank Sweden

Children can be naked more or less anywhere outside 

The rules about when and where you can be naked do not apply in the same way to children. In the summer, children can be naked on any beach, in the family garden, or on the rocks of an archipelago island until they are about ten years old (although some Swedish families might draw the line at six or seven).

Under the age of about five or six, children can also be naked in public parks, at the playground, and maybe even on the street. 


Changing rules 

There is much anxiety, particularly among Swedes who came of age in the liberated 1970s, of a creeping Victorian fear of nakedness, or viktoriansk nakenskräck, as this article puts it. A common complaint is that Sweden has been influenced by American prudishness. 

It's unclear exactly when Swedes developed their approach to nakedness, but the idea that being naked outside was healthy began to develop at the start of the 19th century, and developed into a full-blown nudism movement in the 1930s. 

By the 1960s and 1970s, Swedish women would frequently go topless at the beach, in public city parks, by lakes and at their summer houses, while mountain hikers would strip naked to cool off while they rested and brewed up coffee. 

Långholmen in central Stockholm would be crowded with naked swimmers and sunbathers every summer. 

At some point in the 1980s or 1990s, it became less and less acceptable for women to go topless and older Swedes today complain that young people even wear swimming trunks while in the sauna or when showering at public swimming pools. 


Is it ever illegal to be naked in Sweden? 

There is no blanket ban in Sweden on sunbathing or swimming naked in a public place, but some municipalities, bathing areas and parks, may have local bans on nakedness, and if you break them, you can be told to leave the area, or in the worst case prosecuted under the Public Order Act. 

Flashing - exposing your genitals to another person - can be a form of harassment or sexual harassment if it is considered to be directed at one or more other people. 

If you masturbate naked in a public place in Sweden, you risk being charged for disorderly conduct and, if the masturbation is directed at another person, for sexual molestation, as The Local reported in a case that received much international attention a few years back. 

Similarly, there are no prohibitions about being naked in your own home, but if you pose naked by an open window as people pass by, you could potentially be charged for flashing.


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