How Long Has the Red Light District Been in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam’s Red Light District, locally known as “De Wallen,” is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city. Known for its vibrant nightlife, window brothels, and coffee shops, the Red Light District has a fascinating history that dates back several centuries.

A Brief Overview of the Red Light District

The Red Light District was officially established in the 14th century when Amsterdam became a bustling trading port. As sailors and traders from various countries visited the city, a need arose for places where they could engage in entertainment and perhaps find companionship.

Over time, these areas developed around the Oude Kerk (Old Church) in the city center, and the Red Light District as we know it today slowly took shape.

The Beginnings of Amsterdam’s Red Light District

The origins of the Red Light District can be traced back to medieval times when prostitution was more or less tolerated but regulated. In 1413, the authorities designated specific streets where prostitution was allowed, mainly to control and ensure the safety and health of the sex workers.

By the 17th century, Amsterdam had become a prosperous city, attracting visitors from around the world. The Red Light District became a popular destination for seafarers and men seeking entertainment.

Golden Age and the Expansion of the District

During the Golden Age, the Red Light District experienced significant growth and expansion. The area around the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal became the main hub for brothels and other forms of entertainment.

At that time, prostitution was seen as a necessary evil and was regulated by the city authorities. Prostitutes were required to register with the authorities, undergo regular health check-ups, and pay taxes.

Transforming Over the Years

In the 19th century, prostitution laws in Amsterdam became more restrictive, and the authorities attempted to limit the number of brothels and regulate locations. However, as time went on, the Red Light District managed to maintain its presence and identity.

Throughout the 20th century, the district faced various challenges and changes. In the 1960s and 1970s, the area experienced a period of decay and decline. However, in the 1980s, a revitalization project helped transform the Red Light District into a more tourist-friendly and regulated area.

Present-Day Situation

Today, the Red Light District stretches across several streets and alleys in Amsterdam’s city center, most notably around the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, and Oudezijds Kolk.

Although prostitution remains an integral part of the district, the Red Light District is also known for its lively nightlife, bars, clubs, and cafés. It continues to attract millions of visitors every year.

Beyond the Stereotypes

It’s important to note that while the Red Light District is a prominent tourist attraction, it’s vital to treat the sex workers with respect and dignity. They are individuals who have chosen this profession, and it’s crucial to acknowledge their rights and autonomy.

Furthermore, the Red Light District is not only about prostitution. It possesses a rich cultural history, encompassing stunning architecture, museums, and vibrant street life that extends beyond the stereotypes associated with the district.


Amsterdam’s Red Light District holds a unique place in the city’s history and culture. It has evolved significantly over the years, but its roots can be traced back several centuries. While it may be a controversial and eye-opening tourist attraction, it’s essential to approach it with an open mind and respect for the individuals who work there.

So, the next time you find yourself in Amsterdam, take the opportunity to explore the Red Light District and immerse yourself in its captivating history.





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