When you gotta go, this is where to find free bathrooms in Center City

During the pandemic, options have gotten more scarce.

Fashion District Philadelphia

Fashion District Philadelphia

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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It happens to the best of us: You’re miles from home, running errands, socially distancing with friends or strolling through another neighborhood. Then it hits. You gotta pee.

Municipal bathrooms aren’t a thing in Philadelphia — or in most U.S. cities and towns. Most of Philly’s parks and plazas don’t have them. They’re not on SEPTA train cars. They aren’t really anywhere.

The lack can have consequences beyond just forcing you to cross your legs. Without accessible toilets in Kensington, people experiencing homelessness often go outside, increasing the chances of a hepatitis A outbreak. Public transit riders often have to walk past defecation as they commute to work. And it can also be a priority for travelers when they’re deciding where to spend tourism dollars.

Many people have their own secret spot — their go-to when they’re on the go and really have to go. But during the pandemic, the options have gotten even more scarce. Many of the shops and indoor spaces that used to offer access no longer do, either because of safety concerns or because their business model has been forced to shift away from indoor service.

To help out on your next visit to Center City, we compiled a list and map of restrooms where you don’t have to buy something to use them. And they’re still open in the pandemic!

What’s your favorite de facto public restroom? Let us know and we might include it here.

The Bourse

Many food courts offer public restrooms. The one at the Bourse on Independence Mall is no exception, and it’s still open during the pandemic.

Fashion District Philadelphia

Philly’s mid-city shopping mall, aka The Gallery 2.0, has four sets of public restrooms.

On street level, there’s one near the Filbert Street entrance (across from Kate Spade) with a wheelchair accessible option, and another near the 9th Street entrance, across from Burlington. Up on Level 2, there’s a pair at the north end near Wonderspaces, and another behind the Levi’s Outlet.

Free Library Parkway Central Branch

The bathrooms at the Free Library headquarters just off the Ben Franklin Parkway are still open — but with pandemi-adjusted hours. Check those before you stop by with a full bladder.

Independence Visitor Center

Since this Old City spot is made to help tourists, it makes sense that it has stayed almost fully operational. There are not only bathrooms, but a cafe and WiFi too.

Liberty Place (food court)

What did we say about food courts? The indoor mall that makes up the bottom of these Center City towers is prime for an emergency pee. Just hop on the escalator and find the restroom at the back of the second-floor eating hub.

Lit Brothers

There’s a freely accessible bathroom in this iconic Philly building in the hallway near the Ross Dress for Less store — fully open during the pandemic.

Nordstrom Rack (basement)

This 17th and Chestnut below-ground bathroom option is still open, and word is that no one will stop you if you use them without making a purchase. Browsing = good for business.

Reading Terminal Market

It’s Philly’s most famous shopping center, but the food court rule still holds. There’s a set of stalls in the back corner, to the left of the central seating area.

Rittenhouse Barnes & Noble

Book-browsing is much more comfortable when you know you can take a free bathroom break.

SEPTA stations: Jefferson, Suburban, 30th Street

The restroom at SEPTA headquarters at 12th and Market appears to be another pandemic loss But stalls are still open at the city’s Regional Rail stations.

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