Visitors to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI, are awed by The Social History of Architecture, by contemporary artist Matt Nolen. They carefully study the work’s iconography, admiring the bold colors and skilled brushstrokes.
But this isn’t a painting or sculpture. It’s one of six washrooms created by individual artists under the center’s Art/Industry program, and it’s a must-see—and must-use—for museumgoers. In fact, for some of those in need, the fact that this is actually a nice, clean, and inviting public toilet trumps its artistic merits.
A high-quality public bathroom ranks high on the list of travelers’ necessities. These go-to johns generate fervent blog posts and are the subject of contests around the world, including the annual America’s Best Restroom competition. They can be as sought after as any insider find: a secret beach, a flea-market bargain, the best little neighborhood restaurant.
So what constitutes a “nice” public toilet? A full stock of bathroom tissue, unclogged plumbing, and smear-free surfaces are the most basic criteria. But the best go beyond the call of duty and are paragons of creativity—destinations in their own right. Tourists consider the trek to Kawakawa, a small town in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, a worth-it detour to get a glimpse of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s outrageous facilities, decorated with glass bottles and colorful mosaics.
Other great public loos incorporate cutting-edge technology. The ingenious Urilift, popping up (literally) in cities all over Europe, comes out only during the night, when the streets are filled with carousers, then discreetly retracts into the ground.
The bathrooms at Daimaru department store in Tokyo are equipped with programmable Washlets from Japan’s leading toilet company, Toto. The functions include a heated seat and a bidet wand that spritzes and dries your backside, all to the soothing sounds of running brooks or crashing ocean waves.
These facilities’ thoughtful and innovative approaches to one of life’s essential functions are highly appreciated. Keep this list of top toilets handy for your next trip; you never know when you’ll need a pit stop.