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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

Have No Fear, a Toilet is Near: 6 Tips on Finding Public Bathrooms in Paris

Updated: May 15

Ah, Paris. The land of delicious wine, bold coffee, and refreshing sparkling water. But where can one find a restroom when nature calls?



If you travel the way I do, you likely pack a tight schedule while visiting a new city. This means being on the go, grabbing quick meals, and rarely lingering in one place for long. If you have babies, you also are likely to get OUT of your hotel or Airbnb ASAP because…space (check out this article for best places to visit in Paris with toddlers and babies).


So, how can you be successful visiting Paris when you (or your children) need to find a bathroom? Here’s some tips for you.


Free Public Restrooms

Have you seen the little spaceship looking structures on the street? Those are public restrooms! These are a good option if you’re in a pinch (no pun intended), and they’re even big enough to roll a stroller into (although… yuck). I found these simply hilarious when I first moved to Paris and thought they were both entertaining and effective.




How They Work

A green light means it is available. Red means it is occupied, and yellow means it is out of service or currently being cleaned. With the upcoming Olympics, many of them have been revamped, though you never know what to expect.


Once you enter, hit the “close” button on the left side of the door entrance. Then, get to business. The sinks are hit or miss with running water, so pack some hand sanitizer just in case! When you exit, the bathroom will automatically “wash” itself with a water solution, and this is also why the floors are often wet. There’s a urinal around the opposite side of the entrance, and some of the newer ones offer potable water for hand washing or water bottle refilling.


Tip – if you’re traveling as a family (and don’t care too much about privacy), save time by going in together. It may be tight quarters, but then you don’t have to wait for the wash cycle every time a new person enters. This trick can make it a quick stop instead of a lengthy one. And – no one will blink at you if you choose to do this, especially if you have children along with you.



How To Find One

You can simply keep your eyes peeled on the street for one, try typing “public toilet” into your maps, or download one of many apps (‘Public Toilets in Paris” is one app which does not require an internet network, and the “peeqwiq” app is helpful as well).


The apps don’t necessarily have every available restroom (nor does google maps), but they do list quite a few! Paris has tried to put at least one on the most populated streets, such as Grand-Armée, Champs-Élysées, and the street near Notre Dame (Rue d’Arcole).



Public Restrooms For a Fee

There are often public restrooms somewhere nearby, tucked into the entrances of parks. Most of these require payment of a euro, often given to a person on duty who helps care for the bathroom. They usually have change if you have small bills, but it’s handy to keep a few one euro coins in your pocket just for this purpose.


There’s one at the west entrance of Tuileries gardens (close to Musée de l'Orangerie), another just east of Champs-Élysées along the park (on the north side of the street), and many tucked around the Luxembourg gardens.



Stop Into a Café

The next option is simply entering a restaurant or café to use the bathroom. Simply called the “toilet”, you can ask to use one (“Où sont les toilettes?” Where is the toilet?). Please remember to use your Paris manners and first say “Bonjour”!


Note that the cultural norm is to at least order a café prior to using the loo. You can order an espresso at the standing bar, gulp it down, and then search around for the toilet. It may be marked with “WC” (water closet), and is typically down a spiral staircase or tucked in the back. If you wander around looking lost, someone is likely to point you in the direction of the toilet!


If you’re in a hurry or have already guzzled too many cups of espresso, many mom friends have reported that when they have kids in tow, servers have been gracious to allow them access to the bathroom for free.


Unless it is a very large restaurant, there is rarely a changing table. It’s best to master the stroller/bench diaper change, if you can.



More Spots

A good rule of thumb – if you’re already in a museum or restaurant, just go! It’s better than doing the potty dance later. However, here's a few more creative spots to go.


Hotels

Though not something I’ve ever thought to do, other moms swear by stopping into a hotel to use their facilities. Most concierges assume you are staying or visiting someone who is staying, especially large chains. You’re nearly guaranteed a changing table, too!


Museums

There are free museums which do not require a reservation, such as the Petit Palais, which are great for an unplanned stop. This is located near the Tuileries gardens and is one of my favorite places to visit anyways (with kids, too!). They have excellent restrooms and a changing table.



Ikea

Yes, Ikeas have public restrooms (and changing tables)!


Chain restaurants

Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King (yes, can you believe these are in Paris too?!?!) are all places you can pop into if you need a restroom. However, these are not located everywhere in Paris – but if you happen to be near one, you can bet they have a toilet.


When In Doubt, Just Ask

As you may know, I’ve lived here while very pregnant (when frequent restrooms stops are a necessity). The French are sensitive to pregnant women and to children, and they will often help you out with what you need.


I’ve sat in a restaurant simply to breastfeed, a server has helped me find somewhere to change a diaper, and during one grocery trip to Aldi the workers let me use their employee restroom (I actually didn’t need to go, but you can read more about that hilarious day here).


The moral of the story is – you can often rely on public restrooms in Paris, but if you can’t, you can rely on the kindness of Parisians. Just remember to use your Parisian matters and follow cultural norms, so they’re happy to help the next person too!



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