I will be traveling to Amsterdam with elderly parents. They/we have a different "comfort zone" and would like to avoid walking through some liberal areas (such as the red light district or cannabis cafes) in Amsterdam. No disrespect meant to the Dutch, I applaud their liberal attitude but we aren't ready for it yet. We would like to experience a "family friendly" Amsterdam.

Is that at all possible? I would like to mark it all out on a map. I started doing that but all I have shaded off is the red-light area as suggested by google maps.

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    You just gave an idea for my dad's next birthday. Thank you. Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:02
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    Are cannabis cafes less "family friendly" than regular alcohol cafes?
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:23
  • Like @HasanKhan I live in Amsterdam, and I never "happen across" the Red Light district. You really only see it if you seek it out. It should be mentioned that it's almost impossible to avoid the sight of sex shops, though. So if a shop window full of lingerie and sex toys is a problem, it may be difficult for you to get around. But then, you would have similar trouble in Paris or even Berlin or London.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 20:45
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    Your knowledge and evaluation of the situation is of course much more profound, but depending on the age of the "elderly parents", they may have been young adults in the sixties, by which they may even have some more or less indirect acquaintance with the subject matter ... Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 21:27
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    Just admit it: you want to know where the red district and cannabis cafés are, but do not feel like asking it directly. Hence: you ask where they are, and pretend to want to avoid them. Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 0:54

2 Answers 2


The Google Map of the Red Light Disrict is a bit misleading. It highlights the De Wallen district but in reality the majority of the "windows" are in a smaller area inside this district hugging Oudezijds Voorburgwal along the canal and in and around the De Oude Kerk church.

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It can be hard to visit Amsterdam and not see the "sights" of legalised prostitution as there are other smaller areas where it is legal like the one in De Pijp which is along a street of apartments and bars.

However they are easily distinguishable by their neon red lights above windows and doors so they are easily avoidable if necessary. If you do happen to pass one of the windows though you will not see very much. In my experience they were generally empty or the black curtain was drawn.

Regarding the smoking of legalised cannabis these are much harder to avoid as they are present in all areas but confined to coffee shops. But as Relaxed mentioned they are very inconspicuous apart from the odd smell here or there.

There are lots of family friendly activities to do in Amsterdam. The rich architecture, history and art of the city to name a few. Enjoy your trip!

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    +1 for the map and also for explaining that you generally don't see anything, at least during “visiting“ hours. That has been my experience as well.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 13:39
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    Cannabis is actually not legal in Holland but tolerated
    – greg121
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:03
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    Therefore, I don't think david is wrong to call this “legalised cannabis“.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:57
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    Being Dutch I can tell you that cannabis is NOT legal, so is it wrong to talk about 'legalized cannabis'. When you are stopped by the police for whatever reason the cannabis you have on you is mostly confiscated and destroyed and can count against you if you have a court case against you.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:33
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    If you visit this area during the night, there will be plenty to see in the windows. Additionally, some pubs in the area allow smoking cannabis inside, though they have big signs stating the fact. But again, this is a night time activity. During the day it will be difficult to find anything untoward unless you go looking for it (or are completely ignorant of what goes on inside a coffee shop). Don't miss out on seeing De Oude Kerk or the Science Centre out of worry! Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 5:22

Places selling cannabis (“coffeshops“) aren't restricted to a particular part of town and can't be avoided entirely (to be accurate, their locations are in fact regulated through a permit system and they are required, e.g., not to be too close from a school, but they are not restricted to one specific neighbourhood). On the other hand, there is not much to see apart from a sign, sometimes a bit of music or a smell for the larger ones. From the outside, many look more like a closed disco or café than anything else. It might not help if you find the very idea disturbing but it's very easy to just move on, or in many cases, not notice them at all.

Avoiding the red light districts (especially the larger one called “De Wallen“) would therefore be the most important. The one in the Singel area in particular is a bit surprising. Whereas you can “feel” you are getting closer to De Wallen (many neon lights, seedy shops, drunken tourists…) and avoid it easily, I once stumbled upon the other one while getting out of a car park. There were a few “windows“ in quiet tree-lined streets in a picturesque neighbourhood, not far from some upscale restaurants and a conference venue, which was a bit disconcerting.

More generally, the Netherlands have become (in)famous for their liberal approach to many things but at the end of the day, all of it is limited in scope, inconspicuous or easy to avoid. Putting things into perspective, the ads or street prostitution I occasionally came across in Germany seemed more obnoxious.

  • Being unfamiliar with the several areas in Amsterdam, is there some way you could mark this on a map and screenshot it for your answer? I hope I am not asking for too much! Thank you for your answer.
    – dearN
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 13:17
  • Unfortunately, I am not too sure what the exact extent of this. It's somewhere along the canal called the “Singel“, west from the central station. I will see if I can find something.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 13:18
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    @drN Here is one map. It's apparently smaller now.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 13:21
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    @drN In Dutch (and some other languages like French or German), “coffeeshop“ is only used for places that sell cannabis. I am not even sure whether they actually serve coffee (they are not allowed to sell alcohol and never looked like a particularly nice place to hang out so I have never tried one). Of course, in English the meaning is broader.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 13:32
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    Cafe sells all drinks from Coffee and tea to strong alcohol, entry is not age restricted but no alcohol is served unless user is 18 or over. Coffeeshop (one word) is a place selling cannabis and associated products and entry is limited to 18 and over.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:47

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