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Bathrooms

Lol what's up with the lack of public restrooms in Paris? I discussed this with a couple of Parisians at dinner. They said it was a matter of who pays for it, restrooms becoming a hangout for the homeless, and perhaps even cultural factors.
All the restrooms around Notre Dame were closed. The few modern automatic street toilets had comically long lines. We snuck in a McDonald's once. The major parks had no open restrooms. C'mon! We were turned away by a cafe. Now, I know you can get a drink and use the toilet, but i don't want to sit down at a cafe every couple of hours. As an athlete maybe I'm used to drinking too much water?

I mentioned this in another thread but I might have set a daytime personal record of over 8 hours without going to a toilet. Yay me!

Is this the same in other European cities? I lived in Germany 8 years but don't recall the same situation at all.

Note: I am not slamming France as I found the French and Parisians to be great people. I'm just curious.

Posted by
784 posts

I have not tried using the so-called public restrooms (except in museums) or automated ones, so I can't really speak to why there is a shortage of them, but here is my take. I'm not an athlete, but a 70-something who uses "toilette" breaks as an opportunity for a quick rest. If my need is urgent, I go to the nearest cafe, politely greet the server in French and add (also in French) that "I would like "un cafe" but first I need les toilettes." I have never been turned away and have been pointed in the right direction with good humor. Of course, I follow up with the purchase of "un petit cafe" that takes only a few minutes to drink and doesn't require a follow-up rest stop too soon. Cafe-sitting is part of the French culture that I wholeheartedly enjoy.

Posted by
6628 posts

There are virtually no public rest rooms in the US so I am amazed that Americans find European cities lacking. There are the free sanisettes all over Paris, every museum has of course free restrooms, large parks all have restrooms and most are staffed and clean and involve a small fee, major train stations all have clean staffed restrooms for a small fee and there are cafes on every corner where for the price of a cup of coffee (1.20 at the bar) you have access to a toilet and it is not that hard to sneak in without buying although it is rude to do so. We never have trouble finding a restroom in Paris; we have always had trouble finding one in NYC and I can't think of a single public rest room in Nashville where I lived for years. I doubt that West Virginia has lots of public restrooms either. One difference is that many grocery stores in the US have restrooms and that is rare in Paris, but department stores in both countries have them.

Posted by
21726 posts

I think the difference in perception is that in the US we know where to look and how to find a restroom. We know how to manipulate the system. We don't how to easily find them in most of Europe. The last time in Paris we stayed in a local hotel that was part of an alliance of similar hotels running under the title of HappyCulture collection. When we checked in the hotel gave us a little map for the locations of the other hotels so all we had to do was to show our hotel's business card and they directed us to the water closet. Great little perk. Clever marketing. We intend to book a similar hotel the next time.

Posted by
8293 posts

Both Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in Paris have public toilets, but they are not on the ground floor. You need to ask where to find them. If you are near a big hotel, a big major chain hotel, just walk into the lobby and search, trying not to look too needy. When I was a student we always used the john in the Ritz Carlton in downtown Montreal.

Posted by
774 posts

I know there are very few public toilets in my city. I would not go to one for fear of a physical attack as they are are in high crime areas. I do know which shops have bathrooms though, in the areas where I usually go.

I know there are public toilets in some of the large stores such as Le Bon Marche but I had to search for them. I recall that years ago, I asked a staff member on the main floor of one of the large shopping stores who said clearly, no public toilets, might have been Galleries Lafayette. I did find one though in that same store, after some searching! i think it is just part of the adventure.

One thing I find amazing is how steep and small the stairs are to the basement toilets in some restaurants in Paris. That itself is an adventure. I wouldn't want to get overly tipsy and have to use some of the tiniest stairways.

Posted by
3304 posts

Hi Mike. What makes Paris different from New York, Boston, Chicago, Frankfurt, London, Vienna, etc?

We were turned away by a cafe. Now, I know you can get a drink and use
the toilet, but i don't want to sit down at a cafe every couple of
hours.

Of course you were turned away. You don't give them business and yet you want to use their toilet facilities for free. Someone has to pay for the toilet paper and upkeep. Buy something and then ask to use the toilet. :-)

Worst comes to the worst, walk into a bar and ask the bartender if you can use the toilet. Don't just barge in. If you are polite about it, you might get a smile and permission to do so.

As an athlete maybe I'm used to drinking too much water?

You're not the only athlete. I always have a bottle of water with me everywhere I go whether in NYC or traveling. I drink about a 1/2 to 1 gallon each day not including my morning coffee. When not at my office, I use the bathroom at stores, hotels nearby, restaurants, church, museums, wherever I am before I leave that building.

One thing I find amazing is how steep and small the stairs are to the
basement toilets in some restaurants in Paris. That itself is an
adventure. I wouldn't want to get overly tipsy and have to use some of
the tiniest stairways.

You'll find similar steep staircases at restaurants in NYC too. Yup, be careful!

The last time in Paris we stayed in a local hotel that was part of an
alliance of similar hotels running under the title of HappyCulture
collection. When we checked in the hotel gave us a little map for the
locations of the other hotels so all we had to do was to show our
hotel's business card and they directed us to the water closet. Great
little perk. Clever marketing. We intend to book a similar hotel the
next time.

That's interesting. We'll be in Paris in about 3 months and staying in a boutique hotel. Smart marketing indeed.

Posted by
4006 posts

Finding public restrooms in small towns and villages can be more of a challenge, as there are fewer of everything. There may be no hotels, museums, or open public buildings, and the only bar may be closed. Finding one in a large city is no problem at all. It’s all an experience.

Posted by
719 posts

If you have an Android phone, there are several apps which may give you a leg up (pardon the pun):

Toilets in Paris

Where is a Public Toilet

WC a Paris

Paris Toilets

I suspect there are some similar ones for the Iphone.

Posted by
9725 posts

"There are virtually no public rest rooms in the US"

I don't find this to be true in the areas where I travel altho I don't do many big cities in the US. Every major store, gas station, convenience store and mall has public bathrooms. In Idaho all the small towns have at least a vault toilet in the city park. Many of the recreational pullouts have vault toilets as well.

In Paris, this is why I get the Museum Pass. One year I went in to Orangerie about 6 times to use their bathrooms. It seemed like I was in that area a lot and for some reason there were no lines whereas there were huge lines at the public toilets at that end of the Tuileries.

Posted by
1843 posts

Even in small towns here there are always public restrooms in parks and other public gathering areas. I just read the London mayor has required some stores and restaurants to allow non customers to use the restrooms. But again, why so few public restrooms in parks and metro? How about baby changing facilities?

Posted by
335 posts

Just returned from Paris three weeks ago and I pee all the time and never had an issue finding toilets to use. When we saw one we made sure we used it. Just stop and have drink somewhere and ask. No big deal.

Posted by
401 posts

Buy a small coffee and take care of your business. I'm sure the staff at the cafe were impressed with you being "an athlete," but if you forked over a nominal fee for a cup of coffee I'm confident they would have been happy to show you where their toilettes are.

In West Virginia, does one commonly barge into a location and demand to use their toilet without any financial benefit to the toilet owner? Would you invite such a person to use the toilet at your house or apartment?

Posted by
8293 posts

The Duke of Windsor (Queen Elizabeth's uncle) made many Royal Tours and as a result he is supposed to have said, "Never sit when you can lie down, never stand when you can sit, and never miss an opportunity to use the toilet".. Advice for the ages.

Posted by
776 posts

As your nose might tell you, no matter the accessible plumbing facilities, many men in Paris use whatever wall, tree, upright structure is handy no matter the fines for being caught. Late in the summer after heavy usage, the Canal St. Martin and the area around has its own special aroma.

Posted by
5697 posts

As someone who has used the free rest stops along I-5 and gas station restrooms -- HAPPY to pay €0.50 for a clean, fully-supplied attended toilette in Europe.

Posted by
5195 posts

I was just in Paris last month. Finding a bathroom was never an issue for me. I am a little surprised that you had such difficulties. That must have been very uncomfortable for you. Perhaps you were doing a series of outdoor activities one after another. I tend to alternate with museum or attraction visits. I also have the somewhat dubious distinction of being a teacher where our opportunities at work are few and far between. We are trained.....

There have been some good tips in this thread. If I were to summarize them:
1) Never pass up a good opportunity when presented.
2) Museums and Cafes will always have facilities, use them.

Did you order a drink at the cafe where you were turned away? That would really surprise me.

Posted by
2916 posts

In West Virginia, does one commonly barge into a location and demand to use their toilet without any financial benefit to the toilet owner?

I don't know about West Virginia, but it never seems particularly difficult to find a toilet in the US that one can use w/o buying anything. Gas stations and convenience stores come to mind.

Posted by
914 posts

I recently slogged through a 2,500 mile U.S. road trip and in addition to rest areas, I visited my share of truck plazas, McDonalds, and Casey’s General Store/Sheetz/Wawa type stations. While you aren’t required to buy anything, I think many of us buy a small Coke, candy bar, bag of chips to be polite.

In UK last year, I found public libraries to be a good option—during their open hours, of course.

Posted by
1056 posts

One of the side benefits of having a Museum Pass is the opportunities it provides to use the WC’s for free. There are so many museums in Paris that are free for pass holders and the WC’s are always clean.

Posted by
8296 posts

You don’t have to buy a drink at a café, which are everywhere, if you don’t want one, I offer a Euro and am never turned away.

I just spent last month in Paris (June) and never smelled urine anywhere, not even the mêtro, and that includes the 20th.

The mêtro used to have bathrooms but they were disgusting and used for other reasons so I never used them. They don’t have them anymore because, I assume, of what went on there.

Posted by
681 posts

In 15 years of travelling to Paris regularly, i also have never had a problem finding a loo. But as with your title, if you went in and asked for 'le salle de bain' I can understand the problem!!!!

Posted by
4264 posts

In general, I try to avoid Starbucks and McDonalds in Europe for a more "local experience", BUT, in a pinch, in Budapest, a soda at McDonalds got us some wifi and use of the bathrooms. In Paris, after a tour of Montmarte, I was in need of water and a bathroom break. 1.2 Euro at Starbucks, got me a coffee with unlimited tap water, bathroom and wifi. In tiny Beslu, Spain, while waiting for the bus on a slightly deserted mainstreet, I was in need of a bathroom. Finally I found a small bar that may or may not have been actually open. There was quite a language barrier but when the two men finally realized what I was looking for, they very kindly showed me to a small bathroom and even switched on the light and made sure there was TP and paper towels. Honestly, kindness counts on both sides, I can't imagine not allowing a child or an obviously "desperate" person to use a restroom, but a person should offer to make a purchase or show appreciation for kindness. Lastly, I can't remember if it was Prague or Munich, but we were told that any establishment serving alcohol was required to allow folks to use restrooms.

Posted by
94 posts

I heard a N.American woman asking in French in Monoprix 'Is there a bathroom'. The assistant looked very confused - ' salle de bain"? She still didn't understand when it was repeated slower and even louder (I was some distance away, but American voices can have a tendency to travel)..

Lesson being that like Caro suggested, it should be noted much of the rest of the world will think you are looking to take a bath or have a nap if you don't ask for what you really want!

Posted by
1843 posts

Goodness. I never "barged into a cafe." I was simply "turned away." I'm not faulting anyone; they were right, I was wrong, whatever.

AGAIN, the French are wonderful.

I'm just trying to understand--sociologically or otherwise--the lack of facilities at parks and other gathering places. As I mentioned at small parks here there are always public restrooms, some with baby changing facilities.

And at the risk of repeating myself, a French couple we had dinner with admitted the lack of restrooms can be a problem. Their best explanation was the cost of operation and vagrants hanging around them. They were even curious themselves.

As an example, if your spending an afternoon at a Parisian park, do you look for a cafe nearby for relief or just hold it?

Posted by
1119 posts

This is a classic subject!
As pointed out above, it is about learning how to work your way around Europe. When you travel enough you quickly learn to not pass up an opportunity to go.
I don't even think about it anymore. Though i do make sure to have change on me.

Posted by
776 posts

"I just spent last month in Paris (June) and never smelled urine anywhere, not even the mêtro"

A 2 year old article in English. Maybe adding more facilities is working, but my friends around the Canal St. Martin are complaining after the summer heat they've gone through has increased the crowds canal side. In some places public urinals are being installed. I've seen a couple at La Villette.

https://www.thelocal.fr/20160505/paris-steps-up-war-on-wild-peeing

Posted by
8296 posts

Yeah, never smelled urine, even the day I spent with a friend walking around Canal St Martin. I have no doubt it’s true (in any city) at times, in some places, but I’ve never experienced it myself in all my years in Paris. In the 60s, yes, when they had pissoirs everywhere you could smell them a block away.
It’s a problem in San Francisco, and not just urine, which is much more unpleasant.

I read The Local as well. I think at times they over do things for readership.

Posted by
3304 posts

As an example, if your spending an afternoon at a Parisian park, do
you look for a cafe nearby for relief or just hold it?

While I plan to spending time at Parisian parks in a few months, I'll answer your question about parks in other cities. I'll use the WC before I leave for the park. If I find I need the toilet while in a park, I'll find the nearest hotel or library and pop in.

Posted by
8296 posts

Unfortunate you didn’t use the one at the tourist office. Unless it’s moved in the last year, it does have one. So does the Ibis hotel along the street you walk leaving the front of Versailles, the restos and the McDonalds right around the corner, along street as you walk towards the normally used train station which is still close enough even if not using that station. Even passing all that, there were no other cafés along your route?

If I’m going to a small park (larger ones have restrooms), I use a restroom before I get there. If I stay long enough to need the restroom again, I walk to a café which is normally very close by.

I do agree that department stores are incredibly frustrating. BHV, my favorite one in Paris, has one restroom. One. And the line was so long I just left the store and found one somewhere else.

Very shortsighted of whoever runs BHV. They should want customers to stay in the store and keep shopping.

Posted by
671 posts

@janetravels44: In NYC, when we are out and about on 5th Avenue, Saks Fifth Avenue has some very nice bathrooms. No purchase necessary! And congratulations to @MikefromWestVirginia for 8 hours without a loo break. My bladder would explode!

Posted by
7614 posts

OMG I find the urine smells in some metro couloirs absolutely unbearable. And to be honest, it was rather disgusting this morning just walking to work after last night's celebrating (the heat exacerbated the situation). Obviously, as mentioned above, several (hundred??) men didn't worry about getting anywhere "official" to relieve themselves. Ugh.

Posted by
8296 posts

Point being, don’t pass them up on your way to a small gare. Larger gares have restrooms.
But I agree, even small ones should have a restroom.

Posted by
2349 posts

Ten of us had just ended a walking tour and we all needed a toilet badly. We were somewhere in the 8th and there was a big high class hotel nearby. Rather than all tromp in together and be turned away, I went in first and asked. I'm the only one who spoke even a bit of French.. Then the rest came in ones and twos, following at a discreet pace.

Posted by
2916 posts

I find that many small French villages will have public restrooms, although sometimes it's barely more than a hole in the ground. But this Spring I had trouble finding one in a small village in the Isere, and wound up having to run behind the church to use their "facilities."

Posted by
8293 posts

So, if you don’t speak any French, here is what you say to any approachable looking person. “Excusez moi .... ou se trouve une toilette?”

“Oo suh troove oon twa-let?”

Hopefully you can understand the reply.

Posted by
1217 posts

My question is this: Do French people never have to go when not at home?

I do think that Americans are more likely to buy into the myth about 8 glasses of water being necessary for health (no scientific basis for the idea- best anyone can figure is that it came from a magazine article in the early 20th century) than people in other countries.

Unless weather conditions or planned physical exertion levels give me good reasons to load up on fluids, I tend to go pretty moderate in that regard rather than thinking I have to drink a couple liters that immediately pass through the system without doing much other than send me looking for the toilets.

Posted by
21083 posts

Last year in France I noticed that there were sometimes toilets in large parking lots in smaller cities. I don't know how common that is, but I observed it three times, and I wasn't driving, so I seldom had cause to be in parking lots.

Posted by
2349 posts

The tourist problem

Full bladder but no toilets

Curse the hydration!

Posted by
3304 posts

Haiku time!

Need relief but where
Make game plan for toilet leave
Worries gone now play

Posted by
1843 posts

I have learned to pace myself with hydration. The problem is I drink a fair amount of coffee, water, and juice in the morning, so about an hour or so after venturing out I'm looking for a toilet. This situation played out at Notre Dame when both bathrooms, front and back, were closed. I gutted it out until we went to a cafe afterward, but it was, um, uncomfortable.

Posted by
11840 posts

I think I survive by not passing up toilet opportunities in cafes, museums, train stations, my room, etc. rather than wait until I really need to go, then looking.

Posted by
1000 posts

Is this the same in other European cities? I lived in Germany 8 years
but don't recall the same situation at all.

We were in Germany and Belgium last summer for a couple of weeks and I found facilities but nearly all of them charged at least .50 euro, which I gladly pay for a clean toilette but you better make sure you always have the necessary coins. I had to jump a turnstile once at a place where I was sure I'd find a free toilette because I didn't have coins and the need was pretty urgent.

I never have had problems finding a place to go in Paris, but I am not opposed to stopping at a cafe and having a coffee or a drink for the use of their facilities. And I never pass an opportunity to go!

Posted by
3491 posts

I have never "barged" in anywhere for any reason. I have also never had an issue finding a toillete anywhere in France. Sure, I might have bought a coffee or a snack in a café before using one, but then I am not an "athlete" who has to be on the run constantly and I enjoy taking a short sit down café break once in a while just to soak in the ambiance of the location. And, yes, on occasion I have gone 8 hours without having to use the toilet. It's called adapting to the situation.

I think we find more facilities in the US because many states and local governments mandate them to be available in any place that sells food or drinks for immediate consumption. So every burger joint, sandwich shop, fried chicken stand, and so on, has them. Most grocery stores also since many have a coffee stand or other food they sell that you can eat while in the store. Gas stations do simply because it is customary, and one known for having clean toilets will always have more customers than others.

Many of the local restaurants around my home town have adapted the European "no free toilet" option, including McDonalds. Unfortunately. This is because many users of the toilets thought it was apparently funny to vandalize the facilities while filming their activities for social media.

I never heard the term "vault toilet" before and had no idea what it meant. The images wit conjured were not pleasant. Having looked it up, I know what they are, we just never had a name for them where I am from.

Posted by
1843 posts

I'm going to "adapt" in a way that would make Charles Darwin proud.

9 hours and Guinness Book of World Records, here I come!

BTW Rick Steve's book says to walk into a cafe "like you own the place." But don't barge in, enter humbly.

Posted by
3491 posts

You could probably "barge" into a bar if you then bought everyone at least one drink.

Can you "barge" onto a barge? :-)

Posted by
8409 posts

8 hours! Try that after having a few babies sitting on your bladder for 9 months. Some of us had to adapt, too.

Posted by
301 posts

Frank,
What was the hotel chain? Worth looking into on future trips.

Posted by
8293 posts

Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess. Yesterday a woman drove up to the drive-thru window at a Tim Horton’s restaurant in Brampton, Ontario. The main part of the restaurant was closed and a customer drove up to the window and asked that the restaurant be opened because she needed to use the bathroom. The two young employees said “no”, of course, and the woman drove away. Then she came back, climbed through the drive-thru window and assaulted the two of them. Police arrested the woman. No word on whether or not the cops let her use the toilet before taking her to the police station.

Posted by
2526 posts

Paris has a new option called a uritrottoir. It reminded me of the poster back in the early 70's of a woman standing at a urinal with a bewildered man nearby.

Edit: Since almost all things Europe are far better than at home, I do note the addition in recent years of public toilets in the main part of my village along with toilet blocks at parks and almost all trailheads. Ahhhhh.

Posted by
4637 posts

I noticed that certain themes generate more replies than others. It did not cross my mind that it would be bathrooms. In most countries in Europe is better to ask for toilet than for bathroom. Because typical bathroom has a sink maybe shower or bathtub but not toilet. I did not notice lack of public restrooms in Paris comparing to big American cities. Being in Paris you visit museums, restaurants, wine bars, cafes etc., they all have restrooms.

Posted by
54 posts

Evidently the Paris powers-that-be agree with Big Mike that there aren't enough toilets in the city and the result is city-sanctioned public urinating near Notre Dame and other high traffic spots. One picture tells the story.

Posted by
1843 posts

Hello friends (and hopefully French authorities). C'mon! Public restrooms. Charge a reasonable fee.
It's not that hard we can do it in Boone County.

Posted by
12898 posts

This past trip in May and last summer's trip I had no problems luckily finding the WC in Germany or Paris when out and about.

I go into dept stores in Germany, look at the directory for the WC, the S-Bahn and train stations (most) all have "Toletten" cost one Euro, in Vienna it's cheaper. I have no problems in Paris or Germany going into a Starbucks or McDonalds just to use the facilities,... just be prepared to pay for it if you see the attendant or the little plate on the table.

There are certain train station chain restaurants in Germany, eg, Schweinska, in Köln Hbf and Hamburg Hbf, where one can walk in to use the WC...be prepared to pay the attendant 50 cents.

In Paris if need be, I would go to a cafe to use the WC but usually then I want un caffe too. Before I leave a museum in Paris, or anywhere, I hit the WC too. That also helps. In Germany and in Paris, go to an internet cafe/call shop, ask to use the WC, buy a bottle drink or, if not, be prepared to pay for using the WC.

If you are not going to give the business any business, eg, ordering a beer, have a coffee, etc and need to use the WC, ask first, then be prepared to pay.

Between the two, Paris or Germany, on accessing the WC, I do find it easier in Germany....still very subjective.

Posted by
12898 posts

In Berlin if you're on Unter den Linden, you can easily access the WC at the DHM (German History Museum) by entering through the main entrance door or the cafe, both of which are close to the WC.

If you're in front of the east side of the Brandenburg Gate , ie, Pariser Platz, you can walk ca 2-3 mins over to the big, famous and rizzy Adlon Hotel not only to use the facilities but to marvel at its displays and enjoy eine Tasse Kaffee.

Posted by
27752 posts

Public restrooms. Charge a reasonable fee.

It's not that hard we can do it in Boone County.

How much is the charge?

Sorry to say, I doubt that the French authorities read the Rick Steves Travel Forum. Maybe I'm wrong.

Posted by
12898 posts

"How much is the charge?

That depends on the country. Public restrooms in train stations in Germany are the most expensive, where regardless of the company (there are 2) managing that WC the price in one Euro. In Austria it is usually 50 cents.

In France it's 60 to 80 cents, don't exactly but still under one Euro.

If it is a dept store WC, then expect to put in the little dish 50-80 cents.

Posted by
27752 posts

I want to know about the charge in Boone County - and if people actually pay it.

Posted by
1843 posts

Sir, no charge, but if y'all in Europe and large cities want to charge in order to keep a facility operational, then I think that's prudent.

Posted by
1017 posts

I don't know if anyone has discussed this in this thread (It is really long and I am too tired to read each entry) but there are a couple of apps for smartphones which seem useful: WC-Finder and Flush