Red Light Districts (European Sex Centers)

The red light districts listed here provide a window of opportunity for the inquisitive - or lusty - mind to peek into that often veiled aspect of human nature. Depending on your personal attitude you may view touring these place as a misery watching or pleasure cruise. Whatever your mindset just remember that this kind of business draws in the shadier creatures so be careful and watch your steps if you venture into one of the European sex centers listed below.

Whether you like it or not, sex has been traded since time immemorial. How different peoples treat this "merchandise" tells a lot about them. Attitudes towards prostitution are heavily ingrained in every culture and as such are worth exploring. Some countries fight it, while others try to regulate the business by legalizing or at least turning a blind eye to it and allowing prostitution to exist in designated city areas, known as red light districts.

The origin of the name itself remains uncertain. According to Wikipedia the following roots are possible:

"[...]the red lanterns carried by railway workers (which were left outside brothels when the workers entered, so that they could be quickly located for any needed train movement) or the red paper lanterns (which were thought to be sensual) that were hung outside brothels in ancient China to identify them as such."

The color of sex.

Contrary to popular belief the existence of red light districts is no indication of humankind's descent into moral decay. The controversy they raise today stands in stark contrast to, for example, Medieval times when every major English town boasted a Gropecunt Lane. Below are some of the remains of that (in)glorious past.

De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands

You can see the Erotic Museum on the left.

The best known of all of them, De Wallen has long been a major tourist attraction in Amsterdam. Prostitutes of both sexes provide their services in a network of alleys housing some 300 one-room cabins. They solicit clients by displaying their wares from behind a glass window or door.

Taking photos is discouraged. Still...

De Wallen is also home to marijuana selling coffee shops, Erotic Museum, sex shops, peep shows and sex theaters.

Oddly enough, the district is also where you find the oldest Amsterdam church, Oude Kerk. It now has to share the neighborhood with Belle - bronze statue of a sex worker.

Belle with Oude Kirke in background.

If this sin city sounds enticing go there before it is too late: although prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, Amsterdam authorities have recently clamped down on the sex business following reports on organized crime involved in human trafficking and pimping.

Safety concerns : this is the most touristy of the red light districts, and police presence is strong; steer clear of the drug addicts and coke dealers and you will be fine.

Reeperbahn, Hamburg, Germany

The German equivalent of De Wallen is considered spicier by many visitors. Those who think Amsterdam too "lame and tame" find die s√ľndige Meile (‘the sinful mile') of Hamburg much sinner: proof - Germany's only live sex act can be seen in the Safari cabaret.

At designated times of day street prostitution is legal on Davidstrasse, otherwise famous for its landmark police station. Also, there is less window shopping going on in Hamburg as prostitutes can display their bodies behind windows only in the gated Herbertstrasse, a street where minors and women are not welcome.

This section is reserved for adult males only.

Reeperbahn offers a whole range of more or less sinful entertainment: theaters, cabarets, sex shops, strip clubs, bars and nightclubs. Like in Amsterdam, an old 18th century church, Saint Joseph Kirche, stands a silent witness to the sexual extravaganza happening around.

In 2008 the Beatles Platz was opened to commemorate the Liverpool four who played in its clubs in the 1960s.

Safety concerns : police presence is high but watch out for pickpockets and large numbers of junkies. Also, if it becomes apparent you are just looking you may be hassled.

Soho, London, England

Have you been naughty?

Listed here purely on account of its past glory. From mid 18th century up to the 1970s it was a real sex biz center, packed with street prostitutes and brothels. It was so notorious it lends its name to several similar areas around the world.

How is British sex shop different from, say, Dutch one?

Today it has been reduced to a few striptease clubs better known for extorting money from unsuspecting clients than for the quality of their services. Illegal brothels still operate in the area but the area has now grown into a gay culture center.

The rainbow flag over Soho.

Safety concerns : according to numerous reports you should give a wide berth to local clubs where you run the risk of being charged exorbitant amounts for drinks and unsolicited company of a hostess. So unless you're a martial arts expert capable of handling a couple of oversized bouncers do not let any sexy lady lure you inside. Drug dealing is a persistent problem.

Rue St. Denis and Pigalle, Paris, France

Not quite sure about this one... Experts advise to check the Adam's apple.

Fur clad sex worker of all possible ages and sex combinations may be encountered along Rue St. Denis and all kinds of sex paraphernalia may be bought at its sex shops.

When you get tired of watching or patronizing the sex workers, ethnic eateriers will satisfy your hunger.

Famous Moulin Rouge.

A more high-end, civilized and tourist friendly red light area is Pigalle (nicknamed Pig Alley by Allied soldiers looking for peaceful action during WWII), home of the famous Moulin Rouge and nearby Museum of Eroticism, open till 2 am. You may also disguise your visit to Pigalle as backtracking the steps of its former inhabitants: Van Gogh and Picasso.

Safety concerns : beware of Soho style scams in the strip clubs.

Rue d'Aerchot (Aarschotstraat in Dutch), Brussels, Belgium

Business as usual.

This street is known for being lined with brothels from beginning to end. Its location near the business and financial district of Brussels combined with the proximity of the European parliament guarantees it a long and prosperous future.

Take a pick.

Who knows, if lucky you might get a glimpse of a MEP going into one of the Amsterdam style windowed rooms, catching a show or browsing through the merchandise in one of the sex shops.

Safety concerns: not as friendly as De Wallern, so do not visit alone at night and stay out of dark alleys.