Red light districts are generally known for being seedy and hosting questionable characters that roam its streets when the sun goes down. While that edginess and element of danger is what draw people to these areas, red light districts have more to offer than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You might be surprised to learn that rich cultural experiences and delicious food are well within your reach.
1. DE WALLEN, AMSTERDAM
This is the classic red-light district, the one to rule them all. There are many interesting parts of Amsterdam you can visit but spending time in De Wallen is a must to enjoy the unique experience. Fortunately for travelers, it is also pretty safe and it’s typical to see families and couples roaming around at night.
2. REEPERBAHN, HAMBURG
Most of the world has heard of De Wallen, but few seem to realize there's an equally extensive and neon-strewn doppelganger just as a few hundred miles away in Hamburg, Germany. The Reeperbahn is a notorious area filled with bars, restaurants, and theatres, as well as novelty shops and museums and night clubs. It's also a largely safe space in which you'll find locals and tourists from all walks of life, most just there to wander and “people watch.”
3. KABUKICHO, TOKYO
If you want to experience the edge of a red-light district with the comfort of absolute safety, Kabukicho is the place to go. This notorious area in the bustling Shinjuku does have a dark side, and there’s a chance of getting yourself into an ugly tangle with the Yakuza if you decide to partake in illegal activity. However, if you just want to visit the Robot Restaurant (as pretty much every tourist does) before you go exploring, Kabukicho will treat you right.
4. SOHO, LONDON
Soho still has an edge about it, but it's pretty harmless. A few red lights still glow, and the area remains proud of its artistic and musical history (everyone from Mozart to the Sex Pistols has been based here), but the entertainment these days mostly consists of theatre shows, fancy restaurants, and good pubs and bars. Its rich and eclectic history alone makes Soho worth a visit.
5. SCHIPPERSKWARTIER, ANTWERP
What would a red-light district look like if all the questionable activities that take place were legal? What would these places be like if everything was regulated? The answer is Schipperskwartier, a small "tolerance zone" in Antwerp that is clean, safe and pleasant. It’s amazing to witness how well the businesses work together- there are a few legal brothels here, as well an old church, some charming B&Bs, and an organic farmers' market on Sunday mornings.
6. ITAEWON, SEOUL
Itaewon isn't really a red-light district, as we know the term. It is, however, an area that's traditionally been popular with Seoul's expat population, a part of town known for its "openness" in comparison to traditional local culture. If you’re looking for an authentic Korean experience, Itaewon might not be the place to do it. However, if you're up for a burger and craft beer followed by dancing at a traveler-friendly club, then Itaewon is for you.
7. PIGALLE, PARIS
Pigalle was once a very seedy, proper red-light district filled with shady types up to no good. These days, however, gentrification is apparent, and many of the area's red lights have been switched off to make way instead for the mod-industrial exposed bulbs preferred by swanky cocktail bars and brunch establishments. There are still some signs of Pigalle's shady past, but these days it's mostly very tame.
8. BUKIT BINTANG, KUALA LUMPUR
Bukit Bintang is a bustling shopping area in central Kuala Lumpur and is the kind of red-light district that still has some characters wandering the streets that you may need to fend off. However, there are plenty of reasons to put up with that, and most of them involve food. In Bukit Bintang you can feast on excellent street-food style cuisine at Lot 10 Hutong, or take your chances on rowdy Jalan Alor. Whatever you choose, you'll eat well.
9. GEYLANG, SINGAPORE
If you mention that you've been to Geylang in Singapore, people tend to raise their eyebrows. Geylang is known for its unsavory reputation, however, the area has cleaned up its act in recent years and as one of Singapore's more character-filled neighborhoods, is worthy of a visit. Take a seat at a pavement restaurant, order congee with frogs legs, and then sit back and people-watch to your heart's content.
10. THE DEUCE, NYC
The only US location on our list is a notorious area that's more an attraction these days for its past than its present. The Deuce, a section of West 42nd Street in Manhattan, has been cleaned up since its heyday as a red-light district in the 1970s when the area attracted all manner of characters and chancers with various intents. It is now a major theatre district and safe to wander at pretty much any time of the day or night.