Isn’t it the most famous (or, for some people, infamous) area in Amsterdam? I’m pretty sure it is. That’s why I crafted for your this complete guide to the Red Light District.
Red Light District is the oldest part of Amsterdam city center; you can go there on foot from the Central Station. In Red Light District you find many restaurants, bars, coffeeshops, beautiful houses. Red Light District in located in the part of the city called “De Wallen”.
Of course, that is just the tip of an iceberg. How does this specific window-shopping work? What are the rules if there even are any? You find the answers to those questions and more below. And even if you think the thrills of the Red Light District are not for you, read on, as the RLD is part of Amsterdam’s city center and thus it’s well worth visiting during the day.
Red Light District
The Red Light District in Amsterdam is located in the oldest part of the city. It is called De Wallen (I’ve found three explanations of this name – because of the city defensive walls, because some canals located next to the area used to be walled or because ‘wall’ was the code for ‘paid sex’). And because its proximity to the harbour, since XIV century, it was where the sailors used to go and look for some on-shore entertainment. In the XVIII century the brothels were complemented with the gambling facilities, and there you have it.
Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000 and since then, the Red Light District with all it has to offer become one of Amsterdam’s characteristic features. In 2007 project 1012 was launched, coordinated by the government and law enforcement, that aims at making the RLD safer, especially to women that work there. The reason for it is that although prostitution is legal, human trafficking, pimping and gang activity is not. The City even shut down a few window brothels by buying out the buildings they were located in trying that way to reshape the area.
If you are interested in the Red Light District there are some cool tours. I know a guy who is a tour guide, his name is Otto, and he lives in the area of red lights. Here you can learn more about his tours.
Where is it and how to get there?
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is located between Prins Hendrikkade street in the north, Geldersekade street in the west, Amstel in the south and Rokin and Damrak in the east. It means that De Wallen is part of the city’s very centre and it is very easy to get there. You can start from the Centraal Station, or go for other metro stations like Nieuwmarkt or Rokin.
You can go to the District any time you want. During the day you can go into clubs, restaurants and coffeeshops or visit one of the few theme museums. There would be a few women working in the windows as well so you’ll be constantly reminded of where you are. But if you want to party in Red Light District, you’d better go there between 11 pm and 2-3 am. That is when all the nightclubs are open. In other words – that is when you get to see everything the RDL truly is.
How does it work?
In the Red Light District, you will find lots of options to choose from, but the most famous and striking one is window brothels. You walk down the narrow streets and pass red-lit windows. Behind each of them, visible through the glass, is a woman whose company’s you may seek if you want. When a window is dark with curtains shut, it means that the woman is not available at the moment. Windows lit blue instead of red indicate that if you decide to come in you are going to meet either transgender or transvestite person.
There are around 300 window brothels in Amsterdam, and as you pass them by you’ll surely register more or less provocative costumes, and some of the women will definitely try to make you pay attention by tapping on the glass, waving etc.
If you decide to go for it, you have to knock on the door. Then you can discuss how long you want to spend inside and how much you want to pay for it. Most of the women are independent workers, so they fix their rates themselves. It usually costs around 50€ for 15-20 minutes.
Is there an age limit in the Red Light District?
No, you can enter the Red Light District no matter how old you are. It is, after all, a bit unusual, but still, residential area and there are flats, hotels, cafes and restaurants available for everyone.
However, if you want to pay a visit to the brothel and meet with a prostitute, you have to be over 16 years old, as it is the age of consent in the Netherlands. Some parties would like to change this situation and introduce a minimum age of 21 for customers, but as for now, it is as it is.
In Amsterdam’s Red Light District, prostitutes have to be over 21 years old. It is different in the rest of the country where they have to be over 18 years old, although there’s legislation coming that will raise the minimum age to 21 as well.
What are the rules of the RLD?
When you are in the Red Light District, you should know certain things about how to behave.
- The first rule is very important and do not even think about breaking it: you cannot under any circumstances take photos of the women behind the windows. It is not merely impolite, it is prohibited, and if you brake the rule, the aftermath may be loud, unpleasant and ugly.
- Watch out for the pick-pocketers. The Red Light District is usually crowded and thus a perfect place for a small robbery. Pay attention to your surroundings, watch out when a stranger asks you for direction or accidentally bumps into you. Keep your belongings close.
- Do not buy drugs or bikes from the street dealers. You can legally obtain cannabis only in the coffeeshops and bikes sold on the streets may have been stolen. Buying drugs illegally and buying stolen bikes may get you in serious trouble!
- The Red Light District is pretty safe (read the paragraph about it below), but still, it’s best not to go there alone during the night.
As mentioned above, in the Netherlands prostitution is legal since the end of XX century. Before that, the policy towards it changed – sometimes prostitution was outlawed, and the sex industry was operating underground, in other times it was accepted as long as did not disrupt ordinary city life.
Since 1988, prostitution is a legal profession, and the sex workers have to pay taxes and declare their income. Brothels became legitimate in 2000. That is how it looks like in the light of the law, but in real life, sex workers have still some problems when it comes to mortgage or applying for credit.
And the most important thing, prostitution is legal when not coerced and here the local authorities have still a lot to do. Unfortunately, the situation is not always how it should be, so if during your visit you will see or hear something suspicious, do not be afraid to report it. You may do it anonymously, by calling the number 0800-7000, free of any charge.
Is it expensive?
It depends what you are asking about. If you want to know how much you will have to pay if you decide to meet with a woman from a window, as I’ve said above, it will cost you about 50€ for 20 minutes.
But the prices may differ, so it’s best to pay in advance and specify what you expect. Of course, you can negotiate but don’t start with too low a price because that won’t win you any favors. If you have any extra wishes, be prepared for an additional cost.
But if you want to know the prices of everyday items in the Red Light District, the answer is: if you don’t want to overpay, look out for places where locals go. This rule applies to grocery shops, supermarkets, bars, restaurants and cafes as well. When you don’t know where to go, you can always ask someone on the street to recommend you a good venue.
Generally, you should expect to pay around 3€ for a coffee or tea, 2.70 – 4.5€ for a draft beer (special beer prices start from 5.5€). Breakfasts start from 5€, lunches – 10€, and diners – 19€. You can buy 1 g of weed for 5€, but the price may reach even more than 40€. A pre-rolled joint may cost you 4€.
Is the Red Light District safe?
On the one hand, the specific character of the Red Light District attracts different kinds of people, among them, are those who you’d probably not like to have an encounter with. That said, you have to remember that during the day you are as safe in the RDL as in any part of Amsterdam. Of course, there are such minor threats as pick-pocketers, but they are in every crowded and full of tourists place all over the world. In fact, because of the special character of the Red Light District, even at night it’s safe there – simply because there are more police officers than in other areas. Moreover, many sex workers employ their bodyguards, so it’s an additional force the thieves and other criminals have to take into consideration before making a move.
You also should remember that over 8500 locals live in the Red Light District with their families, so if they are not afraid, why should you?
Where to stay for a night?
It’s not a problem to find a suitable place to stay at in the RDL but book it as soon as possible as the area is trendy, especially in the summer and every weekend. If you’re looking for the best rates, go there in the October – April period (excluding Christmas, New Year and Easter).
It’s a good idea to stay in the RDL as long as you realize that you will be in the very thick of things and you may not find the streets too peaceful even during the nights. If you don’t mind the noise of partying people – go ahead!
Here are options you can check out when looking for accommodation in the RLD:
- St Christophers Inn at The Winston This is my favorite hotel in the area of Red Light District. You can see this hotel here on booking.comYou can spend the night in the dorm type room for about 50€ (the price differs according to the number of beds in the room) or book a single or a double room for about 100€.
- A little bit cheaper there is The Flying Pig Downtown (the prices start from 29€, but that’s for a bed in a 32 beds dorm room) You can book it here.
- If you are looking for the very cheap locations, try following places: Central Station Hostel – you can find it here (nights from about 20€ in 10 beds dorm room), The White Tulip Hostel here (again 20€ but this time in 14 beds dorm room), Hotel Mevlana here (our winner! 17€ for a night in 6 beds dorm room!), Hostel the Globe (close one – 17€ but for a bed in a mixed 10 beds dorm room) Book it here.
- If you want something better and not too expensive, you can try Hotel Torenzicht, where you can find a single room with a shared bathroom for 55€. Book it here.
You should not have any problems with paying with a credit card in shops, restaurants, and cafes in the Red Light District. However, very recently because only since November 2018, you might have a problem with credit card payment in the window brothels.
The reason is, foreign credit cards payments were operated by a British company, called MyPOS. Now, this company wants to join the stock exchange and was advised to pull back from the sex industry. If you are the owner of a Dutch bank credit card – by all means, you can pay with that. But for the tourists who don’t want to have too much cash on them, the only option left is an ATM. This development is frustrating not only tourists but sex workers as well as they have to go back to dealing with large amounts of cash which makes them feel insecure and throws them back into the times of money laundering.
Free walking tour
I think the best way to get to know the Red Light District may be to book a tour with a professional guide. That way you will hear all the most important information and see a few places which will help you later to find your own way around the RLD. If you’re on a budget you can look for some free walking tours – there are a few options, where you meet in a specific place, go for a 1.5 – 2 hours tour, and in the end, you simply tip your guide. If you don’t know exactly what free walking tour is about you can read my another article here.
But if you would like to go for a private tour with a local guide, including food or beer tasting you can search them here.
I really like an idea of withlocals.com. Thanks to this website you can enjoy a unique tour organized by local people. That’s what I like the most, going to places locals do and eating their food instead of tourist overpriced shitty food. I like to spend time with locals and listening to their stories. If you are interested in that kind of experience you can book a walking tour with a local and what’s great you can choose one of many different guides. Go to this website and there you can watch videos of local guides so you can choose the one you like the most.
Things to do
Thanks to the city of Amsterdam’s effort to reshape the district (plan 1012 mentioned above ) you can actually do lots of things in the Red Light District, apart from visiting a brothel or a nightclub, that is. You can visit museums and art galleries or have a canal cruise through the district (for the details read the paragraphs below). You can also stick to the theme of the district and take a specific tour of such places like:
- Sex shops – there are many of them, and you will easily see what’s the speciality of each shop. Some of them are all about condoms, other focus on vibrators so on, and so on. If you’re looking for something specific, I’m sure you will find it, just remember – you have to be an adult to enter such places. If you’re on a budget, try Erotic Discount Centre.
- Peep shows theatres. There are a few of them left with the most famous Sex Palace where you pay 2€ for every two minutes or Casa Rosso with tickets for 42€.
- Sex Museum and Erotic Museum – if you’re thinking about visiting these venues first look at their websites to decide if it’s really worth your time and money. But if you are with a group of friends with a specific sense of humor, it may be a really fun way to spend the time.
Or if you’re tired of it all, you can do plain old shopping, because in the Red Light District you will find plenty of opportunities to buy original souvenirs in the cute little vintage shops.
During the day
It is actually a good idea to visit the Red Light District during the day as well as in the evening. Only in the daylight, you will be able to admire the architecture of the old buildings. In fact, you may want to see like the oldest building in Amsterdam, Oude Kerk, an old gothic church which became a place for religious ceremonies as well as culture events. See also Oudezijds Armsteeg where you can look at six restored Delft Blue houses and Zeedijk street – the main street of Amsterdam’s Chinatown with Buddhist temple Fo Guang Shan.
You may also want to pay a visit to De Brakke Grond – and art and culture venue, where you can also drink coffee or beer.
And if you want some other kind of entertainment then the obvious one in the RDL, go to TonTon Club Center where are arcade games available and very pleasant craft beer for that matter.
Canal cruise within the Red Light District
It’s one of the best ways to see the Red Light District in all its beauty during the day. For example, you will get to see Oudezijds Kolk – one of the last three locations, where the canal has no street beside it. That was the way the most canals were built so Old Amsterdam looked a lot like Venice. If you want to see the RDL from a boat, you have many options:
- Rent a boat yourself and your friends and make the tour last as long as you want it to. I guess it’s the cheapest way in all its aspects – you can buy food and drinks and even weed if you want to and have a nice little picnic in the middle of the Red Light District. Here you can read my guide about renting a boat in Amsterdam.
- A boat tour with locals. With the price ranging from 40€, it is a costly way of sightseeing, but if you combine it with a party on board, it will take sightseeing to the other level. So if you are interested in an organized boat tour but you don’t really like typical tourist experiences I recommend a boat tour with locals. I would suggest you a boat tour with Vanessa or with Karel
- Hop-on-hop-off ticket. It will cost you about 25-30€, and you can combine a bus or a boat tour and see the whole city that way. Learn more about these tours here.
Where To Eat In The Red Light District?
Surprisingly, the Red Light District is a paradise for foodies. You may want to do a little research for yourself to find where to eat your favourite dishes, but I’ll give you some tips.
- If you want to eat lunch or dinner, try the Chinatown it’s right beside the RDL. You’ll find there many Asian restaurants of good quality and not too expensive.
- For a coffee and something sweet go to Koffieschenkerij (http://www.koffieschenkerij.com/) and sip your beverage in their lovely garden.
- If you’d rather have breakfast (and worry that it’s past noon) go to Omelegg – City Centre (http://omelegg.com/) they serve vicious omlettes and other egg dishes all day long.
Best Coffeeshops In The Red Light District
I honestly don’t know whether it’s the best or not, but you just have to go there. Period. The Bulldog The First is an iconic place, as it is the oldest coffeeshop in Amsterdam. In fact, it was a sex club but people who met there, smoke weed and then started to buy it there illegally. One thing went to another and bang! Now it’s the most famous coffeeshop, with a decent quality of weed. The area of Red Light is fascinating and if you are interested in it, you may want to go for a coffeeshop and red light district tour. I like tours organized by Otto, a Dutch guy living in Amsterdam. You can learn more about his tours here.
If you want to go to another famous place, try Green House frequented by celebrities like Rihanna, Snoop Dog or Quentin Tarantino.
You can also try Jolly Joker close to the Chinatown or Greenhouse Effect. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to judge the quality of products or you don’t want to overpay, remember that you can always buy weed in other place and smoke it in one of the Red Light District’s coffeeshops. For example, you can go to the Blue Bird located nearby, where you will meet not only tourists but many locals as well. Just remember that when you want to smoke weed bought in a different coffeeshop, you’re supposed to buy at least a coffee in the venue you’re smoking.
Best clubs in the Red Light District
Of course, in the Red Light District, you will find lots of clubs, among them those with strippers and other kinds of erotic entertainment. It that’s what you’re looking for, you may check La Vie En Proost, where there’s a reasonable entrance fee (5€) and an obligatory drink to buy (6€). Other than that, you have Someplace, an erotic club with themes which you may check out on their website. But there are also “regular evenings” so if you are just curious you may sneak a peek then.
Here are some other places you can go if you are simply looking for a place to have fun and party:
- Cafe Hill Street Blues https://www.hill-street-blues.nl/ where you will find a good beer (there are also craft beer tastings organized there) but also sometimes crazy party nights with reggae, grunge, or vinyl music. And the interior… you may have to see it for yourself cause it’s hard to describe its underground character!
- Queen’s head. http://www.queenshead.nl/ It’s one of the oldest gay bars in Amsterdam, where you can dance every Friday and Saturday to DJ’s music. They have a little cool terrace in the basement smoking area. It’s kind of secret spot, you can sit there a few inches over the canal and just relax.
Best Pubs In The Red Light District
OK, I’ve already mentioned one place or two where you can have a decent beer in the RDL, but if you want to go somewhere special try those two places:
- Wynand Fockink – this place actually made it to the seventh place on my list of the best Amsterdam’s bars. It’s a place where you can drink Dutch gin distilled on the spot. Sounds fun, eh? The downside is the place is rather smallish so it may be difficult to find a seat.
- Brouwerij de Prael – a good old brewery, making and serving a few kinds of beer: you can drink their wheat beer (my personal favourite!), or German, Belgium and even Scotch style beers. I would say – you really should not omit this place.
- For the usual “bar experience” you can try Café Bar Old Sailor or Winston Kingdom
- If you want a place where you can drink alcohol and smoke weed, you can go to Café The Tribe. Remember, that you won’t be able to buy cannabis there – it’s only possible in coffeeshops, where you can’t drink alcohol. So shop first and go to The Tribe after that.
As you see there is really more to the Red Light District than it looks like. It’s a place not only to pop in and go elsewhere but to see everything that yu should you have to spend here at least one full day.