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Red Light District
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The 10 best things to do in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

With sights ranging from a beloved chapel to a museum of weed, the Amsterdam Red Light District is full of intrigue

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Tom Coggins
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Believe it or not, there is much more to the Amsterdam Red Light District than just sex, coffeeshops and legions of inebriated tourists. Sure, all that exists here, but did you know that this is the oldest part of the Dutch capital? Not only that, but De Wallen (the local name for the main bit of the RLD) is full of fabulous sights and attractions, including the country’s most treasured place of worship. If that sounds like a strange juxtaposition, well, you’re not wrong.

The Red Light District is full of history, but there are plenty of contemporary attractions here too. This is Amsterdam, after all, the museums tend to be world-class, and the galleries aren’t afraid to push the envelope. Ready to explore the world beyond the headlines? Our pick of the best things to do in Amsterdam’s Red Light District should keep you busy.

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Best things to do in Amsterdam Red Light District

Oude Kerk
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Red Light District

The city’s oldest building, Oude Kerk, has played an important role in Amsterdammers’ daily lives since the thirteenth century. Built by Catholics then ransacked by Calvinists during the Reformation, the church has experienced more than its fair share of turbulent history over the years. Nowadays, it also serves as a cultural centre and regularly hosts site-specific exhibitions from international artists. Watch your step as you enter: there are around 2,500 gravestones scattered across the church’s floor. 

  • Museums
  • History
  • Red Light District

Explore Amsterdam’s turbulent religious heritage at this fascinating museum in the Red Light District. The whole place centres around a clandestine chapel built by an underground Catholic congregation after their religion was outlawed in the sixteenth century by the Protestant Dutch government. Decorated with pastel pinks and vivid iconography, the chapel appears frozen in time, allowing visitors to fully experience this important chapter of Dutch history. 

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Brouwerij de Prael
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ann D.

3. Brouwerij de Prael

This charitable brewery helps locals facing difficulties in the job market find meaningful employment. Known for its preference for time-honed recipes, Brouwerij de Prael mainly brews traditional styles of beer from the Netherlands or elsewhere in north-western Europe. Its massive tasting room has all the charms of an old-school beer hall, featuring dark wooden furniture, vintage collectables and a bar fitted with silver fonts. Tread carefully: the beers here are notoriously strong (and moreish).

Condomerie het Gulden Vlies
  • Shopping
  • Red Light District

Founded in the 1980s to help promote safe sex during the Aids crisis, Condomerie was the world’s first condom specialist store. Besides selling johnnies of all shapes and sizes, the store serves as an information centre for safe sex and offers advice concerning everything from artificial lubrication to personal hygiene. Even though its aims are noble, Condomerie doesn’t shy away from humour and stocks a bunch of novelty items emblazoned with cartoon condoms, too.

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De Koffieschenkerij
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Aurelie T.

5. De Koffieschenkerij

Set inside several rooms attached to Oude Kerk, this secluded coffeehouse feels worlds apart from the hubbub of inner Amsterdam. As well as offering peace and quiet in an otherwise hectic neighbourhood, de Koffieschenkerij serves light lunches, fresh coffee and juices from morning until late afternoon. Don’t leave without trying the homemade apple pie: it’s served with lashings of whipped cream and works wonders alongside a cup of java.

  • Theatre
  • Old Side

With a reputation for promoting innovative, avant-garde theatre, Frascati puts on more than 500 productions each year, welcoming homegrown talent and international troupes alike. As independent Dutch production companies regularly premiere their latest work here, Frascati is among the best places in Amsterdam to discover the local drama, dance and comedy scenes. There’s also a two-storey bar that serves light bites and beer brewed in the Benelux region.

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Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum
  • Museums
  • Specialist interest

Dedicated to the often-overlooked history of cannabis, this museum retraces humanity’s relationship with weed from prehistoric times to the present. With highlights ranging from Samurai armour made from hemp to American anti-cannabis propaganda created during the height of Reefer Madness, the museum has plenty to offer seasoned stoners and history buffs alike. The space also hosts regular thought-provoking temporary exhibitions relating to cannabis cultivation, consumption and culture. 

  • Restaurants
  • Vegetarian
  • Old Side

Vintage treasure hunters may have difficulty leaving this coffee room empty-handed – its wall-spanning collection of gorgeous retro knick-knacks, lampshades and embroideries are mostly for sale. While it certainly isn’t the largest spot in central Amsterdam, Latei boasts two cosy floors decorated with shabby-chic furniture and curiosities of all stripes, plus a small terrace with street-side seating. Food-wise, Latei mainly serves light, lunchtime dishes, like sandwiches, soups and cakes made in its tiny on-site kitchen.

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  • Art
  • Red Light District

A bulwark of Amsterdam’s underground scene, this experimental exhibition space was founded by a group of squatters in 1979 who were miffed with the mainstream art world. Although its original occupants are long gone, W139 honours its founders’ wishes by giving artists free rein over exhibitions, allowing them to create site-specific pieces and installations that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else. Expect avant-garde, politically-conscious art inside.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Old Side

Home to ancient artefacts ranging from Greek marbles to Egyptian sarcophagi, Allard Pierson Museum must rank among the most well-respected archaeological institutions on the continent. Housed in a suitably magnificent building overlooking the Rokin canal, the museum has deep ties to the University of Amsterdam and was named after a local scholar. The museum’s permanent display of priceless archaeological finds is brilliant, and it also hosts excellent temporary exhibitions throughout the year. 

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