Where Eccentricity and Domesticity Meet

The Red Light District in Amsterdam never sleeps. Evening is the best time to wander along Oudezijds Achterburgwal, but many tourists also amble this leafy canal during the day. Peep shows, porn shops, (sex) bars and live sex shows stand cheek-by-jowl to stately canal houses, Salvation Army Headquarters and hotels.

The Historic Centre

The Oudezijde, Old Side, is Amsterdam’s oldest part and usually referred to as The Red Light District. It is right behind Damrak, the avenue leading from the Central Station into the city centre. The five-kilometre-long strip of Oudezijde is bounded by two canals: Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal. At night the glow of multi-coloured neon lights promises glamour and excitement. During the day the inhabitants of the Old Side go about their daily routine. Grandmas go shopping, children are whisked off to school and parents hurry to work. At night the whole family watches TV.

Red Light District

Red neon signs, shop windows displaying anatomically explicit souvenirs and erotic gadgets indicate that Oudezijde is the heart of the Red Light District. The sex industry dominates this part of Amsterdam, but this part of Amsterdam also abounds in handsome 17th and 18th century homes and churches and several museums. The dome of St Nicolas Church and the bell tower of the Old Church are two landmarks in this area.

                                                       Shopping in the Red Light District

Ornate Gables and Ladies of Pleasure

Gaggles of tourists mix with men clad head-to-foot in black leather. Ladies of pleasure sit behind windows chatting on their phones and looking bored. Male visitors peep until their eyes fall out while female tourists look up at the quaint houses and ornate gables. Two stone dolphins are about to plunge down from the gable (Oudezijds Achterburgwal 19). The more ornate the gable is, the more rich the house owner was when he had his house built. The house with the pillars shows a stylized cluster of fruit and geometric shapes capping the pilasters. Figures of an Indian and African leaning on bales indicate that the merchant owning the house was a trader in slaves and commodities (Oudezijds Achterburgwal 187).


Highlights of the Red Light District

1. The House with the Diving Dolphins, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 19

2. The House with the Pillars, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 187

3. Oude Kerk (Old Church), Oudekersplein 23

4. Museum Our Lord in the Attic, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40

This museum is a well-kept jewel. Climb the narrow back staircase to the secret room in the attic, known as Ons Lieve Heer op Solder, Our Lord in the Attic. The room is a stunning little church that recalls the days when Catholics weren’t allowed to practice their religion freely.

5. Casa Rosso, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 106

Theatre Casa Rosso presents a non-stop live show that lasts one hour and includes girl-girl, girl-guy, solo and audience participation. The show is well choreographed, an eye-opener and not seedy at all. Come with an open mind towards sex and you will not be disappointed.

photo credit Marianne Crone