Red Light District Facts & Figures

  • Year prostitution officially legalised in the Netherlands: 2000
  • Number of sex workers in Amsterdam: approximately 6000, though estimates range between 5000 and 8000
  • Minimum legal age to work as a sex worker in the Netherlands: 21

Red Light District Nitty-Gritty

  • Taking photos of the windows is strictly verboten. Your first instinct might be to take a quick snap, but don't do it – out of simple respect, and to avoid having your camera or phone tossed in a canal by the ladies' enforcers.
  • For their own safety, sex workers' quarters are equipped with a button that, when pressed, activates a light outside. The police or other protectors show up in a hurry.
  • The red lights of the Red Light District have been around for a long time; even as early as the 1300s, women carrying red lanterns met sailors near the port. Red light is flattering and, especially when used in combination with black light, it makes teeth sparkle.

Put Out the Red Light?

Since 2007 city officials have been reducing the number of Red Light windows in an effort to clean up the Red Light District. They claim it's not about morals but about crime: pimps, traffickers and money launderers have entered the scene and set the neighbourhood on a downward spiral. Opponents point to a growing conservatism and say the government is using crime as an excuse, because it doesn't like Amsterdam's reputation for sin.

As the window tally has decreased, fashion studios, art galleries and trendy cafes have moved in to reclaim the deserted spaces, thanks to a program of low-cost rent and other business incentives. It's called Project 1012, after the area's postal code.

To date, 300 windows remain, down from 482. Scores of sex workers and their supporters have taken to the streets to protest the closures: the concern is that closing the windows simply forces sex workers to relocate to less safe environments. The city is now rethinking its plan to buy back many more of the windows. In the meantime, other initiatives for changing the face of the area include the introduction of festivals such as the Red Light Jazz Festival.