Are you wondering about bathrooms in Rome?
Where to find them? How they work? If they cost money?
And...why they don't have toilet seats??
You've come to the right place.
Allow me to enlighten you!
Yeah I realize this is not as much fun as reading about the Sistine Chapel or the Trevi Fountain, but I also know this is just the kind of stuff visitors to Rome want to know (and sometimes are afraid to ask!)
So here goes. In a nutshell, these are the questions I hear most about the toilets in Rome:
I spend much of my time in Rome walking around: to and from work, shopping, meeting friends, and endless sight-seeing.
So even if I live here, I behave sort of like a tourist and am often out all day. And, I am one of those people who has to "go" all the time. So believe me when I tell you, I know what it feels like to be inside a monument and all of a sudden stop paying attention to the beauty around me, because I am wondering where the toilets are. Or enjoying a shopping expedition only start suddenly thinking desperately where I can find a bathroom nearby.
This page is about how to find and use bathrooms in Rome, and what to expect and what not to expect when you do.
Rome sort of has public bathrooms. But not really. For the purposes of providing you with the best and most reliable information, let's just pretend there are no public bathrooms in Rome. Because I hardly ever see them, and if I do, they are closed or out of order.
There IS an app you can download that has a map and helps you locate public bathrooms in Rome. They also list department stores, shopping galleries and McDonald's (which are actually few and far between.)
It's a free app, so you may want to give it a try. Click the icon to go to the iTunes store to download it.
So what to do if you need to use the toilet when you are out and about in Rome? Yes, you could walk into a hotel and try to anonymously use the bathrooms located somewhere in the lobby. This works pretty well if it's a semi-fancy hotel. You just walk in as if you are staying there, or meeting someone in the bar/restaurant, and nobody will bat an eye.
However, you may not be in an area with a hotel that fits the bill. You will, on the other hand, nearly always be within reach of a bar. By bar I mean a cafe.
A bar/cafe in Italy is a place where you can get a coffee, drink, sandwich or snack. All bars have a counter where you can consume these things standing up, and sometimes you will also see tables outside, for sitting down. (Don't forget the rule that if you sit down, it will cost more than if you stand at the bar, but that is the topic for other pages.) Bars in Rome and all over Italy are just a standard of city life.
So as you walk around Rome, just about anywhere, you will see a bar. Often you will even see several in one block!
Of course bars have bathrooms, and there has been some talk online that "bars are obliged" to let you use their bathroom if you ask. Ahem.
This particular statement is not true, and if it were true, it would be hard to enforce. It's very easy for a bar manager to tell you the bathroom is out of order. And I do often see signs, especially in the historic center and near tourist attractions in Rome, that the bathroom is for customer use only.
I always err on the side of caution and simply buy something when I go into a bar to use the bathroom in Rome. A coffee standing at the bar is under 1€ and for me, it's worth it to pay 1€ to use a clean, private bathroom.
Yes you might get lucky and find they will simply let you use the bathroom without consuming anything. This will be especially the case when you are not in the touristic center. Also, if you have small children, or tell them it's an emergency, you will likely receive a sympathetic response. But if you owned a bar, and every tourist passing by came in asking you to use the bathroom what would you do? So again, I'd assume you should consume something if you want to use the bathroom in a bar in Rome.
The bottom line is, you really can find a bathroom in Rome just about any time you need one. You just should be prepared to spend .80 - 1€.
A visit to the Vatican can take at least 3 hours, if not much more. There are plenty of toilets in the Vatican Museums, but the bathroom situation in St. Peter's Basilica is a bit more sparse. There are two toilets around St. Peter's Square, that you can use without going through security and inside the basilica:
There are two toilets inside of Saint Peter's i.e. once you go through security and are making a commitment to go inside the basilica:
So using a toilet inside St. Peter's Basilica is not actually that easy: there is only one right as you enter, and for the other one, it's up on the roof.
From the Vatican website, here are the locations of the toilets in the Vatican Museums:
As I've said on my other pages about visiting the Vatican Museums, you may want to short-cut from the Sistine Chapel into Saint Peter's basilica.
This is a great way to save time, but it does mean that you don't have any more bathroom access until you exit the basilica, unless you go up on the roof of St. Peter's.
As I mentioned above, there are toilets just to the right of the exit of Saint Peter's, so you will be able to use them as soon as you come out.
There are bathrooms inside of the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill:
Every monument and tourist site (which you pay to enter) DOES have at least one bathroom inside. This includes the Caracalla Baths, Ostia Antica, Castel Sant'Angelo, etc.
It's funny but it seems to me any time I am with people at the Trevi Fountain, someone needs to use the toilet. Could it be all that rushing water?
Well, the Trevi Fountain may be one of the most difficult places to spot a bathroom in Rome. But on just about each of the little streets leading in every direction from the fountain, you can find a bar. And all you have to do is go in, and ask where the bathroom is. As I've said before, be prepared to purchase something!
The answer is yes. Sort of. I'd plan for this to be the case most of the time when you are sightseeing in Rome (as opposed to patronizing a restaurant, large department store or hotel):
Some museums have unattended bathrooms, so you don't need to pay extra, but of course you pay to get into the museum. And certainly if you are in a restaurant dining, you can use the facilities but again, you do pay for that meal/drink.
The only really easy-to-find free public toilets in Rome are in large shopping centers, and we don't have too many of those in the historic center. (Galleria Alberto Sordi is one such center, right on the via del Corso. And guess what? There are two stalls in the women's bathroom. Yep. Two. So I leave to your imagination the waiting time. You are better off going to a bar!)
Bathrooms in Rome are different than what many people find back home. First of all, they are usually called "Toilette" or "W.C." (pronounced in Italian voo chee.) You may also see the words "Bagno" or "Servizi."
Bathrooms in Rome tend to be in small spaces. Also they fully close, i.e. we don't have doors that are open at the bottom for seeing feet. Instead, to know if a bathroom stall is occupied, you will either just see the door closed, or you might see a little red sign, with the word occupato (occupied.)
You will often find that bathrooms in Rome don't have any toilet paper. In general, when sight-seeing in Rome, I'd suggest always carrying pocket kleenex packets, some cleansing wipes, and hand-sanitizer. All of these items are easy to buy here, at a pharmacy or grocery store.
Your first attempt should always be simple and in English - just say clearly "Where is the toilet?" I say to use the word toilet, because it's much more universally understood than "bathroom."
If the person does not understand, you can use the Italian phrase "Dov'è il bagno?". But you can also leave out the "Dov'è" part and just say in a questioning tone, one of the Italian words for bathroom:
For a long time after moving here, it baffled me to find so many toilets in Rome without toilet seats. I finally figured it out:
One of the biggest reasons for the lack of toilet seats is the difficulty in replacing the original. Italians love nice designs and bathrooms are no exception.
At our B&B in Rome, every time we create or redesign a bathroom, we go to a specialty store that sells "bathrooms", including tiles, ceramics and all accessories.
And every time, we purchase a "backup" toilet seat because there are endless designs and no two toilets or toilet seats are alike. So there is not a "standard" toilet seat such as you'd find at say, Home Depot. Yes, you can buy generic toilet seats in Rome, but often they don't fit well on the designer toilet you have. If it's your home, you figure it out, but if you are the bar manager, you might just leave the whole thing alone.
Another reason for the lack of toilet seats in Rome, I think, is that they break easily because people stand on them (yep!), or worse. So either the bar manager does not put the seat on in the first place, or, if/when it breaks, s/he does not replace it. And, back to reason one, it's just another expense and headache easily avoided so perhaps they just don't do it at all.
Another thing you may find that is different from what you know is the flushing mechanism. There are several ways to flush toilets in Italy:
Finally, washing your hands can be a little alarming...you put soap on your hands and look for where to open the faucet...and find nothing. Do you have to leave the bathroom with soap all over your hands? Nope. Look on the floor.
Most sinks in bathrooms in Rome have a floor pedal. This actually makes a lot of sense to me, as I find it a lot more sanitary than everyone touching the faucet handle!
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