Where To Find Public Bathrooms In Western Europe

I love to travel. But whenever I’m on the road, especially in a different country, I always get so worried about the bathroom situation. What if I need one and can’t find it in time?

Whenever I’m planning a new trip, I always try to find out as much as I can about bathroom locations. But there isn’t much country-related information out there (at least I always have trouble finding some). So, I thought I would start a series about finding bathrooms in different parts of the world.

For my part, I have lived in Germany, France, and the UK and traveled quite a lot to other countries in Europe. So, based on my experiences, here’s my guide for you.

McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants

Whenever I need a public bathroom in a city, I always look for the nearest fast-food restaurant. Most towns and cities here have multiple ones, and their bathrooms are usually quite okay.

However, you have to keep one thing in mind: since the practice of using McDonald’s bathrooms is quite a common one, they sometimes won’t let you in unless you buy something (then there’s a code on your receipt) or charge you for using the bathroom. This is especially true in bigger cities and fast-food restaurants in the city center.

If you’re wondering why I specifically talk about fast food restaurants and not all restaurants, here’s why: a lot of fancier restaurants have only one stall (which is a big pet peeve of mine). And it’s often located near someone’s table… Not enough privacy, if you ask me!

Fast food restaurants all share a common design and rarely have that issue.

Gas stations on the highway

If you’re on a road trip, the best public bathrooms you will find are in gas stations on the highway. You usually pass one quite regularly and they have plenty of stalls, so you probably won’t have to wait in line.

Just keep in mind that these bathrooms aren’t free in all countries. In Germany or Belgium, for example, you pay first and then receive a voucher that you can spend at the gas station.

Public city bathrooms

In most bigger cities, you’ll find actual public bathrooms near monuments. However, I do not recommend those.

For one, there are usually too many people waiting in line. You also either have to pay for them, or they will be really gross and surely will not have toilet paper.

Basically, it’s better to pay the entrance fee to the actual monument and use the bathrooms inside (which usually exist).

Train stations and trains

Most train stations have some sort of a bathroom, but not all of them! For instance, my home town in Germany is quite big, but it’s train station never had a bathroom.

Also, the bathrooms in train stations can be really hard to find and/or far away from your platform. Most of the time, they’re either free and gross or they cost money but are somewhat decent.

If in doubt, I would suggest using the bathroom on the train instead. While regional trains don’t always have them, intercity trains usually do. Just be sure to have some hand sanitizer in your bag in case the water doesn’t work. That happens all too often.

Shopping malls

If you’re out and about visiting a Western European city, you have good chances of finding bathrooms in shopping malls. You can’t always use them for free, but they’re usually clean and offer pretty decent privacy.

The only downside: you might need to stand in line for a while. When I lived in Paris, I sometimes had to wait for as long as 20 minutes to finally use a bathroom.

The advantage of European bathrooms

Before I end this article, I wanted to state that the biggest advantage of European public bathrooms (compared to American ones) is that they actually have real walls and doors! For someone who has lived in Europe their whole life, I do really not get why American bathrooms have huge gaps between the floor and the door. ;)

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