Red Light Districts Around the World
On my last visit to The Netherlands, to attend the SDC World Party in Utrecht, I made it a point to visit the famous Red Light District in Amsterdam. Just so you know, I don’t endorse sex work in any shape or form as I think that for many ladies of the night, it’s not a choice they freely made. The swinger lifestyle is actually — thankfully — the total opposite and rarely has anything to do with sex work (unless, for example, you’re entrepreneurial and into hotwifing). To me, the swinger’s lifestyle is alive in a world of its own and is pretty much the antithesis of prostitution. After all, mutual consensus, respect, and safety are the absolute #1 ingredients for those active in the lifestyle.
There is usually so much more to Red-Light Districts than the sex workers and all the existing controversy. And it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, nor is it a reason to stick our heads in the ground and pretend it’s not there. Red-Light Districts represent the good, the bad, and the ugly in many countries, if not all, for a variety of reasons. Without a doubt, they sure are an interesting yet oftentimes sad part of any society as a whole, so let’s dive in and see where these areas can be found. No matter what you and I may think about these districts and the trade it’s connected with, it’s safe to say that many of us are intrigued in some way about them. This one visit certainly opened my eyes — like, wide open!
What is a Red-Light District?
According to Wikipedia: “A Red-Light district is part of an urban area, with a concentration of prostitution and sex-oriented businesses, such as sex shops, strip clubs and adult theaters.”
These last ingredients are nowadays part of many of these areas where most of the attraction is for erotic daters, swingers, kinksters, and perhaps any person on their erotic journey.
History and Future
For centuries, Red-Light Districts have been written, spoken, and fantasized about. They’ve always had a huge appeal to artists, swingers, the erotically inclined, writers, and travelers alike. Throughout the ages, these areas have been flourishing on the outside fringes of society yet, at the same time, have always been a part of life. Even though these areas and the people in it are most often shunned by society or even condemned, they are at the same token frequented by so many within that same society. It’s not to say that adding the world’s most notorious Red-Light Districts onto your bucket list should be done mindlessly and without any consideration. As a matter of fact, you’d be ill-advised, indeed.
Some Red-Light Districts may slowly be fading away, be it due to regulations, the rise of land prices and/or lucrative real estate developments, increased escort services, and mobile phones allowing for alternate means of doing business. However, for instance, Italy is now contemplating adding Red-Light Districts to Venice and Rome. This is an effort to regulate and provide services and support not available at present. No matter how it’s handled by any country, it’s a fact that districts like these have been around for many centuries, and so they’re not likely to disappear any time soon — if ever if you ask me.
The fact is that the oldest profession in the world is still very much a reality in many countries, if not every country, today. Some countries legalize the sex worker trade in a deliberate effort to make it safer for all involved and to combat crime. Other countries have it semi-legal, may keep a closed eye to the trade and tolerate arbitrarily, or make it outright illegal to try and push it out altogether. It’s interesting to note the continuous and ongoing conversation whether legalizing made things better for a trade that has existed for thousands of years. The realization that not all is well in this world certainly applies to this branch because no matter which route a country chooses, there are those in the midst of things not in it by choice nor consensually.
Even though there are notorious Red-Light Districts (with or without the red lights) to be found all over the world, some are less of a tourist attraction (and in some cases much less) than is the case in Amsterdam. While some Red-Light areas are safe and even protected, others are actually considered the most dangerous places on earth, as they are often combined with poverty, drugs, and violence. Human trafficking is also on the rise, and apparently more so in and to countries that have legalized the sex trade, than in those countries following the so-called Nordic Model. This model criminalizes the client, whereas the worker is decriminalized and assisted to find a path out of the trade. This Nordic Model is currently used in France, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Israel, and Canada.
With all that in mind, there are a few places in the world where it’s all legal — be they anywhere from tacky to edgy to being pure posh pleasure dens. Mind you, "legal" doesn’t necessarily implicate it’s all on the up-and-up, though. It’s no secret that tourists can get lured into cheap clubs and/or scammed into buying super expensive drinks or worse scenarios, which is, of course, anything but arousing. It's, therefore, highly advised to research any particular area in the world before heading on out for what’s supposed to be a fun and sexy time. There’s a bunch of sexy fun to be enjoyed for the open-minded, the erotically inclined, and swingers alike, without having or needing to dive into the seedier side of things.
Below is an overview of legality by country, offered by Wikipedia:
Red Light District – Amsterdam
When you think of a Red-Light District, Amsterdam immediately comes to mind. As if that is the only place where this is a "thing." It’s definitely not. Scroll down for a partial overview of the most notorious Red-Light Districts in the world. Some of which you definitely want to stay away from for sure.
As I visited the Red-Light District in Amsterdam, I found it to be a unique spot with a lot of interesting go-to’s. The Red-Light District in Amsterdam is locally known as "The Wallen" and was originally a brothel for sailors, now a full-blown tourist attraction. There are a bunch of challenges for those who work and live there. With the increasing number of tourists visiting each year and the inevitable mess they leave behind due to the increasing limitations the city puts upon the area, legislators are looking at more regulations. There are loads to be found online, but to get the good stuff more or less in one place, here are some facts and fun stuff:
Where is it located?
From Amsterdam Airport Schiphol it's a cheap and fast train ride to Amsterdam Central Station. The area is located a short five-minute walk from the Central Train Station and the Dam Square. If you stand in front of the station, looking towards the city, cross the street and start walking to your left and follow the stream of people into the "Warmoestraat." You have arrived!
How is it walking around?
It's safe, first and foremost. You would think there's only men walking there, but that's actually hardly the case. There’s lots of couples and women walking around as well. There is a strange, yet a super exciting vibe as you take it all in. At first, you might be a bit bashful perhaps looking at the ladies strutting their stuff in the windows, but these ladies are used to it and you yourself get used to this scene fairly quickly. A liquid libation at one of the many busy bars sure does shake off those first-time funny jitters for sure and coffeeshops don’t sell coffee.
It's open 24/7. The window brothels are closed for two hours each day, between 6 am and 8 am. Most bars and clubs close anywhere from 3 to 5 am. Restaurants usually close around 1 am.
The best time to visit is probably between 4 pm and 2 am. It's definitely more happening then, plus the sight of the red lights reflecting on the canals when it's dark adds to the overall experience.
Expensive or not?
It's entirely free to just walk around. It's one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam, and even with about almost 300 window brothels, it's not just a tourist attraction. People also just live and work in this area. There are bars, shops (coffee shops don’t sell coffee, though) and anything else you can regularly expect in a big city. Unless you wish to enjoy any of the services — and many different ones come to mind — visiting the Red Light District won't cost you a dime. But to fully experience it, you'll probably spend some, and most likely quite a bit. ;)
There are a good number of organized tours that are sanctioned by the City of Amsterdam (some are not so buyer beware), and those are readily available to book ahead of time, even through TripAdvisor.
Are there any rules of conduct?
Yes, to make sure the area stays authentic and a pleasure to visitors and residents alike, there are certain rules which are wise to abide by when visiting the area:
1. Don't take pictures of the ladies in the windows, it's a simple matter of respect. If you do, your phone/camera will most likely end up in the canal.
2. Please behave cordially at all times, wherever you are and don’t litter or pee in the alleys.
3. If you're with a group, don't stand still in front of the windows or block entrances to local businesses.
4. There is a public ban on drinking alcohol on the streets and parks and may result in a fine.
5. While prostitution is legalized, street prostitution is so not and may result in a fine.
Are all the girls in the window brothels Dutch?
No, actually most ladies in the window brothels are from Eastern European countries.
Where to stay?
There are a bunch of Airbnbs close-by or even in the midst of this area. In the center of Amsterdam, there are of course a lot of well-known hotels.
Best sex shows/strip clubs?
A fun activity while in Amsterdam is to visit some of the best strip clubs in town. Suitable for both men and women for an unforgettable time together and of course also together with open-minded friends.
Sex Club Hospital Bar: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 97
Club BonTon Amsterdam: Stadhouderskade 64
The Bananenbar: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 37
Moulin Rouge Amsterdam: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 5-7
La Vie en Proost: Bethlehemsteeg 23
Casa Rosso: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 106 - 108
Sex Cinema: 5D Amsterdam Porn Cinema: Oudekerksplein 18
Peep Show: Sex Palace Peep Show: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 84
Sex Shop Pure Lust: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 135
Condomerie Shop Amsterdam: Warmoesstraat 141
Museum of Prostitution (Red Light Secrets): Oudezijds Achterburgwal 60 h
Erotic Museum: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 54
Other Red-Light Districts Around the World A–Z
Amsterdam / Netherlands
There are actually two smaller Red-Light Districts in Amsterdam that are much less of a tourist attraction:
1. Red-Light District: Between the Singel and Radhuisstraat
2. Red-Light area: Behind the Rijksmuseum in "de Pijp"
Sydney – Kings Cross: About 2 km from Sydney city used to be a place with lots of sleaze, but today ‘The Strip” is more a mishmash of adult stores, strip joints, and night clubs, alongside all kinds of trendy bars and restaurants. Brothels are legal and prostitution has been decriminalized.
Antwerp – Schipperskwartier: A three-block "zone of tolerance" was established by the Belgian government in 2000. This area is kind of similar to Amsterdam's Red-Light District, with lots of Bulgarian women working the window brothels like Villa Tinto.
Rio de Janeiro – Copacabana: Celebrities have been spotted visiting the biggest brothel houses in Brazil, like Centaurus and Vila Mimosa.
Hong Kong – Wan Chai: With a surplus in bars, this area is like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Located in the heart of Hong Kong, it seems to be like a regular area during the day, though it turns into a thriving Red-District as soon as the sun goes under.
Paris – Pigalle: Paris offers a generous amount of sex shops, peep shows, strip clubs, cabarets, and loads of other x-rated adventures. Low-priced shows are guaranteed to become very expensive very fast. You know you have arrived when you spot the Moulin Rouge windmill.
Rue Saint-Denis – In a less fancy part of town, you’ll find a bunch of sex shops and peep shows, as well as loads of streetwalkers. This street runs from Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle and Rue de Rivoli.
Hamburg has a notorious Red-Light District along Reeperbahn Street. Locally known as ‘the sinful mile,’ it has a huge nightlife scene with bars, restaurants, theaters, and clubs, in addition to numerous sex shops, sex museums, erotic theaters, and, of course, strip clubs.
Holbeck – Leeds: A run-down suburb in previous times became Britain’s first official Red-Light District, introduced in 2014 and made permanent in 2016.
Sonagachi – Kolkata: Bollywood music can be expected at Asia’s largest Red-Light area, which is considered to be an entire world in and of itself.
Tokyo – Shinjuku: Kabukichō is an entertainment and Red-Light District that houses many host and hostess clubs, love hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, and is referred to as the "Sleepless Town."
Nairobi – Koinange Street: Although prostitution is illegal in Kenya, this street is a major Red-Light District where crime, violence, and police crackdowns are a daily occurrence.
Tijuana – Zona Norte: La Coahuila is a main street of Zona Norte (a few blocks of Avenida Revolucion), and offers strip clubs and more. These are mostly storefronts for brothels, though. Located just a 30-minute drive from San Diego, it is, however, dubbed as one of the most dangerous Red-Light Districts in the world.
Las Vegas – Nevada: Sin City obviously needs a mention here! Nevada has a lively and thriving brothel culture, after all. There is no specific Red-Light street or area, per sé, but seekers will find it. This town offers several swinger parties, and, of course, plenty of sexy adult entertainment.
Angeles City: Walking Street or Fields Avenue are where you’ll find lots of go-go bars, adult entertainment, and options for any fetish of choice.
Geylang: A three-mile-long road with small side streets. Not for the meek of heart. After all, the local delicacy readily available from vendors is made from frog legs. Another well-visited place is Orchard Towers, a mall filled with “beauty parlors.”
Seoul – Miari: The largest Red-Light District in South Korea is found in the Wolgok-dong area at Gireum Station. As prostitution is illegal in South Korea, this area sees many police crackdowns.
Zürich – Langstrasse: There are also Red-Light Districts in Bern (Lorraine) Geneva ( Les Pâquis), Lausanne (Sevelin), Basel (Kleinbasel), and Lugano (Loreto). Legality: Switzerland is a highly regulated country in many ways; however, sex work is completely legal in designated areas.
Bangkok – Pattaya/Patpong Market: This area is an official government-controlled entertainment zone catering to tourists and ex-pats. Many consider this the Red-Light capital of Southeast Asia. Here, you will find lots of shows and super-overpriced souvenirs. Walking around here — and I did it many years ago — is vibrant, loud, and busy, and a total stop-and-go as many try to lure you into clubs, massage parlors, and the likes.
Bangkok – Soi Cowboy: One of the seedier Red-Light Districts in Thailand, but with a solid offering of sex shows. It’s considered a major tourist attraction and is named after the late T.G. “Cowboy” Edwards, who often wore a cowboy hat and opened one of the first bars here back in the seventies.
By The Travelling Goddess
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion piece and should not be considered complete and fully accurate. Information may change at any given time.