De Wallen is the oldest, prettiest yet most controversial part of Amsterdam. So, why did this area become a red-light district? We could only give a complex answer to this seemingly simple question. But in the end, it all comes down to the history, liberalism and economy of the city.
The Dutch and their openness
When Amsterdam started to flourish in the 15th century, its locals began to cater to the growing number of sailormen who visited the city. Once on shore and far away from home, these folks traditionally sought their distraction in alcohol and ladies of virtue.
Today, 400 years later, prostitution is still an elementary part of De Wallen, simply because the Dutch pride themselves on being liberal and tolerant. The philosophy is to make adult entertainment a part of daily life, instead of hiding it in illegality. That is why schools, offices and apartments casually blend in with entertainment venues to naturally enforce a sense of social control. This interesting balance between liberalism and political sensitiveness makes the red-light district worth a visit.
Start exploring De Wallen at Quartier Putain: a coffee bar serving some of the most delicious coffees and cakes. From here, you can get a glimpse of how the area forms the backdrop of the daily lives of couples, families and blush-cheeked tourists.
Prostitutie Informatie Centrum (PIC)
Enge Kerksteeg 3
Then move on to PIC: a visitor centre telling you all about the stories that hide behind the red-lit windows. Join one of the guided tours through De Wallen and meet with former ladies of easy virtue who will help you to place the district in its context.
Starting at Nieuwmarkt
Stroll through the Zeedijk: one of Amsterdam’s oldest streets and a colourful mishmash of traditional pubs, erotic boutiques and Asian restaurants. More exciting is the recent entrance of high-fashion. Considering that the Zeedijk had a bad image a decade ago, street-style fashion designers have creatively uplifted the street’s reputation.
Continue with a discovery of the Oude Kerk: the oldest building of the city, located right in the centre of De Wallen. The old church is now a hub for contemporary arts and has always exposed a remarkable contrast between its serenity and edgy surroundings.
Blauw Aan De wal
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 99
End the day with a stunning dinner. Blauw Aan De Wal is a culinary jewel, hidden in a historic warehouse in the midst of the hustle of De Wallen. At first, you may not expect a high-end restaurant at this red-lit location, so the more you will be surprised by its courtyard garden, beautiful seasonal dishes and charming quietude.