Guide to the Red Light District

Amsterdam’s Old Centre is still on the game… Play safe, with our guide to Europe’s favourite vice destination



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© Karl O'Brien

If you're looking for sex, drugs and/or rock 'n' roll, you'll find all you need for a lost weekend in Amsterdam without much preparation. The Red Light District (known locally as De Wallen), sited in an approximate triangle formed by Central Station, Nieuwmarkt and the Dam, is at the very root of the city's international notoriety. It's currently undergoing a 'clean up', however. The city authorities are seeking to halve the number of prostitutes and marijuana-touting coffeeshops in the hopes of attracting a classier line-up of conventional cafés, shops and restaurants – and tourists. Culture, in all its forms, is deemed to be the answer. Hence a glut of hipster insurgents, from the retro arcade De TonTon Club to the Cut Throat Barber and Coffee store.

But while sex remains the main hook upon which the area hangs its reputation, it's actually secondary to window shopping. Even though people do buy an incredible amount of rumpy here – takings are estimated to be worth around €500 million per year – most wander around, gazing at the live exhibits and taking in the history of the area at the Erotic Museum or Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum. And yet, in the centre of this illicit activity rises up the Oude Kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam's oldest building, while the equally pious Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder lies nearby.

Cannabis College

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The college, occupying two floors in a 17th-century listed monument in the Red Light District, provides the public with an array of information about the cannabis plant (including its medicinal uses). The place is run by volunteers and admission is free. However, staff

  1. Oudezijds Achterburgwal 124 I
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Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum

Cannabis connoisseurs will lose themselves ogling larger than life pictures of perfect plants and gleaming balls of hash in this museum in the Red Light District. But this shrine to skunk is not only for smokers and tokers. Straighter-laced visitors will be entertained

  1. Oudezijdsachterburgwal 148
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Erotic Museum

  • Critics choice

While the Sex Museum benefits from its Damrak location in terms of passing trade, the Erotic Museum is in the more appropriate location: slap bang in the heart of the Red Light District. That’s not to say, though, that it’s any more authentic, or interesting. Prize

  1. Oudezijds Achterburgwal 54
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Prostitute Information Center

PIC will answer just about any question about the work, professional issues and political fights related to the City’s legalised prostitution industry. It’s run by Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute, and even offers a workshop (€65 including a drink and a photo)

  1. Enge Kerksteeg 3
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Casa Rosso

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The entertainment at Casa Rosso leaves nothing to the imagination: onstage are striptease girls and couples having full-on sex, and there’s a soft-core S&M performance thrown in for good measure. A recent attempt to drag things out of the gutter with a safe-for-work

  1. Oudezijds Achterburgwal 106-108
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Improbably dexterous female genitalia can be seen performing night after night – and, as the central part of their belief-beggaring act, spitting out an average of 15kg (33lbs) of fruit every evening. For €50 you get one hour to drink all you want but the appeal is

  1. Oudezijds Achterburgwal 37
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Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder

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Originally known as the Museum Amstelkring, this place is a well-kept secret. The main attraction is upstairs, and goes by the name: ‘Our Sweet Lord in the Attic’. Built in 1663, this attic church was used by Catholics during the 17th century, when they were banned

  1. Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40
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Oude Kerk

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The Oude Kerk began life as a simple wooden chapel in 1306, but today rates as Amsterdam’s most interesting church. It’s easy to imagine the Sunday Mass chaos during its heyday in the mid-1500s, when it had 38 altars, each with its own guild-sponsored priest. Now

  1. Oudekerksplein 23
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Webers Holland

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When she was a child, Désirée Webers, founder of erotic store Webers Holland, wanted to be an inventor when she grew up. Instead of focussing on rocket science, the kooky designer (she sports rainbow-coloured dreadlocks these days) meandered down a slightly more

  1. Kloveniersburgwal 26
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