What Is The Red Light District In Amsterdam?
Named for the neon red lights that outline windows and doors where women in lingerie lounge provocatively and entertain potential customers, the red light district is world renowned for its legal prostitution. Amsterdam has long been known for its open-minded policies toward pot and prostitution. Except for the past several years, the most important city within the Netherlands has been trying to draw in tourists curious about its many other offerings, including picturesque canals, world-class museums, and wheels of cheese the dimensions of tires. And therefore, the effort to tamp on cannabis and sex tourism (AKA “party tourism”) has only intensified with the pandemic.
How Many Red Light Districts Are There In Amsterdam?
There is more than one red light district in Amsterdam, believe it or not. De Wallen is the most well-known red light district. It has more than 17 alleyways and streets, as well as more than 200 window brothels, and is located in the city centre. However, Amsterdam has other red light areas.
Ruysdaelkade, a residential neighbourhood less than 2 miles south of De Wallen, is frequently seen as a more authentic red light district because it is embedded within a residential neighbourhood and is frequented by locals rather than visitors. Near the confluence of Spuistraat and the Singel Canal lies another red light district in Amsterdam. It’s also significantly smaller than De Wallen, with only roughly 40 windows.
Fun fact: The red light district is known in Dutch as De Wallen (the walls) because some of the waterways within the area are not fenced. However, the term “wall” will not be used as a code for “paid sex.”
When Did Amsterdam’s Red Light District Begin?
Prostitution in Amsterdam is as old as the city itself, dating back to the Middle Ages, when visiting sailors and local widows came to an agreement. Only a third of sailors returned home safely in the 14th and 15th centuries. And church rules prohibited the wives who remained unmarried from remarrying. As a result, many Dutch women were left jobless, anxiously looking for methods to support their families. Foreign sailors arriving in Amsterdam looked for entertainment on the cobblestone streets near the harbor, and these women were happy to provide it for a fee.
Prostitution was made illegal in the Netherlands in 1570. While the police raided the brothels on occasion, detaining the women and sending them to the spinhuis to spin wool for a while, little was done to enforce the law. In 2000, the Dutch government declared prostitution to be legal, recognizing brothels as legitimate enterprises and letting prostitutes to register as independent contractors with chambers of commerce and rent their own window locations from regulated brothel owners.
What Can You Do In Amsterdam’s Red Light District?
Although window brothels are most generally linked with the red light district, it is not solely about prostitution. The red light area also has pubs, restaurants, sex shops, live erotic shows, and strip clubs. The Museum of Prostitution is also located in the area, as is the world’s first condom speciality shop. Some of the city’s 250 coffeeshops are located in De Wallen, where anybody over the age of 18 can legally purchase and consume cannabis or hashish.
If you want to see the neighbourhood to satisfy your curiosity, a tour of the red light district may be the best option. Self-directed audio tours, guided walking tours given by a local, and brothel tours led by a prostitute are just a few of the alternatives available.
Pro Tip: While the names “coffeeshop” and “coffee house” may conjure up ideas of delectable lattes and silky jazz outside of the Netherlands, coffeeshops in Amsterdam are nothing like that. They are, instead, places where anyone over the age of 18 can buy and consume marijuana and hash. If you want a cup of coffee in Amsterdam, ask for a cafe instead of a coffee shop for everything from espresso to cold brew.
What Not To Do In The Red Light District Of Amsterdam?
Despite the fact that prostitution and marijuana are allowed in Amsterdam, the red light district is not a “anything goes” free-for-all, and there are many things you should never do there.
One of the most important rules is to never photograph or film the women in their windows, since there are signs everywhere reminding you. Although technically not illegal, breaching this etiquette rule can result in security guards demanding that you remove the image or a broken cell phone, with little sympathy or backing from the authorities. Stopping and staring at the women in their windows is also inappropriate. Gawking is not only impolite, but “window shopping” in this context can also interfere with their capacity to interact with paying clients.
It’s also crucial that you don’t buy drugs from a stranger on the street. Amsterdam’s coffeeshops are licenced establishments where it is entirely lawful to use marijuana or hash. However, buying these products (or other offerings) from a street hawker is unlawful, as is consuming drugs on the streets.
Finally, avoid being a pig. Don’t toss rubbish on the street or in the canals, just like you shouldn’t anyplace else in the globe. Don’t drink in public, be drunk or stoned in public, or otherwise cause a disturbance. And don’t urinate in public, especially when “sexy loo” public toilets with video screens designed to blend in with the red, neon-lit window brothels are available!
Is Amsterdam’s Red Light District Safe?
The red light district in Amsterdam is one of the safest in the world when compared to other prostitution hotspots. Not only do police officers patrol the streets on a regular basis, but many prostitutes also hire private bodyguards, and the area is also monitored by cameras. However, because the red light district is still a bustling place in a large city, you should keep an eye out for pickpockets and be aware of your surroundings.
When Is It Best To Go To The Red Light District?
De Wallen comes to life when the sun sets, which is not surprising. Choose a self-guided or guided tour between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., especially from Sunday through Thursday, to escape the crowds. Things pick up around 10 p.m. — especially on Friday and Saturday evenings — and then drop down between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. when the neighbourhood shops close.
How Can I Stay Away From Amsterdam’s Red Light District?
Even if you don’t want to smoke a joint, eat an edible, or enter a window brothel, you’ll want to get close to Amsterdam’s red light district. Why? Because De Wallen is located in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The lovely Oude Kerk (old church), the Anne Frank House, and scenic canals flanked by cobblestone lanes and tall, narrow brick residences may all be found nearby.
However, if you don’t want to walk through peep shows or answer queries from fellow visitors about the scantily clad women in the windows (as I did when I visited Amsterdam with my school-aged son), it’s simple to see Amsterdam’s city center without visiting the red light district. Simply avoid De Wallen while using a paper or electronic map to plot your route, and you’ll be OK.