Restrooms, toilets, loos, lavatories, bathrooms, bogs - whatever you call them, when you've gotta go, you've gotta go, and when you’re out and about in a new travel destination, there’s often little option but to entrust in public toilets to provide sweet relief.
We know, there is a lot to hate about these useful but often neglected facilities. We've all heard, or experienced, a holiday horror story or two when it comes to local lavatories. But for every john at the centre of a nightmare anecdote, there’s another that’s created buzz for all the right reasons.
Perhaps surprisingly, great public toilets are a source of fervent inspiration - there are blog posts and worldwide contests, including the annual America’s Best Restroom competition, dedicated to whimsical washrooms and quirky WCs. In fact, there are bathrooms around the world that regularly draw crowds of people, who visit not because they need to, but because the loos are a draw in themselves.
It goes without saying that a good public toilet should be clean and in good working order. But to be a utilitarian attraction in its own right, there has to be a wow factor. Whether its cutting-edge technology, a flair for design, a jaw-dropping location, or a sense of humour, our list includes restrooms that have gone beyond the call of duty, offering an innovative approach to the most basic of facilities.
And while these loos are definitely worth a visit, we’ve also rooted out five toilets definitely worth avoiding. Honestly, you might want to consider holding it in.
20 20. Down The Mine Passageway Restroom, Colorado
The tiny Colorado town of Minturn might only have a small population of 1,200 people, but the legend of its public toilets has spread far and wide.
The two restrooms, one for men and one for women, sit a few feet apart and feature fabricated wood pieces to mimic the entrance to a mine, in a cool nod to the town’s mining heritage. One of Design Curail's top picks in 2017, they also feature shiny copper doors with depictions of elk, and inside they are adorned with colourful metal butterflies and other nature images that accent the area's rustic outdoor environment.
19 19. The World’s Largest Public Restroom: Chongqing Bathroom, China
Chongqing is the largest municipality in southwest China and it also claims the largest public restroom in the world. Its porcelain palace opened in 2007 and features an Egyptian-style facade, soothing music and more than 1,000 toilets spread out over 32,290 square feet.
It’s not just the sheer size that makes these restrooms stand out, but the crazy designs, too. Some urinals are uniquely shaped to resemble open crocodile mouths, and several are topped by the bust of a woman resembling the Virgin Mary. And if you need entertainment while you’re there, there’s music, TV and wifi throughout the facility.
18 18. A Work Of Art: Hundertwasser Public Toilets, New Zealand
One of the few toilet blocks seen as an international work of art and a tourist attraction in its own right, the project was completed in 1999 and named after its architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Located in the main street of the town of Kawakawa on New Zealand's North Island, Hundertwasser created his version of a temple with curvy columns, shardlike mosaics, and stained glass windows. The eco-smart building incorporates a living tree, a grass roof, and reclaimed bricks. It is the only project designed by Hundertwasser in the Southern Hemisphere and the artist's last project completed within his lifetime.
17 17. The Shimmering Uster Public Toilets, Switzerland
In the middle of a concrete-filled city street in Uster, Switzerland sits a brilliant green and yellow box, with a complex facade of 295 folded aluminium strips. The depth of the folding and the slightly different colours of each strip generate a shimmering facade that changes depending on sun angle and the observers' perspective.
It’s a dramatic exterior which belies the simple but functional restroom within. So if you’ve had several glasses of Feldschlösschen, this is where to head.
16 16. Go For The Groceries, Stay For The Toilets: Chung Yo Department Store, Taiwan
Fifteen fascinating bathrooms, scattered across the three buildings, can be found at Chung Yo Department Store in Taichung City, Taiwan. Some of the restrooms have elaborate themes and designs including a Coca-Cola room, a Wizard of Oz room, and even a Finding Nemo bathroom complete with live fish.
But the bathroom that really gets people talking is a men’s room that doubles up as a bar, with refrigerators stocked with Heineken for those who’d like to take a leak and a swig of beer at the same time. Cheers.
15 15. A Loo With A View: Mount McKinley Toilet, United States
Perched 14,200 feet up on Alaska’s Mount McKinley, this is one loo with incredible views.
Largely open to the elements, it stands on its own surrounded by nothing more than three wooden slabs and plenty of ice and snow.
Hiking here is not easy, and there are still more than 6,000 feet to go from here to reach McKinley’s summit, so if you need to go, this is your best bet. But this lavatory offers such a novel experience and spectacular view of Mt Foraker to help distract you from the subzero temperatures.
14 14. The Place To Go: The Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis won Cintas' America's Best Bathroom of 2013 thanks to its luxe and trippy design. The ornate and fantastical decor inside the bathrooms of the old vaudeville theatre is like Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland.
Sinks are operated by foot pedal, and bartenders even serve drinks to waiting concertgoers, who can relax and recline on the bathroom’s couches. It’s an unexpected VIP experience that is every bit as popular with visitors as the artists on stage.
13 13. Origami Inspiration: Hiroshima Park, Japan
Colourful origami cranes were the inspiration for the 17 restrooms sprinkled throughout Hiroshima Park, a memorial park dedicated to the legacy of the city as the first in the world to suffer a nuclear attack.
The restrooms are constructed entirely from concrete, which is punctured to create very small circular windows to allow for plenty of air. The restrooms also come in three different shapes, but each one has a unique colour. The outside walls are coated in a glossy paint chosen for easy maintenance.
12 12. The Living Wall Of Lavatories: Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania
Longwood Gardens, a horticultural space in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful place for a stroll but it’s an even better place to use the restroom. Its facilities, which won the 2014 Cintas America's Best Restroom award, offer 17 commodious chambers built into an enormous 4,200-square-foot living green wall. The eco-friendly facility even features its own docents, in case you get lost.
Using the loo here is quite an extraordinary experience, which is why these toilets have become a must-see destination for the garden’s guests.
11 11. Sculptural And Convenient: Kumutoto Toilets, New Zealand
These public toilets are located at the Synergy Plaza in the Kumutoto precinct on Wellington’s waterfront.
To some, they look like barnacles clinging to a boat, or perhaps they look more like crustaceous sea creatures? Giant extraterrestrial tentacles from space, maybe? Whatever your interpretation, the Kumutoto toilets are unique enough to be named one of the world's 10 best public toilets in 2014 by Design Curial.
While the outside looks like it's come from outer space, the inside has all the comforts of a modern, earthly bathroom.
10 10. A Throne In The Desert: Wolwedans Lodge, Namibia
Wolwedans’ tagline is “simply out of this world” and it’s hard to disagree with that statement, especially when it comes to one of its outdoor toilets. Based on the NamibRand Nature Reserve, what this toilet lacks in privacy, it makes up for in wide open views and the unbeatable feeling of sand between your toes.
Red sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see and distant mountain ranges emerge through the mist on the horizon. This place is home to a whole range of animals such as giraffe, zebra, oryx, leopard and African wildcat, so you might not want to hang around too long.
9 9. Toilets That Pop-Up From The Ground In Europe
As dusk hits in a number of European cities, including Amsterdam and London, strange circles rise slowly out of sidewalks. Some European cities are curbing public number ones with a futuristic solution - toilets that emerge from the ground during the nighttime hours then retract and disappear during the day.
Some of these pop-ups are just walk-in urinals, while others are fully equipped pop-up loos with doors, offering a little more privacy. So if you see a toilet emerge from the ground on a night out in Amsterdam, don’t worry, you’re not seeing things.
8 8. High-Tech Toilets At Daimaru, Tokyo
Forget the luxury goods and head straight to the incredible toilets at Tokyo’s Daimaru department store. Equipped by Toto, the world’s largest and most high-tech loo manufacturer, each of the store’s 13 levels has a luxurious bathroom designed to match the floor's ambience.
These aren’t your standard toilets - these weird and wonderful WCs have everything from heated seats to sound effects and feature a self-cleaning mechanism complete with temperature-controlled water.
These are sophisticated electronic devices and their dizzying array of functions can prove a challenge for tourists.
7 7. Award-Winning Kitsch At The Madonna Inn, California
The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo has been a landmark on California's Central Coast for over forty-five years. With 108 rooms, uniquely decorated with a special theme and colour scheme, no two are alike, and the same level of creativity has been applied to its restrooms too.
Winner of the 2005 Cintas America's Best Restroom award, these loos are the ultimate in kitsch and have been noted as a tourist attraction by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.
The most unusual feature is perhapsa urinal with a motion-activated waterfall. Another urinal incorporates an old-timey waterwheel, and there are giant clamshell sinks, making any visitor's restroom experience a memorable one.
6 6. On The Edge Of Your Seat: Aurland Lookout, Norway
The public toilet at Stegastein sits 2,133 feet above the Aurlandsfjord - it looks like it’s hanging over a cliff. The overlook offers incredible mountain views, making this possibly one of the most scenic bathrooms in the world and a popular stop for travellers.
Architects have created a facade that is inaccessible to the public, so people can look out from the inside, but no one can look in. Its stunning minimalist design in combination with spectacular views will certainly glue you to your seat.
5 5. Avoid: Don’t Miss A Sec - A Travelling Art Installation
The Don't Miss a Sec art installation tests the boundaries of privacy. Using the one-way mirrors often associated with police interrogating rooms, the installation is a controversial public toilet that only caters to the daring.
Created by Monica Bonvicini, this large mirrored box has been installed in cities around the world, including London and Rotterdam. It uses one-way glass, but knowing that still won’t make it any less unsettling for those on the inside, trying to go about their business.
Exhibitionists will love it, but it might leave everyone else feeling a little too vulnerable.
4 4. Avoid: Loos With A Boo - Frodsham Street Public Toilets, England
The male public toilets on Frodsham Street in the city of Chester are reportedly haunted. Witnesses who have seen this disturbing spectre believe it to be the ghost of a young man, described as a pale and his late teens or early twenties, dressed in garb from the 1950s or 1960s. Oh, and his name is Tom.
The toilets were refurbished in 2011, since which, Tom sightings have reportedly intensified. If it’s a choice between holding it in or having a ghost watch while relieving oneself, we know which we’d rather.
3 3. Avoid: The Health Hazard On Mount Elbrus, Russia
Fortunately, you don't just stumble upon the world's nastiest outhouse by chance. You really have to want to go there. Precariously perching 3,700m high on Mount Elbrus, south Russia, is what Outside Magazine once dubbed the world’s nastiest toilet.
Mount Elbrus may be a popular ski resort, but little investment has gone into sprucing up this public pit-style loo, which has no flush or basin, and is surrounded by piles of scattered rubble. In fact, the structure looks scarily close to collapse, so you might not want to hang around - providing you reach the cubicle at all. You’ll have to survive an obstacle course of concrete debris first.
2 2. Avoid: Over-Exposure In Paris: The “Uritrottoirs”
The attempt by Paris officials to tackle public urination by installing open-air urinals, or "uritrottoirs," has outraged some residents of the French capital. The new urinals, housed in flower boxes, are fully out there for all to see on street corners, are painted bright red and have nearby signs advertising their presence.
While these eco-urinals have a straw layer that eliminates odour, and were installed in areas where public urination is a problem, who really wants to pee into a bright red box in full view of passersby? Seriously, just hold it in.
1 1. Avoid: The Loo Designed For Discomfort: The Portland Loo, United States
The Portland Loo, a unique, patented outdoor bathroom used around the city of Portland, inspires huge fan worship. Locals are very proud of it and its no-nonsense design.
These weathered-looking steel shells offer no sink or running water, and grates at the top and bottom of the structure allow onlookers to see in. But don’t panic, there’s a ”blind spot" preventing people from seeing something they can never un-see.
These loos basically make users want to leave as fast as humanly possible, which is entirely intentional. Its clever designers don’t want people to feel comfortable, in case they decide to hang around. Mission accomplished.
References: designcurial.com, thisisinsider.com, architecturaldigest.com