Amsterdam Red Light District Experiences and Tours

Famous all over the world, the Red Light District will be a highlight of your trip, I'll tell you how to discover it!

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

6 min read

Amsterdam Red Light District Experiences and Tours

Amsterdam's Red Light District | ©Miltiadis Fragkidis

You may have heard of Amsterdam's Red Light District, one of the oldest areas of the city famous for its liberal lifestyle where people are attracted by the pleasure of the forbidden. Despite its controversial origins, it is now a tourist attraction and one of the most eccentric places in Europe. Do you dare to enter the Red Light District?

Red Light District Guided Tour

Red Light District sign| ©Jonathan Taylor
Red Light District sign| ©Jonathan Taylor

Although historically the Red Light District of Amsterdam has been a center of prostitution, also dedicated to gambling and alcohol consumption, you have nothing to worry about because today it is a safe place to visit on your own.

However, my advice is to take a guided tour of the Red Light District to learn in detail and from the hand of a guide the origin, the main points of interest and curiosities of the oldest and most liberal neighborhood of the capital of the Netherlands.

Why visit the Red Light District

If the controversial stories make you curious, this tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District will show you many surprising things. You'll enter the old part of the city and take a tour to learn about the beginnings and workings of the Red Light District, so called because of the enormous amount of red lights and neon that adorn its picturesque storefronts.

During the 2 hours of this tour you will have at your disposal a Spanish-speaking guide who will show you the most interesting streets of this peculiar district full of art galleries, cafes and other less conventional businesses such as coffee shops, smart shops and sex shops that have given so much liberal fame to this place.

In addition, since this is the old part of the city in the visit you will have the opportunity to see the architecture of the area, its curious leaning buildings, the winding cobbled streets of the fourteenth century and its canals as well as some iconic monuments such as Oude Kerk (the oldest church in Amsterdam) or several sculptures that usually go unnoticed by tourists.

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Why take a guided tour of the Red Light District?

While it is true that as a tourist you can see the Red Light District on your own, any guided tour is always much more interesting, enjoyable and complete than doing it alone.

A highlight of this guided tour is that it is done in a small group of about 15 people maximum, so you will visit the Red Light District, with total tranquility and moving at your own pace through the streets without losing detail.

In addition, in a small group it is always easier to approach the guide to listen to his explanations than in a large one. You will also receive a closer attention because if you have any question during the tour you will be able to solve it immediately.

Book a tour of the Red Light District

What will you see on a Red Light District tour?

Amsterdam| ©Jean Carlo Emer
Amsterdam| ©Jean Carlo Emer

During the tour you will walk through the streets of Amsterdam's Red Light District with a guide to learn about its origins and how prostitution works in Amsterdam, that is, its history, its present and the legislation that regulates it, since it has been legal in the Netherlands since 1911.

You will also discover how the sex shops, the museums of various themes of the neighborhood, the piercing and tattoo stores and the coffee shops (places where the sale and consumption of marijuana is legalized) came about. The guide will explain the country's attitude towards marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and other drugs and how they are regulated in the city.

Key points of the tour

  • The Red Light District
  • Sex Shops
  • Coffee Shops
  • Smart Shops
  • Traditional Dutch pub for beer tasting

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Tips for visiting Amsterdam's Red Light District

Canal near the Red Light District| ©Lara Puscas
Canal near the Red Light District| ©Lara Puscas

Can I take pictures during the tour?

During the tour you will be able to take pictures of the visit but not of the prostitutes in the shop windows as it is totally forbidden. You could get into trouble with the City Council if they know that you are taking pictures of them as a tourist attraction.

To make sure that the regulations governing the Red Light District are respected, police and social workers circulate around the neighborhood to make sure that this is the case.

Is the Red Light District safe?

Despite being an area known for prostitution, drugs and, in short, vice, in general terms it is a safe neighborhood to visit both alone and in groups. However, as in all tourist sites in a large European city, it is advisable to beware of pickpockets and not to go into lonely and dark streets at night.

For the past few years, the City Council has been considering transforming the Red Light District: restoring its architecture, opening new hotels, restaurants and shops to restore some areas and avoid tourist overcrowding in others, while ensuring respect for the hard-working women of the Red Light District.

In this way, what was once a seedy area of the capital is becoming one of the trendiest places in the heart of Amsterdam.

Be cautious during the tour

This is a very liberal place but anyone behaving inappropriately towards prostitutes or residents of the Red Light District may be banned from the tour. Be cautious of certain attitudes!

What to wear when visiting Amsterdam?

In winter temperatures are usually very low (the average at this time is 2 ° C), cold winds and rain is very common so I recommend wearing warm clothes and raincoat. In summer temperatures are higher so the most wearable clothes are light and cool fabrics but even so it is advisable to pack a raincoat in the suitcase because there are usually rainy and gray days.

For a walking tour of Amsterdam I advise you to wear comfortable shoes because you are going to walk for hours up and down many streets.

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A bit of history about the Red Light District of Amsterdam

Entrance to a coffee shop| ©Markus Loke
Entrance to a coffee shop| ©Markus Loke

Prostitution is known as "the oldest profession in the world". Already in the Middle Ages, the city's brothels were run by the chief of police and his trusted people.

When Amsterdam became the world's first port and an important economic center in the 16th century, a multitude of sailors and merchants arrived here, who went to the "Speelhuis" (gambling and dancing houses) to seek female company after months of solitude on the high seas.

Over time the business became more lucrative until in the 17th century the first prostitutes' shop windows appeared, which generated a great deal of expectation and attracted the attention of potential clients, since there was a lot of competition in the city center.

Later a new regulation was created that required the prostitutes to register with the police for medical checks that the government was in charge of supervising to eradicate sexually transmitted diseases.

With the arrival of the railroad, due to its central location and being close to the central station, visitors traveling by train to Amsterdam used to frequent the Red Light District and gradually built the reputation it has today.

That tolerance and open-mindedness towards prostitution made it possible for the famous coffee shops to be installed in the neighborhood, when in the 60's and 70's Holland made a revision regarding drug policy and became a pioneer in the legalization of cannabis consumption in this type of establishments.

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Other Amsterdam sightseeing tours

Amsterdam| ©Jace Afsoon
Amsterdam| ©Jace Afsoon

Once the visit to Amsterdam's Red Light District is over, it is time to visit other very interesting places in the city.

If you liked the experience of a guided tour, I recommend you to take a look at the post The best tours of Amsterdam where you will find more ideas to squeeze your trip to the capital of Holland to the maximum.

On the other hand, if you haven't already done so, it's always a good time to relax and take a cruise on the canals of the "Venice of the North" enjoying the beautiful views. Find out more about this experience at Amsterdam Canal Cruises.

And if you prefer to complete your visit to Amsterdam with an excursion around the country, I advise you to read this article about The best excursions from Amsterdam, where you will see a selection of the coolest ones.

Frequently asked questions

  • Are there any important laws I should know about the Red Light District?

    The law prohibits drinking in public spaces, including the Red Light District, and the penalty is up to €95. It is mandatory to carry identification for those over 14 years of age, and not carrying it is also punishable by a fine.

  • Is the Red Light District safe?

    The red light district is generally considered safe, but you should pay attention to your belongings as pickpockets swarm the area. As a rule, it is frowned upon to take pictures of sex workers so if you want to respect the locals it is best to take as few pictures as possible.

  • Can you really smoke cannabis on the street in the Red Light District?

    There are certain places in Amsterdam where you can smoke cannabis, and other areas where you cannot. The Red Light District is one of the few areas where you can, as long as it is outside one of the coffeeshops. Most drugs are illegal in the Netherlands, and the general rule with cannabis is to carry a maximum of 5 grams and smoke at home or in a coffeeshop.