Most major cities around the world have some form of red light district whether they are publicly acknowledged and embraced or, more widely, swept under the carpet.
Of course, some are more famous than others with many cities celebrating their adult industries.
The biggest and most famous red light district is probably De Wallen in Amsterdam but in this piece, we take you on a tour of the most famous ten red light districts.
From Asia to North America, Europe to Oceania our guide gives you a run down on a bit of the history, what to expect and the kind of prices for full service.
We kick the list off with De Wallen in Amsterdam, the heart of the city and one of the world’s most famous red-light districts. De Wallen (or The Wall) is so-called due to the fact that this area of the city was once surrounded by fortified earth walls.
As the city expanded, the walled area remained synonymous with prostitution and throughout the Netherlands, ‘going to the wall’ has become a euphemism for paying for sex.
De Wallen characterises Amsterdam like no other red-light district in any other city and is a sprawling collection of narrow alleys and streets lined with the iconic window girls; their red lights casting the city in a unique glow. Appearing at the beginning of the 20th century, these prostitutes rent window space from which they solicit business from the street.
The ultimate in a window shopping experience there are only about 300 windows left in Amsterdam but are well worth paying a visit to for this singular tourist experience.
€50 will buy you a quick 15 minutes and is not the cheapest way of getting sex in Amsterdam but one for the bucket list.
Known as the ‘most sinful mile’, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg incorporates several streets including Herbertstraße (Herbert Street).
Still barricaded from innocent eyes at both ends, the street is just 60m long and incorporates around 250 women working from windows like those in Amsterdam. As is typical with most red light districts, the area was historically situated close to the port and primarily serviced visiting mariners to the city.
Interestingly, it was the Nazis who originally erected screens at the entrance to this area of the Reeperbahn believing it more practical to simply hide the problem of street prostitution than to eradicate it.
Post-war, the authorities maintained this screening and even added warning signs in the seventies forbidding women and children to enter the area. The former were thought to be banned from the streets, not to protect their naivety but to prevent them from competing with the window girls.
Sex in the Reeperbahn is expensive as the rents for the windows are steep and you can expect to pay anything from €150 for full service with some guys reporting prices upwards of €300.
You can find out more about the Reeperbahn red-light area from our Berlin site.
Singapore City, Singapore
Servicing locals and tourists, the Geylang area of Singapore is home to hundreds of brothels many of which are licensed and regulated but many more are not. The houses are easy to identify with their red door numbers.
The area is worked by many different Asian prostitutes who come to Geylang to work. Mostly Vietnamese, Thai and Indonesian there are very few Singaporeans who work as prostitutes.
The area is bright, colorful and vibrant with inviting houses and most are incredibly clean and well maintained.
Many offer an open door, walk-up policy and if you don’t like what you see then there isn’t a problem with just carrying on down the road. You can also find some good bars where freelancing prostitutes can be found vying for trade.
You can expect to pay $50 (30 minutes) to $150 (60 minutes) at a licensed brothel but a lot less if you accidentally end up somewhere ‘off-piste’.
Soi Cowboy, Patpong and Nana Plaza
Named after the retired American airman who first opened a bar here in the 1970s, the Soi (side street) Cowboy red light area is one of several you can find in Bangkok but is perhaps the most lively and best known.
Lined with colorful go-go bars lit with neon signs, the area is foreigner friendly and hasn’t been tainted with the seedier side of the brush that can sometimes be applied to other areas of the city.
Nowhere is entirely scam-free but Soi Cowboy is a friendly and laid-back area with plenty of choice, (mostly) fixed prices and a carnival atmosphere.
The Tilac bar has been in several films including The Hangover Part 2 and Bangkok Dangerous. It is rumored that Hugh Grant visited the bar whilst shooting Bridge Jones 2: The Edge of Reason.
Patpong was built in 1946 initially with shophouses but became a popular R&R area for the US troops during the Vietnam War.
By the late 1960s the Patpong area had several nightclubs and rose to even greater prominence as an international sex capital during the 1970s and 1980s.
With sexually explicit shows, nude dancing and its lady boys, the areas reputation was cemented with the famous ‘ping-pong’ shows. The sex-trade in Patpong has declined in recent years but still remains a must visit area of the city.
Nana Plaza, the other famous Bangkok red light district is just a kilometre away and is home to the promising sign ‘The World’s Largest Adult Playground’. Still a good place to visit, it is certainly the lesser of the three red light areas in the city.
Prices in Bangkok range depending on how attractive the girl is and (depending on the area) how much she thinks you will pay. Expect to pay around $30 to $50 for short time ‘bum-bum’.
London, United Kingdom
Though largely now a touristy destination and more known as being home to some of London’s historical gay clubs, Soho has the distinction (along with King’s Cross) as being the British capital of the sex trade.
Though the sex trade here is less explicit than in Amsterdam, there are plenty of places to get a good night out including full service. Home to Soho Walk-Ups (upper story studio flats used by prostitutes usually advertising their services as ‘models’ on the stairwell entrance), the area has been the heart of the city’s sex trade for over 200 years.
In typical British fashion, the history of the area has a touch of elegance about it and in the mid twentieth century the advertising was more discreet; postcards alongside a red light indicated the services of a ‘French Tutor’ or ‘Large Chest for Sale’.
The area still has a couple of strip clubs and gentleman’s clubs as well as walk ups, street prostitutes and some erotic massage parlors.
You can expect to pay around £100 to £150 for full service (approximately $130 to $200).
Situated in the Shinjuko area of Tokyo, Kabukichō is home to many adult entertainment venues including hostess bars, love hotels and soap lands.
Named after a planned Kabuki theater intended to be built on the site in the 1940s, the building never came to fruition but the nickname remained.
The area was completely destroyed in 1945 during the series of air-raids undertaken by the US in the ‘Night of the Black Snow’. The area sprung from the ashes after the war with land being snapped up by the Chinese and redeveloped.
Though it originally included large residential buildings, the main development was in the entertainment industry with cabaret bars and exclusive clubs. Since then, the area has grown to international renown and now houses over 3000 bars, massage parlors, hostess bars and love hotels.
A big tourist hot spot, Kabukichō is a colorful part of Tokyo with bright neon lights and a constant buzz of tourists and locals enjoying a night on the town. Caution is recommended with some venues not accepting foreigners (this is usually posted on the doors) and a small presence of the Yakuza active with some establishments.
The prices in Tokyo vary hugely depending on what kind of entertainment you are after. As sex is usually not on the menu (happy endings or a blow job are), expect to pay $30 for a blowjob at a pink salon. For more information on the blowjob bars of Japan, you can see our guide on our network site, Asia Sex Scene.
Perhaps the largest and most famous red light district in North America, Zona Norte is a residential area primarily but is also home to commercial prostitution on a large scale.
The majority of working girls operate from strip clubs and bars that double as brothels but many freelance around the bars to pick up clients. Tijuana has a similar concept to the hostess bars of Japan with hookers frequenting ‘lady bars’ to be picked up and lavished with drinks for which a gent receives the pleasure of their ‘company’.
Prostitution is licensed in Zona Norte with working girls tolerated as long as they receive regular monthly health checks in exchange for a working permit.
You can find unlicensed prostitutes or street girls around much of the area who charge less. Attempts to force these women into brothels or legitimate places of business are largely unpopular in the city as they are viewed as part of Tijuana’s cultural history.
The licensed brothels are checked regularly by the authorities and are popular with American tourists.
Costs vary depending on where you are picking up but at a licensed brothel you can expect to pay $50-$70 plus a room charge of around $15.
Though the Rue Saint-Denis is probably a more active red light area in France’s capital city, it is the Quartier Pigalle which is by far the more famous. Situated between the 9th and 18th arondissements, the Quartier Pigalle (or ‘Pig Alley’ as the allied troops referred to it during WWII) is home to both the Moulin Rouge and Divan du Monde.
Getting a taste of the Paris of Picasso, Lautrec and van Gogh’s times here can only be done in this famous red light district and experiencing the cabarets and nude dancing.
Prostitution is illegal in the city but you can find women around the Boulevard du Clichy Near Sacré-Cœur (Quartier Rouge). Also home to plenty of sex shops, the area isn’t as romantic as the touristy parts of the capital and be warned that there is plenty of overcharging going on in the bars as well as with the hookers.
The area is quiet during the day but as soon as the sun goes down, the area becomes lively with bright neon lights. Touts and prostitutes will be out ‘en masse’ but beware of scams and rip-offs, it happens regularly to tourists.
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong has a rich and colourful history with prostitution with Wan Chai being the jewel in the crown of the city’s many red light districts.
Made famous by the film, ‘The World of Suzie Wong’, Wan Chai is home to one woman brothels, KTVs and erotic massage parlours as well as street prostitutes and plenty of hostess bars.
Though prostitution is legal, there are plenty of rules around it that are tightly controlled. As with many European countries, profiting from the trade in sex is illegal as is public advertising and soliciting. Whilst other cities simply make arrangements for ‘love hotels’, Hong Kong prostitutes simply rent single rooms in high rise, one-woman brothels.
Arranged like a block of flats, you can walk in off the street and browse each floor to find a woman of your choice. Girls who are available stand in the corridors or leave their doors open.
Full sex here starts at around $200 and can go up as high as $1000 depending on the girl, the service and whether you are after anything kinky.
Massage parlours are similar to any you would find in other cities and you can pay $30-$50 for a hand job with some masseuses offering full sex starting at $200.
Wan Chai is a busy area of the city and there are plenty of freelancing working girls who will tout in bars and clubs as well as on the street. Prices are lower than through other establishments but you will need to find a room.
To read up more about the Wan Chai red light district, you can visit our Asia Sex Scene site.
Though a shadow of its former self, King’s Cross in Sydney is still one of the country’s most famous red light districts.
Home to bars, nightclubs, strip clubs and brothels, the area incorporates the Darlinghurst region of town.
Another red light district that owes its notoriety due to its stationing of American troops on R&R from the Vietnam War, King’s Cross is still home to many street prostitutes.
Whilst quite a few establishments have closed down since the 2014 lockout laws, the area is still a tourist hot spot and attracts plenty of visitors both locals and foreigners. Though significantly less than in previous decades, the area is beginning to show signs of a recovery.
Featured image via valdiney on Flickr.