Is Amsterdam's Red Light District Safe for Travelers?

From the liberal drug policy to window shopping responsibly, here's everything travelers need to know to stay safe in Amsterdam's Red Light District.

De Wallen at night – a well known red-light district in Amsterdam Photo © Getty Images/by Andrea Pucci

Despite what many visitors may think is a place with relaxed laws, some travelers misunderstand what really is okay and not okay to do in this Dutch city.

Weed laws in The Netherlands

Amsterdam, known for its Red Light District, planned to ban foreigners from its famous 'coffee shops' where you can order dope straight up or cloaked in a milkshake. Just as the new "locals only" laws came into effect, there was a change of government. Although technically speaking you need a "weed pass" to purchase, the government has ordered that the police not enforce the law.

Just watch out when you're in other parts of the Netherlands, some local councils have gone ahead with the crackdown, and have city by-laws which restrict the sale of weed to foreigners.

Many people find Dutch cannabis to be stronger than what's sold in other countries in Europe and elsewhere, so if you do partake, don't over-do it.

Drugs are illegal in The Netherlands

To be clear, all drugs in the Netherlands are illegal, but in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, it is not uncommon for drug dealers to approach you and offer more illicit substances. Even if it were sanctioned, there are reports that the drugs being pedalled are fake. If you are invited to check the quality of the drugs, you run the risk of being robbed.

There are other substances available in "smartshops," such as so-called herbal ecstasy and magic mushrooms. The latter were banned nationwide in December 2008 after two tourists died from ingesting whatever the heck was in there.

Types of crime in Amsterdam

In general, you might find your whole experience in the Red Light District to be seedy. But there's so much more to Amsterdam than De Wallen (which means "red light district" in Dutch). Bijlmer and Slotervaart were once regarded as especially bad areas for violence, but they've cleaned up their acts over the years.

The city in general is normally very safe thanks to heavy police presence and security officials. Run-of-the-mill thievery and pickpockerting occur, especially in the middle of Amsterdam, near train and tram stations and on public transport. Be especially wary on the line running to and from Schiphol Airport.

The style of thievery in this city involves pairing up and distracting you with inane questions while one of the duo snatches your purse, bag or other belonging. This often happens at train stops, where the criminals swiftly jump off the train.

Red Light District rules

Never take pictures of women in the Red Light Disctrict windows – it is both disrespectful and forbidden. If you're caught, you will have your phone taken off you.

Don't focus on drugs at the expense of monitoring your alcohol. Travelers to Amsterdam and other cities in the Netherlands have reported possibly being drugged at hotel bars and nightclubs. Many of these drugs are colorless and odourless, but produce fatigue, nausea and confusion. Do not leave your drink unattended or let a stranger buy you a drink.

And remember, families and locals live here. Don't make a fool of yourself in someone else's neighborhood.

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  • Ben said

    The rules on drugs have been set for some of the Netherlands, but according to Amsterdam's official website, visitors have as much right as anyone else to visit the coffee shops and partake, as the mayor decided against banning non-residents from using them.
    Details here: http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/experience/about-amsterdam/facts-and-figures/coffeeshops

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