On our trip to Amsterdam last winter, Bob and I walked on more than one occasion through its “notorious” Red Light District. It’s so notorious that the first time, I didn’t even realize we’d entered it until we walked past a glass door lit up with red lights. I’ll admit, I still didn’t get it. Until we walked by a second door lit the same way. Then I clued in to what was going on. Quick on the uptake, eh?
Amsterdam is proud of its liberal attitude towards prostitution and soft drugs. Marijuana shops and prostitution legally take place right in the historic downtown area, with no shame or disgrace. From our Rick Steves guidebook, we learned that Amsterdam employs nearly a thousand prostitutes. Prostitution was legalized in 2000, and there are rules and even taxes.
On our second and third walks that included the Red Light District, I tried to pay a little more attention to my surroundings, and without staring, noticed that women of all ages work in the trade, and in most cases, appeared a little bored while waiting for work. Most were on their phones, texting or perhaps perusing social media or the news. It was way more mundane than I expected it to be. Granted, we were there in the middle of the day or early evening each time, and it was also the dead of winter. I’m guessing things get busier later in the evening, and when the weather is warmer as well. But most people passing through seemed to pay little attention to the workers.
Apparently, that’s not always the case, because as of January 1, 2019, Amsterdam has banned guided tours of the Red Light District. This should come as a surprise to no one, but gawking tourists are apparently bad for business. And an Amsterdam city council member says it is no longer acceptable to see sex workers as a tourist attraction. Overall, Amsterdam is struggling with the number of tourists in its city. Residents say it is increasingly harder to live and work there. Organized tours for the rest of the city have changed as of January 1 as well, with the maximum number of people on a tour being limited to 15, when previously the maximum was 20.