Photo Essay: The Red Light District in Amsterdam

Red Light Amsterdam

It is one of those places that, I promise, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into when you head into the red light district. I can understand why this “taboo” tourist attraction garners the attention it gets and attracts thousands of people to wander the streets.

I saw Johns staring into the windows daring to consider. And yes, I couldn’t help but gawk at the few guys who came out with a huge sh*t eating grin on the face.

I curiously looked into the windows. With a giggle and a wink, the girls send me running to distance myself from the red windows, my cheeks burning. They are good. They are really good.

With the inspiration of Bethany of Beers and Beans and her experience with the Red Light District, I took to the streets with my camera – something that is not ignored. Keep in mind that I’ve heard of cameras being thrown into the canals. So in super spy mode, I made my move. Meandering the streets I captured some of my favorite images from the trip.

…and it still keeps its mysterious quality.

Welcome to the Red Light District in Amsterdam.

Red Light Amsterdam

Red Light

Red Light Roxanne

Red Light

Red light

Taboo Amsterdam

Red Light

Red Light District-16

Red Light District-17

Red Light District-21

Red Light District-23


40 Responses to “Photo Essay: The Red Light District in Amsterdam”

  1. Leslie (Downtown Traveler) January 2, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Great photos! How did you sneak photos on a DSLR? Kind of creepy looking at these women selling themselves– they look like dolls or mannequins.

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

      I’m not sure I want to kiss and tell!

  2. Matthew Karsten January 2, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Love it! How did you disguise your camera?

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

      Without saying too much, I actually didn’t disguise it. ๐Ÿ˜›

  3. Pal January 2, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    That’s brave, taking pictures of the windows :). You know you can be beaten up for that, I’ve seen it happening. Nice pictures in any case.

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

      I had heard of stories but the fact that there are no cameras made me want to capture moments even more.

  4. Candice January 2, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Brave indeed! Yowza.

  5. Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End January 2, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Wow – awesome! I’ve never seen anyone take pics through here – I’ve heard the ‘pimps’ can chase after you, and it can get a little violent! I love the colours and angles from the incognito camera… how on earth did you manage to conceal it (your photo secrets!.. we wanna hear them!)

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      I left the angles for that reason. They definitely capture the on the fly feeling.

  6. Bethany January 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    This is crazy – we have images of some of the same girls and windows!!! hahahaa – that is crazy!! Great job Erica!

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      Haha! I just noticed. How weird and random!

  7. Trudy January 2, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi, I have lived in Holland and I have to say I don’t like that you took photos. You never know what lives these girls have lived to end up in this situation and one of the only controls they have over their lives is that the public are not meant to take photos of them. I think it is quite disrespectful to these women who even though they may be in a profession you don’t respect are still humans. I have to admit we have walked through the Red Light District many times and taken visitors to see it but I think the least we can do is respect the few rules that surround this bizarre situation. Just my thoughts.

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

      Hey Trudy! Thank you for commenting here, I love to hear all opinions on the matter, it isn’t that I don’t respect them. These ladies can do as they want – I have no issue how they make their money or what they do or don’t do in their free time. I just think that, if it is such a part of life for them, it shouldn’t be hidden.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

    • JENELLE'S MOM January 11, 2013 at 9:35 pm #


      In my opinion it is you that is being disrespectful. First, you admit that you have been to this place more than once. Second, not only do you admit to visiting several times but you also state you take visitors!!! Why…so you & your guests can gaulk at these women??? We are all very aware there could be a zillion reasons why these ladies “choose” to do what they do. They are adults and make their own make choices. Everyone of the ladies in the photos look healthy enough to do another type of work if they so choose. Third, no where do I see where the photographer made positive or negative statements towards prostitution. I apauld the photographer, who is very much like a reporter and takes on great risks and sacrifices to bring us these great shots.

  8. Steve Whitty January 2, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    You did well not to get discovered. The photos are great.

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      Thanks Steve. There were moments that I was a bit scared.

  9. kami January 3, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    amazing how you’ve managed to sneak such a great pictures! this place has always depressed and fascinated me at the same time! and my camera has almost been taken away from me first time I was there – I was heading to red lights district to see what the whole fuss is about and was taking a pictures of some pretty canals – intead I haven’t notticed I’m already in the district itself ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

      Scary! I’m guessing you got to keep your camera and just put it away?

  10. Arianwen January 3, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Very brave. My friend drove us down a canal side in Utrecht and there was a long queue of traffic ahead with pervy old men ogling the girls. It made my skin crawl!

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

      The ogling does bother me, I’m not going to lie. The men were the ones who really made me uncomfortable, not the girls?

  11. Abby January 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Really cool article! And great photos, worth the risk I’d say!

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

      Thanks Abby! I’m so glad they turned out!

  12. Erik January 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    It’s a hard place to get these kind of photos from.

    Next time I’m there I’m going to try and disguise my camera and use my GoPro to get a few pics… so we’ll see.

    There are few places I’ve been that are as ‘singular’ as the RLD in Amterdam….

    • Erica January 6, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      Good luck sir. ๐Ÿ˜€

  13. Ayngelina January 8, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    I would be petrified to take a camera!

    • Erica January 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

      You know, I didn’t think much of it – just that it was what I needed and wanted to do. Weird that I didn’t feel in danger at all.

  14. Alex January 8, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Interesting post. On one hand I too am fascinated by taking photos of forbidden places… nothing makes me want to whip out my camera more than a “no photo” warning! But on the other hand Trudy’s comment above really made me stop and think. I’m not sure what I would do.

    You might like the book “No Touch Monkey!”, one woman’s short stories about backpacking the world in the 90’s. She has a story about being beaten after taking photos here! That would put the fear in me ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Erica January 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

      Yeah, Trudy definitely brings up some good points. I have different theories on the no picture thing but to each their own.

      I didn’t worry too much because there is no way they could have known I was taking pictures. But I think the risk really paid off.

  15. Camels & Chocolate January 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    Brave soul! I can’t wait to go back to Amsterdam in May–it’s where Scott and I were living (well, nearby) when we met!

  16. Giselle and Cody January 9, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    Great photos Erica.
    When I see no photo signs it just makes me want to take photos even more!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Erica January 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      It is horrible isn’t it. Don’t do this. I NEED TO DO IT.

  17. Diana Edelman January 9, 2013 at 2:55 am #

    I’ve never seen photos of the Red Light District. I’ve only ever walked down it once … but, that was when I was in my early 20s, and let’s face it, I don’t remember it. Last time I was there, I really wanted to go on the tour, but the people I was with didn’t want to go. I would love to go back and take the tour and explore the area. It fascinates me and I would love to actually meet some of the girls and talk to them.

    • Erica January 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      We would have hung out even longer if the rain had stayed lighter but it got intense and I didn’t have anything to protect my camera.

  18. Abby January 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    As a journalist, I am “freedom of the press” all the way. As your friend though — BE CAREFUL!!! Those photos really are brilliant. They look eerie and wax-like, totally like dolls. But the fact that they don’t look real doesn’t give off a “dead in the eyes” feel that you’d expect. Instead, they take on a totally bad-ass, in-control gravitas. Seriously, I TRY to look that confident in my day-to-day life and usually fail!

    • Erica January 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

      It is so heartwarming how many people are worried for me!

      But yes – these were badass ladies. There were a few that looked sad but some were definitely not.

  19. Emily in Chile January 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    These photos are good even without knowing the backstory, but considering you had to take them steathily they’re amazing! Thanks for taking the risk to share these.

    • Erica January 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      There were a few times that I got freaked out but I’m glad I didn’t back down!

  20. Amsterdam resident May 21, 2016 at 6:58 am #

    I want to support Trudy. I understand it is tempting to make photos, despite of all the no pictures signs,though they are there for a reason. I live in Amsterdam and do volunteer work with this women. There main point of frustration are the tourist taking pictures, they rightfully get very angry. When walking through I always adress tourist who take pictures, in order to protect the girls. Now I want to adress you. The women told me that sometimes the pictures end up online, I could not believe this! This women have families in their home country they support, children, friends and maybe even husbands who do not know they are behind the windows. So please, have some respect for their privacy and remove the picutres where the girls faces are showing.. You would not want to be caught on camera if in their position.


  1. Photo Essay- Amsterdam's Red Light District - On My Feet or In My Mind | On My Feet or In My Mind - January 25, 2014

    […] So much can be written about Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light District. Someday, maybe, I’ll rite a post that approaches the subject as a whole, but this is just an inoffensive photo essay. (And a very PG-version at that- for a much more gutsy versions, check out posts from two of my favorite blogs-ย Beers & Beans, and OverYonderlust). […]

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