Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

This personal experience was originally published by TravelbugPao...

"I had heard about the Red Light District (RLD) area in Amsterdam and had seen a peek of it in Kangana Ranaut starrer movie ‘Queen’, I am sure most of you can relate to me here. Till the time I hadn’t visited this area and had no ideas about Amsterdam red rooms. I had a number of questions in my head and I am sure all of you must be puzzled too about what red light district meaning is . "

We have added more insights about the Red Light District also known as De Wallen to this personal experience. Read on..

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

Since 2010, Prostitution in Amsterdam is a legitimate, open business in order to reduce crime rates and forced prostitution. The prostitutes here have to legally pay taxes, earn money and are given proper medical care. This area consists of about 300 tiny cubicle rooms illuminated with red lights that are rented by prostitutes for sexual services, also called window prostitution, from behind the door/window. The red neon light indicates that the sex-worker is currently available.

The concept here is very simple: a prostitute is behind a shop window to impress you. If you’re interested – knock on the window, approach, and negotiate all the terms before the final deal. This is how Amsterdam window workers work!

The windows that are covered with curtains signify the meaning for itself, doesn’t it? In progress…. You may also notice a blue light instead of a red one, this signifies that the person behind the window is a transgender or transvestite. Usually it costs around €50 for 15-20 minutes of pleasure, but this can vary as per different individuals.

What time does Red Light District open?

The Red Light District is always open. The district can be visited 24/7. The window brothels are only closed for 2 hours a day between 6am and 8am. Most bars and clubs close at 3 or 4 am on weekends.

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

"...When I first entered the red lit narrow lanes, I decided to keep my judgmental views aside and went ahead with a mindset of having an experience to remember of the Amsterdam red street. It was honestly very amusing to actually see women of different shapes and sizes dressed in sexy lingerie to captivate the customers (nurses, police women, cats and bunnies). These Amsterdam brothels are not what you are thinking it to be!

On one side I was watching the tour groups around this area and on the other side the actual customers who were negotiating with the customers. It was an experience filled with entertainment and a little embarrassment."

What is legal in Amsterdam Red Light District?

Sex workers in Amsterdam can operate legally with the right permits from the city authorities. You can visit them in window brothels, sex clubs or escort agencies. Make sure you practice safe sex and avoid any sex workers who are younger than 21 years old.

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

Where are the 3 red light districts in Amsterdam?

The 3 red light districts in Amsterdam are:

This is the oldest, largest and most famous red light district in Amsterdam. It is located in the heart of the city, near the Oude Kerk (Old Church). It covers more than 17 alleys and streets and has over 200 window brothels where sex workers display themselves behind glass. Some of the most popular streets in De Wallen are Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, and Trompettersteeg.


This is a smaller and quieter red light district along the Singel canal that runs from the IJ to Muntplein Square. It has about 64 window brothels and is less crowded than De Wallen. It is also known for having more transgender sex workers than the other districts.

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

This is the smallest and most discreet red light district in Amsterdam. It is located in De Pijp, a trendy neighbourhood in Amsterdam Zuid. It has only 45 window brothels along the Ruysdaelkade canal and is mostly frequented by locals. It offers a different experience from the other districts and is less touristy.

History of Prostitution in Amsterdam

Prostitution has been a constant presence in De Wallen, but its legal status has changed over time. It was tolerated until the 16th century, when the Protestant Reformation outlawed it. Sex workers had to operate underground, often with the help of madams who ran disguised brothels2. Prostitution was legalized again in 1810, but brothels were not until 2000.

De Wallen is not only a place for sex work, but also a cultural and historical hub. It has many museums, such as the Museum of Prostitution, the Erotic Museum, and the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum. It also has the oldest building in Amsterdam, the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which was built in the 13th century.

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

De Wallen is facing some challenges and changes in recent years, as some politicians and activists want to reduce or relocate the sex industry, citing concerns about human trafficking, exploitation, and public nuisance. Some proposals include closing some windows, moving sex workers to other areas, or creating a sex work hotel. However, some sex workers and their supporters oppose these plans, arguing that they would harm their safety, autonomy, and livelihood.

Tips while visiting the Red Light District of Amsterdam

1. Be very careful about your belongings as many pick pockets are around this area. Make sure all your valuable belongings are kept safely in your hotel/hostel. If you have anything valuable make sure its in a secured pocket where it’d be tough to steal. Also, preferably carry a card and minimal Euros to be safer.

2. The safest way to roam around the red-lit windows is to take a guided tour here. If you don’t have a budget for it, then tag along behind people taking tours (we did this).

3. Do not stare at the prostitutes or make cheap gestures. They are just doing their job and its important to respect them.

4. Do not talk to them unnecessarily and waste their time if you aren’t interested at all. This can make the bodyguards very furious.

5. Don’t take photos of the prostitutes from outside of their doors or even inside (if you plan to). This is strictly forbidden and you could end up in trouble.

6. If you plan on using the services, negotiate and agree on what exactly you're paying for and how much you are going to pay otherwise don't be surprised to pay extra for assumed services.

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

Apart from prostitution and amsterdam red rooms and window brothels, the red light district showcases live adult store sex shows, strip clubs, cannabis coffeeshops, bars and peep shows. You can also visit popular museums such as the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution and the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. I would definitely want to recommend the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution as it was very interesting and informative in educating people about the insights of a sex worker.

Photo of Red Light District of Amsterdam: Window Shopping, Rules, History by Tripoto

The heart of Amsterdam is much more than all of this and has so much food, culture and history to offer so don’t fixate your perceptions until you wander around this beautiful city. For those looking for landmarks and historical places in RLD area – there’s the 800-year-old Oude Kerk (the city’s oldest parish church), there’s even the picturesque Chinatown street and the dreamy canals.

Must Read: Hush! Most Famous Red Light Areas That Your Parents Don't Want You To Know, sathanur dam