Public Toilets – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Love them or hate them – public toilets are a necessity.  How often do we find ourselves out shopping, or just out, and need to use one?  Of course everyone’s different, but I find that I’m often looking around me to find a suitable place ‘to go’.

I know, we don’t often talk about going to the toilet.  It’s taboo.  But, we all do it, and my aim is to keep this post ‘clean’, so to speak.  I’m not here to shock you, or to make going to the toilet into something dirty.  Let’s be adult about something that we all do every day.  And I know that most of you, if not all, go to the toilet every day.

So, let’s get into it, shall we?

Do we go or do we hold it in?

The first question I ask myself when I’m out and find myself needing ‘to go’, is ‘can I hold on until I get home?’.  Hopefully, the answer is ‘yes’, and all is well.  But, as most of the ladies out there can testify, this can cause some uncomfortable health problems that we’d prefer to avoid.

So, sometimes even if you think you can hold on until you get home, it might not be the best thing for you.

However, holding on until we get home is the optimal result.  There are many benefits to using your own toilet.  Here are some of them:


  • can take your time
  • know that there will be toilet paper
  • know that the toilet paper will be soft
  • don’t have to worry about making a noise
  • know who sat on the toilet seat before you
  • are sure that it will be clean
  • know that there’ll be soap and something to dry your hands on when you’ve finished

I’m sure you can add more benefits of using your own toilet to this list – send me your ideas and I’ll be happy to add them.

When you can’t hold on

can't hold on

So, we’ve made the decision that it’s impossible to hold on.  Now what?  We look around and see what the options are.

Is there a shopping centre nearby?  Shopping centres, especially big ones, are usually good for public toilets.  They’re generally clean and have paper.

Is there a café or bar somewhere around?  I’m always reluctant to go to a bar or café just to use the toilet.  Apparently, if you go in and ask nicely to use the toilet they won’t refuse you.  But, then they know that you’re going to the toilet, and those of us who are very shy don’t like people to know what we’re doing, right?

Or you could go in and order a tea or something and use the toilet as a customer.  But then you’ve just had liquid, and you know that you’re going to need a toilet again in an hour or so.  So, then you have to think about where you’re going to be a bit later, and if there’ll be another toilet available when you need to go again.

I know, it’s complicated sometimes.

toilet paper
Pin me!

Fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s might be an option, but more and more often they require you to buy something, and the code for the toilet door is on your receipt.  It’s an option, but I’m not sure you want to be spending $10.00 just to get inside a fast-food restaurant toilet.  Unless you’re really desperate, of course.

There are other options, depending where you are.   Look for hotel lobbies (the classier the hotel, the better), museums, libraries (do they still exist?), and other public or semi-public establishments like these ones.

No luck?

But, what if none of the options above are available?  Or, what if your need is really, really urgent, and you don’t have time to wander casually into the Ritz hotel lobby and pretend you’re staying there while innocently looking around for the lobby loo?

You’ll have to use a PUBLIC TOILET.

toilet sign
The dreaded public toilet sign

Now, I’ve been in some lovely public toilets in my lifetime.  And some not so lovely ones.  And, especially in Asia, some downright nasty ones (sorry Asia, but it’s the truth).

But, when you gotta go, you gotta go.  Isn’t that what they say?

I don’t know why I have a fascination for public toilets.  I don’t really like using them, but  I seem to have taken a lot of photos of them in my travels, and I can’t explain why.  So, I’m glad to be writing this post, as I’ll be able to show you some of my travel photos of toilets.

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Let’s start with one of my favourites.


I’m not a guy.  You know that.  As a woman, I find urinals terribly uncivilised.  But, at the same time, they provide some incredible freedom (for men).  What a great joy it would be to just stand in the street behind a half-wall (in some cases) and just pee while you’re standing there.  Then just zip up and you’re done.

Except there’s not usually anywhere to wash your hands, for one thing.  Plus, I don’t know how I’d feel walking out of the urinal onto the street like nothing out of the ordinary just happened.


And then, you get the urinals that are really, REALLY public – like these ones.  They’re both in London.  One of them was on a very, very busy street, and the other was at a bus station/terminal.

urinal in London
I’ll just go to the toilet right here – on the street – and then I’ll make a call
The view of the urinal from my bus
This photo was taken from my bus window

Honestly, men, would you use one of these?  Have you used a urinal like these ones?


There are other urinals I’ve seen that are a little more discreet.  This one is like a little house.  It’s in Berlin.  Apparently there used to be around 140 of them in Berlin in the 1910s, and they date back to the 19th century.  Now there are only a few in working order.

Old Berlin urinal
Old Berlin urinal

I decided to go and have a look inside.

The ‘walls’ looked like they’re made of granite, and it was quite clean and if I remember correctly, it didn’t smell bad inside.

inside the berlin urinal
The inside was clean and elegant – as elegant as a urinal can be anyway

I also found this urinal during our trip to Berlin recently, although it was locked so I couldn’t take a look at the inside.

urinal locked
It was locked so we couldn’t take a look inside


Here’s one in Amsterdam.  I’m not sure this is the best place for a urinal, really.  It’s right in the middle of a beautiful street along a canal, with plenty of tourists.  However it’s a popular one, and there was a queue there at one stage while we were sitting in the sun having a rest from the exhaustion of being a tourist in Amsterdam.

amsterdam urinal
An Amsterdam urinal, right on the footpath
urinal in use
And here it is from the other side of the canal, being used

Another one in Amsterdam.  It’s quite cute, don’t you think, with the little boy having a pee at the top?

urinal 2 amsterdam
Another urinal in Amsterdam on the footpath
top of urinal
The cute little boy at the top

And, while not a public toilet as such, here’s a urinal in a toilet in a bar in Moscow.  The urinal is made from these musical instruments.  Does anyone know what they are?  Are they tubas?  Guys, would you go in a musical instrument?

musical urinal
This urinal in a bar is made from musical instruments

By the way, there are women’s urinals, but I’m not going to go into them here because I’ve never seen one.  Not sure if I’d use one, would you?

And, one last thing about urinals, here’s the latest offering from Paris, the city of love.  Guys, really, is this ok?

Plastic toilets

Moving on to other types of public toilets.  Let’s start with what used to be a common site in Moscow when I first arrived here in 2007.  What I call the plastic toilet.

plastic toilet 1
Plastic toilets were everywhere in Moscow once upon a time

Until a few years ago we had this kind of toilet at the exit of our metro station.  There were 3 toilets – two for customers and the third one was the office for the woman who you paid before you went in (so it wasn’t really a toilet at all).

plastic toilet 2
This wasn’t at our metro station, but it was just the same

God, they stank.  Especially in the heat – they were awful and best to be avoided at all costs.  However, as I said before, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

plastic toilet 3
One from 2007

Sometimes they were decorated and were very beautiful.  It somehow made the experience a bit more classy.  Still with the office/cashier on the far left.

plastic toilet 4
Decorated plastic toilets

City toilets – Moscow

The plastic toilets are less common now, as the city of Moscow has installed these super duper new ‘city toilets’ everywhere.  For 50 roubles (0.67 euro cents, 1.00 AUD, 0.76 USD) you can pop into one of these little houses and do your business in peace and quiet.  They’re relatively clean, I see the cleaners in there from time to time.  Sometimes they’re used by the homeless when it’s cold, but, hey, they have to sleep somewhere.

city toilet moscow
The new Moscow city toilets

What I would like to know is where are all the women who used to work in the plastic toilets working now?  I guess a lot of women lost their jobs when the new ‘city toilets’ were installed.

Underground toilets

In Moscow we can find underground toilets in some places.  You have to look carefully, because they often don’t look like the entrances to toilets.  Here are some from above ground.

underground toilet 1
underground toilet 2
underground toilet 3
underground toilet 4

Then, as you can see in this one, they’re really quite clean inside.  It seems that they’re well looked after, and they’re free.  I was really pleasantly surprised when I discovered these, and I think they’re much nicer than the ‘city toilets’.

underground toilets clean
It was super clean in here
underground toilets clean 2

Also underground we have what I refer to as ‘secret toilets’.  These are toilets that I’ve found completely by accident.  There’s usually just a small sign on the wall announcing the opening and closing times.  The two I remember seeing are both accessible only by using underpasses (allowing us to cross busy roads underground).  You just have to open a door and you’re there.

underground toilets 3
A secret toilet in Moscow- do you know where it is?

We tried one of them, and both the men’s and women’s toilets were clean and surprisingly well looked-after.  And free.  I can’t remember if there was toilet paper or not – but really, who doesn’t keep some Kleenex in their bag for this very occasion?

Metro toilets

I’ve seen only two toilets in the Moscow metro so far.  Apparently there’s 25 stations to get them, with the first being unveiled in 2015.  They designed them to blend in with the station, and they really do.  I almost missed this when I walked past it the first time – it’s really difficult to see that it’s a toilet.

toilet in the metro
A toilet in one of the metro stations in Moscow

City toilets – Berlin

Berlin is great for public toilets.  They seem to be everywhere.  Apart from the urinals you saw earlier, there are paid toilets almost on every corner in the city.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration but you know what I mean.  If you need to go, there’s no problem finding somewhere to go.

city toilet berlin

They look clean and well looked after.  I haven’t been inside any of them so I can’t confirm that, but I’ve seen people using them so I guess they’re ok.  There are many different styles, I guess from different eras or something.  They’re quite conspicuous though, everyone can see where you’re going – not good for the shy ones among us.

city toilet berlin 2

Here’s one for the ‘old-school’ gang.   A plastic toilet on the street in Berlin.  Gotta love the convenience, if not the smell.

plastic toilet berlin
Olivier coming out of a plastic toilet in Berlin

Out of order

First of all, still in Berlin, and here’s a few toilets that weren’t open, and hadn’t been opened in quite some time.  The first one made me incredibly sad because it’s such a beautiful piece of architecture and it’s now just covered in graffiti.  It’s in a little square with gardens and it’s just abandoned.  Shame.

toilet in Boxhagener Platz Berlin
This toilet is in Boxhagener Platz Berlin and it’s completely destroyed
toilet in Boxhagener Platz Berlin 2
It’s a very beautiful old building

Then this one, which is in Potsdam, so not technically Berlin.  We were actually looking for a toilet at this point, and thought we were saved – but it was not to be.  Closed permanently.  And also graffitied (coming soon, a post about Berlin and graffiti).

graffitied toilet
I wouldn’t mid the graffiti so much if the toilet was actually open

And a couple of old toilets just hanging around that we saw one day while taking a walk in Moscow (Sokol area).  They were locked and definitely out of use, but I wonder why they’re still there?

toilets in moscow
Closed forever


I’m not going to write a lot about public toilets in Asia.  Those of us who have been there know what they’re like.  I don’t take photos of the bad ones – nobody wants to see that.  But here’s a couple of public toilets in Vietnam.  Two toilets attached to a little office where the woman who takes the customers’ money sits.  Or, you could turn it into a shop and make a bit of money selling drinks and snacks.

toilets vietnam 1
This toilet is in Hue, Vietnam
toilets vietnam 2
And this one is a toilet/shop combination

Here are some signs I’ve seen in different places about using the toilet.  As if we need instructions.  Or, maybe some of us do, based on the mess I’ve seen in some public toilets.

toilet instructions 1
Please note – no fishing in the toilet
toilet instructions 2
No smorking

And, ladies, beware when you’re using this toilet in a bar in Moscow.  Someone could be watching you.

bar toilet

Toilet paper

And last of all, something for the women out there who are tired of finally finding somewhere to pee, only to find that there’s no toilet paper in the cubicle.  I always have Kleenex in my bag, but not everyone is as organised as me.  I took both of these photos in Germany, but in bars in different cities.  What a great idea to be sure that your customers are going to have a comfortable experience in your conveniences.  It just might encourage them to stay for another drink.

toilet paper 1
toilet paper 2
Count the rolls!

What are your thoughts about public toilets?  Do you use them without hesitation, or do you avoid them at all costs?  What do you do when you need to go and have no other options but to use a public toilet?  Let me know all your public toilet opinions in the comments below.

~ Cheryl

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Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

24 thoughts on “Public Toilets – the good, the bad, and the ugly”

  1. Such a fun post! My husband used the ones on the canal in Amsterdam without batting an eyelid! I wrote a post once about some artistic toilets in New Zealand which were the best I’ve ever seen. Those musical instruments take the cake though! #mlstl


    1. Hi Debbie, well, I’m thrilled to meet someone who is married to someone who has used the urinals in Amsterdam! He’s one brave man, in my humble opinion! Yes, I’m not sure I’d like to use the musical instruments – I think it’s a question of respect! Would love to read about your artistic toilets, if you have a link please drop it in a comment for me. Thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂


  2. What an interesting post. Since I am never in our downtown area I am not sure what they offer as far as toilets are concerned. Here in the suburbs, I am usually at a mall and they always have nice bathrooms available.


    1. Hi Victoria! Yes, shopping malls are often a good source for toilets. But still, I really don’t like using them at all. I’m a ‘wait until I get home’ girl, which can be a bit painful sometimes! But really, it’s very handy to know where the local public toilets are just in case you need them urgently! Thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂


  3. Hi Cheryl – I found your blog 🙂 This is an interesting post with fun photos. I usually avoid public toilets. When I’m in my home city, I know where to go if I need to use a toilet. When I travel, if I need to, I’m willing to pay where they have attendants to keep the toilets clean. BTW, how do you like living and working in Moscow? I’ll read more posts on your blog as I just found it.


    1. Hi Natalie! Welcome to Born in a Car! Nice to see you here. 🙂 Public toilets are great when there’s an attendant, I agree. I really prefer to go at home, though, even if the toilets are clean and don’t smell bad. I love living in Moscow. It’s such a huge and interesting city, there’s always something new to discover. I bit tiring sometimes, especially as I get older. But, fortunately my life here is pretty good, I don’t work a lot of hours, so I get plenty of ‘me’ time. Thanks for visiting! 🙂


  4. Travel has certainly opened my eyes where toilets are concerned. I now remember to carry toilet paper or at least tissues with me. I still haven’t quite worked out the toilets in China but it was certainly an experience. Thanks for sharing at #MLSTL we live in a wonderful world don’t we?


    1. Hi Sue! Yes, toilet paper or tissues are a must! I managed to avoid the public toilets in China, but my husband and a friend who was there told me all about them – I think I’ll be avoiding them on future visits, too! Yes, our world is wonderful, the more I see the more I appreciate it. Thanks for visiting. Have a great day! 🙂


  5. Wow. You sure did cover some ground in this post. I have IBS and at times I have been happy to use ‘any public toilet’ I can find. The Maccas (McDonalds) in Australia are still free and a very helpful stop for me on my travels.

    Thanks for sharing a topic that we all have a need for …one time or another!

    Denyse #mlstl


    1. Hi Denyse, I feel for you, having to use a toilet so urgently because of your condition (if I can call it that). I think Maccas in Australia are a bit better, friendlier, than in Europe, for example. I hope they continue to be free, it’s a great relief to be able to pop in when you need to go. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting! Have a great day! 🙂


  6. I’m not sure whether to be impressed or grossed out that you have that many urinal photos at your disposal! I always envy men their ability to wee on the fly so to speak – a lot easier than it is for women. I don’t miss hunting for a loo when travelling and there’s no place like home (to quote Dorothy!)
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂


    1. Hi Leanne, I know, I just can’t explain my fascination with urinals! I actually remember the first time I ever saw one. Being from Perth, I’d never seen a public one in real life (only saw some in boys/men’s toilets when the queue for the ladies was too long to wait). I first went to Paris in March 2002, and saw my first public urinal! I was both horrified and fascinated at the same time. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view) I didn’t have a camera at the time, so I don’t have a photo of that one. I admit, I do take some very untraditional holiday photos at times. I agree, it’s so nice being at home when you want to go. I do get stressed having to use public toilets when we’re travelling, but, I guess it’s just a small problem in the big scheme of things. Thanks for commenting and sharing, nice to see you here. 🙂


  7. Clever post topic – and I LOVE the photos!
    I am one to “hold it in” … I won’t divulge my record, but my family thinks I am part camel.
    I am pinning to this to my #mlstl board. It will help me develop “out of the box” post ideas 🙂


    1. Hi Molly! Welcome to Born in a Car! Thank you for the compliment 🙂 Holding it in is ideal in most circumstances, I find, considering what’s out there with regards to the condition of public toilets! Glad I could help you with some inspiration – looking forward to what you come up with! 🙂


    1. Hi Marya, welcome to Born in a Car! Yes, sometimes dealing with public toilets is difficult, especially for those with certain health problems like IBD, cystitis etc. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Hope to see you again! 🙂


  8. This is honestly the most all-inclusive public toilet post I’ve ever read! The creativity of people around the world just to make it easy to “go” astonishes. Why can’t we figure out world peace if we can figure all this out!


    1. Hi Angela! Just wondering how many posts you’ve read about public toilets! Thank you for your comment. I agree, lots of creativity there. But, when you think about it, why not? It makes a mundane activity into something much more interesting 🙂 You might have a point about world peace, maybe we should get the public toilet makes onto it! Thanks for visiting, hope to see you again. 🙂


  9. Thankyou for your amusing but interesting post. I’m someone when if I have to go, i have to go… however there are some gruesome toilets here.. the urinals are unbelievable… and how does a woman use a urinal… I remember toilets in France which were literally holes in the floor… no seat, you literally squatted and went, trying your best not to wet your clothes and shoes.


    1. Hi Marion, yes, I’d really hate to be a man and be given the urinals as an option of going to the toilet. It’s kind of uncivilised (but, better than going in the street!). I remember seeing my first hole in the floor toilet – and it was in France too! Now, because I’ve spent a lot of time in France, and in Moscow we also have them in some places, I’m quite deft at using them and no longer end up with wet clothes or shoes. 😉 It’s a skill. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!


  10. Hi, after working in New Delhi all the toilets look good. The street urinal in London (though I go often) I have never seen. The plastic toilets, not disimular to the ones that stand in rows at British festivals; smell revolting. When I saw the abandoned ones my first thought was … I hope they were emptied before they were locked.
    You post was amusing and the first of its kind ie: a travellers guide to. Funny because as you say we all need to go. Another good thing about going at home it will usually be warm. You know where the air freshners and cleaners are; so you clear up as you go. Public toilets don’t usually get cleaned until night, after hundereds of bums have carressed the porcilain, not a pleasant reality.


    1. Hi Ellen! I’ve never been to New Delhi, but my imagination works well and I can understand how other toilets compare in a good light. Yeah, the plastic toilet smell is awful, we have them in Moscow when there’s an event in the centre of the city. Sometimes just walking past them is enough to make you gag. Thanks for your kind words regarding this post, it was really fun to write, and I was surprised at the number of public toilet photos I have dating back years, long before I even thought about having a blog! Home will always be the best place – especially now after you wrote that “hundreds of bums have caressed the porcelain”!! I don’t usually sit down on them, but still, it’s not a nice thought. Thank you for taking the time to comment, have a great Sunday! 🙂


  11. I loved this post Cheryl! Something we take for granted- until the need arises and none available. The old Berlin bathrooms were very cool to see. Secret toilets? whoda thunk it? Lol In the states most places dont have public toiĺets so u are relegated to a) the kindness of an establishment w a toilet b) finding a quieter spot to ‘drop trough’ and hope u dont get hit w ‘public indecency’ by the po po? c) find a construction site w a Port-a-Potty (what u call a plastic toilet) Its very frustrating. I rem having to BEG a restaurant to let Claudi use their restroom when she was potty training. I ended up walking rt past the b****(sorry) n taking her in anyway to be met w the manager coming out, telling me i have a lifetime ban from “Round green fruit w pimento Garden”??? over a toddlers bathroom needs, really!? Of course there is always d) pee ur pants?


    1. Hi Billi, I love your family stories! Pretty funny getting a lifetime ban over a toilet emergency (especially a kid’s one!). I hate asking to use toilets in establishments, although I’ve found that here in Russia and also in France it’s ok and they usually don’t mind if you ask nicely. Actually in Moscow you don’t even have to ask, you just ask where the toilet is and they tell you! I’ve risked ‘public indecency’ a number of times (I won’t tell you the number!), but so far I’ve managed to get zipped back up before trouble arrives! ?? Thanks for reading! 🙂


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