Amsterdam’s Red Light District

This week I have been in Amsterdam.

You know how I feel about pornography, but I couldn’t go to all that way and not visit Amsterdam’s Red Light District could I? Even if just to say first hand how seedy it is.

And it IS seedy. Let me tell you though how I got on, and you can tell me if you think it sounds sexy…

I’m in Amsterdam’s Red Light District on my own, and it’s about 9pm, and getting dark. The canal that sits serenely between the two rows of buildings is beautiful, but its hard to look at anything other than the windows framed in red neon, and the bright lights advertising live sex shows, each one claiming a better drinks offer than the rest.

In each window stands a young woman in her underwear and high heels, trying her best to look seductive. Most just look bored. One stands with her hand on her hip, weight shifted onto one foot, checking her phone. Nobody smiles.

Amsterdam's Red Light District

A lot of the attention seems to be on the clubs and shows. “Why are you looking so serious?” a man on one of the doors asks me. “Where are you from?”

“I’m from Bristol in England,” I say. “And I look serious because I think this whole thing is pretty shocking really.”

“I have a cousin in Bristol!” he tells me and I laugh.

“Of course you do! I bet you have cousins everywhere.”

“You think I’m playing you?” he asks, looking offended.


“You think I like this job?” he asks. “I hate it as much as you do. I hate these people,” he says, sweeping his arms and genuinely looking fairly disdainful. “I just sell what’s inside, but I stay out here. You should never judge people. You see me here, you think I’m trying to sell you a lie. I’m not.”

He is distracted then by a young couple, loitering nervously. “Stay there,” he tells me, “I’ll tell you.” He turns to the couple. “You want to come in?” he asks them. “We have four shows, including a cigar show, and our drinks are much better than next door.”

“When does it start?” the girl asks.

“No start time,” he says, “they just do it on a loop.”

It sounds awesome. Who doesn’t want to watch a couple have the same sex they’ve had already half a dozen times that night? I shift my attention to a group of British men sat on some benches nearby, who turn out, surprise surprise, to be on a stag do.

“Look at this!” one of them says, and pulls up his shirt to reveal ‘BAD BOY’ written on his chest in marker pen. “A girl just wrote that with the pen in her you know…” and he raises his eyebrows and points down. “Pretty good isn’t it? The A is a bit wonky, but other than that.” He looks very pleased with himself.

“Wow!” I say. “It’s not bad is it? Nice muscle control.”

“Do you reckon you could do it?”

I laugh. “I’ve had two babies,” I say, “I really don’t think I have the pelvic floor for it.”

Another of the men chimes in, pointing to one of his mates. “He’s just paid 140 euro to have sex with two women,” he says, matter-of-factly. The friend looks a bit sheepish, but he’s smiling, like secretly he’s pretty pleased with himself.

“How did that work then?” I ask, both intrigued and appalled. “Was it two separate times, or both at once? Was it buy one get one free?”

His mate, the one so willing to volunteer the information in the first place, laughs. “Nah, it was buy one, get another at the same time for another 70 euro!”

He hasn’t done it before he says, but just shrugs when I ask how he feels about it. “It was fine,” he adds, not giving much away.

“That’s not what you said at the time!” says his helpful friend. “You came out and high-fived all of us!”

“So do you really think this whole set up is sexy?” I ask. “They just look bored to me.”

“One of mine was on her phone a lot,” he laughs.

“She was tweeting,” adds his mate. “I bet she was using the #worstsexever hashtag.”

They tell me about the live show they’ve just been to. Apart from the chest writing, they aren’t impressed, particularly not by the man who was dressed in a leotard, which he just pulled carefully to one side for the act itself.

“They were really old,” one of them adds. “And he was wearing kneepads!”

“Was it like watching your mum and dad do it?” I ask.

“I reckon my dad would have put more effort in to be honest…”

Have you been to Amsterdam’s Red Light District? What did you think of it?

*They did let me take their photos, and were happy for me to blog about them, but I’m thinking that the morning after, it might not have seemed like such a good idea. Would you want your photo on the internet with the caption ‘this man just slept with two prostitutes’?

Image credit – Amsterdam’s Red Light District from Michal_R /



  1. Arabella Bazley
    23 August, 2012 / 8:05 am

    Of course I am still very young, and will remain so for the rest of my life, but when you mentioned “young women” in the windows… I read on with anticipation as having been to Amsterdam I knew the word “old would just have to appear sooner or later. I’ve visited the Netherlands a few times to see friends and just have a few days away so I have, over time, happened to walk down a few of these streets where the “Neon Windows” are hard to miss and the character “Bubbles Devere” always springs to mind. No doubt that is why so many take their Beer Goggles with them, for Dutch Courage!

    • 23 August, 2012 / 8:21 am

      Haha! I did expect to see more older women to be honest, but perhaps the red light is flattering! I think it’s because I was there in the evening too – I’ve heard they get the younger/thinner/prettier women out in the night…

  2. Clare
    23 August, 2012 / 8:10 am

    Interesting article, different perspective – sounds like people are happy to talk to you about stuff like this – perhaps you need a serious spin off – slummysinglemummy Investigates…

    • 23 August, 2012 / 8:19 am

      It’s a very good point Clare. I’m always quite surprised by the amount of stuff people often tell me about themselves within quite a short space of time! I think it’s a mixture of two things – first, people really do seem to like talking about themselves, so if you ask straightforward questions and then listen properly, nobody seems to mind sharing. Also, I try not to judge people, and to just be quite open and simple about things, and that seem to make them feel more comfortable I think about being honest with me. It did feel quite exciting talking to strangers in such an unusual situation – I may have pretended to be Louis Theroux a little bit… :-)

  3. Gemma Mills
    23 August, 2012 / 8:25 am

    It’s a sad fact of life but nights like this seem to be a rite of passage for men. Don’t get me wrong, they wouldn’t want a relationship with these women, but most would attend the sex show in a heartbeat.

    • 29 August, 2012 / 4:00 pm

      God, that’s just so depressing isn’t it?? It makes me sad :-(

  4. 23 August, 2012 / 5:08 pm

    Sounds a bit grim. I don’t really understand who’d pay to watch a man having sex in a leotard tho! yuck. You should defo try and sell this article to a paper …you’d have to interview the sex workers too. It would be a great piece.

    • 29 August, 2012 / 4:02 pm

      Maybe it would be a good excuse for a trip back there…

  5. 28 August, 2012 / 2:45 pm

    How utterly, utterly depressing. I’m actually quite tearful thinking about how badly the world has corrupted something that is meant to be about expressing love. I could probably say more, but what’s the point? Obviously these guys just don’t see the problem with it and there’s nothing I can do to change it. It’s probably that which most depresses me. A well written piece Jo – the way you’ve just reported the facts, with no judgement, has allowed the situation to speak for itself.

    • 29 August, 2012 / 4:05 pm

      I think that’s the bit that makes it so depressing – the fact that so many people just don’t see the problem with it. People just go on holiday, see it as a bit of a laugh, watch porn on the internet and don’t think about the actual PEOPLE involved… Ergh.

  6. 14 September, 2012 / 8:16 am

    I would like sex workers to be well-paid working safely in sacred temples with no shame. And for men to feel under no pressure to sleep with a prostitute to show he is a man. I WISH!

  7. 23 October, 2012 / 9:53 pm

    Som of you ladies may find this video interesting of a flash mob at the Red Light district with a hard hitting serious message. I’m a brit living in Amsterdam and I really don’t like travelling around the RL area, mainly because of the undesirables that hang around there, not the girls having to work. The mayor of Amsterdam has promised to clean up RL district… we will see.

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