The atmosphere is buzzing; a carnival of colour, its brash and playful personality lighting up the streets as much as the red lights themselves that reflect in the canals. It is a seductive circus of raucous bars, racy performances, erotic shows and outrageous museums. However, there is much more to The Red Light District than its salaciousness and its appeal is as much about being a tourist attraction. So whatever your pull, lose yourself in the mayhem - Amsterdam’s Red Light District leaves nothing to the imagination…
First things first – prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. As a consequence, The Red Light District is one of the safest places in this city, despite its wild reputation. The areas are heavily policed and 24-hour CCTV operates to protect both the tourists and the working ladies.
There are actually three red light districts in Amsterdam, though the biggest and most famous of all is De Wallen. Located just southeast of Centraal Station in the Centrum, De Wallen is a warren of medieval alleyways with three main streets that sit on and around the parallel neon-lit canals. The majority of venues here are windows, but these are interspersed with sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows and erotic museums.
In quite a surreal fashion, this red light district is actually centred on a church, Oude Kerk, which is the oldest building in Amsterdam, but you will find the purity curiously contrasted but the famous golden torso - a metal pavement plaque of a hand groping a breast that sits outside the church entrance. Not far from that you shall find Belle, a bronze statue of a prostitute with the inscription ‘Respect sex workers all over the world’.
If it’s all a bit of a minefield (or you fancy a more educational experience) then the Prostitution Information Centre is a fount of information for visitors and sex workers – this isn’t a stuffy way to get your bearings either, the centre runs regular hour-long Red Light District Tours and most first-timers take part in one of these before exploring by themselves. If you’re heading to Amsterdam for a stag or hen do and fancy this, us lovely lot at LNOF can make this happen for you - just give one of our lovely advisors a call.
Singelgebied and Ruysdaelkade
To delve further into the history and culture of prostitution in the Netherlands, you could visit Yab Yum, a brothel-turned-museum and hugely popular tourist attraction. It’s located in the Singelgebied area of the city; Amsterdam’s second largest red light district. It’s about 400m west of De Wallen and its boundaries are the Singel canal in the north-west and Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in the south east. As a red light district, it is less touristy than De Wallen, attracting mostly foreign visitors and businessman, and it has the highest percentage of blue light windows in the city. If you don’t know the difference between the red and blue lights – listen up! Red light windows are for those naturally born as women – blue light windows are for transsexuals.
Once one of the most famous and exclusive brothels in Amsterdam, Yab Yum now operates 20 and 40 minute tours of the museum, so you can see how it all happened - from the reception to the corridor of rooms, the bars where guests would meet the girls, the bedrooms with original beds and adjoining spas, the Caviar Club, the champagne closets and much more...
Ruysdaelkade, located in The Pipe area of the city in Oud-Zuid, is worth a mention as the one to avoid – for no other reason that is much smaller and discreet and doesn’t share the buzzing nightlife of the other red light districts. Ruysdaelkade is really one large building that tends to be visited by locals who are avoiding the tourist areas, so head to De Wallen if you want to get caught up in the party atmosphere.
So... we know you're going to Amsterdam, and you can find out even more on the King of the Netherlands on our Amsterdam stag weekends page and our hen weekends page.