We packed a lot into our three days in Amsterdam; boat trips through the canal district, museum visits, free sight-seeing and, of course, plenty of gable-spotting. But I can’t leave Amsterdam behind without mentioning its more infamous attractions; The Red Light District and the cannabis-selling Coffee Shops. We didn’t encounter any rock and roll during our trip but pedalos were prevalent and it sort of rhymed…
Amsterdam’s Red Light District
The Red Light District area of De Wallen is actually one of the oldest and prettiest areas of Amsterdam. Winding cobbled streets, pretty, leaf-lined canals, the gothic 13th century Oude Kerk (Old Church) as a backdrop and plenty of canal-side cafés makes it a pleasant area to enjoy in daylight hours.
Come dusk the Red Light District becomes a major tourist attraction and when my travelling companion – a girlfriend from school – and I returned to the area in the evening it was cast in a somewhat different light. The lanes were bustling with goggle-eyed tourists, us included, couples strolling hand-in-hand, tour groups and hen parties giggling and gasping their way past less than barely-clad women gyrating their way round the window frames. And, of course, there were those looking to buy – the atmosphere was now a tad more lively.
As the lamplight cast a red glow onto the inky waters of the canal I heard a shout behind me. Looking back, I saw one of the girls launch herself from behind her window, run into the street and loudly admonish a tourist who’d been taking photos – photography is banned here. Luckily the camera remained intact and I know I shouldn’t laugh but seeing my friend being yelled at by a prostitute wearing 6 inch heels and little else still causes me to smile. What a rotten friend I am… We spent the next half an hour recovering with a gin and tonic watching the comings and goings from the safety of a busy pub. We reckoned the average curtain closure time to be 11 minutes. As you can imagine the people-watching here is unparalleled.
Nowadays the government is cleaning up the city’s three Red Light Districts. Since prostitution was legalised in 2000 the country’s liberal attitude has been exploited more and more by organised criminal gangs. The aim is to discourage the types of business that are conducive to crime and to allow prostitution in just two areas. Brothels are bought-up as soon as they are vacated, renovated and new business ventures moved-in, such as fashion designers and restaurants, to strengthen the area’s character and help economic growth. It’s thought that a third of the brothels will eventually close. Safety is key here and the prostitution regulations were tightened in 2012 to further control organised crime and trafficking – the workers also have their own union and police protection.