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5 things you didn’t know about Amsterdam’s Red Light District


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It was 10am and a small group of us gathered in the lobby of Generator Hostel in Amsterdam to take a free walking tour around the amazing city. After a short walk, plus an essential stop in a traditional coffee shop for banana cake, we arrived at Dam Square.

Dam Square

The guide announced the itinerary and after a few photo stops and history lessons she announced, “Sex is a 24/7 business here in Amsterdam.” With that, before breakfast had even digested, we were in the centre of the Red Light District. It was a stunning square surround by tall houses with a picturesque church right in the centre; not what you’d expect from the sex centre of Amsterdam.

The RLD has a sophisticated entrepreneurial side that you may not be aware of. Here are five facts you should know before judging this area of the Netherlands;  

1. Pick your alley

There is plenty of choice at the RLD, and just like a retail store, your options come in categorised ‘aisles’. From ‘Big Mamma Alley’ to the ‘Elite Alley’ (the best in the trade) you can stroll down your ideal woman’s narrow lane and find exactly what you’re looking for.

Elite Alley, Amsterdam

2. You might get rejected

Although the women may be your type, the women who work in the RLD are their own boss. Brothels are illegal and you won’t see any sex worker being dictated by a powerful male like you’ve seen in the movies. These woman are there because they registered to be a sex worker and are authorised to do so with a license after meeting several government checks. She chooses her hours, her rates and her clients, so if you aren’t her type she has every right to slam a door in your face. Be prepared.  

3. Rent a window

Running your own business comes with many perks but also many costs. The sex workers of the Red Light District sometimes need to hire accountants and need to pay rent on their ‘office’ like any other self-employed person. Buildings throughout the RLD are owned and windows are rented individually, at a very high price. Usually somewhere in the region of £150 per 8 hour day. Don’t worry though, these woman can often make that in 30 minutes. It’s all in a day’s work.

4. The tactful Church

The irony of the beautiful Church, the oldest building in Amsterdam, standing proud in the centre of an area of sin isn’t so ironic after all. In fact, the Church and the streets of the Red Light District have benefited from each other for years. Many years ago when soldiers docked after months at sea they would head to the Church to pray, however on the way would be distracted by something else they’d been missing for months. After an inevitable cave to temptation they would reach the Church and confess their sins, pleading for forgiveness. Off they went back to sea, wiped clean of their RLD antics.

The Church decided to cash in on this and started charging for ‘advanced forgiveness’ - if you had a limited time ashore or came about when the Church was closed you could pay for confession in advance. Think, ‘Dear Father, I’m about to commit several sins with a woman down the road’ then you’d collect your ‘get out of hell free card’ and have as much fun as you like!

RLD Church

5. It’s shrinking

The government in Amsterdam want to make the city known and loved for its famous windmills, tulips and canals, not the drugs, sex and party scene that draw many travellers in. For that reason they are scaling down the Red Light District (although not getting rid of it completely). Personally I think this may kill a lot of their tourism and create other problems such as empty buildings, homeless workers and illegal activity. Plus, the stories surrounding this amazing place are too good to wave goodbye to - so let's hope they don't. 

Visit Amsterdam whilst you can and experience the magnificent windmills, tulips and whatever else you fancy - it’s usually on offer in the Netherlands.

Stay at: Generator Amsterdam

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