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The Do’s And Don’ts Of The Red Light District

By Ryan Merrifield

Posted: 2nd February 2015 11:48

We have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to Amsterdam – its forward thinking nature and liberal attitudes have made it the hedonistic capital of Europe.  Where everyone from excitable twentysomethings go for a wild weekend to fortysomethings who just can’t quite let go of their youth, Amsterdam offers the promise of debauchery abound.  But before you get too excited, the city of Amsterdam is not some sort of post-apocalyptic, free-for-all city where anything goes – far from it. There are in fact plenty of sensible rules which some naive tourists often forget, so here is our guide to the dos and don’ts:


It cannot be denied that the main reason tourists enjoy coming to Amsterdam is the lure of legally smoking marijuana.  The law can be traced back to 1976 when the Dutch parliament decriminalised possession of less than 5 grams of cannabis.  That still stands today so don’t go around stuffing your pockets with green.  Don’t be stupid enough to try and take some home as some sort kooky souvenir either.

When cannabis was decriminalised it gave rise to a type of establishment that can only be found in Netherlands.  There are a multitude of "coffee shops" across Amsterdam, where you can select from a menu of cannabis products and light up in full view indoors or at a sidewalk table.   These are not to be confused with "cafes" where you actually go for coffee.

When the world decided to do something about second hand smoke, Amsterdam faced a problem on its drug culture.  When Netherlands like many of its European neighbours imposed restrictions on smoking in public places a battle ensued as coffee shop owners warned a ban would put them out of business.  Eventually a compromise was reached which meant the ban was exempt in coffee shops, much to the relief of pretty much every single tourist.


It is what it is. The tradition of Dutch tolerance prevails when it comes to Prostitution in the Red Light District, where it has been legal since 2000.  Prostitutes are supposed to have work permits and enjoy the protections of the country's labour laws.  In addition to preventing forced prostitution, the aim is an open and honest approach.  Sex-workers here have their own union, plenty of police protection, an information centre (for visitors as well), frequent monitoring and testing and professional standards. 


It is forbidden to take photos of the women in the Red Light District.  As surreal as it is seeing barely clad women in red lit windows, taking a picture is just weird anyway and could end in your camera being confiscated. 

Be aware of pickpockets – there is 24 hour surveillance but thieves will target large groups.

Many families and people who need to get up for work the next morning live in this area.  Respect their neighbourhood, and do not yell or cause disturbances.

Bike Lanes – there are loads of them so be careful walking the streets as you do not want to tangle yourself in the spokes of an Amsterdammer.

If you want to seek out an authentic experience then why not get yourself on two wheels.  The law does not require you to wear a helmet and practically no one does.  You are, however, required to have a light and a bell on your bike.

If you choose to drive a car, it is illegal to use a mobile phone while you drive, and if you run into a bicycle, Dutch law places the responsibility on the driver of the car.  So, if you go to a coffee shop, better not drive a car, or even a bicycle.

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