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The Most Famous Red-Light Districts in the World

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Red lights and prostitution had long enjoyed a close relationship before The Police immortalised it in their ballad to ‘Roxanne’. Indeed, it is to the rail workers of the twentieth century who would leave their red lanterns outside a prostitute’s house while they were busy inside, that we owe the close association. Areas of concentrated sex-oriented businesses subsequently came to be known as ‘red-light districts’, a term which still holds strong today. Whilst one is hard pushed to find an urban centre that does not boast one, certain red-light districts have achieved international fame and consequentially become touristic hotspots. Read on to find out exactly which red-light districts are the world’s most famous.

Red Light Districts

De Wallen, Amsterdam – (The Netherlands)

‘Sex’ is on everyone’s lips in De Wallen, one of the world’s most legendary red-light districts. Located in the oldest part of Amsterdam, this particular red-light district boasts a multiplicity of sex theatres, peep shows, sex shops, and even a sex museum. De Wallen consists of a network of alleys where an estimated three hundred small cabins are rented by prostitutes as sites from which to offer their sexual services. Each cabin is fronted by a glass window behind which the resident prostitute advertises herself to passers-by, a spectacle which draws the tourists in their thousands. For those who are not seeking to satisfy their carnal appetites in De Wallen, the six thousand five hundred metre squared area also contains a variety of marijuana-selling coffee shops, and even a cannabis museum too.

De Wallen - Amsterdam

Kamathipura, Mumbai – (India)

Mumbai’s oldest red-light district, Kamathipura is also Asia’s largest. During the time of the Raj, the sex industry flourished in the locality, then called Lal Bazaar. Catering specifically towards the British troops who were occupying Mumbai at the time, Lal Bazaar was the only area where prostitution, highly illegal at the time, was tolerated. The sex trade continues in Kamathipura to this day, though on a lesser scale due to government gentrification efforts in the area. Nevertheless, Kamathipura’s main street, Cursetji Shuklaji, remains lined with colourfully adorned prostitutes waiting to offer their services to the willing and financially able. Packed with an estimated fifty thousand sex workers, Kamathipura is truly one of the world’s major red-light districts.

Kamathipura, Mumbai - India

Reeperbahn, Hamburg – (Germany)

Known as ‘the sinful mile’, Reeperbahn is home to dozens of sex shops, brothels, strip clubs, and a sex museum. The Herbertstrasse, a small side street, is the raciest part of the area where one can observe prostitutes waiting behind windows for customers. The Herbertstrasse has been blocked from view by large screens that were erected in 1933 and that bear signs prohibiting the entrance of women or minors. The ‘Great Freedom’ street boasts the solitary live sex theatre in Germany alongside a multitude of clubs, bars, and surprisingly, a Catholic Church. Reeperbahn entered popular consciousness following the rise of The Beatles who played in many of the clubs in Reeperbahn before becoming famous. Indeed, John Lennon once famously said: “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg”.

Reeperbahn, Hamburg - Germany

Boy’s Town, Nuevo Laredo – (Mexico)

A walled compound located in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, Boy’s Town serves as a “zone of tolerance” where almost anything goes. Composed of just five streets, this red-light district offers an array of nocturnal entertainment that is truly unparalleled internationally. Think strip teases, transvestite bars, and sex shows and you are only scratching the surface of the multitude of night-time pursuits available within the compound. Whilst famous more for its abundant bevy of brothels which operate legally under the careful control of the Mexican government, Boy’s Town is also brimming with bars, restaurants, and shops. Subsequently, the visitor who does not seek erotic diversions can purchase inexpensive drinks and listen to live music in a choice of establishments that exist separate to the sex industry.

Boy’s Town, Nuevo Laredo – Mexico

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