Amsterdam's Red Light District is the subject of much fascination, but it isn't all about prostitution.
This post will tell you what the district is all about, things to do, available tours, and dining options.
WHAT IS THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT?
Also known as De Wallen, this district is the oldest neighborhood in the city and full of things to do, see, and eat.
It is located in the center of Amsterdam, just a short walk from the Central Train Station.
The neighborhood can be a bit misunderstood due to its reputation.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is famous for the line of windows and doors surrounded in red lights - red lights that signify legal prostitution.
You can walk down the street and see barely-dressed women sitting behind the windows and waiting for customers.
The district is only 6,500 square meters, which means it will probably get a bit crowded at times. With all the jostling, make sure to keep an eye on your pockets and handbags.
How Does Prostitution Work?
The women in the Red Light District sit or stand behind their windows from 8:00 am until 6:00 am.
The industry has been legal in the Netherlands since 1811, and anyone over the age of 18 can legally become a prostitute as long as they pay their taxes and do not leave their windows.
Promoting prostitution services out on the street is illegal, and can carry a fine for both the worker and the customer.
To hire a Red Light District prostitute, one goes to knock on a woman’s window or door to negotiate a price. Once the service and price are agreed on, the prostitute and customer can go back into a room behind the glass-covered viewing area.
Customers must be 16 years old or older, according to the country’s age of consent laws.
Are there Red Light District rules for tourists?
Yes, there are several laws in the Red Light District that tourists should be aware of. For a full list, check out this website.
- Tourists are not allowed to take photos or video of any of the workers.
- Street Prostitution and Prostitution Hotels are illegal - people advertising prostitution in the streets likely work for illegal brothels.
- No public drinking or drunkenness is allowed in the District, including public parks and streets.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
From museums and coffee shops to churches, you might be surprised at what the district has to offer besides the red windows.
Here is a list of things to do and see in the neighborhood.
We offer an audio tour of the Red Light District, researched, written, and recorded by one of our own tour guides.
- Purchase an audio tour – $2.99
- Get a confirmation email with .mp3, .pdf, and embeddable Google Map
- Enjoy the tour(s).
We can also recommend pay-what-you-will guided tours of Amsterdam: https://freetoursbyfoot.com/free-walking-tours-amsterdam/
1. See a Museum
There are multiple museums in the Red Light District.
Those interested in archaeology should head to the Allard Pierson Museum run by the University of Amsterdam.
They hold Egyptian, Greek, and Etrian artifacts, among others. Check the website to see what exhibits are on.
From the history of cannabis use to hemp fashion around the world, you can learn a lot at the Hash Museum.
Since cannabis is legal in The Netherlands, this is a fascinating subject for many visitors.
Red Light Secrets is the only Museum of Prostitution in the world.
You can learn about Amsterdam’s history with prostitution as well as get a look at what it’s like to be a window worker.
The Erotic Museum in Amsterdam is located in an old warehouse and has plenty of exhibits about the Red Light District itself. You can even legally take pictures in front of the museum’s window replicas.
Tip: To see as many museums as possible and save money, we recommend the Amsterdam Museum Pass.
2. Go to a Strip Club or Show
Many visitors might want a closer encounter with the Red Light District worker without actually purchasing their services.
For that reason, the District has quite a few strip clubs and sex shows.
The Banana Bar is one of the more famous clubs in the area and often the location of bachelor parties. Waitresses serve drinks and perform party tricks.
For a more upscale sex show, Casa Rossa is set up theatre-style with velvet seats in front of the main stage.
The acts onstage rotate and repeat throughout the night, so there is no need to arrive at a certain time.
3. Attend Cannabis College for Free
New to Cannabis or want to learn more?
The Cannabis College has knowledgeable employees who can give you advice for safely using Cannabis - whether for recreation or medicinal purposes.
They give tours of their indoor Cannabis garden and educate visitors about Cannabis Activism.
They’re active in pushing for legislation reform all over the world.
4. Learn at the Prostitution Information Center
The Prostitution Information Center was started in the ‘90s by a girl who became a prostitute at the age of 16 and wanted to help reform the laws around prostitution.
Her goal was to educate the public about industry conditions for the workers. Now the PIC defends prostitutes’ rights.
There is also a PIC store that sells books about prostitution, legislation, and guides of the Red Light District.
5. Enjoy a Coffeeshop
Coffeeshops are integral to the culture of the Red Light District. They began popping up in the 1970s and are now synonymous with Cannabis Dispensaries.
You can read more about guided coffeeshop tours and coffeeshop etiquette here.
The Bulldog is one of the first coffeeshops in the city - and the first to open in the Red Light District.
If you want to experience smoking, make sure you ask questions about what the staff recommends and start slowly.
And don’t forget to try their coffee and desserts :).
6. See the Catholic Church Amstelkring
You might not expect to find one of the most interesting churches in Amsterdam in the Red Light District, but Amstelkring has some fascinating history.
When the area became Protestant by law in 1578, Catholics had to go into hiding.
Amstelkring is a Catholic church hidden inside multiple canal houses, built by a wealthy merchant.
You can see the entire house preserved as it was in the 1700s - including lavish furniture and an impressive art collection. The church itself covers the entire top floor.
7) Visit the LGBTQ+ Friendly Warmoesstraat
Right on the edge of the Red Light District is one of the most well-known districts for gay bars and LGBTQ+ friendly spaces.
Amsterdam is known for building Europe’s first gay club, and today has a vibrant queer community.
You can find multiple gay clubs on Warmoesstraat. One of the most popular is Getto, which serves food in the early evenings and proceeds to host cabaret shows later in the night.
Other popular spots include Queen’s Head and Eagle Amsterdam.
8. Play at TonTon Club Centre
Head to The TonTon Club to play some classic arcade games, foosball, air hockey, or Mortal Kombat.
This barcade was opened after a popular crowdfunding campaign to the delight of video and board game enthusiasts across the city.
The bright colors and decor really set the mood for a Dance Dance Revolution competition.
Don’t forget to sample their craft beer. And if you get hungry, you can sample their nostalgia-inducing nachos, hotdogs, and other snacks.
9. Browse the Nieuwmarkt Market
The city’s oldest and most popular Market is located just next to the Red Light District.
While it holds a daily market, the reason Nieuwmarkt is popular throughout the day and into the evenings is the collection of restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops that line the square the Market sits on.
You can find some excellent coffee and pastries or have lunch on a terrace. Or you can join the evening crowd for dinner and cocktails.
Of course, if you’re here between May and October and you love browsing a lively market, make sure to arrive on a Saturday morning to see the produce. Antiques are sold most Sundays.
10. View the Oldest Church in Amsterdam - Oude Kerk
This beautiful gothic building is Amsterdam’s oldest building, which also makes Oude Kerk the oldest church in the city.
You won’t be able to miss this architectural masterpiece if you walk past it.
It was built in the early 1300s and is now home to an impressive collection of art. Check the website to see what exhibitions are on.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go around to the back of the building for the (paid) guided tour up into the bell tower.
It is quite a steep climb to the top, but the views of the city are worth it, as is getting up close and personal to the bells!
11. Visit the Condomerie
This novelty shop usually features a crowd of onlookers outside its doors taking pictures of the display.
The Condomerie sells a multitude of condoms, souvenirs, postcards, and other items.
You’re not allowed to take photos inside the shop, but anything set up in the window can be photographed.
12. Winston Hotel
The Winston Hotel and Nightclub isn’t just a conveniently-located place to party and sleep on the edge of the Red Light District. It is actually a local piece of popular film history.
Many movie-lovers are excited to pass by and take pictures of the building where Quentin Tarantino spent several months in isolation working on the script of Pulp Fiction.
While it was set in Los Angeles, he wanted to be halfway around the world for a chance to concentrate without any distractions.
13. Madame Tussauds Amsterdam
Right in the middle of the Red Light District is an internationally-recognized name: Madame Tussauds.
In the Amsterdam location, you can find music stars like Ariana Grande, Zayn Malik, and Afrojack as well as famous film scenes.
Kids will love the Marvel Avengers room, and everyone can enjoy the TV broadcasters room where you can read from the teleprompter and experience life as a news anchor.
Note: Madame Tussauds is included in some Amsterdam City Passes.
TAKE A GUIDED TOUR
Want some more information as you walk through the Red Light District? You can get the history and interesting facts narrated to you on a walking tour.
We have an in-depth review and comparison of various Red Light District tours here.
Tours through the district are most often offered in the evenings to give you the full experience of seeing the glow of the red lights.
You can take your pick of walking tours from those that focus heavily on the history of the area, the prostitution, or the neighborhood’s food and pubs.
- On this walking tour, you can learn about the District and experience a coffee shop with your guide, and even learn how to roll a joint.
- Another walking tour includes a visit to a distillery with a complimentary drink.
- You can also see more of Amsterdam from a boat on a canal tour.
- Enjoy a self-guided mystery game covering several notable sites in the Red Light District and Amsterdam in general.
We have an in-depth review and comparison of various Red Light District tours here.
RESTAURANTS AND DINING OPTIONS
Find both take away meals and sit-down restaurants in the Red Light District.
Here is a list of some of the most popular places to eat in the Red Light District.
Wok to Walk
This made-to-order Asian restaurant offers stir-fries, noodle bowls, and has vegan options.
They have a hole-in-the-wall atmosphere with a front window facing the glow of the Red Light District.
This small cafe and restaurant is popular with locals and tourists alike.
The menu changes depending on what seasonally-fresh ingredients are available and the waitstaff verbally informs customers of the day’s available dishes.
Brouwerij de Prael
Brouwerij de Prael is a 13-year-old microbrewery that has become well-loved for its beer selection and vibrant atmosphere.
The crowd that frequents De Prael is generally younger. They serve lunch, dinner, late-night snacks, and their in-house brews.
This old-fashioned fish shop is the perfect place to try some local specialties.
The Dutch store’s specialty is fresh herring. The quaint decor adds to the atmosphere and they get their fish fresh daily from the market.
This quiet little shop is home to some delicious pastries and other baked goods. If you’re looking for a snack, this is the place to go.
They also serve smoothies and full meals in addition to pre-packaged healthy snacks.
Breakfast is a perfect meal any time of day, which is how they like it at Pancakes.
This is the perfect opportunity to taste Dutch pancakes, which range from sugar-dusted to bacon and banana gourmet toppings.