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7 reasons to visit the Red Light District that have nothing to do with sex

7 reasons to visit the Red Light District that have nothing to do with sex

By Benjamin Garstka

Amsterdam’s Red Light District has changed. Known locally as De Wallen (taken from the two main streets in the district, Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal) the intensive urban redevelopment scheme Project 1012 has made quite an impact on the neighborhood since beginning in 2007. 


Project 1012 has gained international attention mainly due to the plans regarding the reduction of window prostitution and the amount of venues allowed to sell soft drugs. Although the execution of the policy has been met with mixed emotions from visitors and residents alike, it has also presented entrepreneurs, museums and restaurants with the opportunity to carve out their own corner in the Red Light District. 


Prostitution and soft drugs are still available, but De Wallen has become increasingly tourist friendly and offers so much more than women in windows and/or coffeeshops.


If you’ll be visiting the city soon, be sure to pay these 7 places a visit to see the evolving face of Amsterdam’s oldest and most famous neighborhood.

(1) Have a latte at Quartier Putain - Address: Oudekerksplein 4

A personal favorite, Quartier Putain is a new café situated across from the massive 13th century Oude Kerk. With a name inspired by the famed Quartier Latin on Paris’ left bank, it’s as if the owner was trying to recreate that slice of bohemian café culture in the heart of the Red Light District. 

Make no mistake: this place is first and foremost about the coffee. There are few, if any, other places to get the quality cappuccinos, lattes and simple black coffees this place is serving. The small interior has vintage furniture pieces accented with bright walls and an owl-in-mug motif that begs for relaxation. 


What the interior lacks in frills it more than compensates for on the terrace. Spread out on the Ouderkerksplein are wooden benches and chairs in an ideal people watching location. Surrounded by prostitutes in windows, Quartier Putain somehow manages to give you that “feel at home” vibe in the least expected of areas. 

With an independent music label upstairs, Quartier Putain occasionally hosts events and record release parties in addition to the café activities. On a sunny day, this is where you want to be. 

(2) Discover the hidden church at Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder

This gem of a museum suffers from its own history. Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder translates to Our Lord in the Attic. Spanning the top three floors of a 17th century canal house, it’s a full church hall designed to be hidden from the outside. 

The reason why needs a bit of explaining. Amidst the wealth of Amsterdam’s Golden Age, the Netherlands was never governed by a central authority. Unlike the rest of Europe, there was no overarching church figure, no royal family and no dictator. In fact, the Netherlands was the first republic in Europe. 

Ons Lieve_Heer_op_Solder

After the Protestant Reformation (Calvinism being predominant in the Dutch Republic), worship of other religions had been officially outlawed since 1581.  However, in a move that would contribute to the famed Dutch tolerance, other religions (primarily Christian and Catholics) were allowed to congregate as long as it was not done openly. 

 Our Lord in the Attic is one of the best examples of the Roman Catholic schuilkerken (clandestine churches).  Walk upstairs and be wowed by the incredible organ, altar, pews and beautiful light fixtures that have been meticulously preserved since becoming a museum in 1888. 

(3) Cook your own Korean Barbecue at YokiyoAddress: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 67

Tucked away in the basement and first floor of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, this restaurant is a welcome culinary addition not only to the Red Light District, but to Amsterdam in general. 


Armed with a genuinely friendly staff (something often left to be desired in the Netherlands), the restaurant is divided into two areas with the ground floor/bar offering a la carte and a chef’s menu and the first floor offering private booths and do-it-yourself Korean barbecues. 


Although many of the dishes are available on the ground floor, make a reservation and try to sit on the first floor. Not only do you get killer views of the Oude Kerk and canal, but you’ll also get to try your hand at grilling your own pork belly, bulgogi, prawns and more! 

(4) Play arcade games at the Ton Ton ClubAddress: Sint Annendwarsstraat 6


The Ton Ton Club is a bit of a catch-all initiative founded in creativity. Essentially a mix between a hang-out, arcade and bar, the Ton Ton Club offers space for young designers and artists to make their ideas a reality. Think 3D printers, games and other playful takes on design. 


They also succeed at making their 250 square meters in the Red Light District a type of game hall where people from all milieus can meet for a drink and play one their many arcade games. From driving games to Mortal Kombat and pin ball machines, the collection is a throwback to the days when arcades brought people together. 


Stop by this lovably hip venue and make a ball-pit selfie, play some black light air hockey, battle it out in Street Fighter or just grab a drink at the bar and enjoy the buzz at the one of a kind Ton Ton Club!

(5) Enjoy alternative art at W139Address: Warmoesstraat 139


Free to visit and completely artist run, W139 has a varied program and the space to show it off. Occupying a large house right on the Warmoesstraat since the 1980s, W139 continues to put art first. Exhibitions lean more toward the visual arts, but the space is also conducive to more conceptual installations. 


W139 is a breath of fresh air amongst the tourist heavy Warmoesstraat. It’s still run by a collective of Dutch artists and is a valuable platform for young artists to experiment in a mix of gallery and studio. Stop in during the day and there’s a chance you’ll see them setting up for a next show or simply debating artistic practices 


Be sure to check their agenda before you visit: not only to ensure there is a show, but also to get a bit background about who’s there. The desk attendants are always friendly and their flyer area is a type of distribution point for the alternative scene’s pamphlets and advertisements for upcoming events/parties. 

(6) Drink an Amsterdam icon at De PraelAddress: Oudezijds Armsteeg 26


For those who haven’t heard, beer is back in a big way in the Netherlands. Not your Heineken, Grolsch or Bavaria, but the more attentive, high quality craft brews. Springing up all over Amsterdam, independent brewers are making noise in the Dutch scene with names like Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Butcher’s Tears and Oedipus becoming increasingly common on beer menus.

De Prael_Amsterdam

What most visitors don’t know is that there’s a craft brewery right in the heart of the Red Light District known as De Prael. The brewery and shop is listed at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 30, but the more interesting area is the “proeflokaal” or tasting room in the alley-like Oudezijds Armsteeg. Marked with their yellow and blue logo, most patrons are surprised at just how large the space is. 


The backside of the brewery is both a pub and restaurant serving basic dishes. Along with delicious brews named after Amsterdam icons, the operation is one with a noble mission. The entire initiative is run by two former psychiatric nurses who employ individuals with mental illnesses or psychiatric disorders. On top of providing quality jobs, they brew damn good beers. Try the flagship Willy and indulge in some Dutch snacks!

(7) End the night chatting with locals at De Buurvrouw - Address: Sint Pieterspoortsteeg 29


Tucked away in the Sint Pieterspoortsteeg is late night bar De Buurvrouw. A local favorite, they welcome everyone and it has that last stop of the night vibe on Fridays and Saturdays. Open until 4am, the bar is full of chatter and music. It’s a casual place with a party mentality and the drinks to match! 


A huge benefit is that the drinks are (relatively) cheap, especially for the Red Light District. Whether you’re looking to chat up a new friend and dance a bit with a stranger, the alternative crowd that descends on De Buurvrouw makes both welcome options! 




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