As the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is known for its famous art museums like the Van Gogh Museum and is often referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of its elaborate canal system built during the 17th Century. But the oldest part of Amsterdam in the city center, the Red Light District, is arguably the most famous.
This Amsterdam guide will tell you everything you need to know about the Red Light District, from its sex workers to cannabis-friendly coffee shops. We’ll also share some of the best accommodations in the Red Light District, along with restaurants and bars that you can walk to from your hotel.
|Best Guided Tour||Amsterdam: Red Light District Exclusive Night Tour|
|Best Tour For Foodies||Private Amsterdam Red Light District and Food Tour|
|Best Museum||Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution|
|Best Hotel||Hotel CC|
|Best Vacation Rental||Luxury houseboat in Amsterdam Center!|
Amsterdam’s Red Light District – Tips for Tourists
While the Red Light District sounds like it would be an intimidating place to be, it’s really not. No seriously, it’s a very comfortable, open, and accepting area. I’ve seen kids in strollers, families milling about, and there’s even a daycare next to red light windows.
Admittedly, I was slightly taken aback when I saw a lady drop her child off at one such daycare, then go into the building next door, and then five minutes later I saw her dressed in lingerie in the window. But, it’s simply a different mindset. Sex work is regarded differently in the Netherlands, and if you aren’t willing to have an open mind, this area is probably not the right area for you to visit.
On the flip side, just like in any area of any other city in the world, if you overindulge and act like an idiot, no one respects that, and it’s hardly tolerated – least of all here. This isn’t an area where you can do whatever you want. People live here, people work here, (yes, sex work is still WORK) and that also needs to be respected.
Why is the Red Light District famous?
De Wallen, more commonly known as the Red Light District, is home to legal window prostitution, with sex workers offering their services behind small windows. Street prostitution is not allowed, so the sex workers stand behind the 300+ windows.
Roughly divided into a day and night shift, the workers sit behind their windows from 8:00 am until 3:00 am. To hire a sex worker, visitors knock on a window to negotiate a price. Once the price and service are agreed upon, the customer enters the room behind the glass viewing area.
Not only is there legal prostitution, but Dutch coffee shops are permitted to sell cannabis giving new meaning to having an Americano, tea, or a Mocha.
See Related: Top Things to Do in Amsterdam’s Nine Streets District
Why is it called The Red Light District?
Established in the early 19th Century, the Red Light District began when railroad workers would leave their red lanterns outside the prostitute’s room. On a busy night, one would see the glow of the red lights scattered across De Wallen.
Hence the “red light district” came to be. Although there are multiple red light districts in Amsterdam, the one in the city center is the most famous.
Is the Red Light District safe?
Walking down the street in De Wallen, you’ll see strip clubs, sex shops, live sex shows, and window prostitutes. The area is exceptionally safe, with private bodyguards and police officers protecting sex workers and tourists. The Prostitution Information Center, located in the middle of the Red Light District, advocates for the rights of sex workers.
Mayor Femke Halsema, Amsterdam’s first female mayor, is focused on combating human trafficking and giving sex workers more rights. Since she was elected, the city council has hired more security officers to patrol the area, making De Wallen one of the most highly policed areas in town.
Who should visit the Red Light District?
This area attracts tourists of all kinds, from bachelor parties to couples, with plenty of adult entertainment like peep shows, sex clubs, window brothels, and gay bars to liven up your night. Whether you do one of the many walking tours or want to learn about the area’s rich history, you’ll find it in the Red Light District.
What should I know about visiting the Amsterdam Red Light District?
Because prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, women behind the windows are tested for STDs regularly as part of their contract with the brothel. (Note: this is not true if you negotiate with someone on the street or an unregulated brothel – do also note that street prostitution is illegal and comes with a 115 Euro fine).
In addition to regular health checks, the Dutch government increased the legal age for sex work to 21. The Dutch government also requires sex workers to pay taxes.
Don’t take photos of the women in the windows unless you want your phone or camera broken by bouncers. Publishing photos of these women can put them at risk. In addition, there is a 95 Euro fine and you’ll find it hard to curry favor with any other brothel in De Wallen.
Also don’t point, laugh, say anything crude, or make any less than flattering gestures to the workers behind the windows. It’s just rude, and you’ll be the one looking like an idiot.
Just because this is a historic fleshpot, doesn’t mean you’re in Pirates of the Caribbean. If you see a sign that says, “0.0% zone,” note that drinking in public is illegal in that area.
It used to be legal, but today you will get a 95 Euro ticket that must be paid for immediately. Also, make sure to keep your joints inside the coffeeshops of Amsterdam or approved outdoor smoking areas, as smoking is not allowed on the streets of the Red Light District.
Do also note that if you are over the age of 14, you must be able to identify who you are to the police if required. ALWAYS carry ID.
See Related: Things Amsterdam is Famous For
New Changes to Laws in the Red Light District
You’ll do yourself a favor by being extra careful with booze and weed in De Wallen (and in general – moderation is key folks), but come mid-May 2023 you need to be extra cautious and perhaps forgo them altogether. Changes are being made to the laws surrounding the sale and consumption of alcohol and cannabis to make life more pleasant for the locals – some of which have already taken effect as of writing.
There are also minor changes to the hours of operation concerning some businesses, including brothels, which have already taken effect. Instead of operating for 22 hours a day, brothels in De Wallen now have to stop their operations before 3:00 am, making life easier for the workers.
The sale of alcohol in Stores in the Red Light District is now prohibited from 4:00 pm on Thursdays through to the end of the day on Sundays. Sellers will also have to remove any liquor or displays promoting alcohol from their shop windows during this three and half day stretch.
There are exceptions to this rule for cafes, bars, pubs, and restaurants – but they too are having to change it up. On Fridays and Saturdays, these establishments can still sell alcohol, with the last sales being rung before 1:00 am, final admittance to patrons before 2:00 am, and closing time being at 4:00 am. During the week, final admittance is 1:00 am and closing time is now 2:00 am.
On top of that, by mid-May 2023, it will be illegal to consume marijuana outside at all, with approved outdoor smoking areas being closed down. For the time being, you will still be able to consume cannabis in coffeeshops, but that privilege may be under review pretty soon.
See Related: Best Restaurants in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Best Things to do in De Wallen and Red Light District
Here are a few things to see and do in this neighborhood of Amsterdam, which is a blend of some tourist staples, local favorites, and cultural attractions.
Tour the Oude Kerk
The first stop for history lovers should be the Oude Kerk (the Old Church), Amsterdam’s oldest building, constructed around 1213. Today it’s used as a Protestant church and a contemporary art museum.
If you’d like to explore the church with a self-guided tour, the Lost Treasure Exploration Game might be for you. This highly-rated experience is self-paced and takes you to Oude Kerk, Nieuwmarkt, and the Weeping Tower (and a few other stops). You’ll get to hear the lesser-known stories of Amsterdam while exploring at your own pace!
Discover a hidden church at Our Lord in the Attic Museum
History lovers will also appreciate visiting the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic Museum). This hidden museum is housed in a 17th Century canal house with narrow hallways and a staircase leading to typical living quarters. However, this museum’s real highlight is the attic church.
Dare to visit the Amsterdam Dungeon
Learn about the dark side of Amsterdam’s past with the horror theater show at the Amsterdam Dungeon. You’ll find a selection of shows, each a spooky story from Amsterdam’s past. While some shows are suitable for kids 10+, many are for those 18+. A ticket to see the Amsterdam Dungeon is a must-have for your Red Light District trip!
This private half-day tour of the Red Light District and Jordaan District highlights the city’s liberal attitudes toward cannabis use and prostitution while showing you the city’s rich history. Not only will you see the Anne Frank House and Rembrandtplein, but you’ll also see the erotic shops and red-window prostitution in the Red Light District.
See Related: Best Museums in Amsterdam to Visit
Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum
With the legality of cannabis use in Amsterdam, the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum teaches about the various uses of cannabis, including cultural, medicinal, and spiritual applications. Whether or not you love the green stuff, it’s an incredibly cool learning experience.
If you’d like to further your knowledge of marijuana with real-life experience, you can do that too! Since coffeeshops are technically the only place where marijuana is allowed, this Red Light District coffee shop tour will give you multiple opportunities to smoke a joint (and drink coffee, of course).
Visit The Bulldog
The Bulldog (The First Coffeeshop) is literally where it all started in 1974 – the clue is in the name! The shop displays some history, including many of the hiding places for cannabis in the early days. This two-story coffee shop has a canal-side patio for great views and a souvenir shop to take merch home with you. There are a number of Bulldog coffeeshops and bars located throughout Amsterdam, coming in different shapes, sizes, and flavors, all of which are pretty hecking cool.
Also, if you’re looking for a place to stay in the area, the Bulldog Hotel Amsterdam is also located in a building over on the same canal street.
The Banana Bar
One of the more obvious things to do in the Red Light District (although not required) is to visit a strip club. Those of a boring or prudish disposition, look away!
One of the more famous strip clubs in the area is The Banana Bar, a hot spot for bachelor parties. As they say, “Bananas play an important role in entertainment, and we are not talking cocktails!” Scantily clad women will keep your drinks filled as you learn just how entertaining this phallic fruit can be.
One thing that people do not appreciate at all is the fact that this building is absolutely legendary, and a house of worship. It’s located in an 18th Century Canal House that is designated as a National Monument. Interesting change in business model, considering it was declared a church… of Satan!
See Related: Best Coffeeshops in Amsterdam
One of the most unique experiences in the area is the live sex theater, Casa Rossa. This one-of-a-kind theater shows strip tease acts, light S&M shows, and live sex acts.
This is one of the many sex shows in the area but is one of the classier ones. Just a note, this shouldn’t be on your itinerary if you consider yourself a prude.
If you’d rather see sexy films than live theater, stop at 5D Porn for an immersive movie experience. Viewers watch a sexy film while in a moving chair; not only does your chair move, but you’ll also feel the wind, air, water, (and snow) throughout the short, erotic film.
Visit the Shops
Once you set foot in Condomerie, you’ll see more condoms than you ever thought possible. While there are plenty of novelty items to give you a chuckle, they are very serious about providing expert information on safe sex, personal hygiene, and artificial lubrication.
Okay, enough of the sex stuff. One thing that’s changed a bit in this area is the number of boutique shops, record stores, and studios that have opened up here. There are some incredibly creative design studios and clothing brands that have shops here.
If you like looking for boutique clothing, De Wallen might just surprise you. I hope this trend continues as this area has the potential to be an eclectic, inclusive area for younger generations to hang out and reduce the boisterous stigma that’s attached to the neighborhood.
Learn about LGBTQIA+ history in Amsterdam
For LGBTQIA+-friendly fun, the Warmoesstraat is for you! This district has many gay bars, some of which host hilarious late-night cabaret shows. Stop by the popular Queen’s Head to see an amazing drag show or the landmark gay bar Café ‘t Mandje for casual, quirky fun.
It’s one of the best brown cafés in Amsterdam. The reason why this place is one of my favorite brown bars in all of Amsterdam (and probably any bars that I’ve ever been to) is the incredible feeling of inclusivity.
It’s among the most welcoming place I’ve ever been in my life. There’s something special there that’s hard to ever replicate. All thanks to the legendary Beta van Beeren.
If you have no idea where to start, this Red Light District exclusive night tour is for you. The guide will tell you about some of the area’s history, but also show you the small shops in the area (including Condomerie!). This guided tour will show you everything about the Amsterdam Red Light District, including the prostitution areas, the girls behind the glowing red windows, and more.
See Related: Best Canals in Amsterdam You Need to See
Learn about the History of Sex Work in the Amsterdam Red Light District
Head to the Red Light Secrets Museum, the only museum highlighting prostitution worldwide. This hidden gem highlights the ins and outs of the world’s oldest profession. Located in a 17th Century former brothel, this museum will answer many questions about prostitution.
And if you want to, you can sit behind one of the red windows to see what it feels like to be watched. The Red Light Secrets Museum is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in the history of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and legal prostitution.
If you’re looking for a fun experience in the Red Light District, you must visit the Sexmuseum Amsterdam Venustempel. This exotic museum offers an extensive collection of sexual artifacts, from paintings, objects, and images.
The spider web of staircases and halls makes this museum fun (in addition to the artifacts). At every turn, you’ll find something new to explore! The best part may be at the beginning, where you get to walk through a full-scale animatronic diorama of De Wallen from yesteryear which is utterly hilarious.
If you’d like to learn even more, stop by the Prostitution Information Centre for information on laws surrounding sex workers and prostitution. This center was established by a former prostitute, and now it defends prostitutes’ rights.
If you’re interested in some background to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, this private Amsterdam Red Light District tour (including the Sexmuseum) will guide you through the narrow streets of Amsterdam, teaching you about the liberal sex industry, the thriving cafe culture, and Amsterdam’s history!
One of the more unique ways to learn about the Amsterdam Red Light District is with a brothel tour guided by a former sex worker. This unique brothel tour gives you an inside look into the Bonton Sex Club, including the VIP rooms, changing rooms, and interior. A tour of this high-end strip club and sex club will give you a better understanding of paid sex in the city.
Best Bars in the Red Light District
Red Light Bar
Stop by the Red Light Bar in De Wallen, where you can drink alcohol, have a joint, and watch sports. This Red Light District bar has three pool tables and numerous big-screen TVs showing a variety of sports. You can also enjoy a picturesque street view of De Wallen and the canal as you sip your bev.
Another popular bar is the Old Sailor, where you’ll find great drinks, good music, and excellent service. This hot spot has the perfect mix of locals and tourists and is located in the middle of the Red Light District. The delightful nautical theme plays well off the naughty exploits one can get up to in De Wallen.
De Wallen Pub Crawls
Want to see what the real drinking scene in De Wallen is like? You can sign up for this Red Light District Pub Crawl, and experience four bars and a nightclub! With each bar you visit, you get a free vodka shot. After fun drinking games and prizes, you can dance the night away at a Red Light District nightclub! Woop-woop!
See Related: Travel Tips for Amsterdam (+ Top Do’s & Dont’s)
Best Restaurants in the Red Light District
De Wallen has numerous eateries, from casual walk-up restaurants to fine dining. For delicious Asian food, stop by Wok to Walk, a hole-in-the-wall walk-up with noodle bowls, vegan options, and stir-fries.
This casual eatery faces the glowing red lights of the Red Light District. Or on Zeedijk, Bird Thai is a must-have for some of the best Thai food in the city.
Or, if you’d rather have the option of all-day Dutch pancakes, try Pancakes Amsterdam, which offers options from sugar-dusted pancakes to banana gourmet toppings.
For those fancying a more upscale experience, the culinary genius at Restaurant Vermeer is unmatched. There is no menu, so guests choose from a list of seasonal ingredients, resulting in a surprise six-course menu by the executive chef.
However, this private Red Light District food tour is one of the best in the Netherlands, with a lesson in Amsterdam’s history and the ability to sample three popular Dutch specialties. You’ll get to try Dutch krokets, cheese, and stroopwafel (a deliciously delectable Dutch cookie).
Where to Stay in the Red Light District
Whether you’re visiting the Amsterdam Red Light District as a couple, with a group of friends, or even flying solo, there are accommodations to meet your needs. Plenty of hostels in the area cater to budget-friendly visitors, while luxury vacation rentals offer upscale housing to groups.
- For budget-conscious travelers, Durty Nelly’s Inn is a top choice. Located just a minute from Dam Square, this classic Amsterdam hostel is close to many attractions in the Amsterdam Red Light District.
- Another affordable option next to the city’s center is St. Christophers Inn at The Winston, a hostel with free Wi-Fi and a 24-hour front desk. We’re a big fan of the St. Christopher’s chain, and as far as hostels go, they are almost unrivaled.
- In the heart of the Amsterdam Red Light District is The Old Nickel Hotel, just a three-minute walk from Central Station. The bar of this place is breathtaking.
- If you prefer to stay in a historic building with modern rooms, you’ll like the Hotel CC. This upscale hotel is located on one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam and is next to Central Station.
- One of the most luxurious hotels in the area is the 5-star Anantara Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky Amsterdam. It’s located on the edge of Dam Square and convenient for all the fun in the Amsterdam Red Light District.
- If your group seeks luxury, this luxury houseboat in Amsterdam Center is unique and upscale. The houseboat was built in 1912 and is located in one of the historic canals. You can wave to all of the tourists from the boat.
- Another way to live lavishly in the Amsterdam Red Light District is to stay at the most exclusive penthouse at the canals in City Center. This luxury apartment has two bedrooms, a beautiful bathroom, a big living room, and a great kitchen. You’ll also enjoy the whirlpool, sauna, tanning bed, and sports room.
- Best Parks in Amsterdam
- How Many Days Do You Need in Amsterdam?
- Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Best Areas & Places to Stay
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