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Public toilets in the UK are established and maintained by the local authorities, most commonly local councils. This is great for people that advocate local autonomy, but a hellish nightmare for visitors to the UK. For example, the markings and signage differs from council to council. Some councils have maps, others do not.

Essentially there are 300+ different systems that govern about 10,000 public toilets. What is the visitor supposed to do?

Is there a reference available to tourists and family visitors that gives all of them? Or most of them? What can a tourist who wants to be well-prepared for the calls of nature do?

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There are no pubs or restaurants anywhere in sight. One of these structures near the train station at Chadwell Heath contains public toilets operated by the London Borough of Redbridge. To those familiar, they are in plain sight. Can you spot them?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark Mayo Jul 15 '16 at 1:06
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    Someone has to make an app, which will point you to the nearest toilets. – gsamaras Jul 15 '16 at 3:27
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    I frequently visit shoppings centres, churches and mosques; they usually contain free toilets, as well. They are easy to spot, marked on the maps and known to the locals. – Yunus Nedim Mehel Jul 15 '16 at 11:49
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    As a younger American sightseeing around London last fall, I felt comfortable waiting until the tube station. Always thought it better to go to public facilities when possible, rather than a proprietor's, as they often have policy\attitudes against usage. And I didn't have cash on me at that point to buy anything. Well, it certainly made for a very challenging ride back! Pay toilets, a new experience here. And one where I know I particularly wished for such an app to exist. Suffice to say, Martin's answer will be bookmarked! – JeopardyTempest Jul 15 '16 at 19:27
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There is a website that I was hitherto completely unaware of that aims to cater for this need.

Great British Public Toilet Map

For tourists with smart phones it would be useful as it geolocates the nearest ones in their database (or allows manual search) and provides a facility to add crowd sourced toilet locations along with pertinent details.

These details can be used as search criteria via the preferences menu

  • Free

  • Accessible

  • Open Now

  • Male

  • Female

  • Baby Changing

Ones lacking crucial features will come up red.

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    @mts there is a set preferences menu for "My Toilet Preferences"(!) where you can select "Open now" actually. – Martin Smith Jul 13 '16 at 16:29
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    @MartinSmith no "vacant now" option? :D – Nean Der Thal Jul 13 '16 at 16:35
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    I would be careful with this. I've just checked where my nearest one is, and according to the map it looks like it's in someone's house. It's actually across the road next to the pub. – Harry Vervet Jul 13 '16 at 17:54
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    This might well be the most useful location on the entire internet! Now, if they would only expand to other major cities... – FreeMan Jul 13 '16 at 18:12
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    Fantastic! I just wish that they had an App, rathe rthna a web page. Maybe that's my next project. I will contact them and see if their data is publicly available – Mawg Jul 14 '16 at 6:58
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Toilets are important, but not something to worry about. You don't need to make it this complicated.

British people really don't mind when foreigners ask where is the nearest public toilet? We don't judge you for your unfortunate need. Go in any public place and ask. It requires no technology, and rather than planning your day around where the convenient lavatories are, you can actually enjoy your stay.

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    As a British person: I might not mind when foreigners ask me where the nearest toilet is, but very often, I have no idea myself and wish I knew! – user568458 Jul 13 '16 at 17:57
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    I just read "go in any public place" and missed the end, and thought, "Huh? Ohhh" – Tom O'Connor Jul 13 '16 at 17:58
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    I think the key may be that many public places will also have public restrooms (to Americanize it), and the staff will be able to point you to those. – FreeMan Jul 13 '16 at 18:13
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    When someone says that toilets do not need to be worried about, I know that they have never been in real need. If you really need a toilet you need it now, and not when you found someone who might send you past where you were and might just say 'I don't know.' – Willeke Jul 14 '16 at 17:50
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    +1 asking is the easiest way, and quicker than searching for the information on the internet. What I usually do is just go to any pub and order a coffee or beer or whatever and go use their toilets! @Willeke : true only if you are incontinent... Most people can hold it just fine. – Shautieh Jul 15 '16 at 1:22
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All major towns and cities have public toilets, but they are generally not that easy to find (ask at the tourist information if you can find that) or pleasant to use.

Free public toilets tend to attract vagrants and drug takers (this is my experience having lived in the UK all my life)

A better solution is to go into a fast food restaurant and use their toilet - even small towns have one of these. Although this is probably against their rules (facilities are for customers only) this happens all the time and staff turn a blind eye to this.

In you want to indulge in some British culture, you can pop inside a Pub (which you will find even in the smallest of villages), where if you purchase a drink (alcoholic or not) you can use the toilet. You won't get arrested* for using the toilet without purchasing anything in a pub, but in a small pub this might be greeted with some hostility by the patrons or landlord, so is best avoided.

.* I'm not a lawyer so don't blame me if you do!

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    Regarding using a pub, some pubs who get this a lot have a tip jar or charity donation box at the end of the bar on the way to the toilets, so you can reduce the rudeness by making a donation, assuming you have the change. – IMSoP Jul 14 '16 at 18:16
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    @IMSoP There is no rudeness. There is an implied right of access to all public parts of the business. Proprietors tend not to know this, but that's their problem. – user207421 Jul 15 '16 at 1:51
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    @EJP I don't think "implied rights that nobody knows" and "might be perceived as rude" are mutually exclusive. One is a legal question, the other is a case of social norms and respect. – IMSoP Jul 15 '16 at 8:44
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    @EJP but publicans can ban people so how does that fit with a right of access? – Mark Jul 15 '16 at 21:31
  • @Mark Err, an implied right of access unless you've been banned? – user207421 Sep 5 '16 at 0:23
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Some places have closed their council managed toilets at the same time as arranging that a nearby shop or pub or restaurant provides the same facility but without requiring any purchase (This is called the Community Toilet Scheme and most borough councils who use this scheme maintain their own list that you can find online). In some cases this change leads to the facilities being cleaner and tidier than the council ones they may have replaced.

Toilets can often be found in shopping centres (malls), the larger supermarkets and the larger department stores.

For all of these it may be better to ask a local rather than relying on signposting.

5

There is a smartphone app called 'Flush' that is free and shows most public toilets.

If you have some kind of disability, you can apply for a RADAR key and also a (paper) guide. (I think there may be an app too but you would need to Google that.) RADAR keys are for the national network of disabled toilets. Lots of disabilities are covered by this scheme, not just wheelchair users - Crohn's/ulcerative colitus sufferers (who may not get much warning before needing to 'go'), for example; also diabetics (for a safe place to inject insulin).

If you have a small child, most pubs and restaurants etc would be sympathetic to allowing them to use their facilities as long as you ask politely.

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