How Bad is Amsterdam’s Red Light District, Really?

Just how bad is Amsterdam’s Red Light District? I’m certain many of you, like myself, are curious as to what Amsterdam’s Red Light District is all about: is it as raunchy as all the hype?  Is it worth visiting?  Is prostitution and weed actually legal?  After visiting and spending a few nights roaming the district, thru-in-thru, I can provide the answers you so seek along with a few tales of personal experiences…

Warning: reader discretion advised.  If you are an easily offended or uptight individual, you probably shouldn’t read.  You shall move along.

Table of Contents:

  • Prostitution
  • Live Sex Shows
  • Peep Shows
  • Sex Shops + Sex Museum
  • Weed Cafes
  • The Smoke Boat

How Bad is Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

Is it as sex driven as people say?

The short and simple answer to this: YES!

Prostitution is, indeed, legal and regulated.  The second I entered the seedy streets, I noticed neon-red lit windows all over, each containing a scantily-clad lady of the night.  However, I was surprised that the women were wearing as much clothing as they were (bottoms and tops covered) – I half expected them to be wearing nothing (perhaps merely underwear) in their windows.  Regardless, each woman was busy winking or waving or shaking her tush in the window, flirting with the passerby’s until one would express interest.

How does it work, you wonder?

If a man/woman is interested in one of the prostitute’s company and services, he/she signals back to her that he/she is interested (waves, winks, knocks, thumbs up etc) and said prostitute will open her door, inviting the guest inside.  Once inside, they will then negotiate a rate and services provided.  Each lady’s room has a police call readily available to ensure her safety – prostitutes are protected and even provided great healthcare in the city of Amsterdam.

*Note, we did not participate in this scene, but we did observe.  On saturday night, the window-lined alleys were packed to the brim, like a bunch of sardines fighting over bread crumbs.  It was quite the sight to take in (see photo below).

True or False:  The prostitutes here are gorgeous?

True.  I found the women to be very pretty.

Photo Oct 13, 1 26 28 PM

Besides prostitution, there are many other sex-tourism attractions to be visited and witnessed, such as Peep Shows and Sex Shows.

I am a firm believer of “When in Rome” or, in this case, “When in  Amsterdam” and, for the sake of journalism, decided we had to experience a few of these things first-hand.  Otherwise, how would I tell you all about it, honestly!? 😉

Live Sex Show experience at the Moulin Rouge.

Moulin Rouge Amsterdam

Doug and I both knew our curiosity would get the best of us and it wasn’t long until we decided we were going to spend a risqué night enjoying the raciness and spice that this area is ever-so famous for.   First stop: a live show at the Moulin Rouge (recommended to us by friends who have visited in the past).

What I expected?  Lots of stripping and, as the name suggests, live sex!?  I was a bit weirded out by the thought of it..but, then again, I watch it on raunchy television shows all the time.  So really..what’s the difference? haha! (My thought process).

What it was actually like?…

We paid 40 euro for admission (each),  which included two free drinks (each) as well.  We were instantly escorted into the “theater” where there is a stage, a bar, and theater-like seats surrounding.  We sat somewhere among the middle, hoping to remain inconspicuous.  We ordered our drinks, believing that a greater buzz will ease the awkward tension.

The show began with a cute, pixie-haired woman doing a strip-tease.  It didn’t end there.

After her routine, she jumped into the audience and pulled a viewer onstage (oh yeah, there’s crowd participation!).  She took off the participant’s shirt, threw him on the ground, grabbed a marker from her bag, proceeded to put said marker into her lady part and WROTE ON THE MAN’S CHEST.  SAY WHAT?!  She legit wrote “Pussy Power” on his chest with her kitty  – I mean, all the power to her!  I tried so hard not to laugh.  It was like a sex circus – too crazy and just too funny.  Nonetheless, it was impressive (such as any circus act tends to be).  The man’s embarrassed face made it ALL the better.  WHERE WERE WE? lol!

The acts grew more absurd as each passed; a lady pulling a never-ending, glowing ribbon from her hoo-ha (with the help of an audience participant once again) was one that was really insane to me!

Then, eventually, came the live sex act.  It’s exactly as it sounds: a man and woman (who I believe are a real life couple – correct me if I’m wrong – but either way, they are not prostitutes) have sex on stage.  As lewd and crude as this may sound, it was actually one of the tamest and lamest of all the acts.  Neither individual seemed into it and it was a very robotic and rehearsed performance.  Even more, it was dim and hard to see.  What we enjoyed most were the appalled faces of the two girls who sat directly in front of us – apparently they didn’t believe the signs when they read “LIVE SEX”!? lmao!  They were a hoot to sit behind.

The Moulin Rouge is a great place for Bachelor/Bachelorette parties and is definitely worth a visit if you’d like to fully experience Amsterdam’s sex tourism.  The free drinks along with your tickets are a huge perk.  If you’re afraid of being pulled up onstage, however, I’d probably stay away.  I was, indeed, nervous of this and may have not attended had I known this aspect prior.  Luckily, I was never chosen.  Other ladies were not so lucky – that’s right, they call up both MEN and WOMEN!  No one is safe :-P!

Peep shows

If you’re in search of a Red Light District staple, that’s both cheaper and less raunchy, may I introduce you to their well-known Peep Shows at The Sex Palace.  For the low cost of 2 euros, you enter a secluded booth (a man and woman, or two woman can go in together) and peep what is, essentially, a stripper doing a naked dance on a rotating bed.

Doug and I went into a booth together and when we walked in and shut the door, we saw a frosted screen in front of us with a coin slot to the right.  We dropped 2 euros into the coin slot and the frosted screen became transparent, providing a clear view of the stripper doing her dance on top of the spinning bed in her room.  All around the room, we could see the other unfrosted windows and faces peering through – such an odd experience.  But again, it’s only 2 euros so…”When in Rome!”

If you’re super into it, there are more expensive booths available where you get a private show with one female and, I’m sure, it’s much more risqué.  However, after the sex show, we were alright with passing on that one.

More Sex Tourism

No only do sex shows, peep shows and prostitutes aplenty exist in the Red Light District, but there’s also an abundance of sex shops and even a Sex Museum.  One of my favorite stores we came across was none other than the ridiculously hilarious: Condomerie.  A store purely dedicated to creative and whacky condoms!  Some condoms even had fish, Pokemon and windmills at the ends.  Who knew there were so many various condom designs!?

Even the bars among the Red Light District fully embraced the sexual tourism facet.  When I had to use the lady’s room, I was handed a key attached to a purple dildo.  Yep, that’s right.  Malarkey!  And so entertaining!  Definitely not a moment of dullness when exploring this loony and fun place!

Oh, and Doug even peed into an open-mouthed urinal.  You never know what to expect around each corner – it’ll be sure to keep you on your toes. 🙂

How Bad is Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

Is there weed everywhere?

Amsterdam is also, if not more, famous for its liberal and tolerant views on marijuana and thus, there are a multitude of cafes in which people can purchase and smoke weed.  Our personal favorite was the The Bulldog – the oldest in town, founded in 1975.  Not only can you buy marijuana – White Widow being our go-to choice – but you can also get smoothies, drinks and dessert waffles (which were utterly delicious) to enjoy along with your joint.  If smoking isn’t your thing, they offer edibles as well (however, being a noob marijuana smoker – an edible sounded like too extreme of an experience for me to handle).  Furthermore, the Bulldog has a patio section right along the canal in which we relaxed on for some time.   The Bulldog also has a hotel and restaurant nearby.  What more can you ask for?

Photo Oct 09, 11 59 20 AM

Even though I don’t typically smoke marijuana, the whole atmosphere was conducive for the act and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience (opposite from my time eating an edible in the wild of Colorado, lol!).  As we hung along the canals on a warm fall night, smoking together and chatting up a storm, we fully observed just how tame all the drunks amongst us were behaving.  This can’t be a coincidence: weed = calmer and happier atmosphere.

There’s over 17 million people living in the tiny country of the Netherlands (most of which reside in Amsterdam) and an absurd amount of visitors.  If you put together these massive numbers and combine them with countless bars and wild nightlife, you’d surely expect chaos, right?  Well, nope.  Not here.  And I can’t help but credit the wide usage of marijuana to such peace.  In my home neighborhood back in Pittsburgh, with MUCH LESS people, there’s ALWAYS a bar fight or the smashing of car mirrors and damaging of property happening, etc.   But not in Amsterdam.  I LOVE IT.

Last but not least…

The Smoke Boat

The The Smoke Boat was perhaps my favorite activity in the Red Light District.  For 15 Euros (each), we cruised the canals of Amsterdam while smoking with fun strangers from all over the world.  Beers and soft drinks were also available at 2 euros a piece.  Not only was the tour relaxing and fun, but it was informative too.  Our incredible captain pointed out notorious landmarks along our journey, such as:  Rembrandt’s house, the Waterlooplein Market and the famously photographed tilted houses (among a ton more). The boat is open-windowed and there’s an open deck on the back that guests can enjoy as well.   Seeing the city through the canals gave me a whole new perspective on this beautiful place.  And we were, again, blessed with GORGEOUS weather!   It was a wonderful night.

How bad is Amsterdam’s Red Light District in my opinion:

Overall, my experience in the Red Light District was fun and certainly unforgettable (even with the smoking of marijuana haha!) ;-)!    Yes, it’s raunchy!  But, it also gives one freedom.  I literally fell in love with how free, happy and accepting this place truly is!  I could honestly see myself moving to this amazing city for some time.  Even more, the diversity of Amsterdam is mind-blowing as well – it was a true joy to witness and experience.  Who would’ve thought so many different walks of life could all live together in a small land and GET ALONG as well as this!?  Amsterdam is a land of progress and hope; hope for more open-mindness and acceptance to grow in the future all around the world.

Want to know what else?  It’s clean!  I even witnessed a canal boat tour, called the Plastic Whale, that takes visitors on a tour of the city while they clean up the waterways (each person is given a long-handled net to pick up trash).

People also aren’t lazy here – EVERYONE rides a bicycle EVERYWHERE!  I’ve never, in my entire life, even seen a hundredth as many bikes as I did during my time in the Netherlands.  What a way to keep the environment clean AND gain exercise?!   Apparently, marijuana doesn’t = laziness as most close-minded people presume.  All in all, this rad city knows what’s up and I can’t wait to return one day.

Read about my favorite things to do in Amsterdam for a more comprehensive travel guide.

Photo Oct 11, 7 09 22 AM
Red Light District, Amsterdam in the day time.  Photo by: Doug Michaels

I’d love to hear about your experience(s): How bad is Amsterdam’s Red Light District in your opinion? Drop below in the comments!

As always, much love + happy travels!


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