While chatting with an American friend preparing for a half-marathon race in the U.S., she told me how poorly she performed during a speed practice because of a very practical problem; she desperately needed a bathroom, and no suitable ones were available. You needn’t be a runner to have had this experience. Many tourists (and guides) face this problem as they race around the city, from sight to sight. Rome has been famous for its fountains for a while, but its bathrooms do not enjoy the same reputation.
Imagine you've just visited the area of Piazza Navona and had a fabulous Chocolate Tartufo ice cream at the café Tre Scalini. After leaving the restaurant, you begin to think that maybe you shouldn't have drunk that big cappuccino, after all, delicious as it may have been. You might not know it, but relief is right around the corner. Right around the corner of Piazza Navona, that is, and just off the square. There you will find an outstanding, hidden collection of ancient statues awaiting you. And guess what! The museum housing that collection has a beautiful bathroom: The National Museum of Palazzo Altemps. A bonus? You can also purchase your Colosseum tickets here, skipping all the lines.
Now, after visiting the Colosseum and Forum, you are beginning to think that maybe you shouldn't have drunk all that Coke, thirsty as you were. I would suggest you head in the direction of the Vittoriano (the Victor Emmanuel II Monument), that vast building honoring Italy's first king, Victor Emmanuel II. Its critics have variously nicknamed the building "The Wedding Cake," "The Typewriter," or, not so attractively, "The False Teeth". It contains a great display of the history of the Risorgimento (the unification of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861) and provides a beautiful vista of Rome. Climb to the top, passing from the back, and you will be astonished by the view over the Forum. In the building's interior, on the side where they hold modern art exhibitions, you will also find a nice, clean bathroom and a water dispenser. But don't drink too much! It may be a while before you find another bathroom.
Now let's say you've ignored my advice about the water before heading to the Vatican. You now find yourself in front of St. Peter's Basilica, and you see a long line of ladies on the left side of the colonnade. You understand, with horror, that THAT is the line for the ladies' room. Well, you should have used the bathroom in the Vatican Museums, but it's too late to think about that now. You'd love to ask to jump the line, but you're too shy. Besides, the looks on the faces of the other ladies aren't very promising. Don't despair. On the opposite side of the square, hidden under Bernini's huge columns, you will find another clean and less crowded one.
Consider that bathrooms are free in most places in Italy.
Public places such as cafés and restaurants are required to let you go. It is polite, however, to buy a coffee or something.
Some museums have bathrooms before the ticket counter, so admission is not required to use the facilities.
The smallest and least crowded museums are, in my opinion, the nicest in Italy. And they have the cleanest bathrooms.