Pithy little statements like “sex sells” often perfectly captures the profitability of sex appeal. In 2000, Dutch politicians turned an eye to taxing the sales of sex, and voted to legalise prostitution. Soon, a flourishing red light district established itself in De Wallen, the medieval city centre of Amsterdam. Nestled in its winding network of alleyways are window sex shops, sex museums, sex shows, and a never ending stream of sex tourists.
For those who approach De Wallen as an educational, rather than recreational, experience, I’d recommend reading an article or two beforehand. Or, at the very least, watching Taken, and letting the horror sink in. The context of the red lights and all that they illuminate is important to keep in mind when touring a place reminiscent of an adult Disneyland Main Street.
De Wallen lies about 10 minutes left of Amsterdam Centraal station. I would not recommend going straight there, unless your train arrives after 10pm, in which case I would insist on going straight there. Around 10pm, the summer sun sinks below the skyline, ceding real estate to the red lights. Curtains are drawn back from the window fronts, and the calls selling show tickets mingle with the calls of drunken throngs. Sober people should cling tightly to their friends and their wallets.
In Amsterdam, like in many Dutch towns, almost everything unrelated to alcohol closes around 9pm, clearing crowds from the cobblestone streets. De Wallen suddenly seems to bustle, making it rather easier to find. The second you stumble into its vicinity, you will know.
There are organised walking tours on offer, the cheapest for around €15. In addition, there are two museums which seemed to be crowd favourites. The Sex Museum sells tickets for €5 and the Museum of Prostitution sells tickets for €12.50, making them inexpensive compared to other Amsterdam museums.
Of course, the most inexpensive option is to do a self-guided walking tour. Try to pass through at least two of the alleyways, and two segments along the canal. For those seeking an educational experience, this is quite an effective option, as the there is less to gain from specific sites, and more from absorbing the atmosphere of a community unique to Amsterdam.
For those who approach De Wallen as a recreational, rather than educational, experience, I have a tip for you too. One indignant member of the public informed his friend, and the crowd at large, that “for 50 euros you don’t even get a paper towel”. So, those who seek to draw back the curtain should remember to bring their own.