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A guide to Europe’s most famous ‘Red Light districts’

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Amsterdam Red Light District

Prostitution is often referred to as the ‘oldest profession in the world’ and whether you agree or not it seems to hold a weird fascination for many people as a result of which the districts where prostitutes ply their trade are considered to be major tourist attractions and revenue generators as well.

In Europe, prostitution in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Turkey has been legalized and it is now regulated as well. In some other European countries like Slovenia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovnia etc prostitution is however still considered to be illegal. In the Netherlands, where prostitution is a legal profession, prostitutes of either sex are known as ‘sex workers’. Dutch prostitutes are treated like any other self employed individual as a result they have to pay income tax and in return they also have access to the country’s social security system. Moreover these sex workers who work in the sex industry are not required to register or undergo mandatory health checks and are also free to join unions. In spite of all these measures the Netherlands still continues to grapple with the problem of human trafficking as much of its sex worker population is made up of foreign born people.

Amsterdam

Much of the Netherlands’s sex industry is concentrated around the oldest part and most historic part of the city of Amsterdam which is known as ‘De Wallen‘. The area is in close proximity to the city’s Centraal railway station. The area is a network of narrow streets and alleys and is crossed by several canals. De Wallen is a major tourist attraction as located here are several tiny one room apartments which are rented or owned by prostitutes who peddle their wares from behind a window or glass door which is illuminated by a red light. Though the area is a magnet for petty criminals, drug lords and mobsters it is generally safe and clean and is often patrolled by police officers. Apart from the world famous ‘ windows ‘ of De Wallen, the area also has live sex theaters/bars which are seem to be a favorite with young men who choose to come to Amsterdam from all over Europe on ‘stag nights‘ .

In fact a stroll around the De Wallen is a recommended tourist attraction in Amsterdam as this lively area is home to many bars, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, hostels, coffee shops, sex shops (Absolute Danny is one such sex shop located here which is a classy joint run entirely by women), a sex museum, a cannabis museum as well as the famous Oude Kerk church and a farmer’s market . The area is popular with both locals many of whom in fact live here and all kinds of tourists and is accessible by everyone except of course young children.

Hamburg

Like Amsterdam, the German city of Hamburg also has a well defined and world famous ‘Red Light district‘ called the ‘Reeperbahn‘ which located near the Hamburg harbor in an area called Sankt Pauli. The word’ reeperbahn’ itself means Rope Street and it refers to the people who made ropes for the ships through the ages. The area is a mile long strip of entertainment which is known for its many bars like the Irish bar called Thomas Reades which is a popular hangout for men on their bachelor parties and its historic restaurants like Grosse Frieheit 36 and the Star Club where in fact the iconic Beatles performed and which continues to be a popular performance venue for many groups until today. Of course the area is also home to several sex shops, peep shows, an Erotic museum, transvestite shows but it also has theaters like the “Schmidt” or the “Operettenhaus” which attracts the local residents to the area as well. The Hamburg tourist department has organized walking tours of the Reeperbahn which are a great tourist attraction.

While visiting any of these renowned Red light districts it is useful to remember that many joints in the area charge exorbitant admission charges for sex shows where drinks are also outrageously priced so it is quite possible to blow your entire evening’s entertainment budget in a few hours. Also these areas are also hotbeds of petty crime where pickpockets and such abound so it is best to be vigilant as you take in the unique sounds and sights of these immensely colorful neighborhoods.

Photo of Amsterdam Red Light District by Stuck In Customs  

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer anjeeta nayar

Anjeeta Nayar is a professional freelance writer and blogger based in New York City. She relocated to the Big Apple from Mumbai two years ago. She loves New York City for its incredible buzz and energy. It really is the city that never sleeps and there is always something to do and see here. In addition to being a writer and blogger, she is also an avid traveler with London and cities in S.E.Asia being the places she enjoys visiting the most!

7 responses to “A guide to Europe’s most famous ‘Red Light districts’”

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  1. Ed says:
    June 5th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Hi Anjeeta,
    I like this, although I’m not sure what kind of people you think read this blog!?
    The only thing I would add is that the Amsterdam red light district is not clean in any sense of the word. Fun yes, clean no.

  2. anjeeta says:
    June 5th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Ed,

    You would be perhaps surprised to learn that many tour operators include these districts in their guided tours of European cities. I still remember a tour of Europe that I took with a very well known British tour operator when I was 16 years old. The tour covered both Amsterdam and Hamburg and these red light districts were included in the sight seeing expeditions of that tour. While visiting these so called sites I couldn’t help but notice that both these areas were teeming with tourists. So you see whether you like it or not these areas are often marketed as ‘tourist worthy sites’ hence my motivation for writing about them. Hope this helps!

  3. Jill (Live Webcam Porn) says:
    January 8th, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I have heard the number of people who “come to look” at the red light districts detract from sales!

  4. Coda.fm says:
    June 13th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

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  5. John says:
    June 15th, 2013 at 3:11 am

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    Keep up the good writing.

  6. ZurichGirl says:
    August 30th, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Ah yes, the legendary redlight topic :) Always beeing discussed this topic offers a lot to talk about:
    We prefer the word escort as it stands for a fair and likely paid service.

  7. brad says:
    February 8th, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    It is so difficult to find objective articles these days.

    Your honesty and factual observations make this a wonderfully clear description of what to expect when visiting these places.

    Thanks for this! I now have a much better idea of what to expect, and when (hopefully) we visit I’ll be better prepared.

    One of my daughters spent a college semester in Copenhagen and enjoyed it so much my other daughter is hoping to spend two semesters there.

    We would love to visit if we can find clean yet inexpensive accommodations.

    Amsterdam is an interesting city as well and I’d love to visit it. Unfortunately travel expenses are the obstacle. I’d have plenty to contribute to the local economy otherwise.


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