Amsterdam Red Light District FAQs, Tips & Advice

Anything goes in Amsterdam?
No, definitely not. I used to think that but it's far from the truth. For example, apart from on Queen's Day / King's Day drinking in most streets and squares is illegal. You're unlikely to get into much trouble but the drink will be taken from you.
Officially you can no longer smoke in hotels or bigger bars. Some however do allow it.
You can no longer smoke soft drugs in the street.
There are very strict gambling laws and you won't see UK style betting shops or kids putting pennies in fruit machines. All gambling is run by the state under the name Holland Casino. There are no Dutch online gambling companies and the authorities have tried to prevent foreign online companies targeting Dutch people. 
There are also very strict rules regarding the sale of fireworks. They can only be sold three or four days before the 1st January.
Adult shops must close by 10pm and bars by 1am on weekdays and 3am at weekends. Clubs must close by 4am and 5am.
All people over 13 must carry official ID at all times or risk a 50 Euro fine.  
Is the red light district safe?
Mostly yes. The area is a hotspot for minor crimes such as pickpocketing, drug dealing and drink related disorder but you'd expect that in any major city. I personally feel very safe because of the large number of tourists and high police presence. Unless you are walking alone down a dark alley at 3am you have little to worry about. My advice though is to be aware of what's happening around you. If there's a jam in Trompettersteeg for example, make sure the guy behind you isn't taking your wallet or undoing your back pack.  
You may be approached by beggars or drug dealers in the main area at almost anytime. None are threatening or scary so just say a polite nee (pronounced "nay" meaning no) and carry on walking. There used to be loads of these people a few years ago but the police have done a great job in getting rid of most.
If you are a bit of a tough guy who thinks he can fight you may get yourself into trouble. The dodgy looking character who bumps into you on Molensteeg is probably an Eastern European pimp. He may not look like much but he'll have friends nearby and probably a weapon within easy reach. If you don't give him any grief he won't give you any. It's not in his interest to attract attention but in altercations the tourist seldom wins.
Are they really closing down the red light district?
No, there are plans to reduce the number of windows and confine them to a more compact and controllable area but there has never been any desire to close it completely. It has survived for many hundreds of years and I have no doubt it will survive for many more. Read about Project 1012 for more details or see my history page
Transport: OV-Chipkaart
If you are a regular visitor to Holland and travel around a fair bit then you should consider getting an OV-Chipkaart (anonymous version). They look like a credit card and can be used on trains, trams and buses. You simply hold the card against a reader when you start your journey (checking in) and repeat the action when you finish it (checking out). As long as you have a enough credit loaded you can get on and off where and when you want.. 
You can purchase the cards at a number of places including some train station ticket machines and the counter. At time of writing it costs 7.5 Euros.
If you do intend to use it on trains get it activated at the counter for rail use. They will ask if you want 1st or 2nd class travel.   Actual journey costs are the same as if you purchased a regular ticket. These are not the same as the special offers you get with products like - I amsterdam Card or Amsterdam and Holland Pass.
The OV-Chipkaart is very easy to use though a bit complicated to explain. If you keep a decent balance of say 50 Euros or so you will never have to worry. If however you want to keep it to a minimum then please read on very carefully.
You must have at least 20 Euros of credit to start any train journey, however short it is. In addition all journeys are treated as singles so there is no return option when checking in. That means that although 20 Euros maybe more than enough to travel both ways if your card dips below 20 after your first leg you will not be able to return until you top up again. Here is an example- Say you have 25 Euros on your card and you plan a day out in Leiden from Amsterdam. The total cost will be 2 x 8.10 Euros. However after the first leg of your journey your card now has a balance of 16.90 Euros which is below the minimum. So before you return you would have to add at least 3.10 Euros. I believe the equivalent minimum for trams is 4 Euros. These amounts can change though so please check if it is important to you.  
DO NOT forget to check out. If you do it will almost certainly cost you 20 Euros. You may be able to claim it back but for a tourist it will be very hard and take some time. If you do forget I advise going to the nearest station as quickly as possible and try checking out. If it's not too long after your journey it may work but probably won't the next day.
Further information can be found on the official website here and here. Remember, if you are not a Dutch citizen only the bit about the anonymous version applies.
Photography in the red light district
Photography in the red light district is perfectly ok as long as you don't photo the working girls. Not only is that against the law (This is fact- you need permission to photo someone in a private work space) but there's a good chance you will be attacked by the girls themselves or a pimp.
The girls are scared of pictures getting on the internet since many have friends and family back home who don't know what they are doing so please show them some respect.
No Pictures in Amsterdam's Red Light District

Is the red light district suitable for children?
Yes, the area is as much a tourist attraction as it is an adult playground. I have seen several families with kids and pretty sure they weren't coming to any harm. People live and work in the area and I doubt their children grow up any different. You may have to explain why the pretty ladies are standing in the windows or steer them clear from the graphic and uncensored shop window displays but otherwise they'll be fine. I would however avoid late evening simply because the crowds get so dense it will be difficult to look after them.
Where should I stay?
Amsterdam's most luxurious hotel is probably De L'Europe at Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2 - 14 which is to the south of the centre. If you want to stay close to the red light district then you may consider The Krasnapolsky on Dam Square or Barbizon Palace nearer the station. If you want to stay bang in the middle then there's Hotel Royal Taste, Hotel 83, or Hotel Torenzicht
I usually stay at the Hotel Vijaya which is on the edge since it's cheap and most rooms have a TV, private toilet & shower plus a great view of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal. Instead of taking one person's opinion though read the reviews and information here or just for just hostels here.
Is there anything else to do in the red light district apart from the obvious?
There are bars and restaurants all over the area. Because of Project 1012 new 'higher quality' establishments are beginning to open like Restaurant Anna at Warmoesstraat 111 and extending into Oudekerksplein. Personally I am happy with the cheap and fantastic Wok To Walk at Warmoesstraat 85 but each to their own. There are a number of Tattooists including La Familia on Oudekerksplein. For a bit of religion there is the Oude kerk or if you prefer the Fo Guang Shan He Hua Temple on Zeedijk.
Am I likely to get ripped off?
Thankfully Amsterdam doesn't have any of the rip off joints you find in cities like London and Paris. You can enter any of the venues in the red light district without too much worry. They still charge a fortune for certain drinks like champagne but if you stick to something simple you'll be fine. In fact a lot of the shows offer a set number of drinks included in the entrance fee. This means once inside you don't even need to go to your wallet again.
I used to see a lot of street scams. Guys would set up games of "Find The Lady". People would stand and watch for a while and it appeared that others were winning and it wasn't that difficult. Of course they were accomplices and you stood no chance yourself. It was fun watching them though and you'd often see them run off when a look-out warned of the police coming.
Then there's the sob stories of how someone has been mugged or lost all their money and need some cash to get home. Often very convincing but the sheer number proved them to be fake.
There was also the "You bumped into me and made me spill my drugs" routine. The guys could be quite intimidating and if caught somewhere out of the way the 10 Euros or so the guy demands feels like the safest option.  I got caught by this during my first visits and I had no idea if the guy was going to pull a knife so handed over the money. Being more experienced I certainly wouldn't now.
Thankfully most of these scams are rare these days. CCTV and a police crackdown has pretty much eliminated them. You should however always be suspicious of anyone asking or offering you something. They may be overly friendly, patting you on the back or trying to shake your hand. Always avoid all physical contact with these people.
Occasionally the working girls will rip-off clients but it's extremely rare.
What if I lose my passport, money and everything?
The first thing you should do is report the loss or theft to the police. Although it's unlikely they will get your lost items back they will give you a police report which is vital to you. You should then take this report to your consulate. They will help you with advice and you should be able to get a temporary passport. Be aware that some Consulates like the UK one charges and it's unlikely they will lend you any money. They may be able to help you with arranging a money transfer from home though. If you need the internet to set things up then go to the Amsterdam Public Library where it is free. Please note that the 'Amsterdam Tourist Assistance Service' no longer operates. For Consulates see below. Not all countries have them in Amsterdam so you may have to get to Den Haag.
The USA Consulate in Amsterdam is at Museumplein 19, 
The UK Consulate in Amsterdam is at Koningslaan 44 (near Vondelpark)
The French Consulate in Amsterdam is at Vijzelgracht 2
The German Consulate in Amsterdam is at Honthorststraat 36-38
The Italian Consulate in Amsterdam is at Vijzelstraat 79
The Spanish Consulate in Amsterdam is at Frederiksplein 34
The Swiss Consulate in Amsterdam is at De Lairessestraat 97
Can tourists still use coffeeshops ?
Providing they are over 18 then yes. However in many parts of Holland coffeeshops are now restricted to Dutch Citizens only. This is to cut down on the huge number of people coming into the country simply to take drugs. Although tolerated in Holland, drugs are not seen as a positive thing for the country. It's often connected with criminal activity and Holland's reputation is not appreciated by many locals and politicians.
The only reason they decided against the planned ban in Amsterdam and a few other major cities was the fear that it would lead to a big increase in street dealing. No one wants the streets of Amsterdam to go back to how they were in the 70s and 80s with dealers on every corner and parts of Zeedijk virtual no go areas.
Bulldog coffeeshop in Amstedam's red light district

Hotel De Roode Leeuw Amsterdam
Hotel Delta Amsterdam
Hotel 83 Amsterdam
Hotel De Gerstekorrel Amsterdam
Hotel Prins Hendrik Amsterdam
Hotel Delta Amsterdam
Hotel Old Nickel Amsterdam
Hotel Old Nickel Amsterdam

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