Please sign in to post.

Indoor Drinking Fountains -- rarer in Europe than the USA?

There's one thread in the topic about water bottles at the airport here https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/packing/no-more-single-use-plastic-water-bottles-sold-at-sfo#top
that stands out for me from all of the fuzzy split ends in those comments:

Drinking fountains, at least indoors or non-public, seem to be fewer and farther between in Europe than in the USA --
the outdoor public drinking fountains are part of the local civic charm in many cities, but it seems like inside museums and department stores and shopping galleries, etc. that there is a difference that I assume is reflected in building codes.

Big buildings in the USA tend to have drinking fountains available and easily discovered, but in Europe not so much. Anyone else notice this? Or am I off on a wrong track?

Have I found another generalization about 'America is like this, Europe is like that'? Here in the USA the outdoor drinking fountains are often poorly maintained, while the public drinking fountains in Europe still have an air of community pump/well about them...

Posted by
3280 posts

At least in the countries I've visited, indoor drinking fountains seem quite scarce. I'm usually grateful to have a small bottle in my bag so I can fill in a restroom sink. Also, with a few exceptions (Barcelona) drinking water right from the tap is excellent in the places I've visited in Europe.

Posted by
242 posts

Indoor water fountains, or water fountains that are what I guess is the "American" shape, seem to be pretty rare in my experience too. You mention outdoor fountains, which I think are more of a thing, although they may look more like public art that I know I hesitate to use because from my years of understanding what a water fountain "looks like," it doesn't look like it's made to be drunk from! I also like this Reddit thread in which users from European countries chime in on whether or not their country has water fountains.

And another interesting note - the American Cemetery in Normandy has American-style water fountains (I'm guessing since it's run by the American Battle Monuments Commission). I've been myself and taken students there numerous times and always have this sense of recognition of the American-ness of their bathroom facilities.

Posted by
242 posts

I should also probably note that since I linked a Reddit thread, while there's lots of good info, I can't attest for things like usernames and ways of expressing oneself - you're likely to see some less-than-genteel usernames or words from time to time.

Posted by
5448 posts

Tap water for much of Europe is first world safe. But it seems to be a cultural or business thing that restaurants resist serving tap water. Bottled still water can be more expensive than beer. If European restaurant patrons don't drink tap water, why would anyone install water fountains?

Rick's take on the European water culture:
https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/sleeping-eating/drink-like-a-european

Europeans, who are notorious water connoisseurs, generally pay to
drink bottled water with their meals — for taste, not health. At
restaurants, your server just can't understand why you wouldn't want
good bottled water to go with your good food.

Posted by
4857 posts

Didn't someone on the forum not long ago mention that there was a law passed in one of the countries prohibiting restaurants from serving tap water? A collusion between politicians, lobbyists, and the bottled water industry, was the stated cause. if not, the motivation is the same as it is here in the US - money, and advertising.

Posted by
5235 posts

Well, I once posted that a restsurant in Munich told us it was against the law for them to serve tap water ... but our hotel later assured us this was NOT the case.

Posted by
570 posts

Although this doesn’t relate to indoor drinking fountains, the Paris Water Department publishes a map of the many outdoor fountains (nine different styles-can we try one of each?j with tested safe drinking water. http://www.eaudeparis.fr/carte-des-fontaines

I like that most of these have spigots for filling bottles and cups. Truth be told, I”m not a big fan of the school and gym “stream of water” fountains, so don’t really seek them out. But I did see one in the Bon Marché department store in Paris.

Posted by
7627 posts

The only American style drinking fountain I have seen in Frankfurt is in Terminal 2 at the airport. They have 2 outdoor fountains that are popular and there is a big online/FB movement to have restaurants, etc. fill up your water bottle for free.

Frankfurt had the first wastewater treatment plant in Germany, if not in Europe, built in 1887. Located on the far west side of the city, the sewage water would slowly flow through sand and then canals over a period of days so that the sediment would sink to the bottom. The clean water would then flow back out to the river. The canals would be drained, men would scrape out the crud which would then be dried in fields and often burned. Fun job, eh? I got to tour this place last month and it is fascinating.
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kl%C3%A4rwerk_Niederrad

Restaurants like to lie that they aren't allowed to serve tap water, but this is a decision from management. Some places do serve you though and they get my repeat business.

Posted by
1378 posts

Imo really nonsense to discuss that on an European layer.

In Germany some of the water providers have fountains available in public which makes more sense in Germany because office and public buildings are likely closed on Sat & Sun. Most malls / supermarkets have water spenders available.

Free refill of own drink bottles is supported by an organisation supported by various restaurant and café places.

For Berlin links to both accesses to free drinking water are available on a website.

Posted by
5817 posts

Yet more sweeping generalisations about those mythical "europeans"! :-)

I can only speak from a British perspective but no we don't have many indoor drinking water fountains. I don't know why. Maybe its partially to do with the weather. If you live in a hot country easy access to a drink of water makes more sense than in a temperate climate like the UK. Maybe we don't feel the need to have constant access to a drink? You can't wait until you have acceas to water in a glass? Historically we were probably only 2 min ftom our last cup of tea any way! It might be a perception of hygiene thing. I'm not a germaphobe but I wouldn't particularly want to drink out of one.

I certainly doubt it had anything to do with fear of the water being poisoned during the war or the work of John Snow. If they are going to poison the water the stuff at home won't be safe either.

I'm not aware of anyone who would describe themselves as a water connoisseur. Maybe thats the other "europeans"? Tap water is freely available in most restaurants in the UK.

What we DO still have quite a few of in the UK are old fountains for horses. There was charity in the 19th century that built them all over the country and if you keep your eyes open its amazing how many you will see. There is one on my suburban road. They are now usually used to plant flowers

Posted by
1378 posts

who would describe themselves as a water connoisseur

Here! :-) But pure natural waters not the artificially gased ones.

Posted by
589 posts

You are on the right track. Your observation is quite accurate. Public water fountains are rare throughout Europe. I always chuckle when I see RS stating,

Most of Europe is flowing with great tap water, often available in fountains around towns and cities. By reusing a plastic water bottle or bringing your own refillable water bottle, you not only save money, but also avoid consuming bunches of plastic and reduce demand for water that's shipped overland in trucks and trains.

This is why I stopped packing a refillable water bottle. One more thing to pack and carry around all day. Water is available to buy everywhere and reasonably priced and you can refill them in restrooms in museums, etc.. Some people are against it because of the plastic bottles, but Europe has more recycling containers for the public than the US.

As far as SFO, that is absurd. Okay to sell single use plastic bottles if it is flavored, but not plain water. LOL

Posted by
16743 posts

Yes, the lack of indoor fountains in Europe has always been a noticeable variance from my American expectations. It's not a matter of when buildings were built - most museums of any size have installed vastly updated toilet facilities but they don't plumb a drinking fountain on the other side of the wall, where some of us expect to find it. On the other hand, the outdoor potable water sources have been available to refill my (disposable) water bottle many times that I needed it, varying by country.

Posted by
1380 posts

When I first moved to England, I had been living in the near-desert dry climate of Colorado and had the very typical habit there of drinking water all day long. My new colleagues in England got a chuckle out of my search for water, while they had their morning and afternoon coffee or tea. They semi- jokingly let me know that water was for cows!

I didn't drink tea or coffee at the time, but I soon learned it was easier to join them for the ritual tea...with milk even... than to hold out for water!

Posted by
16743 posts

Doug, I believe it's EU regulation (or similar) that requires all non-potable water fountains be labeled as such. It's been pretty consistently done, in my experience through many countries.

Posted by
3280 posts

IMO, the tap water in Europe is excellent, I'd rather not pay for water that tastes the same or might not even be as good as tap water. I'd rather treat myself to another glass of wine. Also, the energy it takes to bottle water that may also just come from a tap and then the issue of the single use plastic is an environmental concern to me. With so many people without clean drinking water around the world, it seems bizarre to me to pay for bottled water. Now if I'm in a place where the tap water doesn't taste good to me or if I'd actually enjoy a sparkling water, seltzer or a soda, that's a different issue to me.

I'm not sure how a drinking fountain located next to a restroom is unsanitary. We often find fountains next to restrooms in the U.S. and I've never become ill drinking from it.

Posted by
4857 posts

In the public health business, any piped water that is, or has been, open to the atmosphere is considered non-potable. That's because bugs, bird poop, trash, coins, peoples feet, Anita Ekberg, and baby bottoms may be, or have been in it. Some fountains may be marked non-potable because of lead piping, or they re-circulate water.

Posted by
1106 posts

Great comments, everyone -- I enjoy idle speculation and rambling non-sequiturs as much as anyone, but let's not turn this into a Grandpa Simpson homage (looking at you, Doug S.)

It seems like the question might not be 'why don't Continental buildings have drinking fountains where we Americans are used to seeing them [such as near toilet facilities]?' but 'why does American large-scale construction always seem to include drinking fountains?' and the answer probably has to do with building codes, but that just begs the question - and pushes us farther along to speculation about who pays for what here in the US (tenants, owners, municipal gov't, etc.) compared to who pays for what in other countries. If I had time to look into the building codes, I would. Meanwhile, we can continue to speculate idly.

But instead, I'd like to bring forward our reminiscences of great European drinking fountain experiences. I'll leave the biggies like Rome and Barcelona to others (anyone who's been to the Spanish Steps very early in the morning will know what I mean) and mention one that looms brightly for me:

In the Parc Longchamp in Marseilles, overlooking the Zoological Gardens inbetween the observatory and the children's theatre, are some great walking paths and stairways, and atop one is a gorgeous drinking fountain that has a belle epoque - meets - Rube Goldberg vibe about it. It's like an exquisite industrial age cherry sitting on top of a carefully cultivated city park sundae. Recalling it just now makes me want to look back at my photo albums and fish out this one. I'm thinking it was probably an artistic interpretation of a lighthouse beacon, maybe?

Note also that if you're in the neighborhood, the must-see items are in the natural history museum and the Beaux-Arts buildings.

Posted by
4857 posts

avirosemail, Chapter 29 of the International Building Code addresses the requirement of drinking fountains and their accessibility along with toilets, etc. The IBC is really a US-developed code, adopted or amended by most if not all states. All about public health in this case.

It was the cisterns of Venice, found in some of the less prominent piazzas, that were of interest to me, since it must have been difficult to access clean water in the islands.

Posted by
1106 posts

stan -- that comment is gold! Makes it worth digging through some of the flintier material :-)
The IBC seems to say that any commercial building with an occupant load higher than 30 needs to have a public drinking fountain on each floor, at least. Various exceptions, apply -- in both directions, I imagine.

And the cisterns of Venice are fascinating, I'm sure. Here in my neck of the woods the same issue comes up in supplying the clean water to Alcatraz Island. SF has the additional complications of building in redundancy to defend against natural disaster.

Posted by
1378 posts

MarkK while still water is 100% natural, water with gas, sparking or
carbonated water is also 100% natural. If memory serves me,
Gerolsteiner is one of Germany's largest bottlers of naturally
occurring carbonated water. And correct me if I am wrong, but aren't
there other bottlers of naturally occurring sprudel water.

Some natural waters have some hydro-carbonate included and Gerolsteiner had a higher ratio of it in its first water spring but it is only around 20-30% of what their "Sprudel" includes which is enriched ("angereichert"). And yes, there are others. For me the hardest taste is Staatlich Fachingen which has a low and very "thin" sparking carbonic acid. We have a German saying: "schmeckt wie eingeschlafene füße" - tastes like gone dead feet. Just my personal opinion.

If you search for very specials there are waters which are onl bottled at full moon days ... .