For first-time travelers, Bathrooms in Italy can be surprising. Naturally, it’s helpful to know how to ask where the bathroom is, (Dove il bagno?). However, preparing for what you will see is equally, if not more, important.
Tip. When the answer is given in rapid Italian, it can be frustrating. Especially if you really need to go! Watch where they point, and look for signs that say WC (water closet same as in Germany), toilette (same as in France) or bagno (the Italian way!). Or signs with the male and female symbols of words (uomini/ragazzi for men/boys, donne/ragazze for women).
Bathrooms in Italy
With little culture shock other than language, it’s easy for Americans to quickly slide into a relaxing pace and enjoy Italy. There’s the history, food, wine, and la dolce vita!
There are, however, just a few shock-and-oh things to know about Italian Bathrooms! This article includes things that surprised me the first time I encountered them in both private and public bathrooms in Italy.
First, let’s start with the good things about bathrooms in Italy. They are plentiful, not hard to find, and surprisingly clean! There’s a reason for that you won’t want to miss listed below.
Unfortunately, there are some rather shocking and somewhat hilarious things Americans traveling to Italy for the first time will want to prepare for.
Unlike the average guide to bathrooms in Italy, ours offers a touch of humor. Because really, we’re talking commodes, not commodities. Potty humor is always a little funny when it’s clean.
Now close the door. It’s about to get personal.
Not Many Italian Bathrooms Have Bathtubs
There are a lot of quirky differences between American and Italian homes, starting with the bathrooms.
Yes, some larger Italian homes have bathtubs, yet many homeowners opt to go without a bathtub. Why?
When you consider that Italian homes are among the smallest in Europe, it’s not surprising that some of the amenities Americans are used to just don’t fit in Italian bathrooms.
Bathtubs are far less common in Italy because the bathrooms are smaller and nearly all have a bidet taking up valuable space needed for bathtubs.
Showers in Italy are Tiny
Most Italian showers fall into the box doccia (box showers) category. The kind you have to squeeze into sideways. Then close two doors together to form a claustrophobic, watertight corner.
Men, get ready to bash your elbows while washing pits. Ladies start practicing your tree pose. In Italy, a box doccia means it’s Shower Yoga Time because bending over is nearly impossible. This means shaving long legs takes serious balance.
This leads to the next question. Why so small?
Italian Bathrooms Have a Bidet
Blame the bidet. Hotels and homes alike in Italy have standalone bidets that hog space. Are you supposed to mount it, sit on it, turn the tap on with your arms behind your back… what!?
If you’re a person who prepares ahead of time here’s how to use a bidet. It’s a quirky thing to use the first time, butt it’s worth a try. Sorry, couldn’t resist getting cheeky! Speaking of cheeks.
Because SNL will always do comedy better than we can, a little clip about bidets for your enjoyment.
If your hotel bathroom has a bidet, take note. Most American hotels provide washcloths. In Italy, the small towels are for your other cheeks.
How do you know which is which? Bidet towels are smaller than hand towels but larger than a washcloth. Think about it this way. The bigger the surface area, the bigger the towel.
Still not sure? Check if there is a small towel rack or hook next to the bidet.
Hopefully, you’re with me now because that towel is for your other cheeks!
I’m sure the hotel has done an exemplary job with laundry. Theoretically, that towel can be used for your face. Still, chances are good the last traveler to stay in your room was European. Europeans are used to bidets. Thus they know to use the bidet towel on the right cheeks. Just saying!
Many Italian Hotels Do Not Provide Toiletries
Missing toiletries is not the mark of a bad hotel in Italy. 5 stars, you’re probably awash in luxury bath products, but for the average traveler on a budget, forget it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a rip-n-squeeze “wash” packet, but that’s likely it. Pack toiletries or leave time to run to the market when you land. Once outside your host’s home or the hotel, it’s time to know what to expect from public bathrooms in Italy.
Italian Public Bathrooms are Usually Clean
Public bathrooms in Italy are a little different than bathrooms in America. Take for example the public bathrooms in transit stations. When I lived in New York City you couldn’t pay me enough to use a subway or train station bathroom. In Torino, Italy Porta Nuova train station bathrooms are some of the cleanest public bathrooms in town. There’s a reason for it.
Pay to Use Public Bathrooms in Italy
Pocket that change after lunch. It’s ok, really! When eating in Italy, tipping is not expected. You’re not being cheap. Instead, you’re planning ahead.
When sprinting for a public loo, be prepared to hand a bathroom attendant or machine blocking the door 1€. Public bathrooms in Italy are not always free to use. Now you understand why I recommend pocketing those coins!
My story of learning about paying to use the bathroom in Italy?
The first time I had to pay to use a public bathroom in Italy, I was at an Autrogrill on the way to France. A rest stop, if you will.
To use the bathroom, you had to first pay a eruo, then scan a receipt to unlock the bathroom turnstile.
After plunking a euro into the machine, I got my recipe.
Walking to the bathroom, I stopped. Looking down at the receipt, I started laughing out loud. The locals thought I was nuts and walked at a distance around me.
Can you guess what I was thinking?
Now I’m a polite person, but still! I started laughing because the thought that crossed my mind was, “It gives new meaning to ‘shit ticket’ doesn’t it.”
What! My Dad taught me that phrase! Blame (or thank) him for that one.
Bathrooms in Italian Coffee Shops
Yes, you can always find a bathroom in an Italian coffee shop, but those bathrooms are for customers only. Especially in Italy. 1€ buys you a welcoming wave in answer to “dov’è il bagno?” Just act casual and always order and drink your coffee first. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. Italians drink their coffee like a shot of tequila standing at the bar.
Side note, the further outside of large cities, the more of these you will find. So prepare yourself. Don’t wait till you’re about to burst in the Italian countryside. It’s beautiful, but often rustic. Only in Italy they call it authentic.
Unisex Bathrooms in Italy
If you are driving through Italy, do not skip the gas stations. Otherwise known as Autogrill. Americans will find them magically amusing. The food looks and tastes good!
Much of it is locally sourced.
Our friends once brought us what I thought was a giant baguette. Instead, it was a three-foot-long salami from an Autogrill.
Driving from London, they said, “It’s Italy! We’re staying in the Italian Alps. I just really wanted that Italian experience of rustic salami!”
Meanwhile, I live in the Italian Alps, and I’d never seen a salami that big! The best part? It was delicious and from our region. The four of us finished it off in one night.
This is why you cannot pass up an Autogrill. You never know what you’ll find.
Speaking of which. The funniest part of Italian Autogrills? The aisles. You can’t leave without weaving through a maze of kid’s toys, culinary gifts, and porn mags.
Before you think I’ve lost my way. Here’s why you might need to stop at an Autogrill, the bathroom!
As you make your dash for the bathroom. If you do not see a male/female sign, don’t worry. You cannot go wrong. It’s unisex as many public bathrooms in Italy are.
Public Bathrooms in Italy Do Not Have Toilet Seats
Once you’ve paid for your coffee and dash to the bathroom, don’t be surprised if there is no toilet seat.
Toilet seats are rare in public bathrooms in Italy. It’s weird and uncomfortable. Hey, it’s probably easier to clean, right?
I try and wax poetic but I hope this changes before you get here!
Why No Toilet Seat in Italian Bathrooms
Wondering why toilets in Italy don’t have seats? The video below (at about 4 minutes) proposes a reason, though I’m not sure I’m ready to give the idea a swirl.
The video states that people who don’t want to sit on the toilet seats in Italy stand on them, breaking them. Not sure I’m buying it. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below?!
Oh holy crap! I almost can’t believe this, but after watching the Bright Side Media video above about why there are no toilet seats in Italy, I’ve come across not one but two broken toilet seats!
In both cases, they were in public bathrooms.
However, I still don’t believe it’s because Italians stand on them. More likely, it’s because they were flimsy and cheap to start with.
Italy will often have only a few manufacturers of specific types of products. Plus, Italians are not big on importing things they can make. I’m guessing one of the producers of toilet seats in Italy created a cheap product that breaks.
What I think the video gets right is that over time it’s likely easier and cheaper not to replace broken toilet seats.
Thus, public bathrooms in Italy often do not have toilet seats because the original cheap toilet seats break and are never replaced.
The first time you face a squat toilet in Italy, that missing toilet seat is quickly put in perspective.
In smaller Italian towns, there is a decent chance a local bar or restaurant will only have one stall. It might even be out back.
That stall is going to be a squat toilet. The kind where a floor pan with a hole between footplates is built directly into the floor.
Be sure to be on the lookout for a button or pull cord because most squat toilets in Italy actually do flush.
Using a Squat Toilet for the First Time in Italy
The first time I used a squat toilet in Italy, there might have been a bit of vino involved. Okay, there was a decent amount involved, and I had to go. Leaving without stopping at the bathroom was not an option.
As it turned out the bathroom was outside the restaurant. It was dark and cold outside. Had. To. Go.
Mustering the courage, I found my iPhone and turned on the flashlight. Opening the door, I couldn’t find the toilet. That’s because it wasn’t there!
It was a squat toilet. I’d never seen one before. Thankfully I found the light and spotted the footplates.
Had. To. Go.
Okay, I’m Italian now. “I can do this,” I thought.
It took me a few minutes to decide how to do it. Just as I squatted, the lights went out.
Like many bathrooms in Italy, the lights were on a timer to save money.
There I was, wobbling uncontrollably above a hole I had no desire to let any part of me touch. Let alone a bare part.
Pants around my ankles in the cold, dark night air getting to the lights was out of the question.
Crap! Struggling to pull my iPhone back out, I nearly took a seat on a toilet with no seat. Instead, my iPhone went clattering across the floor.
By the grace of luck, it landed far away from the toilet but let enough light shine so I could finish my business and go.
Honestly, even Italians roll their eyes at squat toilets. That’s just one of the charms of Italy. Not everything is modern. Hopefully, when you face it, your knees are younger than the toilet style.
When it’s time to leave a public bathroom in Italy, there might be just one more surprise waiting for you. Turning on the water in the sink. It might sound funny, but some older public bathrooms in Italy have sinks operated by foot-pedal. So if you find yourself waving at the sink like an old long-lost friend to no avail, look to your feet. If there is a pedal on the floor (usually red) step on it, and there you go!
Bathroom Outlets Only Have One Electric Socket in Italy
If you’re used to heating up a curling iron or flat iron while you dry your hair, this one might drive you nuts too! Most bathroom outlets in older Italian homes have outlets that only fit one plug at a time. Don’t forget that converter and your patience when you come to visit!
Bathrooms in Italy Have Two Doors
Both public and private bathrooms in Italy have to have a second door. Why? For hygiene. While renovating our home in Italy, our architect pointed out that it’s still the law in Italy to have two doors between the bathroom and kitchen. Wish you had a second door back home now?
Now that you know, you won’t be able to un-see them in Italy. Just a fun little fact to share with friends while traveling here.
Bathrooms in Italy Don’t Have Fans
Not to end on a stinky note, but private bathrooms in Italy don’t have exhaust fans. If they do, I have yet to see it. Our architect also couldn’t understand what on earth I was asking for when I asked for one. Thankfully, most home bathrooms in Italy do have a window… and a second door!
Now least I sound all negative, let’s bring this back into perspective. As an American, this is about the only culture shocking you’ll find beyond the language. Not bad right! It’s just subtle cultural differences that are fun to experience and get to write home about. Besides, I’ll take a mini-fridge stocked with 7€ bottles of wine over a free bar of soap any day. What’s the most surprising moment you’ve had while finding a loo on vacation? Let me know if the comments below.
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