One Unusual Detail About Hotel Showers In Europe Tourists Should Know Before Visiting

When traveling to Europe, tourists often find themselves surprised by the cultural and architectural differences, from the historical buildings to the narrow streets. However, one feature that consistently catches visitors off guard is the half-shower door, which is not found in a public square or an ancient cathedral but in the privacy of their hotel bathrooms. Add that to the list of European washroom surprises, along with the bizarre thing tons of toilets don't have

This distinctive half-shower door in many European hotel bathrooms can perplex those accustomed to enclosed shower spaces. The typical American shower usually features a full swinging door or a curtain that spans the entire bathtub or shower area to keep water contained. However, these showers sport a glass panel that covers only half of the enclosure. While part of the shower is protected by glass, the rest remains splashingly accessible to the rest of the bathroom.

Sometimes, that slab of glass is absent altogether! A shower head, a floor drain, a curtain (more of a gesture than practicality), and no barrier to contain the water are what you'll get. In the case of a bathtub, it'll likely be a loose showerhead for handheld use with no curtain. This phenomenon is not exclusive to low-rated hotels or hostels. Across the board, bathing facilities at European hotels from one to five stars are facing a crisis: the bewildering vanishing act of the shower door. 

Why do European hotels use half-shower doors?

Although such showering conditions aren't excessively Spartan, they can be uncomfortable and sometimes downright dangerous. First, the lack of a barrier causes the bathroom to dampen or, worse, become entirely flooded (unless you're a professional showerhead wrangler). Whatever you have in the bathroom will get wet, and no amount of towels will save you. If you need to brush your teeth or use the toilet post-shower, be ready to step into little puddles of cold water. Second, the chance of slips and falls increases — a hazard for children or anyone with mobility issues. Finally, without a proper enclosure to seal off the airflow, especially in a drafty hotel, showering can get chilly.

The use of half-shower doors in Europe can be attributed to several factors, including spatial economy, aesthetics, and building norms. Even European cities you should seriously visit are known for their compact and efficient use of space. Many buildings, especially in older cities, are constrained by preservation rules and urban density. Therefore, bathrooms are often smaller, and full shower doors can make these tight spaces even more cramped. The half door helps create a sense of openness and makes the bathroom appear larger. Additionally, there is an emphasis on contemporary minimalism in European interior design, with the half door as a sleek, modern choice that aligns with the look many hotels strive for. It also allows for easier cleaning compared to a full door or curtain (which builds up mold).

Tips for managing this shower mystery

Napoleon Bonaparte famously wrote to his wife Joséphine while away on a military campaign, "Home in three days. Don't bathe." Perhaps he was worried she would splash water all over the bathroom floor and cause mold. While staying at a European hotel, there are some things you can do to make your showering experience feel more royal and less like a splash pad. First, reduce the water pressure. Some European showers are equipped with adjustable heads that can lessen the force of the water. Aim the showerhead toward the wall or the corner covered by the glass panel to contain most of the spray within the protected area. It's also helpful to place an extra towel on the floor outside the shower to catch any stray splashes, preventing them from spreading across the bathroom.

Keep all electronics outside the bathroom — the last thing you want to deal with on vacation is scrambling to fix a water-damaged iPhone. The same goes for your clothes and the toilet paper roll. Once done showering, use a spare towel (ask for extras and ensure to tip hotel housekeepers appropriately) and mop up the waterpark you've inadvertently created. If dealing with a half shower door is inconvenient, travelers should be more selective while searching for accommodations. Not all hotels have fully enclosed showers, but some may offer them, particularly in newer or recently renovated properties and AirBnBs. European shower mystery, or maybe Napoleon was onto something?