As any experienced traveler knows, you can tell a whole lot about a place by its bathrooms. Whatever you prefer to call them – lavatory, loo, bog, khasi, thunderbox, dunny, washroom or water closet – toilets are a (sometimes opaque, often wide-open) window into the secret soul of a destination.
It’s not just how well they’re looked after that’s revealing, but where they are positioned and the way they’ve been conceptualized, designed and decorated. Toilets so often transcend their primary function of being a convenience to become a work of art in their own right, or to make a cultural statement about the priorities, traditions and values of the venues, locations and communities they serve. These are some of our favorite toilets around the world.
This article is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's Toilets: A Spotter's Guide.
1. Lobster loos, Wellington, New Zealand
Spend a penny? Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, spent NZ$375,000 on architect Bret Thurston’s boggly-eyed design for the public lavatories on the city’s windswept waterfront. It is hoped that the two tentacles, armoured in orange steel, will attract tourists to Wellington, though it’s a long way to go.
2. Barafu Camp, Tanzania
Squatting on the edge of a cliff, 4600m up the flanks of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Barafu Camp khazi takes the concept of a long-drop toilet to an elevated level. Pole pole (slowly, slowly) is the standard mantra when climbing Africa’s highest peak, but that adage doesn’t apply here.
3. Krafla, Iceland
This ever-so-alfresco ablution station in the middle of the Icelandic outback, near Krafla Geothermal Power Station, is an enigma. No one seems to know who installed it, or why, but that doesn’t worry happy hikers who, after stumbling across it, invariably Instagram images of themselves perched on the pan.
4. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Although this structure (designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Ieoh Ming Pei) looks capable of blasting off into space and attaining warp speed within seconds, it actually has a slightly more prosaic purpose in life – as a public convenience in the park outside the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
5. Fountain of toilets, Foshan, China
Made from 10,000 toilets, sinks and urinals, this fantastic flushing fountain graces Shiwan Park in Foshan, China, the world’s ceramic capital. The installation, which is 100m (330ft) long and 5m (16ft)high, is the handy work of Chinese artist Shu Yong, who used factory seconds and pre-loved pans to create his masterpiece.
6. Long-drop, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania
Tanzania’s Oldupai Gorge is part of the Rift Valley, where the human species spent its formative years. Our ancient forebears went about their business here in the eastern Serengeti over 1.9 million years ago. Continuing in that tradition, this toilet features a seat directly overhanging the edge of the ravine.
7. Public lavatories, Matakana, New Zealand
Locals in Matakana waited seven years and spent a pretty penny (NZ$400,000) to come face-to-face with their pouting public toilets, which provoked plaudits and protestation. Matakana lad Steffan de Haan’s design is highly symbolic, from the facade to the ship-shape cubicles, a nod to the local boat-building industry.
8. Mt Shuksan, Washington, USA
Facilities at Mt Shuksan’s Sulphide Glacier base camp offer a grand vista of Mt Baker on a clear day, but they can be a bit breezy when the weather comes in. The peaks rise in North Cascades National Park in Whatcom County, Washington, just 19km (11.8 miles) shy of the Canadian border.
9. Toilet island, near Placencia, Belize
Eat your heart out Robinson Crusoe. This paradisiacal punctuation mark in the Caribbean Sea off Placencia, Belize, boasts its own flushing throne, from where the king or queen of the castaways can survey their desert-island domain. It’s a long way to the shops when you run out of paper, though…
10. Eco-toilet, British Columbia, Canada
Yes, of course bears do… especially when the facilities are this swanky. Make like a grizzly and sit in the woods, on this uber green composting machine in Taylor Arm Provincial Park, a raw wilderness area on the north side of Sproat Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
11. "Comfort toilets", Chott el Djerid, Tunisia
Chott el Djerid, a large salt lake in southern Tunisia, was used as the setting for Luke Skywalker’s boyhood home in the original Star Wars film. The Lars’ subterranean homestead may have been destroyed, but the Galactic Empire failed to extinguish the new hope represented by these roadside ‘comfort’ toilets.
12. Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, USA
Limited privacy is the trade-off for sensational views from the hot seats of these composting campsite toilets on the 112km (70 mile)-long Tonto Trail through Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Instead of going rim-to-rim, the Tonto Trail traces the Colorado River, traversing the bench separating the inner gorge from the upper canyon.
13. Desert toilet, the Siloli, Bolivia
You can forget frills, privacy and shelter in this open-air latrine in the arid heart of Bolivia’s Siloli Desert, but there’s never a queue for the toilet. The Siloli, a continuation of the Atacama Desert in neighbouring Chile, is famed for wind-sculpted rock formations such as Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree).
14. Waterfall washroom, Taroko National Park, Taiwan
The Baiyang Waterfall Trail in Taiwan’s Taroko National Park might not be very long, but it boasts seven impressive tunnels and numerous curtain-style cascades along its 2km (1.2-mile) length. Appropriately, the washroom by the trailhead is fed directly by one of the path’s waterfalls
15. Schönbrunn Castle toilets, Vienna, Austria
These leafy conveniences are found in the vast verdant grounds of Vienna’s 17th-century Schönbrunn Castle. This 1441-room Baroque palace, complete with expansive gardens exquisitely manicured and shaped over successive centuries by the green hands of the Habsburg’s royal gardeners, is one of the biggest attractions in the Austrian capital.
16. Valley view restroom, Laos
Sit, stand or squat – the choice is yours in this well-maintained roadside rest stop in the mountainous Southeast Asian nation of Laos. Whichever way you lean, the valley view from the loo, through a wide-open hole in the wall, is utterly uplifting.
17. Huldefossen waterfall, Norway
No need to run the tap while perching on this picturesque potty next to the cacophonous Huldefossen Waterfall near Førde in Norway; the sound of thousands of gallons of water rushing over the 90m (295ft) drop should drown out any unwanted acoustics. Norway boasts nine of the world’s 20 highest waterfalls.
18. Mr Toilet House, Suwon, South Korea
Suwon, in South Korea, boasts a theme park totally devoted to toilets. The eccentric attraction revolves around a commode-shaped museum, former home of Sim Jae-duck – aka ‘Mr Toilet’ – one-time mayor of Suwon and first president of the World Toilet Association, which strives to improve sanitation in developing countries.
19. Segantini hut restroom, Switzerland
Austrian-born 19th-century painter Giovanni Segantini lived his last years in a St Moritz alpine aerie now known as Segantini Hut, capturing the Swiss peaks with his palette. The hut, perched at 2731m (8960ft), is currently a lodge, where visitors to the iconic outhouse enjoy eye-watering valley views of the Engadine.
20. Log outhouse, Chena Hot Springs Resort, Alaska, USA
If Santa has an outhouse, it surely resembles this log bog on the banks of a creek meandering through Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska – though you’ll have to be an employee to enjoy it. The resort also boasts an Ice Museum, featuring frozen carvings, including a life-size effigy of jousting knights and a depiction of a (non-functioning) ice toilet.
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