Parisian Living

Les Toilettes Parisiennes: What to Know Before You Go

by Paige Bradley Frost

First, the good news. Bathrooms in Paris are much better than they used to be. Though rare, it’s still possible to encounter the occasional Turkish toilet (essentially a flushable hole in a floor). Fortunately they’re not the ubiquitous hazards they once were. A loo that sports a turque screams outdated (not to mention perilous, especially for us girls) and most respectable establishments have graciously updated their facilities. Merci.

That said, French potty perils abound. So, we’ve put together this simple guide to help you navigate the waters of les toilettes Parisiennes. As they say, courage.

Left: the green and yellow art deco entrance to the Paris metro with a man and his bicycle out front and a historic building in the back; right: the interior of a public bathroom with round mirrors and stylish industrial decor.
Top: photo by Jean Louis Zimmerman
Above left: photo by Lucia Linet; right: photo by Nic Chi

Les pissoirs

Call me crazy but the sight of a strange man engaged in the (to me, private) act of relieving himself just feels wrong. I’m not all that anxious to observe my husband in the restroom; why would I want to see a stranger? But in Paris, it’s unavoidable.

Like the time I sauntered innocently into a toilette only to come face to face (or face to back, as luck would have it) with not one but two gentlemen, standing at urinals, taking care of their business. A tiny cry escaped my lips before I spun on my heel to make a quick exit. The sound of their laughter followed me out the door. My bad? Not at all; the urinals were right out in the open.

Hommes, Femmes…Les deux?

One for boys, one for girls. Simple, right? Ah, non. As I learned the hard way, les WCs – although not the urinals – are often shared. A nod to their decidedly non-puritanical ways? A way to save space? Probably both so don’t be alarmed to discover members of the opposite sex sharing toilets (hopefully not at the same time), sinks, hand soap (bonus!) and towels or dryers.

La lumière

Ever tried to go to the bathroom in the dark? Not fun and not easy, either. Many Parisian toilettes will leave you blindly patting down the walls in the pitch black when the light timer runs out. (Eco-friendly, yes. User-friendly? Not so much.) Let your eyes adjust and you’ll usually be able to find a dimly glowing light on the requisite switch. And here’s another trick: You will often need to enter a dark stall and firmly bolt the door before the light will come on. I suspect this is actually the French way of messing with tourists (how long will eet take ‘er to figure out zee lights??). Alas, I cannot prove this.

A purple sign with white cursive writing that says 'Je pisse donc je suis' with a sign that says WC PUBLICS underneath.
photo by Tina Brosse

Ou sont les toilettes?

As anyone who has been to a Parisian cafe can attest, the WC is almost always either upstairs or down. In fact, you often won’t even need to ask about its location (a vaguely distasteful question – “restroom” sounds so much nicer), and only need follow the stairs to discover the loo.

Water, water, where art thou?

You’ve done your business in relative privacy and need only to wash your hands. Simple enough. But wait, that’s odd. How do I turn on the water? Don’t see a knob or even a motion sensor? Never fear. It’s probably hiding in one of two places. Look down. See a handle protruding from the base of the sink? Bingo. No? How about a pedal at the base of the vanity? Voila! Press and go. Hoping for a dryer or hand towel were you? Oh you greedy Anglo, you.

A row of sinks with 4 round mirrors over them in a grey stylish public restroom.
photo by Mark Chan
  • Where to find les toilettes publiques Paris? This map will show you where.
  • Read about a surprisingly controversial facet of French life: ice cold drinks in Paris.
  • The good weather is back in Paris. Head to Créatures on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette for some of the best vegetarian food and views. Meet the superstar chef Julien Sebbag in our recent interview with him.

Written by Paige Bradley Frost for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.

Written By

Paige Bradley Frost

After nearly a decade in Paris, Paige Bradley Frost swapped the Banks of the Seine for the beaches of San Diego, California where she serves as Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, Women's Empowerment International. Still, her heart remains with the French capital where she hopes to one day return. View Paige Bradley Frost's Website

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One comment on “Les Toilettes Parisiennes: What to Know Before You Go

Ah the pissoir. I have spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East and have come across my fair share of turques. Imagine my surprise when I encountered them in France. Not the most elegant solution when it comes to relieving oneself.

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