What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? Is the tulips? Windmills? Cute wooden clogs? Probably not. While these things are associated with Amsterdam, most tourists know it for two other things: marijuana and sex. Pretty much anything to do with sex really; sex shops, condom shops, live sex shows and more. I’ll admit, I was definitely curious but I wasn’t really ready to walk into a sex show. Especially not alone. However, when I had the opportunity to see a peep show in Amsterdam, I took it.
As weird as it was, I actually loved the Red Light District. Not because I’m into marijuana (or prostitutes), it’s just one of the quirkiest places I’ve been to. There’s something really funny about watching men get pulled into windows (especially at 10am on a Sunday morning) by scantily clad women. Maybe I’m a little juvenile, but the whole sex craze that is so apparent in this area makes me laugh. It’s so over the top and extreme that I can’t help but giggle at some of the things. Seriously though, who would buy a blow-up doll with a penis AND breasts?
But as entertaining as it was peeking into these sex shops with their interesting wares, I wanted to know more about what went on behind the scenes of the graphic posters and vulgar neon lights. As someone who used to work in the victim industry and studied human trafficking (which is usually linked to sex tourism), I wanted to know how the system here actually worked. Which led me to sign up for a guided Red Light District tour which just happened to include a stop at one of the popular peep shows in Amsterdam.
Over the course of a couple of hours, I learned a lot about the sex trade in Amsterdam. I learned about the process of becoming a prostitute, the history, and how it is controlled and legislated. I learned about the old local church, and how it used to thrive thanks to needy sailors, and of course I got some great and hilarious stories of the prostitutes of old who were pretty bad-ass. Then, as the tour wrapped up, we had one last opportunity: to see a peep show in Amsterdam.
The venue we stopped out side of showed a large sign stating “2€=2minutes” with a possible viewing of: guy on girl, girl on girl, or solo girl.
“Go on” our guide prompted us, “you’re in Amsterdam, where else are you going to get the chance to do this?”
It was funny seeing everyone kind of shuffle their feet at the idea of seeing a peep show in Amsterdam. You could tell most wanted to, but felt awkward about doing so. In fairness, so did I. I wanted the experience, but I didn’t really want to sit in the booth alone so I ended up going in with another woman in my group.
The two of us ourselves into tiny, dark booth, shoved a 2€ coin in the box and watched as the little shutter over the window slid open, revealing a single woman on a round rotating bed. The top half of her was clothed; trying to disguise what I’m convinced was a pregnant belly, but she was nude from the waist down. She wasn’t drop dead gorgeous, but she was pretty enough and took advantage of her long, blonde hair as she rolled around in front of us touching herself for everyone in the booths to see.
What made it weirder was that not only would we see her and her us, but we could see across the room into the other booth windows and their viewers. The booths were set up in a circular fashion around the room, so we had a clear view of the working girl… and everyone else. It wasn’t too bad because everyone was in our group and clearly uncomfortable, but I imagine if you (or someone you saw) were really into it, it could be pretty weird.
Even knowing we were all part of the tour, it was awkward. Of course, my go-to in awkward situations is to laugh, but thankfully I wasn’t the only one. Not only were the other viewers stifling their laughs behind their hands but our ‘showgirl’ quickly realized what was going on and joined in. But instead of fading off I think it just encouraged her to give us more of a show as she tried to shock us. I won’t get into intense details but I definitely saw more than I wanted. But then again, what did I expect at a peep show in Amsterdam?
After what seemed more like 5 minutes, our 2 minutes ran out and as quickly as it opened, our black shutter slammed closed indicating our time was over. My viewing partner and I exited our booth and joined the rest of the group back in front of the theatre where our guide waited to hear about our experience.
Was I glad I that I went to a peep show in Amsterdam? Yes I was. It was awkward, however it was also definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Would I do it again though? Probably not.
Tips for Visiting The Red Light District
- Do not take photos of the working girls (or men); it may be legal to be a prostitute in Amsterdam, but a lot of these women aren’t Dutch and it is illegal back in their home countries. Your ‘funny souvenir’ could actually land them in jail.
- Hide your cameras in the area, as mentioned above photographing the workers can be dangerous to them and they will protect themselves. This might mean smashing your camera or throwing things at you, like urine or worse. Consider yourself warned
- Be careful for pickpockets at night. The red light district is busiest between 11pm to about 2am and sticky fingers tend to come out with the crowds.
- Dealers also come out late at night, do not buy anything in the streets. Marijuana is technically illegal, but the law has some sort of arrangement with the cafes. Buying outside of these cafes will land you in a lot of trouble.
First time to Amsterdam? Here’s why the iAMsterdam city card is totally worth it.
Planning a Trip? Don’t Leave Home Without