“Muuuuum! Daaaaad! I need a wee!” The dreaded call of nature always seems to come when you’re furthest away from an easy toilet stop. The problem has been exacerbated in recent months, with the closure of many public toilets, and family-friendly venues.
So where can you go if you’re caught short in London? We’ve rounded up the options in some of the more family-oriented parts of town.
The South Bank
This popular destination is normally an easy option for parents, with excellent facilities in all the buildings of the South Bank Centre, National Theatre and Tate Modern. Currently, most of these are either closed or require a prebooked ticket, so you need to have a plan B.
Happily, a series of portakabin-style toilets have sprung up along the walkway -- perhaps every 300 metres or so. These purport to be regularly cleaned. Each bank of toilets also comes with a booth specifically for babychange. It’s a tight space, but perfectly do-able.
Those seeking a bit more comfort could try the ‘Jubiloo’ toilets in Jubilee Gardens. They’re well-maintained, but cost an astonishing £1 per visit. A further set of one-in-one-out toilets can be found in Gabriel’s Wharf, but these ones don’t have babychange.
Both Blackfriars and the appropriately named Waterloo station have full and open toilet facilities, including babychange. For Blackfriars, you’ll have to cross the Thames to the north entrance.
Your options further east are more limited. London Bridge station has full facilities, as does Borough Market.
The Royal Parks
Here, we’re talking about the big, famous parks in the centre (Regent’s Park, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park), but also Richmond Park, Greenwich Park and Bushy Park. All of these now have at least one set of toilets open to the public during daylight hours. Almost all of them have babychange facilities, though you may have to queue on fine days.
The West End
Some of the public toilets in the West End remain closed, but at least two very useful options are open -- the toilets in Trafalgar Square, and those beneath Leicester Square. If you’re in the Oxford Street area, the simplest thing to do is enter one of the big department stores and use their facilities (remember to wear a mask). Otherwise, the Royal Parks, and their toilets, are only a short walk away from most parts of the West End.
The Square Mile is a slightly more challenging environment for the junior toilet-goer, but options are available. Decent toilets, with babychange, remain open in Paternoster Square and Tower Hill. If you’re in the City with kids, you’re probably there to visit either the Museum of London, Tower of London, the Barbican or St Paul’s -- all of which have their own facilities (but you’ll need a prebooked ticket to get into them in the first place). If you’re over to the west, the toilets in Lincoln’s Inn Fields are open, with babychange.
Your best bet is to head to the toilets in St James’s Park. Otherwise, the facilities in Westminster Tube are open (but expensive), and another little-known set can be found in front of the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre near Parliament Square.
All toilets across the heath should now be open (following disturbing news reports of people fouling the heath). These include toilets at Kenwood House, Highgate Ponds, and Golders Hill Park to the west.
Besides public toilets and department stores, many smaller cafes offer toilet facilities for paying customers. Larger branches of Pret and Costa are particularly good. Just remember that you may be expected to buy some refreshments to get the door code.
The Al Fresco Option
As a last resort, many parents with younger children will have attempted an al fresco toilet stop in a park. It’s fairly straightforward to find a quiet, secluded spot and change an infant’s nappy -- so long as the ground isn’t too damp. Parents of slightly older children often carry a travel potty. These come with disposable bags, and fold up small for easy carrying. In either case, be sure to seal the bag tightly and either dispose in a bin or take home with you. Use antibacterial hand-wash in lieu of soap and water. Never let your child simply “pee behind the bushes” -- it’s antisocial and unhygienic.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.