What is a red light district? | Understanding tourism

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(Last updated on: 23/10/2020)

A red light district is a term used to describe an area within which sex tourism is present. Whilst many of us may choose not to discuss out private business in public, believe it or not, the red light district and wider sex tourism industry is wort millions of Dollars to the world economy.

But what actually is a red light district? Read on to find out more..

red light district

What is a red light district?

A red light district, sometimes also called a pleasure district, is part of a city where you’ll find a high concentration of sex-related businesses. This includes prostitution, strip clubs, erotic shops and adult theatres.

Red light districts tend to be synonymous with female prostitution. However this definitely isn’t all you’ll be able to find at a red light district!

Many red light districts have world renowned reputations, and draw a lot of tourists in as part of the huge rise in sex tourism that has occurred over the past few decades.

Not every red light district is home to actual prostitution – in cities and countries where prostitution is technically illegal, there are still red light districts. Many law enforcement officers turn a blind eye to prostitution that does occur, and of course there are other things you’ll find at a red light district – such as the types of shops and bars mentioned above.

bar dark illuminated indoors
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

The history of red light districts

The term ‘red light district’ comes from the fact that red lights were often used to signpost brothels. According to author Paul Wellman, the term probably originates from Dodge City in Kansas, USA. The area was home to a well-known prostitution district in the American Old West times, during the 19th century. There was a business called Red Light House Saloon here. 

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first known appearance of the term in print was in an article in Sandusky Register in 1894. This was a newspaper in Sandusky, Ohio, in the USA.

However, some also say that a ‘red light district’ as a concept dates back to around 1650. At this time, sailors returning to Amsterdam from the sea and looking for relief could identify women who were “available for pleasure” by the red lanterns they would carry. These women were often poverty-stricken and did not have access to proper hygiene. It is said that the red light from the lanterns would disguise any boils or imperfections on their faces.

amsterdam canal lights red light district
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

As time went on, these red lanterns evolved. They became, similarly to as in the USA example above, red lights to signify a brothel. The area – close to the main harbour – became known as the red light district. 

Why are there red light districts around the world?

Money. It all comes down to money. Sex sells. People want to make an income and to support their families and Governments want to boost their economy.

A red light district can bring a significant amount of money into an area. If it is legal then this money is subject to taxation. The money raised from taxes can then be reinvested into public services such as education or healthcare.

The reality is that whilst some people may not like the sex scene at a red light district, if they live in the local area then it likely benefits them. It’s quite strange to think that selling sex can help to build a new hospital or school, but it’s true!

To give you an idea of how much money cam be made from a red light district we can take a look at Amsterdam. The sex tourism industry there contribute 5% of GDP and revenue is approximately 1.1billion Euros each year!

Examples of red light districts around the world

Prostitution is illegal in many places, but in those where it isn’t you will find red light districts. You can sometimes find a red light district in countries where prostitution is illegal, though this is obviously more risky. Here is a current list of active red light districts around the world.

Africa

  • Dapoya, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
  • Marcory Zone 4 and Rue Princesse, Abidjan, Ivory Coast
  • Koinange Street, Nairobi, Kenya
  • El Mina, Nouakchott, Mauritania
  • Bab el Khemis, Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Petit Socco, Tangier, Morocco
  • Point Road, Durban, South Africa
  • Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa 
  • Sidi Abdallah Guech, Tunis, Tunisia

Asia

  • Bani Shanta, Bagerhat District, Bangladesh
  • Daulatdia, Rajbari District, Bangladesh
  • Faridpur, Faridpur District, Bangladesh
  • Kandapara, Tangail District, Bangladesh
  • Tanbazar, Narayanganj, Bangladesh
  • Svay Pak, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 
  • Dashilan, Beijing, China
  • Simalu, Shanghai, China
  • Lockhart Road, Hong Kong
  • Sham Shui Po/Fuk Wa Street, Hong Kong
  • Meergunj, Allahabad, India
  • Kabadi Bazar, Meerut, India
  • Mohanpura, Bundi, India
  • Kamathipura, Mumbai, India
  • Rashmpura, Gwalior, India
  • Chaturbhuj Sthan, Muzaffarpur, India
  • Mehboob Ki Kehandi, Hyderabad, India
  • Ganga Jamuna, Itwari, Nagpur, India
  • Tilawala, Jaipur, India
  • Garstin Bastion Road, New Delhi, India
  • Jawaharkhana Ghaas Mandi, Jodhpur, India
  • Budwhar Peth, Pune, India
  • Bowbazar, Kolkata, India
  • Garia, Kolkata, India
  • Kalighat, Kolkata, India
  • Kidderpore, Kolkata, India
  • Lebu Bagan, Kolkata, India
  • Sonagachi, Kolkata, India
  • Tollygunge, Kolkata, India
  • Chakla Bazar, Surat, India
  • Shivdaspur, Varanasi, India
  • Nagoya, Batam, Indonesia
  • Bandar Baru, Sibolangit, Indonesia
  • Blok M, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Al-Battaween, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Battaween, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Haifa Street/Salhia neighbourhood, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Kamaliyah, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Zayouna, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Old bus station area, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Nakasu, Fukuoka, Japan
  • Kanazuen, Gifu, Japan
  • Susukino, Hokkaidō, Japan
  • Imasato Shinchi, Osaka, Japan
  • Jūsō, Osaka, Japan
  • Kujo, Osaka, Japan
  • Matsushima Shinchi, Osaka, Japan
  • Shinmachi, Osaka, Japan
  • Tobita Shinchi, Osaka, Japan
  • Kabukicho, Tokyo, Japan
  • Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
  • Jubeiha, Amman, Jordan
  • Swifieh, Amman, Jordan
  • Pravda Street, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  • Jagalmadang, Daegu, South Korea
  • Yong Ju Gol, Paju, South Korea
  • Cheonho, Seoul, South Korea
  • Hooker Hill, Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea
  • Mia-ri, Seoul, South Korea
  • Yeongdeungpo, Seoul, South Korea
  • Brickfields area: Jalan Hicks and Jalan Thamibipilly, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Bukit Bintang: Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Jalan Petaling, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Lorong Haji Taib, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Aminpur Bazar, Faisalabad, Pakistan
  • Ghulam abad, Faisalabad, Pakistan
  • Heera Mandi, Lahore, Pakistan
  • Bazaar-i-Husn, Hyderabad, Pakistan
  • Serey Ghat, Hyderabad, Pakistan
  • Napier Road, Karachi, Pakistan
  • Qasai Gali, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 
  • Fields Avenue, Angeles, Philippines 
  • EDSA Entertainment Complex, Pasay, Manila, Philippines,
  • Ermita, Manila, Philippines,
  • Malate, Manila, Philippines
  • Padre Burgos Street, Makati, Manila, Philippines
  • Subic Bay, Olongapo City, Philippines
  • Geylang, Singapore
  • Orchard Towers, Singapore
  • Patpong, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Soi Pratuchai, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Sukhumvit Road area, Bangkok, Thailand 
  • Soi Bang-La, Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand
  • Beach Road, Pattaya, Thailand
  • Boyztown, Pattaya, Thailand
  • Soi 6, Pattaya, Thailand
  • Sunee Plaza, Pattaya, Thailand 
  • Walking Street, Pattaya, Thailand 
  • Bentderesi, Ankara, Turkey
  • Giraffe Lane, Istanbul, Turkey

Europe 

  • Bäckermühlweg, Linz, Austria
  • Gürtel, Vienna, Austria
  • Stuweviertal, Vienna, Austria
  • Schipperskwartier, Antwerp, Belgium
  • Alhambra Quarter, Brussels, Belgium
  • Avenue Louise, Brussels, Belgium
  • Place Fontainas, Brussels, Belgium
  • Rue d’Aerschot, Brussels, Belgium
  • Kortrijksesteenweg (N43), Deinze, Belgium
  • Schepenenvijverstraat/Pieter Vanderdoncktdoorgang, Ghent, Belgium
  • Belgradostraat, Ghent, Belgium
  • Docklands, Ostend, Belgium
  • Rue Marnix, Seraing, Belgium
  • Chaussée d’Amour, Sint-Truiden, Belgium
  • Perlovka, Prague, Czech Republic
  • Halmtorvet, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Istedgade, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Aleksis Kiven Katu and Vaasankatu, Helsinki, Finland
  • Place Pierre Semard, Angers, France
  • Bourg Nuef, Avignon, France
  • Avenue President Wilson, Beziers, France
  • Quartier de la Gare Saint Jean, Bordeaux, France
  • Quartier Saint-Rémi, Bordeaux, France
  • Les Quinconces, Bordeaux, France
  • Presqu’île de Caen, Caen, France
  • La croisette, Cannes, France
  • Gare de Perrache, Lyon, France
  • Quartier du Val Fourré, Manes-la-Jolie, France
  • La Canebière, Marseille, France
  • Boulevard de Strasbourg, Montpellier, France
  • Eue de la source, Nancy, France
  • Rue Paul Bellamy, Nantes, France
  • Quai de la Fosse, Nantes, France
  • Rue de Strasbourg, Nantes, France
  • Rue de Talensac, France
  • Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
  • Rue de France, Nice, France
  • Rue Saint-Denis, Paris, France
  • Barbès-Rochechouart, Paris, France
  • Port Saint-Martin, Paris, France
  • Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, Paris, France
  • Avenue de la Forêt-Noire, Strasbourg, France
  • Route du Rhin, Strasbourg, France
  • Quai des Alpes, Strasbourg, France
  • Quai Louis-Pasteur, Strasbourg, France
  • Boulevard de Lyon Quartier de la Gare, Strasbourg, France
  • Rue Bayard, Toulouse, France
  • Quartier du Canal, Toulouse, France
  • Boulevard de Strasbourg, Toulouse, France
  • Bülowstraße, Berlin, Germany
  • Kurfürstenstraße, Berlin, Germany
  • Oranienburger Straße, Berlin, Germany
  • Helenenstraße, Bremen, Germany
  • Hornstraße, Cologne, Germany
  • Linienstraße, Dortmund, Germany
  • Hinter dem Bahndamm, Düsseldorf, Germany
  • Bahnhofsviertel, Frankfurt, Germany
  • St. Georg, Hamburg, Germany
  • St. Pauli, Hamburg, Germany
  • Am Steintor, Hanover, Germany
  • Ludwigstraße, Hanover, Germany,
  • Reitwallstraße, Hanover, Germany
  • Landsberger Straße, Munich, Germany
  • Schillerstraße, Munich, Germany
  • Stahlgruberring, Munich, Germany
  • Frauentormauer, Nuremberg, Germany
  • Leonhardsviertel, Stuttgart, Germany
  • Fylis Street, Athens, Greece
  • San Berillo, Sicily, Italy
  • Luxembourg railway station area, Luxembourg
  • Mello Area, Gżira, Malta
  • Albert Town Area, Marsa, Malta
  • Paceville, St. Julian’s, Malta
  • De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Bokkingshang, Deventer, Netherlands
  • Baekelandplein, Eindhoven, Netherlands 
  • Geleenstraat and Hunsestraat, The Hague, Netherlands
  • Rua Coelho Neto, Rua Conde de Ferreira and Rua Escura, Porto, Portugal
  • Calle de Viana, Valencia, Spain
  • Carrer de Sant Ramon, Barcelona, Spain
  • Carrer d’En Robador, Barcelona, Spain
  • La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain
  • Calle Molino de Viento, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
  • Calle Atocha, Calle Carretas, Calle de Barco, Calle del Desengaño, Calle de la Ballesta, Calle Montera, Calle de Valverde, Plaza de la Luna, Plaza Jacinto Benavente and Puerta del Sol, central Madrid, Spain
  • Langstrasse and Strichplatz, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Lorraine, Bern, Switzerland 
  • Les Pâquis, Geneva, Switzerland 
  • Manningham, Bradford, UK
  • Great Northern Street, Huddersfield, UK
  • Holbeck, Leeds, UK
  • Bayswater, Earl’s Court, Shepherd Market and Soho, London, UK
  • St. Hilda’s, Middlesbrough, UK
  • Forest Road and Mapperley Road, Nottingham, UK
  • Millbay, Plymouth, UK
  • Fletcher Road, Preston, UK
  • Oxford Road, Redding, UK
  • Cobridge, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
  • Gorse Hill, Swindon, UK
  • Linenhall Street, Belfast, UK
  • Tiger Bay, Cardiff, UK
  • Commercial Road, Newport, UK

North America

  • Popeshead Street, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda
  • Sint Nicolaas, Aruba
  • Nelson Street, Bridgetown, Barbados
  • Red-Light District, Montreal, Canada
  • Gringo Gulch, San José, Costa Rica
  • La Linea, El Trébol and Parque Concordia, Guatemala City, Guatemala
  • Zona Norte, Tijuana, Mexico
  • La Merced Market and Zona Rosa, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Zona de Tolerancia, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
  • Zona Galáctica, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
  • El Cangrejo, Panama City, Panama
  • Van Buren Street (Phoenix) and Miracle Mile (Tucson), Arizona, USA
  • Figueroa Street and Sepulveda Boulevard (LA), and Broadway/Columbus Av (SF), California, USA
  • East Colfax Av, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Nebraska Avenue and Florida State Road 60, Tampa, Florida, USA
  • Cheshire Bridge Road, Metropolitan Parkway and Murrell’s Row (Atlanta), Oak Street (Macon), and Franklin Square area (Savannah), Georgia, USA
  • South 24th Street area, Council Bluffs, Iowa, USA
  • The Block, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • 8 Mile Road and Michigan Av (Detroit) and Division Avenue, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
  • Independence Av, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
  • Venus Alley, Butte, Montana, USA
  • Boulder Highway, Fremont Street and Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • The Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
  • Valley Brook, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
  • Kensington Av, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Harry Hines and Northwest Highway (Dallas) and The Bissonnet Track (Houston), Texas, USA

Oceania

  • Hindley Street, Adelaide, Australia
  • Kangaroo Point, New Farm and Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia
  • King Street and St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
  • Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise, Australia
  • Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia
  • Karangahape Road and Hunter’s Corner, Auckland, New Zealand
  • Machester Street, Christchurch, New Zealand 
  • Vivian Street, Wellington, New Zealand 

The most famous red light district

When most people hear the term ‘red light district’, they think of De Wallen in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is now famous for its lax rules when it comes to sex work (and marijuana), and draws a lot of tourism.

There are rules when visiting, such as no photography at all in red light district zones. It is all completely legal and regulated, and the sex workers here are well looked after and tested regularly.

The city has a sex museum, an erotic art museum and more. This makes it incredibly popular for stag and hen dos!

red oh la la light
Photo by P C on Pexels.com

The red light district: To conclude

As you can see, there are red light districts all over the world. Whilst some are bigger and more famous than others, they all; have something in common- they are an important economic producer. Sex sells and red light districts make money for the local economy. After all, it’s money that makes the world go around, right?

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ABOUT

Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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