Why are there no public toilets in the Netherlands?

It’s the moment we all dread in the Netherlands: needing to use the loo when you’re out and about. There’s just one problem: where the heck are the public toilets around here? And why do you have to pay to go to the bathroom in the Netherlands? 

Picture this: you’re relaxing with your friends in the city, wandering from shop to shop after a stop at a Dutch café for delicious coffee and apple cake — when suddenly you feel it.

Your friends notice the flicker of fear in your eyes, and they ask what’s wrong. Taking a deep breath, and wishing that you’d actually had something stronger with your cake, you reply: I need the loo.

In any other country, this would be no cause for concern — from Ireland to New Zealand, public toilets are commonplace, free, and relatively clean (mostly).

But in the Netherlands, things are very different. If you need to go while you’re out of the house, you’re going to have to part with one of three things: your money, your dignity, or your comfort. Actually, you’ll probably lose all these. 😩

Why are Dutch toilets so expensive?

As anyone who has lived here for a while can tell you, Dutch toilets (WC = water closet) are not free of charge. Another major fail, if you ask me. Fees range from 25 cents to a whole euro, depending on city and location.

Train stations, cafés, and restaurants will all charge you to use their facilities. 😠

You might be wondering what all this money goes towards. Well, keep wondering, because we have geen idee (no idea). According to the Dutch Toilet Organisation, only one in four toilets in the Netherlands is actually clean!

But they’re clean though, right?

You would think that by paying to use the toilet in the Netherlands, you would be paying for impeccably clean bathrooms, right? Nope! Actually, less than 16% of toilets in public areas like train stations pass the Dutch Toilet Organisation’s fit-for-purpose test. 

Presumably, some of the money pays the wages of the omnipresent toiletjuffrouw — the lady who takes your money when you’re entering the toilet (good for her, though). 

READ MORE | 5 odd things you can find in the Netherlands

Sneaking into café toilets is an option

Officially, most cafés will ask you for 50 cents if you use their toilets without buying something. But you can decide to risk your dignity and sneak past the wait staff to the toilet in the back.

Legally, they can’t make you pay, though it is considered pretty rude. Nonetheless, in an emergency when you have no change in your pockets, it’s an option — if not the best option. 🤷

sign-toilet-for-men-and-women
Finding a public toilet can be a nightmare in the Netherlands! Image: Fotographiche/Depositphotos

Toilets are actually pretty important

For most of us, the worst-case scenario is being uncomfortable for an hour or so until we get home to enjoy the luxury of a free, clean, private toilet. But for people who have incontinence problems, have a health issue that affects their digestive system (like Crohn’s disease, for example), or are pregnant, the lack of accessible public toilets in the Netherlands is a real problem.

As a result, some people don’t even leave their house, reports NOS. How awful!

There’s no denying that the public toilet situation in the Netherlands is, well, 💩. But if you are out, about, and desperate, there are some apps out there that help you find public toilets! These apps are available in many countries including the Netherlands.

It won’t fix the lack of toilet paper or the horrifying “inspection shelf” — but at least you’ll be able to uncross your legs for a couple of minutes. 😅

Have you had any horrifying experiences with public toilets in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: shisuka/Depositphotos

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2019 and was fully updated in September 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Ailish Lalor
Ailish was born in Sydney, Australia, but grew up by a forest in south-east Ireland, which she has attempted to replace with a living room filled with plants in The Hague. Besides catering to her army of pannenkoekenplantjes, Ailish spends her days convincing her friends that all food is better slightly burnt, plotting ways to hang out with dogs and cats, and of course, writing for DutchReview.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. I am from America and every restroom I have visited in the Netherlands is 100% cleaner, more private, and totally worth every cent. If you have ever been to an American public restroom you will know what I am talking about.

    • America is big, it might depend on where in the US you are and if it’s at a restaurant/cafe/train station or wherever. I’ve only been to New York and only encountered one problematic toilet that I refused to go to because it was absolutely disgusting (at a DIY venue, so that was expected).
      I’m Dutch and I find most toilets here pretty disgusting, but I have to say that it’s changing the last couple of years. Way more often you actually see the ‘toiletjuffrouw’ cleaning the toilet before and after you. But I totally agree, there should be way more toilets available. I always go before leaving the house to avoid going anywhere, because yes you always have to pay for it. Not that I care about the 50 cents, but it’s 2019, most payment is electonic and you just don’t carry around any cash.

  2. I am from America too, though I disagree with the above. Plenty of restrooms in the USA are as clean as the ones in the Netherlands. From Starbucks to public restrooms at rest stops, I don’t recall having an issue. As an expat in this country, I hate the bathroom charge. I have to pee often. I drink a lot of water, but I exercise a lot, so normal, but i hate having to pay for really what a government is there to provide. My biggest problem is if the government is here for the disadvantaged, what is it thinking when it refuses to provide free, clean restrooms. What about those people who don’t have a lot of money and have a health issue? Do they always stay home. For a country that seems to want to take care of its citizens well, why can’t they provide something that is a necessity for every person?

  3. I’m a Canadian whose been living in the Netherlands for 16 years. Of the hundreds of times I’ve needed the loo when out and about ( oot and aboot), I’ve paid for the service about 20 of those times. Examples: Artis zoo free. Hermitage museum ( before you pay) free. NEMO ( before you pay) free. Eye Film Museum ( before paying) free, OBA Library free, Muziekgebouw free, Westerpark free. In fact, other than Hema and Centraal Station I’m struggling to remember where I’ve had to pay!

  4. I totally agree with you Katrina Oakes.
    The author of the toilet story mentioned enjoying a cup of coffee and apple cake. Why not use the toilet in that establishment? They are often free and clean.
    The toiletjuffrouw doesn’t just sit there collecting money. It is her job to keep the toilets clean so they can be used without having to straddle a dirty toilet.
    She is there for you if there is a problem and the few cents paid ensures a good experience of using her toilets..

  5. Yes. Actually a lot of things are wrong in Holland. Its mostly because we are actually rude and mostly scared people will shoot up on the toilets, and a lot of older public toilets used to get used by hookers and their clients. Whatever was left of the toilets got destroyed by bored youth.
    Weirdly there are options nowadays. Like the self cleaning toilets. And there is 1 in Amsterdam. But guess what? Closed at night, so people piss and shit behind it instead.
    So if i had any leverage here in the country, i would plea for two 12 hour camperparkings plus selfcleaning toilet. Open 24 hours, free. But you got to be gone between 9am and 9pm. During the day these spots will be for short parking and shop stock. All this will solve a lot of problems.
    Btw. Local people know our toilet is always free, clean and there are emergency female accesoiries.

  6. Now please don’t forget the pop up toilets which cater to men’s needs rather than women’s in the cities around events… Kings Day is always tough as the men go where they please and women struggle to find a place or use a private household even.
    There are strategies to be developed for getting by (such as minimizing drinks while out) but most cases do result in buying another drink to use a cafe restroom with peace of mind. ?‍♀️

  7. I think it should not be charged. Moreover pregnant lady or diabetic person or those who have incontinence problems, its a problem for them. I am the third case here (incontinence problm) n this prevents me frm going out n stay out for hours. I cant pay to go evry hour a 50 cents to go to loo. And yes toliets r not always clean evrywhere. Thr should be some humanity. You should charge for drinking water and not for going to loo since its unvoluntry process of body. You can stay thirty for hours bt u cant hold your pee for hours together.
    I wud say at the end its lack of humanity n lil common sense in this concept in netherlands.

  8. Well, yeah it’s always a bit of a shame when I have to go bad enough that I’m actually willing to pay (at the station for example), but the toilets are constantly kept clean. Also it costs €.75 to enter, and the machine where you pay spits out a coupon valid for use at the station shops worth €.50. So assuming you’re going to occasionally visit those shops for a coffee or a snack, then it’s not the worst thing forking over that 75 cents.

    I think I’ve saved up around €10 worth of coupons since living in the Netherlands.

    At the end of the day, when it comes to bursting bladders (or worse) during your Dutch train commutes, there’s an unimaginably distasteful toilet waiting for you free of charge just a few steps away from your cabin of suffering or the next one down.

    As for public restrooms around town, yeah that’s always a bummer. Make nice with some local shops and the people working there usually don’t mind letting you go for free. If you’re a guy then it’s sometimes possible to find stand-alone free public urinals in the street, but then prepare to stand in a bunch of piss.

    Sorry gotta run, this is my train stop!

  9. As an American living in the Netherlands I have never had an issue with public toilets They have always been clean and very private Yes you have to pay but in an emergency most can be free several times at train stations have had no change and desperate never had the Toilet lady reject me

    Germany is more expensive for toilet use. Being American I would never use a public toilet in the United States and I found this article very rude and a inconsistent view of Dutch Culture

  10. I always look for the nearest library and they always have a toilet. I guess I get away with more being disabled because even places like Jumbo let me use theirs.

  11. I am new in Nederland and i go to work very early and Twice now i have had experience with toilet issue that is the most embarrassing in my life. The public toilet dont open till 8pm or 9pm and when u work early and then u feel like poo then it is big issue. I never knew there was no toilet in metro stations and coming from a third world country where toilet are more in public places than private i was shocked in a developed country toilet will be limited. This post just read my mind and spot on for those who has had bad experiences ? just wondering as an adult u can hold yourself! What if it was kids???‍♀️

  12. “In any other country, this would be no cause for concern” – well, you are definitely exaggerating here, paid toilets are far from being Dutch-only phenomena 🙂 In Germany I was even chased by a waiter once, for not paying 30 cents (actually I was planning to order something in his cafe afterwards :))
    Personally I don’t mind paying, but especially in such a cash-free country as NL, it is ridiculous that you still can’t pay by card contact-less…

  13. It is nothing but horribly primitive not to have free, clean, and functional toilets in every major city in the Netherlands. We are a primitive bunch compared to e.g. the Danes. It is so bad, we should make it a priority to change this awful situation at an accelerated pace, say within 3 years…

  14. I did ask when I moved here. I got same answer from many people working in Amsterdam, it seems their opinion is that tourists get high mixing alcohol and weed or some other things… And they puke or do a big mess in the toilet and they leave , sometimes without ordering anything… ??
    Then the money is for the person who is cleaning the toilet , not the establishment ….
    I get it … But I don’t get it in the train stations , you need to pay 0,70 cents or get into the train toilet which is never clean….
    It is really a business… On kings day people is opening their doors to let people into their toilet for 1-2€… ?

  15. Part of my time I live in the UK, the rest of the time in the Netherlands. In the UK public toilets are closed down for good. So you have yo go into supermarkets, pubs and coffe shops. There are more loo’s in the UK and they sre cleaner than before, but still pretty dishusting. Smelly places and hardly any water coming from the taps to scrub your hands. I don’t mind spending a penny in NL, as the toilets are cleaner. Now I am diabetic and have a serrious problem with my prostate on top. I do not understand thr moaning about paying for the washrooms, they cost money, someone has to pay. It keeps out the adicts and youth too.

    • What do you think about the Dutch schools? In toilet there is no soap because they suppose that the child will wash his/her hands when back in the classroom! It is not convenient both physically and psycologically. Moreover I haven’t seen the brushes in the toilet cabins. And there is no paper inside, it is waiting for you outside. How can you really count how much paper you Will need beforehead?….

  16. I either have to be around primark for the free toilet or go pee in the park or behind some other crap. And I’m a woman. It’s very hard. I think I get more dehydrated than anything in NL. I also carry around TP and hold my nose any time there’s a portapotty. The most wretched smells ever. NS never has tp either.

  17. well, it’s the same as in france, germany and the us. public restrooms are always kinda disgusting and way to expensive. just go to the toilet at home before you leave and you won’t have and problems.

  18. I am a South African living inthe Netherlands and this was my first serious hygiene issue. I don’t have a problem paying yo use the toilet and I must admit when I’ve found a toilet it’s been clean. In town, the Grote Markt area has no.public facilities and I’m not sure how they expect shoppers to spend time and money without relief. Hema has been available but it’s. Not sufficient for the public.

  19. I don’t mind paying, but the problem is that there’s just no toilets in many cities (like Ridderkerk, where I live, for example). You go to a public park and there’s no restroom, paid or not! I’d rather pay an euro or even a bit more if I need a restroom, than having no restroom and having to release my stuff on my pants if I can’t hold it, since it’s illegal to do it “in nature” even when you’re kilometers away from any accessible restroom, paid or not. 😟

    I come from Brazil, a third world country, but at least there you usually find public restrooms (sometimes filthy but, still, even if you’re almost in the middle of nowhere there’s a hole in the ground with walls and a door at least, or you’re ok to do it discreetly if you’re in the woods 😁 (in The Netherlands only pregnant woman can pee outside)…

    This culture of inhospitality (not ever paying for anything someone else is using/doing) is the only annoying thing here (it also affects the total disrespect the Dutch have for lines when you take the bus, for example). I wish they could learn to improve on that and be at least a bit more welcoming and generous.

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