Over the course of many years living in Amsterdam I’ve developed a shyness about using the toilet. As a paying customer in a café there’s no problem; I’ll hit the head like any normal Jane. It’s the act of walking into an establishment from off the streets, bypassing servers and aiming straight for the loo, that I just cannot do.
Instead I approach the bar, ask to use their facilities and prepare to hand over some change for it. How much? At least fifty cents, sometimes one euro.
A dearth of cost-free commodes
Public toilets in the Netherlands are something of a hassle. Forget finding freebies in grocery stores. And rarely will you run into a sympathetic clothing store that will scoot you to their private bathroom. By day, many cafés have signs on windows that announce: “Toilets Cost 50 Cents.” Maybe you can get away without paying at some places, but if an employee sees you upon exiting they’ll bluntly ask you to throw them a bone.
As the brown bars fill up at night it’s easier to get away with a “hit and run” bathroom break, but clubs and some music venues will always charge. In these establishments, there is usually a bathroom employee ready to make it worth your money by offering candy, lotions and perfumes.
Important: Never try going au naturel in bushes or parks—it’s illegal and can result in an hefty fine.
The Port-a-John gender gap
This is all strictly speaking from a female’s perspective on toilet options in the city: Men have it way easier. Numerous green-painted metal pissoirs are scattered about Amsterdam downtown, offering a privacy screen and free outdoor set-up to take a leak in anytime of the day or night.
City festivals load even more temporary urinals to the downtown areas, but always designed for men. Of course, the clubs and bars that charge do so for both sexes, but for free use of public bathrooms, men will always have options.
Reliable options for relief
My advice for those who gotta go? These are reliable options:
• Cough up small change and run to your nearest McDonald’s or Burger King for a guaranteed clean bathroom.
• When exiting museums and attractions, make a note to stop by the restrooms. These are usually free and well kept.
• You can always find clean public toilets in main train stations for about fifty cents.
And if you’re taking the train, the big rule is to never, ever, flush when the train is stopped at a station! Even the most advanced looking trains in Europe can have deceiving toilet techniques: they flush straight onto the tracks.
When the tank’s empty, empty the tank
Driving in Holland? Many gas stations don’t charge for their bathroom facilities. If they do, it’s similar to Germany, where the fifty cents you pay turns into a fifty cents coupon you can use for snacks and drinks at the convenient store. These bathrooms are usually sparklingly clean, too.
A history lesson on latrines
When walking in Amsterdam, look out for large cylinder containers covered in advertising posters and strategically placed in busy downtown areas. Those were once free stalls for women created in the 1970s after a demonstration demanded equal public toilet opportunities.
Unfortunately they’ve been closed for years due to improper use—notably drug use—by locals with bad habits.
More toilet tips?
Do you have your own strategies for using the bathroom on the run? Have you used one of Amsterdam’s plentiful public urinals? Share your stories and any questions you have in the comments section below!