Beyond its salacious reputation and red-lit brothels, Amsterdam's Red Light District (De Wallen) has some of the city's prettiest canals, excellent bars, welcoming restaurants, and plenty of shopping (not just for sex). Its winding cobblestone streets and narrow alleys tell fascinating stories of the city's character, both richly historic and somewhat seedy. While this controversial neighborhood—one of Amsterdam’s oldest—might not be for everyone, the Red Light District has much more to offer than just the world’s oldest profession.
You can explore the Red Light District on your own, but a great way to visit is on a guided walking or biking tour—some even safely take visitors through the area at night, when things are especially lively. Other tour options combine a district visit with admission to popular attractions such as the Sex Museum, the Red Light Secrets prostitution museum, Madame Tussauds Amsterdam, or one of the Netherlands’ legendary coffee shops. Exploring this area with an experienced tour guide can give you a peek into how the locals live—opt for a walking tour led by a former police officer and learn all about the Red Light District’s police history (which is long and fascinating) and other neighborhood secrets, or take a group pub-crawl tour of local watering holes.
Things to Know Before You Go
Although the area's once-dangerous streets are now much more welcoming, be aware of your surroundings and beware of pickpockets.
Taking photographs of the prostitutes in the windows is strictly forbidden. If you do, you may find yourself fishing your camera out of a canal.
If exploring the Red Light District on foot, at some point you'll likely find yourself on Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk—commercial thoroughfares filled with shops and restaurants.
While looking up at the scantily dressed women advertising their wares through full-length windows, also notice the beautiful gables and lovely Dutch architecture.
How to Get There
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is located just south of Centraal Station, around Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Oudezijds Voorburgwal—also known as De Wallen (the Walls) or De Walletjes (the Little Walls). To get there, take the tram to the Dam, then pass behind the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. Many guided city walking and biking tours will take you there as well, perhaps also with stops at the Van Gogh Museum, New Market Square, and more.
When to Get There
You can visit the Red Light District year-round—just don’t forget your rain jacket if you’re headed there during winter.
The famous Dutch laid-back attitude is very prevalent in the Red Light District, especially in the form of cannabis and prostitution. While smoking pot is illegal in the Netherlands, it is widely tolerated, and you may purchase or possess up to five grams. You may be surprised that this carnivalesque neighborhood is also where families, young couples, and senior citizens reside and socialize.