This is the oldest and most historic part of the city, and it’s also arguably the most beautiful part, not even counting the infamous prostitutes in the windows. It’s a large area right across from the main train station and during the day it’s packed with tourists of all kinds who are roaming the area seeing what it’s all about. It may be wise to visit without children, but aside from that you may be shocked that the area is popular with young and old, male and female, and tourist groups of all kinds from around the world.
There are around 150 windows in the area, behind which you’ll usually find flirtatious girls who are trying to make a living under those flattering red lights. Along the main canals you’ll only find a few here and there, but if you turn down one of the narrow alleys you’ll be face to face with a dozen or more of them lined up in a row. With this in mind, it’s quite easy to get as big or small of a dose of this phenomenon as you want.
After around 8pm the ratio of male visitors to female visitors goes up noticeably, so it’s probably best to keep that in mind depending on your group and your goals. Prices for an unromantic 15-minute encounter with the girl of your dreams are generally €50, but you can pay more to get more time or even more unusual things thrown in. Negotiate everything first.
The city is following through on its initiative to get rid of some businesses that appear to have ties to organized crime, and they’ve bought back buildings that housed even more windows – recently leasing some of them to young fashion designers and stores. But the city has also insisted that they have no intention of plowing the prostitution thing under for good, as they recognize that it’s an important and famous part of their tourism draw.
Coffeeshops (cannabis coffee shops)
While it’s technically true that possession of cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, it’s been “tolerated” for customers for more than 30 years now. In other words, there is zero risk to those who patronize the 150 or so coffee shops in Amsterdam, even if a police officer were to walk in while you were smoking.
Interestingly, there are a few laws the city and the shops themselves do enforce strictly. You must be at least 18 years old and you can only buy 5 grams per day (at any one shop). If you don’t know how much pot or hash 5 grams is, it’s a LOT, and far more than any human this side of Snoop Dogg could ever smoke in one day.