Amsterdam and prostitution have been together since the 15th century. In the famous red light district in the old centre, women from all over the world sit behind windows, lit by red lights.
The Amsterdam council wants to crack down on illegal prostitution and human trafficking for women working in the red light district and is turning off many of the red lights. The Amsterdam red light district will not close down or disappear all together. But businesses in the old centre will have to prove they are not involved in any criminal activity.
Amsterdam red light
Taking a stroll round the Amsterdam red light district is a very interesting thing to do in Amsterdam. The warm neighbourhood, the pink neighbourhood or de Wallen or de Amsterdamse hoerenbuurt or de rosse buurt, as Amsterdam people call it, is by far the oldest part of Amsterdam.
Dutch people call the red light district ‘the Wallen’, similar to ‘dikes’ in Dutch. The name comes from the old dikes (wallen) that formed the outside border of the city. In the west, this was the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and in the east the Oudezijds Voorburgwal (1385). Soon after, the city was expanded and new dikes arrived: the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, the Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal and the Oudezijds Achterburgwal.
Window prostitution in Amsterdam
In the 1930’s street prostitution wasn’t allowed by the police, neither was luring customers from the doorway. The girls could however sit behind the window glass, with the curtains closed and peek outside to make contact. This was the birth of the window prostitution that has gained Amsterdam her reputation. Prostitution behind the window in Amsterdam is legal.
Closing the windows
Since 2004, more and reports say that many of the working women of the red light district have not voluntarily chosen their profession, but that they are in fact victims of human trafficking. According to investigations, it is nearly impossible for a prostitute to work independently.
The Amsterdam prostitutes are forced to work there either for a boyfriend (a so called lover boy), a pimp or a human trafficker. To crack down on illegal prostitution and the abuse of working women in the area, the Amsterdam council has put forward new rules that the businesses in the area have to abide.
How many windows have been closed?
The Amsterdam council have also closed over 200 windows (of a total of 400+) in recent years. Famous red light district locations that had been there for many years were also forced to shut, as the Amsterdam government decided not to renew their licenses.
Among them are the Casa Rosso live sex theatre, the Banana bar strip, the Yab Yum brothel and many other sex clubs and coffeeshops in the area. They were suspected of having close ties with criminal organisations.
To take down criminal activity, the Amsterdam council has furthermore started to buy many of the historical houses in the old part, making sure they don’t fall in the hands of criminals and in many cases renovations are taking place vigorously. Still, Amsterdam and prostitution are almost synonyms and the red light district will probably never disappear.
The makeover of the Amsterdam Redlightdistrict is known as Project 1012 (or Coalitieproject 1012) (named after the postal code of this part of Amsterdam). The project started in 2008. The council wanted more insight in the activities of the dodgy brothels, money changer, gambling halls, coffee shops, mini supermarkets and some bars. Many have been closed, the building bought to change the destination of the buildings.
Is it safe in the Red Light District?
About 20 years ago, the red light district was quite dangerous. Now however, the area is safer. Especially because there are so many people on the streets, day and night. Of course pickpockets are very common, as in every major city in the world and it’s never a good idea to wander around in small alleyways late at night.
In recent years, the atmosphere has been getting more tense, especially at night, when it tends to get overcrowded with drunk people.
Crime in the Amsterdam Red Light District
In september 2016 one man died after a very intense street fight in the Amsterdam Red Light District. As a consequence, more police is now visible in the area.
It is recommended to visit the area during the day and stay away during the night, unless you are a customer.
Read more about safety in Amsterdam.
Drugs in the Red Light
Because there are so many tourists in the red light district, wanting to have a good time, there are small time drugs dealers wandering around trying to sell their goods to them. They will approach tourists with the words: ‘charlie, heroin, ecstasy’.
The quality is not good and often the drugs at the Amsterdam Red Light area is totally fake and you are getting high on aspirin. It is recommended to say no.
Respect the prostitutes
Treat prostitutes with the respect, they are just doing their job. Prostitution is legal and the women are registered having their own ‘business’. So the Dutch prostitutes pay taxes. Dutch prostitutes have united to protect the rights of the working women. PROUD is the Dutch association by and for sex workers.
Safe sex in Red Light District
All of the women undergo regular health checks. They do not practise unsafe sex, so you don’t have to bother asking them.
No pictures please
The prostitutes don’t like it when you take photographs of them, so keep your camera in your pocket.
Red Light Prices
Prices in the Amsterdam red light district are about € 50 per 15 minutes.
Art in the Amsterdam Red Light District
To revitalise the Red Light District, the Amsterdam council and housing corporation IJmere bought several buildings in the area and changed their destination. Many new hip bars and art galleries are now found in the Red Light District.
At the heart of the ‘Wallen’, the square around the Old Church for example, you can now find the art gallery Ultra de la Rue, a record shop, the radio station Red Light Radio, a day care center for children and a gaming hall with lots of pinball machines and hotdogs and several popular and good restaurants.
Guide and app to the creative Red Light District
To find the new hotspots in the Red Light District, conceptstores for fashion, hairdressers, art galleries, bookstores, recordstores, there is a map and an app available that show the locations. The Red Light ABC has the map available at the Ultra de la Rue (Old Church square). Tales and Tours has made a digital guide to over 80 locations and gives a short description. The Red Light ABC app is free for download.