Europe’s 4 Most Famous Red Light Districts Are Not for the Faint of Heart

Amsterdam, shot by Cedric Puisney; Flickr Creative Commons

Amsterdam, shot by Cedric Puisney; Flickr Creative Commons

Hidden behind (yet often in plain sight of) the historic landmarks, revered museums, and renowned entertainment centers of every tourist destination, there almost always exists a seedy (but sometimes in a good way?) underbelly of a city, tempting visitors to come have a peek. The risqué lure of these lewd, neon neighborhoods often poses quite a thrill for some travellers -- and understandably so. Without necessarily indulging in the vice, visitors can find plenty of fun amidst that ruby glow of lights that spells "sex." No matter your freak number, there's no need to feel embarrassed or shy -- everyone visits these neighborhoods for basically the same reason. So without further adieu, here’s where to find Europe’s four most famous Red Light Districts.

1. De Wallen, Amsterdam

Photo Credit: vittorio sciosia

Photo Credit: vittorio sciosia

Amsterdam has built its reputation as one
of the world’s most notorious party cities in part thanks to its Red Light
District, known as De Wallen. But the thing about Amsterdam is that the city is
changing in a bid to attract tourists looking for a less salacious slice of
fun. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The coffee shops and rented sex windows are
still very much part of Amsterdam’s triangular Red Light District, but a slew of
hip bars and businesses are offering the area something new. Forget the boozy,
boorish image of Amsterdam that is all too readily propagated and take in the
hip, up-and-coming businesses found in between smoky hazes and curious walks in
the streets of sex.

Stay at the RHO Hotel, where the understated
and noise-free rooms make it a welcome base to escape the action of De Wallen
just a short walk away.

2. Reeperbahn, Hamburg

Photo Credit: Martin Abegglen

Photo Credit: Martin Abegglen

Having been, er, “dragged” through both De Wallen and Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, we can attest
that the German city takes the award for sleaziness. From the “No women
allowed” signs on the raucous
Herbertstraße to the plentiful strip clubs and sex theatres that fill Europe’s
largest Red Light District, the Reeperbahn has to be seen to be believed. And
it was thanks to all that seeing and not enough buying on its nefarious side
streets that the signs prohibiting women and minors from entering were
initially erected (for want of a better word).

Besides sleaze, Reeperbahn also happens to
be the centre of Hamburg’s nightlife, which makes it some kind of
drunken paradise for many. At the very least, a weekend spent exploring Reeperbahn is certainly an
experience you won’t forget in a hurry. 

Hip and upscale, The Madison Hamburg
provides you with a close walk to St. Pauli and Reeperbahn with its great location
near the city’s port promenade.

3. Pigalle, Paris

Photo Credit: Neil Howard

Photo Credit: Neil Howard

If you want the romanticized version of the
Red Light District then look no further than Paris’ Pigalle. Immortalized in
song by the likes of Edith Piaf and Yves Montand, and once home to Van Gogh,
Picasso, and Andre Breton, the district has a history as bohemian as it is
bawdy. The present-day Pigalle remains the centre of sex in Paris, but to go
along with the XXX shops, peepshows, and brothels, you’ll find speakeasy bars and
clubs. The neighborhood is located at the foot of Montmartre, and you’ll know you’re in the right place
when you see the windmill of the notorious Moulin Rouge. This isn’t the safest
part of Paris by night so once you’ve walked those seedy streets, head for the
super-hip SoPi — South Pigalle — for drinks and dancing at Le Mansart.

In an area where red velvet curtains are de
rigueur for businesses,
Villa Royale is a highly appropriate pick. With plush, grandiose, and ostentatious rooms, it fits in perfectly in Pigalle.

4. Schipperskwartier, Antwerp

Photo Credit: Amaury Henderick

Photo Credit: Amaury Henderick

Located across a three-block “tolerance
zone,” Antwerp’s red light district actually achieves its famous reputation for
being the antithesis of the seedy, violent neighborhoods usually associated
with this type of nightlife. Legalizing prostitution in the specific area of
the city known as Schipperskwartier meant taking a large chunk of power from
the organised crime gangs who had muscled in on the city’s vice trade. The
three blocks themselves are clean and even relatively peaceful, attracting nowhere
near the levels of stag party debauchery as other European Red Light Districts.
Adopting the Amsterdam model of shopfront windows, the area allows the curious to take late
night neon-lit walks without the fear of trouble and enjoy some excellent nightlife at the same time; Cafe d’Anvers is a favourite bar of ours.

Martin’s Patershof is a historic neo-Gothic church converted into a scenic upper-middle-range hotel with 79 cosy rooms.

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