On the recent visit to my homeland, I spent a few days in Kiev; pretty much the only option for a naturist experience in winter was to go to a sauna. My friend Sergey found a public sauna online that sounded particularly appealing, and we ventured there with two more mates.
Ivanovskie Bani indeed fulfilled our desire for a traditional Russian sauna (banya) experience. It is located literally on the Dnieper River, in a modified boat. It has a traditional ambience, and already in the locker you can smell “venik”, a special sauna broom, typically made of birch or oak branches, which is used for massaging. After the lockers, there is a room with showers and a massage table, and then a steam room. You can hire a local masseur to do the banya ritual for you, but we just bought “veniki” and did it ourselves. Though one of the fellow visitors thought that our massage technique was too rough and showed a milder, calmer version with softer and slower moves (but it felt like the heat penetrated even deeper).
Regardless of the kind of massage you prefer in the steam room, after absorbing all that heat, you are supposed to cool down, and this is where Ivanovkie Bani truly stand out: you can splash in the waters of the Dnieper River right outside its doors, and if you are not too shocked you can meanwhile enjoy the views of the river banks with such landmarks as Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Kiev Monastery of the Caves) and the Motherland monument.
Well, it could only get more striking in much colder weather, when the river would be frozen, as it happened when we went to a banya in Moscow a couple of years ago.
After repeating the ritual a couple of times, we felt both relaxed and energized. We had some tea before leaving in the cafe (they don’t serve any meals there, but you can bring food with you or order something more exotic, like crayfish, in advance).
Even though the location is central, it’s not easy to get there without a car (and if you call a taxi, it may take a while for them to arrive), but it’s totally worth it, especially if you want a relaxing break from the busy city life without leaving the city!
PS Keep in mind that most banyas are gender-segregated, and in this one the only women day is Wednesday.