De Wallen is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Amsterdam, with many narrow houses, examples of period architecture, and cobbled streets. It’s also one of the most beautiful parts of the city, home to tree-lined canals and some of the city’s most famous squares.

The area of De Wallen might be known more as a place of contradictions, with its diverse mix of people and businesses. It’s the first area of the city many people encounter because it’s directly in front of Amsterdam Centraal Station. And it’s commonly known as the Red Light District of Amsterdam due to the enclave of brothels in the area.

Scattered between the cafés and restaurants, you’ll find erotic theatres, peep shows, and rows of small, glass-fronted rooms with scantily clad women inside beckoning people over. It’s easy to distinguish these window brothels thanks to the bold neon lights above their doors.

Even so, during the day you have many ‘coffeeshops’, restaurants, and boutiques to explore. There are also many canalside footpaths to enjoy and churches to admire. Reassuringly for a red light district, there’s a noticeable police presence in De Wallen, with many street patrols in the evening. You’ll often see pairs of police on bicycles on their route.

De Wallen in Amsterdam - one of the highlights of 10 Best Things to Do in Amsterdam (Read all about Amsterdam here)

What are the highlights of De Wallen in Amsterdam?

Unusually, De Wallen has many interesting landmarks and mainstream attractions surrounded by the naughty nightlife for which the area is most famous.

The Oude Church is a stunning landmark from the 13th century that’s generally considered the oldest surviving building in the city. You can use this as a reference point as you explore the warren of side streets in De Wallen. The church now holds cultural events like concerts and theatre performances, so check the noticeboard to see what’s on while you’re in Amsterdam.

Not far from De Wallen, you’ll find Dam Square, a popular plaza in the city with a royal palace at the far end and plenty of statues on plinths. In the summer months, this is a great spot to see locals going about their day. Damrak, one of Amsterdam’s best shopping streets, leads off the square. The somewhat cheesy but entertaining Sex Museum is also close by.

If you want to spend an afternoon shopping, head to Nieumarkt, a popular square on the east side of De Wallen, which is home to farmers' markets and book fairs throughout the summer. It’s lined with several coffeeshops and all sorts of niche stores. You’ll find new-age fashion, smoking paraphernalia, eccentric fetish shops, and everything in between.

Where to eat and drink in De Wallen in Amsterdam?

Considering De Wallen has a high concentration of coffeeshops, it’s no surprise there are plenty of eating options as well. Fast food is popular here, from kebabs and falafel in pitta to typical burger franchises, you certainly won’t go hungry.

Warmoesstraat runs north to south through the neighbourhood and has a huge choice of dining and nightlife options. Famous spots like The Grasshopper, Café Hill Street Blues, and Slainte Irish pub can be found here. For a high-end meal, head to Waag. This fine-dining restaurant serves classic European cuisine in an ancient gatehouse.

Good to know about De Wallen in Amsterdam

To find De Wallen, head for Centraal Station in the centre of town. This is also the hub of Amsterdam’s tram network making it convenient if you’re using public transport. You can also take the subway to Nieumarkt station.

Renting a bicycle for the day is a great option for exploring the city, but do pay attention to the bike lanes as there are a large number of bicycle users in the city, and – unlike cars – bikes are silent so you need to keep your eyes open and your attention on the road.

De Wallen in Amsterdam

Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller