Set smack in the city centre, De Wallen is one of Amsterdam’s oldest neighbourhoods. In 1270 a bridge was built in Dam Square to connect the Rokin and Damrak roads and this new neighbourhood, due to its walled canals, was called De Wallen. The area is also known as the red-light district because of the three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who advertise their wares in red-lit windows. But there is much more to De Wallen than its red-light reveries. The neighbourhood is a fantastic juxtaposition of historic churches, age-old architecture and late-night pursuits. Packed with interesting shops, pubs, fantastic restaurants, leaning gabled houses and the city’s most charming canals, De Wallen has character to spare. 

Historic sights

  • Oude Kerk, one of the city’s oldest churches, is an eye-catching landmark with its stained glass windows, vaulted roof and gothic spires.

  • Zeedijk, one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam, runs through De Wallen and makes up the main thoroughfare of the city’s Chinatown, complete with an array of tasty restaurants and an impressive Buddhist temple. 

  • Our Lord in the Attic Museum is a carefully preserved 17th-century house with an entire church hidden on its top three floors. This ancient church was built as a place where Catholics could worship freely beyond the watch of the Dutch Reformed Church.

  • Oudezijds Armsteeg is home to a picture-perfect row of six beautifully restored Delft Blue houses.

Things to do

  • Browse Allard Pierson Museum, the knowledge institute for the heritage collections of the University of Amsterdam, to see the city’s leading archaeology exhibit. 

  • Chill out at TonTon Club, where you can have a cold beer and hot snacks while you play board games and arcade classics.

  • Shop at Nieuwmarkt, just adjacent to De Wallen. This daily market is a treasure trove of bargain deals and is surrounded by charming restaurants and cafes where you can refuel. 

  • Find cutting-edge design in unexpected displays. Several former prostitute’s windows in De Wallen have been transformed into exhibition spaces and studios for talented clothing, shoe and streetwear designers.

  • If you happen to be here in June, head to the annual Red Light Jazz festival that brings together some of the world’s most talented musicians and celebrates Amsterdam’s history as a true jazz city.

  • Drop by the Winston Kingdom Hotel, where Quentin Tarantino is rumoured to have stayed while he was writing Pulp Fiction back in the nineties. 

  • For a look at the more sensual side of De Wallen, you can check out Erotic Museum, the Venustempel Sex Museum and the well-stocked Condomerie store. Or stroll down the gay-friendly Warmoesstraat and stop in at the Prostitute Information Centre to find out about how this charitable organisation champions the rights of sex workers.

Behind the red light

Prostitution has been legal in Amsterdam since 1811. The former ban against prostitution was lifted to better regulate the practice and protect both prostitutes and their customers from mistreatment and disease. Sex workers here have their own union, police protection, an information centre (for visitors as well), frequent monitoring and testing and professional standards.

While Amsterdam is proud of its history and culture of tolerance, the city also has to make sure that its citizens and visitors are safe, which means enforcing laws that target sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Together with local residents, business proprietors and investors, the City of Amsterdam is working to strengthen the area and stimulate an economic upgrade.

Red-light rules & safety

There are regulations in place to ensure the safety of prostitutes and visitors to the red-light district. 

  • You can not take photos of the women. This rule is strictly enforced. 

  • Public drinking and drunkenness are not allowed.

  • Respect their neighbourhood by keeping your volume down and being considerate.

  • Although there is 24-hour video surveillance in most parts of the district, be aware of pickpockets. They tend to target crowds of distracted tourists, so keep an eye on your belongings and leave your valuables in a safe at the hotel.