The Red Light District in Amsterdam: The end of the ‘Wallen’ as we know it

Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema has launched a plan to overhaul the Red Light District – the harshest option within the plan advocates for the closure of all brothels.

The first female mayor hopes to protect sex workers from ogling tourists and the numerous problems with human trafficking and abuse of women. But Halsema also assures citizens that this will not be a slippery-slope to outlawing prostitution outright.

The proposed scenarios

The “Future of Window Prostitution in Amsterdam” plan included four main scenarios:

  1. Stopping street-view (meaning the area would be less appealing for tourists)
  2. Closing down city centre brothels and setting up business elsewhere
  3. Reducing and restricting the number of city centre brothels
  4. Tightening licensing of window workers, such as opening a prostitution hotel

    Wikimedia Commons

Is the Red Light District just a prop to a unruly stag do?

There is a fine line between appreciating and sensationalising a city’s unique areas. The Red Light District currently operates more as a prop to a stag do than an appreciation for the cultural sex work business. Problems with tourism saw the removal of the IAmsterdam sign and guided tours of Red Light District being banned.

The ethics of prostitution are polarising but Halsema believes the rise of human trafficking and the increase in abuse of sex workers makes change necessary.

“I think a lot of the women who work there feel humiliated, laughed at and that’s one of the reasons we are thinking about changing”  Halsema said.

Efforts in the past to change the sex work business model in Amsterdam faced strong backlash from sex workers involved in the lucrative industry.

Halsema will present the four options at town hall meetings over the next month before a solution will be chosen and then put to a vote in the city council at the end of the year.

The dilemma? 

Unruly tourists continue to overcrowd the historic neighbourhood. Cheap flights and online booking boosted tourism numbers of Amsterdam to a whopping 19 million last year. Carefree attitudes and parties galore create the perfect opportunity for a banging time abroad- the ramifications of which, are often left behind when travellers board their flight home.

Attempts to quell tourist-entitlement and boorish behaviour should be welcomed with open arms. However, it begs the question, can tourism in Amsterdam be curbed without stifling the autonomy of those who rely on the Red Light District to make their livelihood?

Freya Sawbridge
Freya Sawbridge
Freya was born in Edinburgh but raised in New Zealand (cue every person she meets saying “oh I have always wanted to go there but it’s so far away!”). A restless and curious nature has led her to move countries 5 times in the last 3 years in attempt to find a place she can call home. She contacted DutchReview on a whim and arrived in the Netherlands in summer 2019 to start her internship.


  1. Haha more gov stupidity. The rdl and coffeeshops are the main reason people go to the dam. Lets face it, its boring and crap and totally pointless visiting the place if it gets gentrified it any more. Who wants to see arty crap etc when theres half naked women in windows. Its nowhere near as good now as it was back in the 90s even, ive been there 18 times so i can say been there done that.


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