Red Light District

Amsterdam's Red Light District is not nearly as sleazy as it sounds, but if you're offended at the exploitation of women or the sight of penis-shaped street fountains then you'd better steer clear.

Wandering the narrow streets of the Amsterdam Red Light District, you're far more likely to bump into young couples than dirty old men in raincoats.

The unfettered, in-your-face openness may be shocking but it makes a change from the furtive back street kerb crawling that typifies the sex trade in UK cities.

Amsterdam Red Light District is near the city centre, just off Dam Square, and mostly pedestrianised. The main entry point for the Red Light District is past the Grasshopper pub and coffee shop. Apart from the prostitution there is plenty of peripheral trade to tap into the tourist market.

Amsterdam sex shops delight in open displays of the latest sex toys and sexy underwear and offer everything from electric blow-up sex dolls to hand-painted condoms.

There are also plenty of live sex shows, peep shows and porn video booths showing every type of sex imaginable, and some that is not. Touts parade the streets extolling the joys of the live sex within and an erotic museum boasts five floors of 'enjoyment and arts'.

The centre of the Red Light District proper is over the canal at Oude Zijds Acterburtwal. Here the scantily clad women take up erotic poses to tempt passers by.

Each window is bathed in red light, hence the name, and some windows even have flashing neon surrounds as though selling happy hour cocktails. It takes Amsterdam window dressing to a remarkable new level.

Almost every side street in the Amsterdam Red Light District has window displays, some on two floors. In the narrow alley at Tromm Pett Straat tourists must turn sideways to squeeze past.

Taking photographs is considered disrespectful and those who ignore this unwritten rule risk losing their cameras. Prostitution in Amsterdam is legal and women can get free and anonymous Aids tests. They may also insist that customers wear a condom.

But Amsterdam's Red Light District is not all porno shops and call girls. There are also good shops, cafes and bars within the area. There are also some notable pubs, though the customers are almost exclusively male.

The Red Light District that features on the main tourist circuit is not the only one in Amsterdam. Near the corner of Oude Nieuwstraat and Korte Korsjespoort are more windows and yet more can be found southeast of the Rijksmuseum.

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