Even before visiting Amsterdam, chances are you've heard of its notorious Red Light District, or De Wallen as it's officially known. Spanning a number of streets in central Amsterdam, this adult-only area has become one of Amsterdam's most famous attractions, and as you'd expect it contrasts sharply with the rest of the beautiful old town.
As the centre of Amsterdam's famously liberal attitude toward prostitution, the streets are lined with brothels, sex shops and museums that are, quite frankly, pretty seedy establishments, but nonetheless iconic. Expect businesses to employ nearly-naked girls and pretty graphic window displays to try and entice visitors inside. Don't worry though - it's totally fine to just walk straight past and soak up the lively atmosphere without partaking in anything on offer here if you don't want to.
Aside from the district's sordid activity, it's actually a pretty safe place to visit, and there are lots of other things on offer including quirky shops, cool jazz bars and great restaurants. Plus, De Wallen is the one of the oldest areas of the city, so the architecture is stunning (particularly the Oude Church).
The best time to visit the Red Light District
If you want to get a true feel for the Red Light District, the best time to visit is after dark when the lights are switched on and the area is at its liveliest. If you're slightly nervous about visiting, we'd recommend going for a walk through before 11pm as this is when the district tends to be in full swing. If you're looking to visit during to busiest time, it stays bustling until around 2 or 3am.
You can, of course, visit in the daytime when you'll still see girls tapping on the windows and shops open for business, however the streets seem even more unsavoury without the cover of darkness and the glowing red lights, so we'd say it's best to wait until at least early evening to venture there.
Travel tip: Don't make the Red Light District the first stop on your Amsterdam city break - this one area isn't exactly an accurate picture of what you'll find during the rest of your stay, so don't give yourself the wrong impression of the city before you've even seen it! We recommend heading there in the evening of day one on our ideal three day itinerary.
There are a few etiquette pointers you should know before you visit the Red Light District:
One of the most important things to remember is that it's forbidden to take pictures of the sex workers. Despite how it may seem, they want to retain as much privacy as possible, and some can get angry or aggressive if they see someone taking a picture (even if you were photographing something else), so it's best to just keep your camera in your bag.
Respect the industry - although it may differ from the norm in your home country, prostitution is completely legal in Amsterdam, so don't laugh, stare or make jokes about the workers.
Remember these are normal Amsterdam streets where people live, work and move around, so still look out for cyclists and respect the local residents.
Be wary of pickpockets - this is a very touristy area so it's often targeted by pickpockets; keep your valuables close and be aware of where they are at all times.
It's best not to visit this area by yourself as it may lead to unwanted attention; try to go in a group of two or more.
Throughout the Year
Red Light District Warmoesstraat 55