Feb232015

Amsterdam XXX, prostitution and coffeeshops

Walking around Amsterdam you will likely see flags flying with three white X’s on a black bar in between two red bars. This is not a sign for a porn shop. XXX may conjure up an image of a city with one of the world’s best known prostitution districts, or perhaps an image of a major porn industry or a city where drugs like marijuana and hash can be purchased from stores. Amsterdam XXX has a completely different connotation for people in Amsterdam.

AMS XXX flag

Historically, Amsterdam’s XXX symbol seen on flags dates from 1505 when Amsterdam was a relatively young fishing and trading center in the late middle ages of the Low Countries. St. Andrew’s Crosses have represented the city of Amsterdam Coat of Arms for over 500 years. St. Andrew was a Christian fisherman martyr from the first century AD. He was crucified on an X-shaped cross and the symbol X is also called a St. Andrew’s Cross.

AMS XXX building

Amsterdam XXX first timers guide

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and there are areas of Amsterdam where prostitutes sit in windows for viewing and commerce. Tourists with no direction known might find their way into De Wallen, Amsterdam’s primary Red Light District where about 300 windows with prostitutes are located in several alley ways.

We did not venture into De Wallen this past week in Amsterdam. I wanted to visit the grave of Rembrandt’s wife Saskia at Oude Kerk, but never made it there. The last time we visited De Wallen was more than a decade ago when we met friends in Amsterdam who wanted to go there. I recall as I write this the creepy feeling of walking through narrow alleys where prostitutes in revealing clothing sat behind windows under colored lights as we walked one way in a line of nearly all men, while another line of men walked the opposite way past us. There was barely enough room to walk past each other without brushing arms. Far too claustrophobic and too little titillation for my taste.

It is an easy walk to De Wallen from Amsterdam Centraal Station where the train arrives from Schiphol Airport if that is part of your tourist plan.

On the other hand, Amsterdam’s window prostitutes are confined to basically three areas of the city that I know. It was easy to avoid those streets as we walked the city.

There is legal prostitution in Amsterdam. The places where there are prostitutes are easy to find. The places where there are prostitutes are also easy to avoid once you learn your way around the city.

Amsterdam Coffeeshops

Coffeeshops are places where persons 18 and older can buy marijuana and hash, sit inside and smoke.

Cheaper than a Rocky Mountain High

Weed prices are about 10 to 15 EUR per gram with a 20% discount typical for 5 grams. The maximum purchase is five grams at one time. The cost is cheaper or equivalent to the cost of legal weed in Colorado. Hash is also available, but the prices are more variable with a typical price around 10 EUR per gram.

Coffeeshops in Amsterdam also sell coffee, tea, fruit drinks, soft drinks and some even have milkshakes. You can buy weed and hash and smoke inside coffeeshops. Hours vary with some coffeshops opening as early as 7am and some places open until 1am.

It is estimated that about 1 in 3 foreign tourists to Amsterdam visit a coffeeshop, more than 2 million visitors per year. The past six years has seen a crackdown on coffeeshop tourism. A law enacted in the Netherlands in 2008 prohibits coffeeshops within 250 meters of a school. In Amsterdam this regulation was fought. More than 40 coffeeshops closed last summer or are scheduled to close during the next year.

A regulation that you must be a resident of the Netherlands and register with a coffeeshop was voided two years ago for Amsterdam. Border province coffeeshops may enforce a residency requirement based on current law. Coffeeshops have been a part of Amsterdam for more than 40 years since Mellow Yellow opened in 1972. Rusland is the oldest legal coffeeshop still operating in Amsterdam since 1975. Rusland is located directly across the street from Radisson Blu Amsterdam.

Coffeeshop

In densely packed Amsterdam, the school zone regulation has resulted in the closing of dozens of coffeeshops in the city in the past year after several years of fighting the changes.

Abraxas, one of the most popular coffeeshops in Amsterdam was closed and boarded up last week while we were in Amsterdam. We walked by Abraxas after the windows were covered in plain plywood boards. Today I looked on the Facebook page for Abraxas to find the bare plywood window fronts changed through typical Amsterdam creativity after a plywood painting party Saturday.

Abraxas mural

Still, there are expected to be around 150 coffeeshops operating in Amsterdam after the wave of 2015 closures.

Rokerij

Rokerij at Haarlemmerstraat is one of the closed coffeeshops, yet this area of Amsterdam near Centraal Station is still the densest selection of coffeeshops in the city with perhaps a dozen or so on three or four street blocks. Rokerij sign says Bar Coffeeshop. There were a few coffeeshops like Rokerij where beer was sold a decade ago, but no coffeeshops are allowed to sell alcohol on site anymore.

Amsterdam XXX

Prostitution and soft drugs are legally available in Amsterdam. For some tourists, these are the attractions of Amsterdam. For others, the Museum Card and canal boat rides provide the better value in entertainment.

For us, walking along the canals of Amsterdam is truly a relaxing vacation in a big city. Exploring the creativity of boutique shops, old and new architecture and living simply with few distractions are the primary attractions of this historic city.

Amsterdam is a live and let live city where people are generally easy going and tolerant. Amsterdam has a whimsical side too that I attempted to capture in photos during our canal walks.

Vegetarian shoes

 

Links:

26 coffeeshops in downtown Amsterdam must close their doors (May 19, 2009) DutchAmsterdam.nl

Amsterdam phases out 28 (not 31) cannabis ‘coffeeshops’ (Dec 18, 2013) – good background on regulations impacting coffeeshop closures.

http://whatsupwithamsterdam.com/coffeeshops-2/ is another good overview of the current situation with coffeeshops in Amsterdam.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. You could do the blog one day on unusual things to see. The grave of Rembrandt’s wife Saskia at Oude Kerk might qualify. Then again, I went to Lindbergh’s grave in Maui (south of Hana on the Hana Highway).

  2. @Carl P. – I went to Lindbergh’s grave in November. It’s also the grave of the Gibbon that Curious George was inspired by.

  3. While I look to fit the part (ponytail, funky t-shirts and jeans) I’m a coffee drinker that does not partake. Good thing the Raddison Blu you mentioned has in room Nespresso machines as I won’t be making a “trip” across the street to Rusland during our stay in July.

    Thanks for the timely write up Ric, it’s helping me plan our trip!

  4. @nowhere man – no urge.

    @Margita – Koffiehuis designates a regular coffee cafe. There are many of those in Amsterdam too.

    I will write pieces on museums and Amsterdam’s UNESCO designated canal district walking to share higher (or less high) forms of cultural entertainment.

    @Graydon – my wife Kelley is not a coffee drinker and she was astounded by the loud noise created by the Keurig and Nespresso machines in our rooms during the trip. She would love a simple and quiet drip coffee machine in the room when I make morning drinks.

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