Bright Lights, Small City – Amsterdam’s famous hot spot

firstphotoImage Source: ‘The Red Light District’ by Cristiano Gatti

This July I am to embark on my third trip to Amsterdam. I’ve made the promise to myself that I’m going to visit every year until I physically cannot walk anymore (and even then I’ll find a way to go). Even after three visits I am still as excited as I was my first time. Admittedly, I’m no travel guru but you know when you find a place that just suits you? It’s impossible to be unhappy in a place like Amsterdam.

The city just feels free. It’s constantly busy, and you’re always in danger of being hit by either a car, a tram, a bike or a person OR you’ll spend three hours using a map to find the best coffee shop, only to realise that it was round the corner from where you started the entire time… but it’s the most chilled out place in the world. That may have something to do with the drugs…

The entire place radiates good vibes, but during my first visit I was pretty apprehensive about how I’d feel walking through the red light district. I didn’t like the idea of walking past prostitutes, gawping at them in shop windows. It didn’t feel right to me. Prostitution is regarded as a bit of a taboo subject in England so to visit somewhere that is so open about sex work is a strange experience…

I’m not ignorant to the dark side of sex work… which is probably why I felt so awkward at first. Too many dodgy documentaries watched. You know from the awkward glances that tourists don’t really know where to look when they’re walking through narrow alleys filled with girls in shop windows, luring you in and wagging their fingers at you. It wouldn’t be a place I’d visit with my grandparents!

secondphotoImage Source: ‘Red Light District’ by B. Hbers

I envisaged a glamorous Hollywood-style setting, probably a consequence of all them hours spent watching Pretty Woman. It wasn’t really glamorous at all, it was real. The women come in all different shapes, ages, ethnicities and personalities. Some women were sat on stools preoccupied with their phones, some women were hanging out of their window smoking a cigarette whilst gossiping with their neighbors, and some women were physically stepping out of their window to lure my boyfriend in… the cheek of it. can inform you that 5,000 to 8,000 people are sex workers in Amsterdam, all of who are given health benefits and protection. The red light district is an essential part of Amsterdam’s culture and sex workers are not discriminated against. Sex work is regarded as a normal everyday job and has become a focal part of the city’s tourism.

During my first visit my friends and I decided to embrace the culture and watch a live sex show. Another group of my friends had visited Amsterdam the month before and told us we needed to go… apparently it was ‘nuts’.

thirdphotoImage Source: ‘Red Light District’ by Simon Q

It was 40 euros for a standard viewing and 80 euros if you wanted alcoholic drinks brought to you during the show… that baffled me… sitting back in the audience with a glass of prosecco watching two people on stage, getting it on? No thank you.

The show lasted for an hour and for the first ten minutes I didn’t know where to look. I couldn’t help but giggle every time I made eye contact with my friends, despite all being 19 years of age. It just seemed too surreal. Nobody gave a toss, cause’ we were in Amsterdam, and this is what makes the world’s most cultural city so special.