A trip to De Wallen – The red light district in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Bridges and Canals

Red Light District and my grandfather.

My dad told me a story about the red light district in Amsterdam when he visited it with my late grandfather in the early 80´s. My grandfather was a very conservative 60 year old man. He was so shocked that when he came home he told everybody about these woman who didn’t wear clothes.

So, here I was on my way to visit this famous Red light district and this story came to mind. I had to giggle. Talk about a culture shock!For a lot of people these subjects are taboo: Prostitution, Sex, smoking pot and red light districts. Something that people always wonder about but hardly ever discuss. I had mixed feelings about visiting the Red light district. I was very curious but I did not feel comfortable being surrounded by a group of people that I didn’t know. (This was on a Contiki tour to Europe and we have only met the previous day in London).

People in our group were also talking about visiting a coffee shop (to smoke pot) and a life sex show. I have never done or seen anything like this before and I was almost 34 years old!

The Red Light District do’s and dont’s.

Amsterdam Red Light District,De Wallen Amsterdam,Red Light District Photos

We were warned before the time that taking photos of the ladies were forbidden. Well, you can try if you want but it is not uncommon to see a lady of the night chasing you down an alley or throwing you with a pair of shoes!

One guy living close to the Red light district saw a prostitute pinning a man to the wall when he took a picture of her. Maybe you like being threatened by a pimp? If so, go for it! We all decided to pack the cameras away.
It is called the red light district because that is exactly what you see everywhere. The darker it gets, the more obvious the glow of the fluorescent red lights become, above the many windows in the area. There are more than 250 windows! It was a very busy night with a lot of people everywhere, mostly men.

The first thing I noticed was the huge glass windows and then I saw them….some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen! They were not completely naked. In fact I have not seen one completely naked at all. Maybe it was my imagination but I got the distinct impression that they didn’t like the women who were staring at them. Some made scary faces! But it was really difficult not to stare! What is window shopping without looking?

There is a lot of adult entertainment in this area. A closed curtain in front of the window meant “show time” is over for a while. If you don´t want to use the services of any of the ladies then you could browse some of the shops or walk next to the beautiful canals. That is what we have done after a while.© Mark Shoesmith / Pixoto

Interesting facts about the Red Light District:

  •  This district is more than 300 years old with beautiful gabled buildings and expensive real estate that houses doctors, lawyers and plenty of families.
  • It is a very tolerant community and freedom is highly valued.
  • The City Council is trying hard to root out money laundering in this area. Business owners are scrutinized and if the can’t proof that their earnings are legal, they loose their license. Some sex shops and brothels already closed their doors.
  • A so called “Red Light Fashion” has emerged which are basically designs by young fashion designers and have become very popular in order to diversify the businesses in this area and keep it an attractive tourist attraction.
  • It dates back to the 14th Century when sailors arrived in need of some female company. This infamous part of the city is a major tourist attraction. Each year, millions of visitors come to see this vibrant and exciting part of Amsterdam.
  • The Red Light District is located just south (10 minutes walking) of Central Station, the main train station. It consists of theatres, shops, museums, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and of course the famous windows with sexy girls, dressed in eye-popping underwear.

Visiting the red light district in 2004 was a great experience. I have seen something that a lot of people have never seen. You know what? It was not that bad. What I didn’t like was the fact that some men walking past these windows looked at women like they were objects. It made me feel very uncomfortable and dirty.

I had an opportunity to visit the Red Light District again in 2007. This time I didn’t go. My opinion and reasoning changed. I became more aware of the dangers of human trafficking and the role that pimps play.  That is something that I feel very strong about. Please note I have nothing against people who choose this kind of profession. This is my personal opinion.





I have been fortunate to have done quite a bit of travelling over the last 10 years. By heart I am an adventurer and I love exploring new places, cultures and food. Travelling can become stressful and expensive. Over the years I have learnt to travel as cost effective as possible, simply by travelling more clever. Nelmitravel.com is a Adventure and Budget Travel site where I review Airlines, Accommodation, Transport, Restaurants and give helpful travel information.


  1. Hello Nelieta -I lived in Europe in the early 90s when I had my own business there. I never made it to Amsterdam. I always wanted to go there but something inside of me kept me from heading to northern Europe. I never traveled further north than Frankfurt, Germany. I spent the majority of my time in France, Central Germany through Bavaria, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Slovenija, Switzerland, Italy, England, and Spain. After reading your post, maybe it was better for me that I didn't go there. Naked women in public never was a big attraction for me; nor the clubs and strip joints. Not saying I don't adore the beauty of a woman because hahaha, I really do. The publicity of it, public eye, not for me. I checked it out before, but didn't do a darn thing for me. Not good and not fun. :)http://charlienitric.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/the-honkers-air-raid-over-naperville/

  2. interesting article. This guys holiday video is so much more interesting then the ones i've taken over the years. once you've videoed one beach they all look the same after that … well the way i use a video they do

  3. Hi Nelieta, a very interesting article and food for thought. Amsterdam is on my list of places to go. I've only managed 4 hours in Schiphol Airport.

  4. I wandered the Red Light District briefly on my trip to Amsterdam. I found the culture interesting, but the other parts of the city were so much better! They have great museums, the flower market, and a super cool zoo and aquarium… and the coffee shops. 🙂

  5. Hi Charlie, you have lived in so many beautiful parts of Europe! Lucky you!Please don´t let this part of Amsterdam discourage you to travel there. Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in the world and there is so much to do.I hope you do get to go there one day!

  6. HI Larry, glad you found it interesting! This guy had a lot of guts to film in the Red Light district! If they caught him, well then it would have been a video like all ours that we normally take on holidays…out of focus and all over the place 🙂

  7. Hi Alpana, I have never been to a Red Light district prior to my visit to Amsterdam. I have never been exposed to such areas back home in South Africa. It was an experience I will never forget!Interesting..do they have Red Light districts in India?

  8. Hi Hocam, oops 4 hours in Schipol airport is not fun! Great airport though!I hope you will make to Amsterdam. It is a beautiful city with lots to do and see.

  9. Hi Claire, yes you couldn´t have put it better. I suppose it is the only time when I guy wouldn´t complain to go window shopping 🙂

  10. Hi Rachel, I have to agree with you. The Red Light district is a must see but there is so much to do in the city for example the museums, canal cruise, bicycle riding…you name it!

  11. been to other red light districts in this world..they should be abolished..hey, where are the women's liberty fighters today..? I'm just a guy here..

  12. Hi Alfandi, I guess this debate is almost as old as time 🙂 I don´t think women activists will be able to do something about this to be honest.

Thank you for visiting. Have a fabulous day!

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