Why Paris public toilets have become an elusive prize during pandemic

With cafes, bars and museums closed to combat the coronavirus outbreak, Parisians are learning what tourists have long known -- finding a public toilet in the French capital requires some sleuthing and plenty of patience.

Why Paris public toilets have become an elusive prize during pandemic
A public toilet in Paris is cleaned in March 2021. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Long lines outside the few facilities available have become a common sight as spring weather draws more people outdoors, in particular at parks or along the banks of the Seine.

“It’s really complicated, especially for girls, because there’s always a line and there aren’t that many toilets,” said Charlotte Le Merdy, a
publishing assistant, waiting with around a dozen others for a break near Notre-Dame cathedral.

Men are more often tempted to duck behind a tree or find a relatively remote wall, which hasn’t helped the city’s complicated relationship with cleanliness.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo is already facing a torrent of complaints about trash and neglect on social media, where hundreds of unflattering photos have been posted with the hashtag “#saccageParis” (trashing of Paris) in recent weeks.

“I probably shouldn’t say it, but you try to go somewhere secluded, in the bushes maybe,” said Romain Chevreux, an event organiser who was enjoying an afternoon near the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s a little complicated, especially because a lot of toilets are out of order, so you do what you have to,” he said.

Luc, a street cleaner near the Place de la Republique, confirmed that “guys piss everywhere – you see that the streets are dirty, that there’s no hygiene.”

‘So filthy’

The city says there are 435 self-cleaning toilets installed across the capital, which saw their usage drop by 20 percent last year due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

It also counts an additional 50 stand-up urinals and some 300 toilets at parks and gardens, many of which are indexed on the website

But many people are convinced that’s still not enough. And often, the toilets that are working aren’t exactly inviting.

“These toilets are so filthy, going inside is like you’re trying to get sick,” said Bamoye, a bike courier who like his colleagues often has no other choice.

Elie Sabaa, a taxi driver, has developed another strategy in the absence of quick breaks at a cafe.

“Ninety percent of the time I have to go back home because it’s the only place that’s clean,” he said. “It wastes a lot of time.”

The situation has made Parisians all the more impatient for cafes and restaurants to reopen — President Emmanuel Macron has announced that outdoor seating will be allowed starting May 19.

“It does pose a problem when you drink too much in the parks, you want to find a toilet and there’s a massive line,” said English teacher Paris Zeikos.

“You need to be cautious to how much water you drink before, how much water you drink afterwards, and you kind of need to be aware of your surroundings at the same time,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Expanded café terraces to return to Paris this summer

Member comments

  1. What’s missing from the article is why so many of the public toilets are closed right now. It feels as if it is more than they are simply out of order, as some seem to be closed because of COVID.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Paris bakers bounce back with sharp rise in number of city boulangeries

If you’ve convinced yourself that the delicious and tempting aroma of baking bread seems a little more pronounced in Paris then your scent suspicions are accurate, according to new figures showing a strong growth in the number of boulangeries in the capital.

Paris bakers bounce back with sharp rise in number of city boulangeries

You might think that the busy pace of big city life would put paid to the tradition of going to a traditional boulangerie to buy your daily bread.

But after several years in which number of boulangeries in and around the capital did indeed decline, 110 new bakeries were listed by the Chambre des métiers et de l’artisanat (CMA) d’Île-de-France in 2022.

In the 20 arrondissements of Paris, there are now 1,360 bakeries – a jump of nine percent in the past five years. Twenty years ago, there were only 1,000 boulangeries in the capital.

Moving out into the greater Paris Île de France region, the number of boulangeries has jumped an average of 20 percent – and as much as 35 percent in the département of Seine-Saint-Denis. 

READ ALSO MAPS: How many Parisians live more than 5 minutes from a boulangerie?

They’re busy, too. According to CMA figures, Parisian boulangeries bake between 500 and 800 baguettes a day, compared to an average of 300 across France, and sell a variety of artisan-made breads and pastries.

That’s in spite of repeated crises – from the yellow vest protests and pandemic confinement, to the rising cost-of-living and soaring energy bills.

The CMA has said it has contacted every one of the bakers in Paris to find out how they are coping with rising bills, while an estimated 50 advisers are conducting energy audits to find ways for individual bakers to save money.

The secret of modern boulangers’ survival is not much of a secret – diversification.

“The profile of the artisan is not the same as it was fifty years ago, when making good bread was enough,” Jean-Yves Bourgois, secretary general of the CMA of Île-de-France, told Le Parisien. “They are much more dynamic: the offer is much wider, and they have been able to keep up with customers’ demand.”


Bakeries have increasingly established themselves as an alternative to the fast-food kebab houses and burger bars by developing their product lines to include salads, sandwiches and warm meals for takeaway. Many also have an attached café or terrace for customers to while away their time.

As well as diversifying, bakers are consolidating. “Networks of artisanal bakeries (Kayser, Landemaine, Sevin, etc.) are expanding, and more and more Parisian artisans are managing several stores,” the Professional Association of Bakers in Greater Paris said.

“There have been other crises and we have held on. The bakery industry still has a lot of good years ahead of it,” Franck Thomasse, president of the professional association, said.