Amsterdam: Rules of the Red Light District

by Erin Michelson
Featured Image: Amsterdam’s Red Light District by Helena Liu

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is a tiny 500 square meters, but it delivers a big punch, with women from around the world openly selling their bodies in store-front windows. Known as The Wallen, you can search it out by walking the streets with “wal” at the end of their name, like Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal.

The Red Light District got its start when Amsterdam was a shipping power. Where there’re sailors, you’ll find the oldest profession. This notable Amsterdam neighborhood has been around at least since the early 1400s.

Prostitute Pricing

The women pay between 100–150 Euros per day to rent a window, called “peeskamertjes” in Dutch. Typically the women make about 500 Euros a night, but can make as much as 1,000 Euros on the weekend.  For 15 minutes of oral sex or intercourse, the customer pays 50 Euros.  When the curtains are drawn, the window is occupied.

Swans in the Red Light District. Creative Commons photo by Nicole Pullin.

Safety First!

All the prostitutes are legal (since 2001) and most undergo regular health checks. Supposedly the police don’t patrol the area, so if you partake, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

  • All the prostitutes have bodyguards (although they may not be visible). Don’t even think about hurting or abusing the women.
  • No photographs allowed. If you can’t resist a snap, you could have your film and possibly even your camera confiscated (probably by those same hidden body guards).
  • Only sex with a condom.
  • Blue Light Special. If a blue light glows above the door you are dealing with a transsexual — Just thought you should know what you’re getting.
  • Charlie Boys. That’s was the Red Light District’s drug dealers are called…mainly because they go around asking if you want any “Charlie” – cocaine, heroin or ecstasy.

Red Light Fashion

A Mada Van Gaans fashion display. Creative Commons photo by Kim Phu.

Recent new laws have enabled the Dutch government to close establishments suspected of criminal activity. While prostitution is legal, the pervasive drug dealing, money laundering, and gang activity surrounding the trade is not.

Several years ago the government spent US $40 million to buy 16 buildings – all former brothels – from one prostitution baron. This purchase bought out about a third of all of the Red Light District’s brothels.

The government has since used this real estate to launch a campaign called “Red Light Fashion.” The government offers the windows to fashion designers to display their work. The windows are given rent-free to the designers for one year.

I hope Red Light Fashion takes off. It’s a much better use of experimental ideas and creative clothing than the current sex-centered version.

Erin Michelson is a social entrepreneur and world traveler. A self-styled Adventure Philanthropist, Erin is embarking on a 2-year global giving adventure called Erin Goes Global. Starting in Fiji on New Year’s Day 2011, Erin Michelson will travel to more than 70 counties on 7 continents during 2011-2012. Along the way, Erin will be volunteering with global non-profit organizations, including building wells in Uganda and tutoring young girls in Bangladeshi boat villages. She’s donated $25,000 and is holding monthly polls to see which worthy nonprofits receive the grants! You can follow Erin’s living and giving adventures at

10 thoughts on “Amsterdam: Rules of the Red Light District

  1. Great post! I’ve been to Amsterdam several times, and have dared to walk the wall. It’s certainly a step from my direction, alluring at the same time. Amsterdam is a beautiful free place, I love their tulips.

    • Emily says:

      Hahaha… that’s exactly how I felt after reading this :) But still ridiculously fascinating!

  2. When I was here a few years ago, I was warned not to laugh or point at any of the women, either.

    I had no idea about the Blue Light, thanks for the tip!

  3. Liam says:

    Interesting! The blue light tip was timely…I’m headed to the district now. I am a fan of sword swallowing but NOT sword fighting.

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