Red Light District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Amsterdam

Red Light District is the medieval city center of Amsterdam, known for its canals and narrow alleys lined with old-school bars, exotic nightclubs and brothels surrounded by neon-lit red-lights. While legalized prostitution is the main attraction here, alongside sex shops, sex theaters, peep shows and coffee shops selling cannabis, the area also abounds in historically important sights well worth visiting. Follow this self-guided walk to explore the famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) Red Light District in the heart 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
  • Sex Museum
  • St. Nicolaaskerk
  • Schreierstoren (Weeping Tower)
  • Museum Our Lord in the Attic
  • Prostitution Information Center
  • Condomerie
  • Oude Kerk (Old Church)
  • Erotic Museum
  • Casa Rosso
  • Weigh House
Centraal Station

1) Centraal Station (must see)

When in Amsterdam, you are bound to visit the Centraal Station, one way or another, at least once. With over 1,500 trains pulling in here daily, this is one of the busiest transportation hubs of the city, serving nearly 250,000 commuters per day. In this sense, this is a true heart of Amsterdam!

The Centraal Station began service at the end of the 19th century. Designed by architects P.J.H. Cuypers and A.L. van Gendt, it symbolized the rebirth of the country's once ailing economy.

An interesting fact about this station is that it was built on three man-made islands and its current location is not the one originally chosen. To erect the structure as massive as a railway station on the muddy soil, it took precisely 8687 wooden piles to support the structure. The entire project seemed like a huge blunder and was promptly condemned by many experts, but in the end, the architects managed to pull it off and proved the skeptics wrong.

Today, the Neo-Gothic building stately rises over the banks of the river IJ delighting the numerous beholders, much as the commuters using it daily to get to/from Amsterdam, with its colossal presence and the engineering genius behind its creation.

Why You Should Visit:
A mass transit and cosmopolitan fever hotspot, harmoniously blending neo-Renaissance architecture and modern technology.

There are several (free) ferry trips through the canals running from here every 5 or 15 minutes which are very worthwhile. You can cruise right back to the station on the boat if you want to.
Sex Museum

2) Sex Museum

What started off skeptically has turned today into one of the key attractions in Amsterdam. Along with a rich past, spectacular art and breathtaking architecture, Amsterdam is home to the most flamboyant sex and erotic industry, as well as the world’s first Sex Museum.

Opened in 1985, the Sex Museum gets on an average over 500,000 visitors every year. Also known as the Venus Temple, the Sex Museum is recorded as the fourth most visited museum in Amsterdam just after the Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank’s House. Likely so, the museum provides detailed historical accounts of how civilizations sated their carnal desires. (Now, who wouldn’t want to know that).

The museum is definitely not for everyone, only for those who are curious and definitely not children. It is filled with paintings, sculptures, vintage photographs, cartoons and other recordings having one denominator, erotica and sensuality. The Sex Museum also has a vast collection of objects, personal belongings and recordings of personalities of the past who have played a huge role in shaping and influencing the history of sex. This includes people like Marquise de Pompadour, Marquis de Sade, Mata Hari, etc.

Another fun exhibit at the museum is the one dedicated to the practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Altogether, the Sex Museum is a fun experience which should not be missed at any cost.
St. Nicolaaskerk

3) St. Nicolaaskerk

One of the most inspiring structures in Amsterdam is the St Nicolaaskerk (St Nicolas Church). A unique amalgamation of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Renaissance and traditional Dutch architecture, the Church of Saint Nicolas, built in the late 19th century, is one of the most splendid structures and best designed churches in modern day Amsterdam.

This overpowering temple was designed by architect A.C. Bleijs, who built it with a vision of reviving different styles of architecture. The chief patron of the Church – St. Nicolas, commonly known as Santa Claus, is also Amsterdam’s patron saint. The St Nicolaaskerk is still one of the main churches in the city that practice Roman Catholicism and services here are held regularly even today. Along with masses, the church is also known for its choir and musical recitals. People from all over visit here to listen to the 19th century organ played during the service.

The overwhelming presence of the ornate octagonal dome with the identical towers by its side and the stained glass window that separate them are truly a feat of sheer architectural brilliance. Not only is the St. Nicholaaskerk magnificent on the outside, the interiors are also spellbinding. Decorated by one of the most gifted artists of the 19th century, Jan Dunselman, the church in its full right is a true delight to visit.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Schreierstoren (Weeping Tower)

4) Schreierstoren (Weeping Tower)

The Schreierstoren, literally translating to "sharp angles”, was once part of the medieval wall built around the city of Amsterdam. The structure was named so because of the sharp angles it made with the Geldersekade and the Oudezijds Kolk. Constructed with the sole purpose of protecting the city in the 15th century, the Schreierstoren stood as a tower of defense.

Throughout its history, the Schreierstoren has been associated with many tales and myths. According to a popular belief, it is nicknamed the “Weeping Tower” because the wives of sailors and travelers reportedly said their goodbyes and anxiously waited for their husbands' return here. A gable stone with an etched picture of a crying lady is some proof to this legend.

Although the story of the weeping wives does sound plausible, the etched picture is hugely misunderstood. The woman depicted on the stone is actually a virgin, the symbol for the city of Amsterdam.

Apart from the tall tales associated with the tower, there are many interesting facts about it as well. The Schreierstoren was once a port and, as such, also has bid adieu to many voyages that made history, including that by Henry Hudson setting sail for North America.
Museum Our Lord in the Attic

5) Museum Our Lord in the Attic

Amsterdam is a city full of surprises and sticking to its reputation is the Museum Our Lord in the Attic. It is exactly how it sounds! The Lord is indeed in the attic.

The second oldest museum in Amsterdam, the Museum Our Lord in the Attic was built in the 17th century by a merchant, Jan Hartman. During those times of Reformation when practicing Catholicism was considered against the law, Jan Hartman built a secret Catholic church in the attic of the house he had just purchased. Although not completely hidden from the radar of the Protestant authorities, the church still managed to function and flourished unharmed. With a plain, modest exterior, it is very difficult to locate which building actually houses this beautiful church. Hidden in the attic of the mansion, it is accessed by a creaky and rather steep wooden staircase.

The interiors of the church are quite remarkable and filled with incredible paintings and sculptures which make you forget the simplicity and austerity of the exterior. With a narrow nave, the church has a seating space for almost 150 people. One of the most remarkable features of Our Lord in the Attic is the organ which is as old as the church itself and is played to this date.

A perfect example of architecture and interiors of the Dutch Golden era, the Museum Lord in the Attic is definitely not to be missed!
Prostitution Information Center

6) Prostitution Information Center

One of the key attractions of Amsterdam is its ostentatious and very legal prostitution. The Red Light District or De Wallen, as the locals call it, is the largest red light area in the world. Although this aspect of the city may seem very exotic, appealing and adventurous, assistance may be needed to ensure that you are well informed and familiarized.

Having an information center for the world's largest prostitution area seems like a logical idea, and Miss Mariska Majoor, a onetime professional herself, did exactly that. Started in 1994, the Prostitution Information Center helps educate newcomers, tourists and visitors about this thriving industry of Amsterdam. Right from the well-reputed places to what to expect behind the curtain, you can find assistance at the PIC.

The PIC is a non-governmental organization and helps keep the prostitution business as clean and professional as possible. Protecting both the customer and the professional, the PIC is the best place to get the right information about the Red light District of Amsterdam. A fun tour is organized by the PIC around the De Wallen and noted Red Light areas that lasts for one hour and takes visitors around some pretty interesting places. A must when in Amsterdam!
Sight description based on wikipedia

7) Condomerie

Condomerie Het Gulden Vlies in the Red Light District of Amsterdam – the world’s first specialized condom shop – is all about protection and pleasure. Remarkably, its windows seem to draw more attention, judging by the presence of a regular crowd of onlookers outside taking photos, than the prostitute windows nearby.

Neither a museum nor totally a shop, it takes condoms to a whole new level, from studies of fitting and sizing to the intricate fine and humorous artwork made from the rubbers. The Condomerie has every imaginable type of condoms – decorated, funny and cute – from normal high street branded condoms to some weird and wonderfully strange ones. Here you can find condoms pretty much any shape, size, flavor, color, texture and design. Apart from condoms there are also a multitude of souvenirs, postcards, and other items suitable for a bachelorette party – a good gift for a close friend if you want them to drop their jaw, giggle and ask: “Is it real?”.

Note that some of the items on sale are not suitable for protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections as the decorative paint they carry may weaken the latex. Certain condoms even have disclaimers to this effect.

This novelty shop, while not a great tourist destination as such, should definitely be on your to-do list when exploring the Red Light District. You may wonder as to how the Condomerie remains in business given that most visitors here are just having a laugh without buying anything. But then again, this is Amsterdam! So make sure to visit this fascinating place before, if ever, it shuts down.

Operation Hours: Monday-Saturday: 11 am - 9 pm; Sunday 1 pm - 6 pm.
Oude Kerk (Old Church)

8) Oude Kerk (Old Church)

The Oude Kerk (“Old Church”) is the oldest parish in Amsterdam and is surprisingly located amid the area of vice – the vastly popular Red Light District of De Wallen. Old itself, the church is also home to the city’s oldest bells, dating back as far as 1450. The Oude Kerk is a Roman Catholic temple and its patron is St Nicholas.

Built in the early 14th century, it was originally a modest wooden cemetery chapel, attesting to which fact are a number of gravestones found on the floor. Beneath laid to rest are more than 10,000 Amsterdam denizens, some of whom are quite famous personalities, including Jacob van Heemskerck – a naval hero, Frans Banning Cocq – the central character of Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” painting, as well as the Dutch composer Jan Sweelinck. Eventually, the Oude Kerk took up the Gothic appearance visible today.

Matching the exterior is the equally elegant and surprisingly spacious interior, featuring three naves with a ceiling made of wood and covered in magnificent paintings depicting saints and Biblical scenes – a sort of “time portal” capable of transporting visitors centuries back.

Why You Should Visit:
Unlike the Niewe Kerk which is bigger and more ornate, the Oude Kerk is very old and has a great sense of history to it.

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

Opening Hours:
Sun: 1pm-5:30pm; Mon-Sat: 10am-6pm
Erotic Museum

9) Erotic Museum

There are a lot of things Amsterdam is famous for – it may be history, art, architecture or science. However, one thing about the city you just cannot ignore is its bold and candid expression of eroticism. Whether it is taking a walk down the Red Light District or visiting the Erotic Museum, people of Amsterdam are not shy.

Bringing forth eroticism with a hint of art is what the Erotic Museum strives to do. Collecting art, paintings, photography, sketches, sculptures and prints from artists all over the world who have a common denominator, eroticism and its artistic expression is what the Erotic Museum works towards all around the year.

At the entrance of the museum, one is greeted with an orgasmic mannequin of a maid riding a power paddled dildo. The museum is filled with new age erotic art, wax models, equipment and toys, as well as vintage, turn of the century erotic art and photographs. It may not be the place you can take an innocent-minded, but it is definitely a place worth a visit in Amsterdam for rarely does one come across a museum displaying erotica. The most ironic part, however, is the gable stone on this building that reads "God is myn burgh” (God is my citadel).
Casa Rosso

10) Casa Rosso

Casa Rosso is without a doubt the most famous and best known of all the Amsterdam sex shows. The club can be easily found due to the large neon pink elephant adorning the front of the building in the heart of the Red Light District. The venue has strong links to the almost equally famous Banana Bar, found not far away on the same canal, but the layout here is much more of a small cozy theater set-up than the more free flowing, lounge-like Banana Bar.

The show consists of various activities on stage, from tame pole dancing to full live sex acts with couples, plus a number of skits and more. The actors are quite attractive, nothing nasty. Still, this is a live sex show which features crowd participation for the tamer games on stage, so if you are not up for this, sit further back. You can make what you want out of this experience, but beware they don't hold anything back. If you get easily offended or aren't comfortable with live nudity, this is not for you. Obviously this is 18+ and, for obvious reason, no cameras are allowed inside.

You can buy tickets – just admission or with two drinks included – from visitor stands or directly at the theater. If you buy tickets and drinks separate, you can save a couple of euros. The drinks are reasonably priced.

Overall, this experience gives you a fairly good idea of what happens in the Red Light District and is highly recommended to those looking for a complete Amsterdam experience!
Weigh House

11) Weigh House

Built in 1488, the Weighing House – or the De Waag in Dutch – was once a part of the city gates built to overlook the surrounding area. Later, in the 17th century, this monumental building was converted to a weighing house.

Originally, the house was much taller than it is today. In the early 16th century, plans of expanding the city limits brought down the wall that once surrounded it. After razing the walls, all that remained was the gate that was no longer useful. The defensive canal and the area surrounding the gate were later transformed into a market square. The ground level was raised, stunting the structure further.

Throughout history, De Waag has housed many guilds and associations, one of which also included the painter’s guild. It is in this building that Rembrandt van Rijn, the famous Dutch artist, was inspired to create "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp” painting which earned him worldwide recognition. Post the 17th century, the Weighing House served home to many institutions, including two museums and even a fire brigade. It was only in 1996 that the building was taken over by the Waag society which carefully preserved the structure for generations to see.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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