Despite the often seedy reputation, there are plenty of cool bars, above board sex shows and strange museums to be had in the Red Light Districts of the world...
Red light districts, synonymous with sexual fantasies and red-faced tourists, have often been a rather taboo subject, especially for us prude Brits. We often struggle to be nearly as sophisticated as the Inbetweeners when it comes to going on holiday. However, many of us enjoy wandering through those areas whilst on a city break, simply to soak up the atmosphere, culture and electric vibes (but definitely not taking photos – that’s just a rookie mistake). Most red light districts have bars and cafes dotted around, so there will be plenty of places to grab a beer in between checking out shows and finding the weirdest local museums. From Bangkok to Amsterdam, here’s your guide to some of the best.
Soi Cowboy, Bangkok
Soi Cowboy is one of the biggest red light districts in Bangkok and has a laid-back, carnival-like atmosphere. It has become a popular tourist attraction and a hot spot to enjoy cheap Thai beer and watch dancing Go-Go girls. The streets are lined with stalls, selling insect snacks, and you may even see an elephant if you’re not too busy checking out the local women. Within a ten minute tuk-tuk ride of Soi Cowboy you will find Khao San Road, a lively street described as ‘the centre of the backpacking universe’ in Alex Garland’s novel, The Beach.
Best Bar: There are around 40 bars on the Soi Cowboy strip but Baccara, Déjà Vu and Kiss a Go-Go are among the most popular. Baccara claims to be designed by French architects, but it’s not like you’ll be checking out the soft furnishings and lighting.
Sex shows: Visit the legendary Long Gun and you’ll never look at a ping pong ball in the same way again.
Top Tip: Most bars have happy hours from 19:00–21:30, during which time, you can buy a drink for just 70 baht (around £1.50).
Getting There: Discover this amazing city for yourself – find deals and more about visiting Bangkok here.
Quartier Pigalle, Paris
Named after the sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, this district is tourist-heavy and has a huge range of sex shops and plenty of ladies of the night wandering the streets – it was nicknamed ‘Pig Alley’ during World War II, which is perhaps a bit harsh on the local ladies. One of the more recognisable attractions in this area is the Moulin Rouge – the famous cabaret theatre, home of the Can-Can and Nicole Kidman singing as a courtesan with a heart. There are several other topless and exotic dancing shows, the whole atmosphere of the area is chilled out and not at all intimidating, just be sensible and do not walk around on your own at night, if you don’t want to be bothered.
Best Bar: Café la Cigale is a quirky rock‘n’roll bar with cool art on the walls, a delicious menu of American and French food and fruity cocktails.
Sex Show: The Moulin Rouge is obviously the most famous, but if you’re looking for something a bit raunchier then head to Sex-o-drome for something a little less main stream.
Museum: Musee de l’erotisme is home to the collections of antique dealer Alain Plumey and French teacher Jo Khalifa, which boasts four floors of erotic art, video and sculpture.
Top Tip: Just down the road from the sex shops and museums, you’ll find the Montmartre district, which is where arty, bohemian types hang out (read: impoverished hipsters), spending their afternoons in quirky cafes and talking about painting. Check them out, if only to gawp.
De Wallen, Amsterdam
From brothels and sex shops to erotic museums, the Red Light District in Amsterdam will leave nothing to your imagination – much like hanging out in Croydon on a Saturday night. Since the year 2000, window prostitutes have been allowed to legally ply their trade, and it is now officially known as a profession (try putting that on your LinkedIn profile). There are loads of coffee shops and brown cafes – just like British pubs – within the district, so it’s a great area to stay and browse in. One shop that stands out for visitors is a condom shop called Condom Erie. This is the kingdom of condoms, providing all shapes, colours and sizes, a perfect souvenir to remember Amsterdam by.
Best Bar: Find the In De Wildeman bar, near the Centraal Station, then close your eyes and point blindly at the menu of over 250 bottled beers.
Sex Show: Visit Amsterdam’s Moulin Rouge live sex show, where you can watch between four and five different acts over the course of an hour.
Sex Museum: Also known as ‘The Temple of Venus’, Amsterdam’s Sex Museum has themed rooms named after Oscar Wilde, Rudolf Valentino and Mata Hari, amongst others. It’s only €4 to get in, so you won’t feel short changed, even if you’re not amused by the two giant statues at the entrance.
Top Tip: Continue the beer worship with a trip to the Heineken Experience brewery and beer museum.
Getting There: Visit here to find out more about a trip to Amsterdam.
This red light district sits just east of the main Hauptbahnhof train station. The streets are lined with large walk-in brothels, porn cinemas and a range of chat-up bars that offer lap or pole dancing, as well as strip clubs – it’s a young city and the atmosphere is exciting and adrenaline-fueled. Once you’ve seen enough of the bars, try your luck in one of the city’s casinos.
Best Bar: Playboy Magazine calls the Luna Bar Germany’s best cocktail bar and who are we to disagree with them? There’s live music every Monday and a drinks menu that will get you picking something stupidly named but incredibly cool in no time.
Sex Show: Imperial offers an erotic variety show that’s popular with locals, stag and hen parties, famously incorporating a 65-pound snake into the entertainment.
Top Tip: End the night at a suitably dingy club, The Cave, where entry is €3 and you can headbang like a sweaty teenager.
Sex Museum: Although not technically a museum, the Dr. Mueller Blue Kino has well over 100 adult films for you to watch in private booths or one of the six screening rooms. Downstairs you’ll find a wide range of souvenirs, from magazines to DVDs, making it much better than your average museum shop.
Wenceslas Square Area, Prague
Prague’s Red Light District is less specifically marked than other cities, but it’s known for being based in the side streets around Wenceslas Square, one of the major tourist attractions here. You’ll find plenty of strip clubs and late night bars, normally with special offers on drinks.
Best Bar: The Hemingway Bar (Karolíny Světlé 26) is definitely classier than your average Prague pub filled with stags on tour, but don’t let that put you off walking in and finding a comfortable corner. The rum and tequila list alone will blow your mind and the Hemingway’s New Fashioned is worth trying as well.
Sex Show: Hot Peppers erotic shows, held by Wenceslas Square, are well known for being some of the city’s best. They feature a wide range of costumes, but there’s also the private table option if you want to keep the party going. Beer will set you back about £3.50.
Museum: The one and only Sex Machines Museum is the perfect place to stop off in between cruising the bars and strip clubs. Check out unusual gadgets from the last 100 years and try to work out if they would actually be of any use.
Top Tip: Continue your weird tour of Prague by checking out the ‘Piss’ sculpture by David Cerny, outside the Franz Kafka Museum. Text a message to the sculpture and the two bronze men will spell it out in the water. Nice.
Getting There: Discover more about trips to Prague.
Whether you’re into ping pong or you like your shows inspired by the Moulin Rouge (but without Nicole Kidman singing), there’s a red light district to suit your needs. Just bring an open mind.