Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

For at least 600 years, locals, sailors and travelers have come to this part of Amsterdam for adult entertainment in the many bars, brothels and eateries.

Amsterdam’s historic Red Light District is called De Wallen (embankments), four of which make up this neighborhood. Visitors are often surprised to see that during the day De Wallen looks much like the rest of the inner city with cobblestone streets, narrow gabled houses and cozy cafés. Both the red lights and women displayed in windows become visible after dark. Go with an open mind if you are curious about this notorious adult entertainment district between Dam Square and China Town.

Sailors from all over the world have flocked to De Wallen since the early 1400s and these days prostitution is a legalized industry in Holland. The Dutch policy of “if you decriminalize it, you can make it safer” is also true for marijuana and hashish, which are sold in small quantities in the local coffee shops and bars.

The Red Light District is dominated by the 13th-century Old Church (Oude Kerk), one of Amsterdam’s earliest stone buildings. Step inside to see impressive decorations. Check out the statue of Belle outside, depicting a prostitute in a doorway, with a sign asking to “respect sex workers all over the world.”

While locals walk through De Wallen as if it’s just like any other neighborhood, most tourists can’t help gaping at the narrow windows displaying sparsely dressed women under red lights. Hundreds of women of many different nationalities try to sell their services by winking and gesturing at passers-by. Adult shops, sex museums and neon-lit erotic shows draw in curious — sometimes giggling — groups of sightseers. Be aware that these shows leave nothing to the imagination.

To get to the Red Light District, either walk from Central Station or Dam Square. De Wallen is a well-policed area, safer than some other parts of the city. Even still, pickpockets, beggers and drug addicts sometimes target unaware tourists. Be aware that it’s considered offensive to take photographs of the windows with prostitutes. To avoid confrontation, only point your camera at the general action on the streets and the buildings, instead of specific people, to capture the atmosphere.

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