The liberal Dutch attitude to drugs and sex is renowned throughout the world and has made Amsterdam a major tourist draw since the freedom seeking days of the 60s. Perhaps not unsurprisingly for a city that chooses three Xs as its coat of arms the red light district continues to be a major draw today.
During the day the twin canals of Oz Vootburgwal and Oz Achterburgwal on the far eastern side of the old town are a seedy no-go area inhabited by drug dealers and pimps a far cry from the well to do origins of the neighbourhood. After dark however something magical happens as the sun goes down and the neon comes on the entire district comes alive as entire families of locals and tourists alike take to the streets to promenade among the coffee shops, adult stores, live sex theatres and window brothels creating a relaxed atmosphere where drug addicts, prostitutes and the well to do come together in a sense of harmony that you could only get in Amsterdam.
The Hash, Marijuana and Hemp museum in the heart of the district at Oz Achterbergwell 148, entrance fee E5.70, has a political axe to grind, extolling as it does the benefits of all things cannabis, from the nutritional value of hemp to the therapeutic properties of marijuana. As well as drugs paraphenalia and pop cult icons such as Jay & Silent Bob and the Freak Brothers there are clothes made of hemp and pipes used in spiritual ceremonies around the world. There are also exhibits on smuggling, Rastafarianism and a hot house where you can watch the grass grow, so to speak. The museum will teach you everything that you wanted to know about cannabis but were too stoned to ask.
Far more whimsical is the titillating Sex Museum on the outskirts of the district at Damark 18. For the entrance fee of E2.50 you are rewarded with a comprehensive collection of erotica from throughout the ages and across the globe. This is augmented by biographical histories of such sex symbols as Marilyn Monroe, Rudolph Valentino and local girl made bad Marta Hari. There is also a particularly gruesome photo gallery of every perversion known to man and a number of animatronic displays of prostitutes, flashers, sailors, politicians and other nefarious characters.
I have no hesitation in recommending a stroll in the district to anyone willing to follow a few common sense rules, 1. don't photograph the prozzies as they are notoriously camera shy, 2. don't talk to the drug dealers as it's really not worth the hassle and 3. don't take it too seriously, think of it as a theme park, only without the height restriction on the rides.