Red Light District Walking Tour, Amsterdam

Red Light District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Amsterdam

Amsterdam's Rosse Buurt (Red Light District) has been the subject of much fascination for centuries. The medieval part of it, also the largest, known as De Wallen (or De Walletjes), is particularly famous for its fantastic juxtaposition of age-old architecture, leaning canal houses, narrow alleys lined with old-school bars, quaint shops and late-night pursuits. Of course, the main draw here are the neon-lit red-light windows, with barely-dressed women inside, symbolizing legal prostitution.

Still, it is fair to say that the neighborhood is a bit misunderstood for its reputation, as it's not all about prostitution. Alongside sex shops, sex theaters, peep shows and coffee joints selling cannabis, here you will find museums like that of Our Lord in the Attic, churches like St. Nicolaaskerk, and other historically significant sights like the Schreierstoren (Weeping Tower).

Just a short walk from the Central Train Station is the Sex Museum, the only museum in the world recounting the history of prostitution with an insight into what it’s like being a window worker. Not far off is the oldest church in the city – Oude Kerk – a beautiful Gothic temple, built in the early 1300s, now home to an impressive art collection.

Further down the road you will find:

Prostitution Information Center – set to educate the public about the industry as well as to defend prostitutes’ rights;

Condomerie – the novelty shop selling condoms of all stripes, with a regular crowd of onlookers outside;

Erotic Museum – sitting in an old warehouse, featuring a variety of Red Light District exhibits;

Casa Rosso – an upscale sex show, set up in a theatrical style: with velvet seats in front of the main stage.

If all this sounds like your kind of fun, take our self-guided walk and explore the famous, if not say notorious (depending on your point of view), Red Light District of Amsterdam.
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Red Light District Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Red Light District Walking Tour
Guide Location: Netherlands » Amsterdam (See other walking tours in Amsterdam)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Centraal Station
  • Sexmuseum / Temple of Venus
  • Sint Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church)
  • Schreierstoren (Weeper's Tower)
  • Our Lord in the Attic Museum
  • Prostitution Information Centre (PIC)
  • Condomerie
  • Oude Kerk (Old Church)
  • Erotic Museum
  • Casa Rosso
  • De Waag (Weigh House)
Centraal Station

1) Centraal Station (must see)

During your time in Amsterdam, a visit to the Centraal Station is practically inevitable, as it stands as a pivotal transportation hub that nearly every traveler encounters at least once. With its distinctive high gables, cheerful brickwork, and the arrival of over 1,500 trains, this station ranks among the busiest, catering to nearly 250,000 commuters each day. In essence, it serves as the true heart of Amsterdam!

Centraal Station commenced its service at the close of the 19th century, an architectural testament designed by the skilled hands of P.J.H. Cuypers and A.L. van Gendt. It symbolized the resurgence of the nation's once-struggling economy. Interestingly, it was constructed upon three artificial islands, its current location differing from the initial choice. To anchor such a monumental edifice on the marshy ground, a precise total of 8,687 wooden piles were employed as foundational support. The entire endeavor appeared fraught with challenges and was swiftly criticized by numerous experts. However, the architects persevered, ultimately vindicating themselves and defying skeptics.

Today, this Neo-Renaissance edifice majestically graces the banks of the IJ River, captivating onlookers with its imposing presence and the engineering marvel that brought it to fruition.

Why You Should Visit:
Seamlessly blends historic neo-Renaissance architecture with cutting-edge technology, serving as both a bustling mass transit hub and a symbol of cosmopolitan vibrancy.

Take advantage of the several free ferry trips navigating the canals, departing every 5 or 15 minutes from this location; they offer a rewarding experience. You can even cruise back to the station via boat if you wish, rounding out your visit with a picturesque waterborne journey.
Sexmuseum / Temple of Venus

2) Sexmuseum / Temple of Venus

What began with skepticism has evolved into one of Amsterdam's standout attractions today. Amidst its rich history, stunning art, and breathtaking architecture, the city boasts an exuberant sex and erotic industry, and proudly houses the world's inaugural Sexmuseum. Established in 1985, this museum draws an annual average of over 500,000 visitors, undoubtedly piquing curiosity about the historical facets of humanity's carnal desires. (Who wouldn't find that intriguing?)

However, it's essential to clarify that this museum isn't suitable for everyone and is strictly intended for adults, not children. Its galleries are replete with paintings, sculptures, vintage photographs, cartoons, and various media, all united by the theme of erotica and sensuality. Furthermore, it boasts an extensive collection of artifacts, personal possessions, and records belonging to historical figures who played significant roles in shaping and influencing the history of sexuality, including Marquise de Pompadour, Marquis de Sade, and Mata Hari, among others. An entertaining section of the museum is dedicated to exploring the practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans in this context, with every sexual deviation revealed in various displays.

In its entirety, the Sexmuseum offers a fun and informative experience that shouldn't be overlooked.
Sint Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church)

3) Sint Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church)

On the opposite side of the water from Stationsplein, you'll spot Saint Nicholas with its twin towers and dome – it's Amsterdam's main Catholic church, dedicated to the patron saint of sailors and the city itself. Similar to the Central Station, it's been around since the 1880s, and its design draws from a blend of revival styles, with Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance being the most prominent influences.

Inside, you'll find a vast space adorned with religious murals that some might find a bit sentimental, although the colorful brickwork does provide relief. Above the main altar, you can't miss the crown of Habsburg Emperor Maximilian – a significant symbol of the city that you'll come across repeatedly. Amsterdam had quite a connection with Maximilian – back in the late 15th century, he visited as a pilgrim and stayed on to recover from an illness. The city's residents even supported many of his military ventures, and in return, he allowed Amsterdam to incorporate his crown into its coat of arms. Surprisingly, this tradition survived the 17th-century revolt against Spain.
Schreierstoren (Weeper's Tower)

4) Schreierstoren (Weeper's Tower)

The stout Schreierstoren, located just a short distance from Saint Nicholas Church, stands as a rare surviving fragment of Amsterdam's medieval fortifications, erected in the 15th century with the primary aim of safeguarding the city. Originally, this tower had a vantage point over the River IJ, and legend has it that it served as a spot where women would gather to bid farewell to their departing loved ones. However, like many captivating tales, this story appears to be more fiction than fact. The name "Schreierstoren" is believed to be derived from the sharp angle at which the tower was constructed, rather than any association with weeping women.

Nevertheless, a weathered stone plaque embedded in the tower wall serves as a reminder of these supposed sorrowful farewells. It should be noted that some argue that the woman depicted on the stone is not a weeping woman but rather a representation of a virgin, symbolizing the city of Amsterdam itself. Additionally, another more recent plaque commemorates the departure of Henry Hudson from this very location in the year 1609. During this significant voyage, Hudson chanced upon the "Hudson" River and an island known by the locals as Manhattan. The settlement that arose there eventually became known as New Amsterdam, a colonial possession that was only renamed New York after it was seized by the English in 1664.
Our Lord in the Attic Museum

5) Our Lord in the Attic Museum

Amsterdam consistently delivers surprises, and staying true to its reputation is the Our Lord in the Attic Museum—a well-kept secret among the city's attractions. Comprising three exquisite canal houses and its concealed namesake, a clandestine two-story church, this museum nestled in the heart of the Red Light District is easily overlooked, which would be a regrettable oversight, as it splendidly encapsulates the Dutch Golden Age (1581-1672).

Inside the museum's walls, which serve as a perfectly preserved time capsule, you'll gain insight into the daily lives of people from that time. You can also savor picturesque canal vistas from the upper floors and delve into the less illuminated aspects of the Protestant Reformation. This period saw limitations on religious freedom to the extent that Catholics had to attend Mass in secrecy, giving rise to the hidden gem that is the Our Lord in the Attic Church. The interiors contain original architectural elements seldom witnessed in the present day, including an intact 17th-century staircase. Additionally, you'll have the opportunity to learn about the Miracle of Amsterdam, a captivating narrative of fire, miracles, and faith, in the modern building where your complimentary audio tour concludes.

If you're up for the challenge of navigating the numerous narrow staircases, the rewards are well worth the steep ascents, granting you an intimate perspective on Amsterdam's rich history.
Prostitution Information Centre (PIC)

6) Prostitution Information Centre (PIC)

Establishing an information center for the world's largest prostitution area, the Red Light District, seems like a logical step, and Miss Mariska Majoor, a former professional in the industry, brought this concept to life. Inaugurated in 1994, the PIC is a legally recognized non-profit foundation situated amidst the window brothels. Its primary mission is to provide newcomers, tourists, and visitors with clear, unbiased information about Amsterdam's thriving sex industry, fostering mutual respect and a deeper understanding of the subject.

The centre covers a wide spectrum of topics, from reputable establishments to what one can expect behind the curtains, ensuring that visitors have access to comprehensive information. They even offer a map delineating the precise areas where prostitution is legal and distribute a concise booklet that addresses the most common questions posed by tourists.

Furthermore, the center features a cozy café and shop called the Wallenwinkel. Here, you can peruse and purchase books, pamphlets, and various souvenirs related to the Red Light District, including postcards, fridge magnets, and T-shirts. Additionally, the centre organizes ninety-minute tours of the RLD, providing an immersive experience for those interested in exploring the area further.

7) Condomerie

This quirky shop may not be at the top of your tourist checklist, but it's a must-see when wandering around the Red Light District. It proudly claims the title of the world's first specialized condom store, all about keeping things safe and fun. What's wild is that more people seem interested in its shop window than the ones right next door with the ladies of the night.

Now, this place is not exactly a museum, nor is it only a store. It takes condoms to a whole new level, with everything from lessons on finding the right fit to crazy artwork made out of these rubber heroes. Inside, you'll find an epic selection of condoms, from the regular brands you see everywhere to some seriously weird and wonderful ones. Seriously, they've got condoms in just about every shape, size, flavor, color, texture, and design you can imagine. But here's the thing: some of the stuff they sell isn't meant for protection, so watch out. The fancy paint on them can mess with the latex, and they even come with disclaimers.

Besides condoms, they've got loads of souvenirs, postcards, and other and other items suitable for bachelorette parties—a perfect gift for a close friend if you aim to leave them astonished, giggling, and asking, "Is this for real?"

You might be wondering how a place like the Condomerie stays in business when most folks are just here to have a giggle and don't buy anything. But hey, this is Amsterdam, where anything goes. So before it disappears (if it ever does), make sure to check it out.
Oude Kerk (Old Church)

8) Oude Kerk (Old Church)

The Oude Kerk, or "Old Church", even by Dutch historical standards, boasts a remarkable antiquity and intriguingly resides within the vibrant precincts of vice – the immensely popular Red Light District of De Wallen. Reconstructed as a modest stone hall church during the 14th century, the structure gradually expanded over time, evolving into a formidable Gothic basilica. Today, it serves as the home of an art institute, a transformation that took place in 2012.

Recognized as the sole structure in Amsterdam to retain its original form since Rembrandt's era, this building serves as the eternal resting place for over 10,000 denizens of Amsterdam. Among them lie illustrious individuals such as Jacob van Heemskerck, a revered naval hero, Frans Banning Cocq, the central character in Rembrandt's iconic painting "The Night Watch," and Jan Sweelinck, renowned for his compositions encompassing all 150 Psalms and achieving international renown as a leading Dutch composer.

Inside, you'll discover a collection of exquisite stained glass, rare ceiling paintings, and a world-renowned organ, crafted by the German Christian Vater in 1724, which is acclaimed as one of the most exceptional Baroque organs across Europe. Additionally, the space frequently serves as a backdrop for art exhibitions and live performances.

Wonderful views from the tower (note the fee payable with credit/debit cards only); coffee and snacks in a charming garden.
Erotic Museum

9) Erotic Museum

If you're looking for explicit, in-your-face sex stuff, you're barking up the wrong tree here. The Erotic Museum aims to blend eroticism with a touch of artistry. They're all about curating art, paintings, photos, sketches, sculptures, and prints from artists worldwide who share a common theme: eroticism and its expression through art. This mission is ongoing, and the museum also gives you a glimpse into some of the sexual services you'll find in the Red Light District.

When you step inside, you'll be greeted by a rather eye-catching sight: a mannequin in the throes of ecstasy, riding a powered-up dildo. The museum is a mix of contemporary erotic art, wax figures, various gadgets and toys, and even vintage erotic art and photos from the turn of the century. It might not be the best spot for those with a pure and innocent mindset, but it's definitely a unique place to check out in Amsterdam. After all, it's not every day you stumble upon a museum dedicated to erotica.

Now, the most ironic twist in this story is the gable stone on the building that reads, "God is myn burgh" (God is my fortress). Quite the contradiction, right?
Casa Rosso

10) Casa Rosso

Unquestionably the most widely recognized of all the adult entertainment venues in Amsterdam, Casa Rosso is easy to spot, thanks to the prominent neon pink elephant adorning its facade, nestled in the heart of the Red Light District. While Casa Rosso shares strong connections with the nearly as famous Banana Bar, found not far away along the same canal, its interior arrangement diverges significantly, resembling more of an intimate and cozy theater atmosphere compared to the laid-back lounge vibe of the Banana Bar.

In contrast to certain strip clubs that lure patrons in with hidden fees, Casa Rosso operates on a transparent and legitimate basis. Guests pay a single admission fee, which covers both beverages and a diverse array of stage performances. These performances range from mild pole dancing to explicit live acts involving couples, as well as a variety of comedic sketches and more. The performers are notably attractive, and the content remains on the tasteful side. Nonetheless, it is worth emphasizing that this is indeed a live adult entertainment show, and audience involvement is encouraged during the milder on-stage activities (if you find this uncomfortable, it's advisable to choose a seat further back in the audience). You can make what you want out of this experience, but be aware that Casa Rosso leaves nothing to the imagination, so if live nudity or explicit content makes you uneasy, this experience may not be suitable for you. Clearly, this is an adults-only event, and for obvious reasons, cameras are strictly prohibited inside.

Tickets, either for admission alone or with two complimentary drinks included, can be purchased at visitor stands or directly at the theater. Opting to buy tickets and drinks separately can lead to some savings on your part, and the drink prices are quite reasonable.

In summary, a visit to Casa Rosso provides a well-rounded glimpse into the atmosphere of the Red Light District and comes highly recommended for those seeking a comprehensive Amsterdam experience.
De Waag (Weigh House)

11) De Waag (Weigh House)

A medieval trading hub dating back to 1488 in the city, the Waag initially functioned as a customs house and a place for goldsmiths and silversmiths to conduct their work on the upper floors. Visitors can enter this historic building, now converted into a lively bar and restaurant, to admire its immense timber beams and a portion of the substantial old weighing scales.

Originally, the structure stood taller than its present form. During the early 16th century, city expansion plans led to the removal of the surrounding wall that once encircled it. As the walls were dismantled, only the gate remained, no longer serving a defensive purpose. The defensive canal and the area surrounding the gate were subsequently transformed into a bustling market square. The ground level was elevated, further altering the building's appearance.

It was within these walls that Rembrandt van Rijn, the renowned Dutch artist, found inspiration to create his masterpiece "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp", which brought him international acclaim. Beyond the 17th century, the Weighing House housed various institutions, including two museums and even a fire brigade. It wasn't until 1996 that the Waag Society took over the building, preserving its historic structure for future generations to appreciate.

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