For many, even those with no interest whatsoever in paying for sex, the sheer novelty and notoriety of the Red Light District is one of the main reasons to visit Amsterdam but, for a sizeable number of people, it something that they would much rather forget about. Stumbling upon it accidentally could even be upsetting or disgusting for some, but a more likely reason for most regular folks to want to avoid it would be that they are visiting Amsterdam with their boyfriend, girlfriend, their spouse or perhaps even their parents - now there is a family memory most of us would like to avoid, having to explain to your elderly mother why that Nigerian woman in thigh-high PVC boots is following you down the street.
So, whatever your reasons, let us turn the world upside down and have the Ultimate Amsterdam Red Light Guide … tell you how to entirely avoid the Amsterdam Red Light District.
Luckily, Amsterdam, although a relatively small city, is segmented into clear districts and the Red Light District is actually quite far from the main tourist areas. Perhaps the most important preparation is to make sure that you book a hotel that is in a different part of the city. Quite a few major hotels and hundreds of vacation rental apartments are clustered around the Red Light District, possibly not on the actual street with prostitutes in windows but, perhaps, around a corner or across on the other side of a canal. Take a look at our handy Amsterdam Red Light District map and simply pick a different area.
Now, just to complicate matters further, there are actually two more Red Light districts in Amsterdam, making a total of three. These two others are much smaller than the main Red Light District but are spread out in different areas. Luckily, you can also look at our handy maps of the Singelgebied and De Pijp red light districts, and avoid booking a hotel anywhere near them too.
Pro Tip: A good rule of thumb might be to select a hotel or vacation rental apartment somewhere near the Rijksmuseum - the Netherlands’s main museum - or the wonderful Van Gogh Museum. Anywhere in the vicinity of those two attractions is free of hooker windows.
If arriving by air, you are most likely to arrive in the city centre by train, disembarking at Central Station. Now, this could well be as close, geographically, as you get to the Red Light district during your stay, and, if you leave by the main exit, you can catch a tram or simply walk directly along Damrak, the wide main street between the station and Dam Square.
Now, following that precise route, you will not have had to suffer a single scarlet harlot winking seductively at you. Standing in Dam Square, the most prestigious public square in the city, you should see the grand old Krasnapolsky hotel to your left and the best thing to remember is that the main Red Light District is in the square mile or so running more or less behind the Krasnapolsky and back in the direction of Central Station i.e. parallel with, but one block over from, the Damrak - the long street you just walked along to get from the station to Dam Square.
Take a few minutes to add that rough picture of where it is to your own mental map and simply steer clear of it. Enjoy the many other wonders of this unique city and leave the Red Light District to all the Hell-bound debauchers.
You could still, of course, find yourself in that part of town for entirely innocent reasons. Perhaps surprising, prostitution is actually one of the smaller business activities in the Red Light District, the real money is made by the many shops, restaurants, pubs and shops - this is a real area where real people live and work normal, everyday jobs. It is entirely possible that you will be invited to an entirely respectable restaurant that happens to be slap bang in the middle of the prostitution zone. When people are discussing their plans, listen out for any mention of De Wallen, which is the more usual Dutch name for the district. Even better, print out our maps and refer to them to make sure that the restaurant or pub being suggested is somewhere else.
We sincerely hope you will have a lovely time in Amsterdam … but, if you should decide that you would, after all, like to take a walk on the wild side (or, at least, take a quick peek at it) be sure to read the other articles in this guide, they will help you to get the most out of your visit and answer even the strangest, guiltiest questions you might have. Yes, that’s right: there’s even an article about where you can find the ladyboys!