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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

Red Light District Experiences and Tours

Amsterdam's Red Light District | ©Miltiadis Fragkidis

You may have heard of Amsterdam's Red Light District. It is 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?

1. Guided Tour of the Red Light District

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

Although historically the Amsterdam Red Light District 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 controversial stories make you curious, on this tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District you'll see a lot of surprising things. You'll delve into the old part of the city and take a tour to learn about the beginnings and workings of the Red Light District, so named for the enormous amount of red lights and neon that adorn its colorful storefronts.

During the 2 hours of this tour you will have at your disposal an English speaking guide who will show you the most interesting streets of this peculiar district full of art galleries, coffee shops 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 during the visit you will have the opportunity to see the architecture of the area, its unique leaning buildings, the winding fourteenth century cobbled streets and canals as well as some iconic monuments such as Oude Kerk (the oldest church in Amsterdam) or several sculptures that normally go unnoticed by tourists.

At the end of the tour, the guide will take you to a traditional Dutch pub for a beer tasting. Although this tasting is not included in the price of the tour, it is a good opportunity to learn about the beer culture in this country and to have a good time in a pleasant atmosphere tasting craft beers and other better-known brands.

Compare the best tours of the Red Light District

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 comprehensive than doing it alone.

A highlight of this guided tour is that it is done in a small group, about 15 people maximum, so you will visit the Red Light District, with total tranquility and moving at your own pace through the streets while soaking in all the details.

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

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: 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 as well as the coffee shops (places where the sale and consumption of marijuana are legalized). 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.

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 can take pictures of the tour but not of the prostitutes in the shop windows as it is forbidden. You could get in trouble with the City Hall if they are aware that you are taking pictures as a tourist attraction.

To make sure that the Red Light District regulations are respected, police and social workers circulate 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, ultimately, vice, generally speaking it is a safe neighborhood both to visit 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 now 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 with prostitutes or residents of the Red Light District may be ejected from the tour. Be cautious of what you do!

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 are very common so I recommend wearing warm clothes and a 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 will be walking up and down many streets for hours.

A little bit of history about Amsterdam's Red Light District

Entering a coffee shop | ©Markus Loke
Entering 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 and went to the "Speelhuis" (gambling and dancing houses) to seek female company after months of loneliness at sea.

Over time, the business became more lucrative until in the seventeenth century the first showcases of prostitutes appeared, generating great expectation and trying to attract the attention of potential customers, 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 controls 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.

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

Thus, coffee shops are another reason why many travelers visit the Red Light District of Amsterdam.

Other tours to get to know Amsterdam

Amsterdam | ©Jace Afsoon
Amsterdam | ©Jace Afsoon

Once the visit to Amsterdam's Red Light District is over, it's time to get to know 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 in Amsterdam where you will find more ideas to make the most of your trip to the capital of Holland.

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 " and enjoy 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 regarding the Red Light District?

    There is a Public Alcohol Ban, as such it is forbidden to drink in public spaces including the Red Light District, and you can be fined €95. It is compulsory to carry ID if you are over 14, and a fine can be issued by a government official if you cannot produce one.

  • Is the Red Light District safe to go to?

    The Red Light District is generally considered safe, but you'll want to keep your belongings somewhere safe as pickpockets can be an issue. Most businesses around the area also frown on tourists taking pictures of their sex workers, so if you want to avoid any trouble it's best to respect their trade and keep photography to a minimum.

  • Can I really smoke cannabis outside 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 its outside one of the coffeeshops. Most drugs are illegal in the Netherlands, and the general rule with cannabis is to have a maximum of 5 grams, and either smoke it at home or in a coffee shop.