Walking the Streets: Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Walking the Streets: Amsterdam's Red Light District

When most foreigners mention Amsterdam, two things first come to mind– weed and the Red Light District.

While I wasn’t exactly excited to investigate the weed scene, I was really interested in visiting the infamous Red Light District, especially because I had no idea what to expect.

It was almost a little tricky to find, because nothing made the area stand out from a distance.

Groups of tourists lined the streets just like everywhere else in the city. Some were on educational tours, some from bachelor parties, and some who, like me, were simply curious, cautiously peering into windows from a distance.

Amsterdam - June 2014  Amsterdam - June 2014

Unlike other Red Light Districts I’ve wandered through around the world, the RLD in Amsterdam looked beautiful. The area is one of the oldest in the city and the architecture is gorgeous around the church situated there. It’s hard to wrap your mind around what you’re really seeing as you’re strolling up and down beautiful tree-lined canals. It just didn’t seem seedy or trashy like I’d imagined it would.

We arrived, relatively, early to the area on a Friday night. It was still daylight at 8pm, but we could tell the atmosphere was quickly changing as the sun began to set and the red lights glared brighter. Some of the windows who had older women in them were quickly being replaced by younger, more attractive women.

Already almost all of the curtains were closed and the girls remaining we becoming more aggressive by the minute, tapping on the windows to passerby, trying to earn their next quick 50 euros.

Amsterdam - June 2014  Amsterdam - June 2014

We saw guys being egged on by their friends to step up and inquire at the window. One went as far to offer a girl mere change that she angrily chucked out into the canal– which quickly grabbed her body guard’s attention.

It was almost awkward watching this exchange of cat and mouse. Guys wandering in and out of the same window, only to finally succumb to pressure and be whisked away behind the curtains.

Amsterdam - June 2014

We only walked up and down the strip for about 20 minutes. Along the way we found ourselves in the middle of a guided tour, so we decided to hang back and listen. I just wanted to understand more. I tried to put myself in the girl’s shoes but it was hard to really wrap my head around it. I continually wondered what their backstory was and how they ended up here– almost all of them looked like they were from Eastern European countries instead of the Netherlands.

It’s hard to tell what the true conditions of this so-called “legal prostitution” are. As sex tourism continues to rise in Amsterdam, so does illegal human trafficking. I know there are supposed to be rules and regulations, making it safer for the girls, but you still can’t help to wonder what’s really going on even past the red curtains.

Amsterdam - June 2014

Even if they are there on their own accord and happy with their jobs, watching tourists walk down the street, pointing and giggling over the girls behind the doors, it all just felt a little weird.

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Have you been to the Red Light District in Amsterdam?

12 Comments

  • rebecca says:

    I have heard the same things as Sammi, they rent the windows and are very well protected. Great article

  • Actually when I went a couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to talk to one of the girls. She lived in the same building as our walking tour guide (or so they said ;) ) and she stopped and chatted with us before she went to ‘work’. They do get a lot of protection from the Dutch authorities- you know they rent those windows & pay tax- if any man is found to be attempting to pimp the girls, it’s illegal. Another friend who is actually Dutch said that it’s not something she would do, but she also knew a few girls who did it and they were happy doing it, so (whilst I know the human trafficking happens and there are various problems) I’d like to think that the girls there are there of their own accord. I think the Dutch authorities have a better hold there than say, here, in the UK where the whole thing is illegal and no one is going to get protected.

    • Beth Williams says:

      That’s good to hear! Hopefully they are actually protected then, but I have heard both sides, so it is something to question.

  • I have walked through there but only briefly. Nice shots :) I was afraid to get too close with the fear that my camera would get smashed to bits.

  • I felt really sad in the red light district. Everyone is gawking at the girls, but few realize this is their real life! They’re on show all the time, laughed at, goggled at…. A lot of them were drinking and smoking behind the windows. It all just seemed so sad, and I felt guilty for participating in the touristy aspect of it all. In theory I support legal prostitution, but I don’t think it’s a great solution either. I preferred Amsterdam for the rest of its qualities—not its weed or prostitutes.

    • Beth Williams says:

      I totally agree. I just felt really uncomfortable walking around there. Amsterdam has far better things going for it that don’t involve weed or prostitution!

  • Jameela says:

    I must be old fashioned but the idea of putting women as merchandise on window display just feels wrong. As your use of “” suggests the rules in place could be a smoke screen to appease the public rather than really protect the girls. Must have been interesting anyway to see it for yourself.

  • I completely agree. Oddly, in Bangkok I didn’t feel weird because the Thai girls I saw were bubbly and chatting with friends, it seemed “natural” there – which sounds weird, but it’s supposed to be seedy. Yet, in Amsterdam with all that European charm and fancy architecture it seemed odd and walking through made me too uncomfortable that I had to leave the area.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, I thought it seemed way less of a deal in Thailand! Here is just seemed sad and like the girls were on display.

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