67

We are planning visiting London with two small children. As small children do, they might need to go to the toilet from time to time, and they need to go now! Is it acceptable to ask buisnesses for kids to use their toilets, even if we are not customers?

What is the best way to find toilets while on the street (a good assumption would be that we will mostly stick to the more touristy regions)?

What to do when in a park? Is it acceptable for small children to pee (only pee) on trees and such in parks?

  • 14
    Where do you normally travel? The etiquette in London is not so different from many other cities. – Turkeyphant Aug 7 at 1:16
  • 10
    @Turkeyphant, up until now we only travelled to places where we would stay in the Hotel all day, or to a specific destination. Here we plan to travel outside most of the day, with long stretches of just walking on the street/park. Here, in my native barbaric lands, it's acceptable for small children to pee almost everywhere, and specifically on any plant in public property. I'm not sure how the proper land of England, where all the parks are the property of the queen and killing a swan is considered treason, would react to my kid peeing on some shrubbery. – SIMEL Aug 7 at 6:48
  • 14
    As a parent in London, in "emergencies" I often have to resort to some shrubbery or a discrete corner behind a bin. Most people understand that small children sometimes just go to go, although you might earn a few tuts or disapproving looks – matt freake Aug 7 at 10:09
  • 10
    Make the kids use the toilets whenever you find them, even when they do not yet need to. That lengthens the time before the next emergency. – Willeke Aug 7 at 10:31
  • 59
    When I read the title of the question I expected an "Edit: please give the answer fast" edit :) – Tvde1 Aug 7 at 10:38
77

If you have an Android phone, then there's an app called Where is public toilet. It indicates the public toilets near you, and if they are free to access or not. It works for most of Europe.

Play store link. Other similar apps are available.

  • 6
    Oh my God! The iToilet! youtu.be/Pci_7o6cCbM?t=22 – cyco130 Aug 7 at 7:42
  • 11
    It's worth adding to always take (plenty) of change with you, as quite a number of toilets require change to use (EG toilets in Liverpool St train station). Prices can vary between 30p up to a pound or more, depending on what kind of pay-to-use toilet you discover. – SSight3 Aug 7 at 12:53
  • 8
    @SSight3 While your general point stands, I feel compelled to point out that toilets in Liverpool Street station (in fact all main train stations managed by Network Rail) are now free to use - one less thing to worry in case of emergencies! – B.Liu Aug 7 at 16:38
  • 2
    For iOS there is a similar app called Flush – Ronan Boiteau Aug 8 at 15:20
  • 1
    @MadPhysicist And, as with visitors to Bethselamin it is vitally important to retain your lavatory receipt? – Spehro Pefhany Aug 8 at 21:36
50

I have not been to London with kids but according to my experience there are plenty of public toilets available. Most parks have facilities that include a café and toilets.

In the city there are toilets on most big squares. There's always a McDonald's restaurant nearby where you can go.

One advise is not secret but always given: go to a museum. In many entrance is free and so is the use of the toilets.

Loo of the year

  • 51
    "Loo of the Year"? Now that's the way to attract tourism! – Michael Hampton Aug 6 at 19:56
  • 7
    Also see TfL's toilet map. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 6 at 21:44
  • 2
    Just a point about the museum tip: this may not work in the same way as popping into a shop/restaurant to use the loo since most museums in London nowadays have bag checks or some kind of security. Obviously if you're going to the museum anyway, the hold-up won't matter. – thosphor Aug 7 at 8:31
  • @PatriciaShanahan wow that's a good one! Didn't know TfL had a map that showed their facilities. – kiradotee Aug 7 at 10:22
  • 2
    @thosphor if you're travelling with someone a good workaround is leave the bags with them and go to the loo, then swap. 👍 – kiradotee Aug 7 at 10:23
30

Is it acceptable to ask businesses for kids to use their toilets, even if we are not customers?

It is if you ask first.

It's also not that difficult to become a customer. Go to a café, order a cup of coffee or an ice-cream. Nobody expects you to order a three-course meal to let you use the bathroom.

If you absolutely don't want to buy anything, you can just keep asking "can my kid use your bathroom" in a few places till you find one that lets you in for free. From my experience, you shouldn't be searching for long.

Is it acceptable for small children to pee (only pee) on trees and such in parks?

No.


Pro tips:

  1. Escorting your kids to the toilet before leaving a place with one (even if your kids say they don't need to go) helps to avoid looking for one in the next couple of hours.

  2. Ultimately, if your kids can't wait even 5 minutes before they have to go, consider getting some diapers. Walking through a city while constantly paying attention to be within 5 minutes from a toilet facility is not exactly a pleasant tourist experience.

  • 5
    One problem would be that there might be a queue to buy something, I can wait 5 minutes to pee, my children can't. Another problem is that I don't want to buy something I don't need, if I have to pay for it I would rather pay a reduced amount directly to use the toilets than to buy something I don't need. Both to not spend money and to reduce waste and consumption. – SIMEL Aug 7 at 7:43
  • 14
    @SIMEL You can go to the toilet before you order something. I do it all the time to wash my hands if I plan to eat afterwards. – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 7 at 8:14
  • 4
    With mine I plan to have a snack/drink stop when a toilet stop is needed, to avoid having to buy something I wouldn't otherwise have done. My coffee waits on her needs that way. And honestly, somewhere like McDonalds or Starbucks no-one's going to care anyway though it might be against policy – Chris H Aug 7 at 8:48
  • 2
    Just to add, hotels are a good place to try too as there are lots of them (ask the doorman or receptionist to be polite). Most attractions have plenty of toilets, the big stores do too (Harrods, Hamleys, Fortnums etc) and there are a few public ones around too. One place you won't find a toilet though is on a bus, or on the underground. Plan ahead! – Ralph Bolton Aug 7 at 10:53
  • 4
    I'd emphasise that if you ask politely in shops and cafes, making it clear that it's for a small child and not for you, you'll you'll probably have a decent success rate, even potentially in places that don't have a public toilet but have one for staff. However, this is probably less likely to succeed in touristy areas than elsewhere. – Flyto Aug 7 at 20:05
14

They need to go now.

As the parent of an 8-year-old, the most successful approach about age 4-5 was to insist he went to the toilet at intervals which fitted what we were doing, even if he claimed to not need the toilet. If he genuinely didn't, that was fine - just give him 5 minutes and then move on. Often he did though. Now it's a case of him saying "I don't really, but I'll try", because he's learnt it's a good idea.

Re bushes in parks, it's never good, but whether it's even a bit OK depends on the park's wildness, how old the child is, and how discreetly it can be done. If it's a deer park, chances are no-one would notice an adult going behind a tree. In the middle of Kew Gardens is not the same thing! And whilst people appreciate a 3-year-old will have emergencies, a 6-year-old will not get the same leeway. The key part though is that you must be clearly attempting to make it as discreet as possible. If you don't seem to care about your kids peeing in public, however young they are, you will find yourself in trouble. Not just disapproval trouble, but police trouble.

  • 2
    I do the interval approach, it does wonders. I can be in a train, a restaurant or anywhere and not really need to go but will use the toilet. Especially, if I'm planning on going to an unfamiliar place, it's just easy to use a toilet whenever I see one and be happy that I won't need to start suddenly panicking and wasting time trying to find one later on. – kiradotee Aug 7 at 22:00
  • 1
    +1 for describing the “children peeing in parks” expectations more accurately than other answers. It’s not at all unusual to see 2- or 3-year-olds being taken to pee in a discreet spot (doesn’t have to be completely hidden), and I’ve never heard anyone express disapproval of it. But being discreet is key, along with the child being young enough. – PLL Aug 8 at 11:51
  • 1
    @PLL Exactly. For a young kid being helped to discreetly pee somewhere public, the normal reaction is "poor parents". A young kid who pulls their pants down and pisses in the street will get the parents into a row; and if they're spotted by a policeman then you have a whole new level of trouble. – Graham Aug 8 at 16:19
  • Within living memory male employees were expected to pee in the premises gardens of some employers. – mckenzm Aug 9 at 2:39
  • I don't think the Metropolitan Police is going to make a big fuss about a small child pissing in the street. In the gutter would be best. – Michael Harvey Aug 9 at 17:15
10

To add to all of the above, there are pubs everywhere - and there are always toilets in pubs. In my years of living and working in London, I have many times used a toilet in a pub without being their customer. Now, these toilets may not be the cleanest around, but "when you gotta go, you gotta go".

  • 13
    Be aware that in the UK any pub manager can legally refuse entry to children (and to anyone else, for that matter) and some pubs are not run as "children welcome" establishments. In fact in some (usually old) pubs where the terms of the licence have never been updated, admitting children may be illegal. – alephzero Aug 7 at 9:35
  • 3
    @alephzero Absolutely true. Yet, around London, most pubs would probably be ok. – Aleks G Aug 7 at 9:51
9

The Great British Public Toilet Map might be able to help find toilets in the UK: https://www.toiletmap.org.uk/

You might be able to find similar such maps in other places you travel. The Australian Government, for example, maintains the National Public Toilet Map https://toiletmap.gov.au/

3

These are some of the common places that you can find public restrooms.

Restaurant/Cafes/bars - Starbucks, McDonald, KFC, etc.
Public parks
Hotels/Hotel lobbies - In some hotels, you might need a hotel card to get in.
Public buildings & Transport hubs - Libraries, Hospitals, Train stations
Shopping Malls & Department stores

You can also do a simple online search or you can use Google map to find public restrooms. If you can't, you can use these apps to find places that have public restrooms such as a restaurant (Starbucks, McDonald, etc) or you can use one of the dedicated apps as suggested in other answers.

  • 1
    Terrible suggestion to use Google maps as evident by your screenshots suggestion there are only a couple of dozen public toilets in Greater London when the reality is probably thousands of times more. – Turkeyphant Aug 8 at 19:08
  • @Turkeyphant: Yes. You're right. There might be thousand of restrooms and Google map only show a couple of them. But if you don't have a toilet finder on your phone, this might come handy since it's most likely (pre-)installed on your device. Even if you have such an app, it might be limited to a certain area whereas Google map is not. Besides, if you cannot find a public restroom using Google map, you might be able to find a place that has a public restroom such as a restaurant (Starbucks, McDonald, etc). – DxTx Aug 8 at 19:37
  • I'm pretty sure I'd pass a dozen toilets that I'd see with my eyes while walking to the nearest one shown on Google Maps. With a timescale of "five minutes" specified, this isn't going to be helpful at all. – Turkeyphant Aug 8 at 23:03
2

London is full of busy pubs and McDonalds - you can use either without worry. Toilets in the terminals are also free.

  • 2
    Not true still plenty of paid for toilets in train stations. – Turkeyphant Aug 7 at 10:06
  • 13
    @Turkeyphant all of the major (network rail owned) stations in London stopped charging for toilets in the last year. – etmuse Aug 7 at 10:29
  • 4
    What's wrong with paid toilets by the way? It's not like they cost a fortune. – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 7 at 11:18
  • 9
    As @etmuse says, they're all free now - Waterloo and King's Cross included. – Ben Watson Aug 7 at 11:29
  • 4
    @DmitryGrigoryev The issue I normally have isnt not having money at all, its not having cash, or specifically coinage. Im a terrible organiser so almost exclusively use cards, and when I rarely do have cash its generally £20s rather than change I could use for a loo... – Vality Aug 8 at 2:09
0

I've used this advice for 15 years to function effectively in cities.

Plan your eating

An essential strategy in any city is to plan your eating so that at times you will need the bathroom, you will be having a meal or snack. That makes you a paying customer, and you are definitely entitled to use any bathroom they have for customers.

Partner to this strategy is do not gorge yourself. Eat lightly so you have room for another snack at another establishment should the "need" arise. To be clear, the "snack"'s solitary purpose is to provide a statutory transaction for use of the bathroom; it can be one biscuit that you share or simply throw away. Since you have no issue with paying for bathroom access, this shouldn't be a problem.

Plan your drinking

This should go without saying, but err on the side of drinking less when you're out and about. You don't need to pee what you didn't drink. The wrong thing is to make full use of free refills, or get the large because it's twice the drink for 10% more, for instance, so you have to re-train those thrifty habits.

And sync your drinking up with your kids' so you're drinking about the same in proportion. That way you'll know how they feel.

Since dehydration is a concern -- actual, medical dehydration can be trivially tested in 2 seconds. Ask your doctor. So if you are worried about this, learn the test and do it as needed. If you are adequately hydrating your children normally, the limiting of fluids a few hours before and during the city excursion will be inconsequential, unless they get overheated, which you'll know because you'll also be overheated. If in doubt, test for it.

Hotels

Most city hotels have conference rooms and they are usually renting different rooms to different companies at once. So the areas are public access. Just walk in like you know where you're going and seek out that area. Bathrooms are nearby.

Train your kids to go when able

Break them out of the habit of only thinking about bathrooms when nature calls. Teach them to go when the opportunity arises. This is a valuable life skill that you'll be giving them.

  • 1
    -1, this answer doesn't answer the question and even suggests dangerous behaviour. DO NOT PLAN YOUR DRINKING!!! drink as much as you feel you need to and even more, especially during the summer, especially for your kids, DO NOT DEPRIVE THEM OF WATER to save on toilet stops!!! I would rather pee on the street that to get dehydrated, I would rather get arrested for peeing on the street than letting my kids get dehydrated. – SIMEL Sep 2 at 14:20
  • There is a difference between depriving children of water and getting them to get dehydrated, and being smart when and where to let them drink. So be smart and careful, let your children drink enough for what they need but do not give a lot of drink just before going to a place where there is no toilet. – Willeke Sep 2 at 15:37
  • 1
    @SIMEL I think you have unfairly latched onto a turn of phrase (removed) and disregarded the rest. . The problem is kids don't have a sense of "how much they need" and they are very acclimated to having bathrooms readily available. So yes, you should deprive them of unlimited runs to the soda fountain for instance, and turn down their request for another of that fascinating new drink they just discovered... That is all I mean. – Harper Sep 2 at 16:30
  • There are very good reasons to not allow kids unlimited access to soda fountains, but depriving them of liquids is not one of them. Your kids (and you) should drink mostly water and a limited amount of other drinks (soda, coffee, etc.). But if all of what your children drink is soda, don't deprive them of liquids, you can't fill if they are dehydrated or close to it and they might not be able to tell you before it's too late. Especially on a trip where you walk more, stay outside more and the kid's body is not used to it. Make sure they drink enough and encourage then to drink plenty of water. – SIMEL Sep 3 at 0:14
  • But there are other issues with this answer. I do try to plan my eating, but not according to toilets but according to culinary preferences. Food is part of a culture so we try to try new and different things, we will not eat at a McDonalds instead of a local place because it's for a toilet break, like I said in another comment, I would rather pay for the toilets than order something I don't want. The water suggestion is simply dangerous. The idea of going to hotel is a good idea, but not to try to blend in with a conference, a tourist with a 3 yo will not blend well in a banking convention. – SIMEL Sep 3 at 0:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.