De Wallen is the largest and best-known Red-Light District in Amsterdam and a major tourist attraction. It is located in the heart of the oldest part of the city and covers several blocks south of the church Oude Kerk and crossed by several canals. De Wallen consists of a network of alleys containing approximately 300 tiny one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights (explaining the term – red-light district). Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. De Wallen, together with the prostitution areas Singelgebied and Ruysdaelkade, form the Rosse Buurt (red light areas) of Amsterdam.
Besides the windows, there are also countless sex shops, peep shows and sex museums in the area. During the evenings, the main red-light district (the one along Oudezijds Achterburgwal – look out for the pink elephant sign – see picture below; where you will find the infamous sex show theatres Casa Rosso and Moulin Rouge) is filled with tourists so it is quite safe to walk around the area as long as you observe some basic rules:
- Do not take pictures of occupied windows – this is prohibited and you might be confronted so it could get messy;
- Watch out for your belongings – due to the crowd, pickpocketing is rife in this area;
- Try to go in a group or at least in twos to avoid unwanted attention especially if you go into the side alleys which are relatively quieter; and
- Don’t start a conversation with the prostitutes if you don’t intend to do any business with them. You could get scolded or confronted for wasting their time.
The prostitutes are typically scantily-clad (in bikinis or just bras and panties) behind the windows – it is ok to look and they will not go out of their windows to solicit business so they will not bother you too much (unless you break Rule Number 1 explained above). The windows along Oudezijds Achterburgwal are only just a handful of all the windows in the whole red-light district.
If you explore the side alleys and the area around the church (Oude Kerk), you will find more windows and also a variety of the “red lights” above the windows. The red lights are presented in different forms from red florescent tubes to red light bulbs but almost all windows have red curtains. Along the narrow alleys around the Bulldog No. 90 Coffeeshop along Oudezijds Voorburgwal, you will find long rows of dedicated windows or prostitutes and very crowded alleys – very different from the street along Oudezijds Achterburgwal which is interspersed with sex shops and museum.
These girls typically pay around €100-150 for an 8-hour block to book the windows so it is important not to waste their time asking if you are not interested (see Rule Number 4). From online sources, for about €50, clients get about 15-20 minutes of time with a prostitute and any extras e.g. more than 20 minutes required or other activities not earlier agreed will cost extra.
The Amsterdam Red Light District at De Wallen is about a 10-minute walk from the Amsterdam Centraal Station. There ain’t any tram stops nearby – the nearest Metro station is at Nieuwmarkt. The red-light district around Oudezijds Achterburgwal is very near to Amsterdam’s Chinatown (see map below for the landmarks – The Waag where the Nieuwmarkt metro is near and the Zeedijk street – Chinatown). There are also 2 lesser-known red-light district areas in Amsterdam – Singel (between Raadhuistraat and Centraal Station) and de Pijp (behind the Rijksmuseum).
Besides sex shops and prostitutes, the De Wallen neighbourhood is also filled with interesting shops, pubs, fantastic restaurants, leaning gabled houses and the city’s most charming canal. Don’t miss the vibrant Nieuwmarkt square, the medieval building – the Waag, the gothic Oude Kerk or a walk along the centre of Amsterdam’s Chinatown, the Zeedijk (also home to an impressive Buddhist temple). You will also be able to find one of the best Chinese food in Amsterdam at Nam Kee (we had one of the best fried rice and wanton noodles here!).
Check out the map below for the walking route from Amsterdam Centraal Station to the red light district. Once you have reached the Oude Kerk, you will also have reached the red-light district – look out for the red lights above the windows.