Last updated on November 8th, 2023
Like your mom said when you were little – always use the bathroom when you have a chance!
Here in Italy, that means using it when you’re leaving your hotel, the museum you just visited, or the restaurant you just dined in.
But, if you’re staying hydrated with water from Italy’s public drinking fountains, drinking Italian espresso after every meal, or sipping too many aperol spritzes at aperitivo… you may need to use public bathrooms in Italy.
This post will help you navigate the Italian public bathroom scene.
I’ll also walk you through some of the quirks of private bathrooms in Italy (both in Italian homes and in hotels).
Read more about Bidets in Italy!
Quick Advice for Using Public Bathrooms in Italy
If you don’t feel like reading the entire post, here are some key things to know:
- You may need to pay to use a bathroom (but it will be cleaner than a free one!).
- Always have your own toilet paper for public bathrooms.
- Don’t be surprised if the toilet doesn’t have a seat.
- “Dov’é il bagno?” is how to ask someone where the bathroom is.
- Italian bathrooms are commonly labeled signore (ladies) and signori (gentlemen).
Quick Advice for Using Private Bathrooms in Italy
Likewise, the main things to know about private bathrooms in Italy are:
- That’s not a second toilet – it’s a bidet, a place to clean yourself ‘down there.’ Don’t use the little towels next to the bidet – they’re used by the residents to dry off after using the bidet.
- Bathtubs aren’t common.
- Showers are usually tiny.
- The little cord in the shower is to be pulled in an emergency (but help might not arrive).
Using Public Bathrooms in Italy
Where to Find a Bathroom in Public in Italy
You can either use a pay bathroom (scattered throughout cities, at gas stations, and other public places) or ask to use the bathroom at a bar, restaurant, or café.
Using a Public Bathroom in Italy
If you use a public pay bathroom, you’ll pay a small fee (usually €0.50 to €1.00) by inserting Euro coins into a machine or paying an attendant. Occasionally, the bathroom will be ‘free,’ but you’re expected to ‘tip’ the attendant (€0.50 to €1.00 is fine).
Using the Bathroom at an Italian Bar, Restaurant, or Cafè
If you decide to use the bathroom at a bar, you’re expected to be a paying customer. You can buy something small, like a coffee, a bottle of water, or a pack of gum. You may need to enter a code printed on your receipt to open the bathroom door.
Good To Know: It’s a good idea to use the bathroom first. Why? The toilet may be guasto (broken), and you’ll need to look for another place. If it’s not, you can use the bathroom and wash your hands and then actually enjoy your coffee at the bar.
Good To Know: Most bars, cafes, etc will let small children use the bathroom without paying.
How to Ask Where the Bathroom Is
It may not always be obvious where the bathroom is located.
In Italy, you can ask ‘where is…?’ by saying, ‘Dov’é…?’
Dov’è is pronounced doh-VAY.
Words for ‘the bathroom’ in Italy:
il bagno – the bathroom
la toilette – the toilet (bathroom)
il WC – the water closet (bathroom)
So, you could ask: “Dov’è il bagno?” – “Where is the bathroom?”
The response may include:
in fondo – in the back / at the end
a destra – to the right
a sinistra – to the left
Good To Know: You may hear an Italian mention ‘il water,’ pronounced eel VAH-tehr. That’s the actual toilet inside the bathroom.
Look For the Signs on the Door
Gender-neutral bathrooms aren’t a thing here yet, except in very small places where there’s only room for one small bathroom.
If there are two sets of bathrooms available, you’ll probably get side-eye from Italians if you don’t use your gender’s bathroom.
The signs on the door may be the traditional male / female icons, or you’ll see ‘SIGNORE’ (LADIES) and ‘SIGNORI’ (GENTLEMEN).
Sometimes the locks on the outside of the door will display ‘occupato,’ which means ‘occupied.’
Good To Know: If you’re in the bathroom and someone is trying to get in, you can say ‘occupato!’ to say the bathroom is occupied.
Peculiarities of Public Toilets in Italy
When you open the door, you may see a toilet that looks different than what you expected:
A Toilet Without a Seat – It’s a great workout for your quads.
Why don’t public facilities (both pay toilets and bars/restaurants) have toilet seats? 2 reasons:
- Hygiene – It’s cleaner to avoid sharing a toilet seat with strangers.
- Replacement – They break often (people stand on them) and are difficult and expensive to replace. There are dozens of changing sizes and shapes of toilets to choose from (no joke) and it’s hard to get an exact match.
Good To Know: If you don’t want to work your quads by squatting over the seat, you can imitate some Italians and try the ‘frog’ (squatting with feet on the edges of the toilet) or the ‘mummy’ (covering the toilet edges with toilet paper and sitting on it).
A Hole in the Floor – Also known as a squat toilet or a bagno turco (Turkish toilet). You’re expected to squat to do your business.
There’s also often NO TOILET PAPER. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this:
Never enter an Italian public restroom without your own spare toilet paper. I like to carry a little pack of tissues (Kleenex).
Flushing the Toilet in Italy
There are many ways to flush a toilet in Italy! You may find:
- 2 large buttons on top of the toilet or on the wall behind the toilet – the left button is for #2, the right button is for #1
- A foot pedal on the floor next to the toilet
- A foot button on the floor next to the toilet
- A cord to pull on the wall or above the toilet
Washing Your Hands
Sometimes, there is no soap in the bathroom in Italy. Always carry your own sanitizing wipes, spray, or gel.
Good To Know: On your way into the bathroom, check to see if there’s a sink and handwashing station outside of the toilet area. Often there are sinks in each individual bathroom, but you’re supposed to use the main sink/soap/hand towels.
If you don’t see a knob or handle to turn on the water, look down. Again, for hygiene reasons, there’s often a foot pedal to push to turn the water on.
Using Private Bathrooms in Italy
Whether you’re a guest using the bathroom at someone’s home in Italy, or a traveler staying in an Italian hotel, you may notice that the bathrooms here are a little different than what you’re used to:
- Italian bathrooms are small.
- Most Italian bathrooms have a bidet (nope, it’s not another toilet, or a drinking fountain, or a laundry-washing sink).
- Our toilet paper here isn’t soft and fluffy.
Good To Know: Hotel bathrooms in Italy usually come supplied with mini-sized toiletries and hair dryers.
Bidets in Italy
What is the bidet for? It’s to clean yourself ‘down there.’
You can use it after going to the bathroom or if you just need to freshen up.
There are special soaps you can buy (detergente intimo) and you’ll find a small towel hanging nearby to dry yourself when you’re finished.
Read my guide to Using the Bidet in Italy
Showers in Italy
Showers in Italy are usually tiny! It’s not uncommon to shower in a space that’s too small to extend your elbows. If you’re tall, you may need to duck a little bit.
Sometimes instead of a shower stall, the shower is in a free-standing bathtub, which may or may not have a curtain or barrier. In this situation, the ‘shower’ is usually hand-held, and if there’s no barrier, be careful you don’t spray water all over the bathroom.
If you see a cord in the shower, don’t pull it. It’s there for emergencies (like if you slip and fall). However, it’s not always connected to
Good To Know: In private homes (and some B&Bs), you may need to flip a switch to turn the hot water on before you take your shower. Your host will let you know if you do, and show you where to turn it on.
Bathtubs in Italy
Bathtubs aren’t common in Italy, in homes or hotels. Why? There’s not a lot of space, and they’re not really part of the culture here.
I remember always taking baths as a little kid in the US, but small children here learn to take showers at an early age. My kids get so excited to take baths when we go to the US!
Good To Know: Many hotels do have a few rooms with bathtubs. If you’d like to have one during your stay, make sure you ask when you reserve (and don’t wait until your arrival to ask)!
Bathrooms in Italy with Kids
Most establishments will let your small children use the toilet, or let you change your baby in a private space.
Luxury hotels usually don’t mind if you discreetly use the bathroom with your small child or baby.
If you’re visiting Italy while potty training, you can travel with a portable potty, and don’t stress if you need to use nature’s bathroom in an emergency.
Italian Bathroom Vocabulary
|WC||water closet (bathroom)|
|guasto||broken / out of order|
|detergente intimo||intimate wash|
|carta igienica||toilet paper|
Bathrooms in Italy FAQ
That’s not a second toilet – it’s a bidet, a handy device that helps you clean or freshen up your private parts.
Seat-free toilets are seen as more hygienic because strangers aren’t sharing the same toilet seat. Toilet seats are also often broken by patrons and are expensive and difficult to replace.
Dove sono i bagni?
You’ll hear Italians call the bathroom the WC, toilette, or bagno.
Public bathrooms in Italy usually have seatless toilets and you usually have to pay a small fee for the service. While using a free bathroom may sound tempting, know that they’re usually dirty – it’s worth the small fee to be able to use a clean bathroom!