The History of Red Light District Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city. Known for its vibrant nightlife and legalized prostitution, it is a unique area that holds a rich history. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating history of the Red Light District, exploring its origins and how it has evolved over time.

The Beginnings of Red Light District

The Red Light District, locally called “De Wallen,” dates back to the 14th century. Amsterdam was a thriving port city during this period, attracting sailors, merchants, and travelers from all over the world. As the city grew, so did its reputation for vice and debauchery.

In the 15th century, brothels were established in the area to cater to the needs of sailors passing through the city. These brothels were situated close to the harbor, making them easily accessible. Over time, the area became synonymous with prostitution.

The Regulation Era

In the 17th century, the city government recognized the presence of prostitution and decided to regulate it. They established official brothels known as “galleries,” where sex workers could operate legally. These galleries were located in specific streets designated for that purpose.

This regulation aimed to protect the sex workers and have better control over the trade. It also helped in establishing certain standards and hygiene practices within the industry.

The Red Lanterns

One of the most iconic symbols of Amsterdam’s Red Light District is the red-lit windows. The tradition of displaying a red light outside the brothels originated in the 19th century.

During this period, the red light served as a discreet way to attract potential customers. This practice remains in place to this day, with the red-lit windows serving as a recognizable feature of the area.

World War II and Beyond

During World War II, the Red Light District faced significant challenges. Under Nazi occupation, many brothels were closed, and the area experienced a decline in activity. After the war, efforts were made to revive the district and restore its reputation as a hotspot for entertainment.

In recent years, the Red Light District has faced debates and changes regarding its legality and operations. There have been discussions about restructuring and moving the district to other parts of Amsterdam. These discussions reflect changing societal attitudes towards prostitution and its regulation.

Present-day Red Light District

Today, Amsterdam’s Red Light District attracts millions of visitors each year. It is a vibrant area that offers not only adult entertainment but also a variety of bars, restaurants, and cultural establishments.

The district continues to be regulated, with specific rules in place to ensure the safety and well-being of the sex workers. The government aims to strike a balance between maintaining the area’s historical significance while addressing the concerns of residents and tourists.


The history of Amsterdam’s Red Light District is a complex and fascinating tale. From its origins as a seafarer’s haven to a regulated industry, the district has evolved and adapted over the centuries.

While the Red Light District remains an attraction for many visitors, it is essential to approach the area with respect and an understanding of its history. By doing so, we can appreciate its cultural significance and the ongoing conversations surrounding the sex industry.





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