The Oudezijds Voorburgwal is a canal that runs through the very middle of De Wallen, Amsterdam's red-light district. These days, it's famed for its smoky coffee shops and in-your-face bordellos, which string down the street with floor-to-ceiling windows. But the Oudezijds Voorburgwal is also a grand showcase of historic Dutch architecture, with over 100 individual national monuments dotting its length.

    A brief history of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal

    The Oudezijds Voorburgwal was once just a tributary to the great Amstel River. That was until medieval city planners dug out the beginnings of the canal seen today while raising ramparts to protect Amsterdam in the 1380s.

    Roughly speaking, it kept the same orientation for centuries after that, but really became outlined when the Dutch Golden Age got into full swing in the 1600s. Then rich merchants came and built their fantastical Flemish mansions on both sides.

    The Oudezijds Voorburgwal has always been known as one of the main canals running through De Wallen, which was the original Amsterdam red-light district. That developed thanks to its proximity to the docklands of the city and became a distinct area as early as 1270.

    What are the highlights of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal?

    The first thing you're likely to notice about the Oudezijds Voorburgwal is the grandiose nature of the buildings. Things start in truly jaw-dropping style on the northwest end of the canal. That's where the iconic Oude Kerk still looms over the water. It's hailed as the single oldest building in the city. Founded in 1213, it's gone through numerous iterations in its long life and was visited frequently by figures such as Rembrandt van Rijn.

    The eye-catching and intriguing constructions don't stop there, though. The Oudezijds Voorburgwal rolls southwards in a spectacular show of architecture. Stop to see the brick-fronted Agnietenkapel, a Gothic church that dates all the way back to the 15th century. And have your camera ready for De Gecroonde Raep, a key example of Dutch Renaissance design that has beautifully stepped gables out front.

    But, of course, this part of Amsterdam is no museum piece. You're in the beating, buzzing heart of the red-light district. That means bars and coffee shops aplenty, along with some less-than-savoury venues that travellers with the kids in tow might prefer to avoid.

    What's the nightlife like on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal?

    As the epicentre of Amsterdam's red-light district, the Oudezijds Voorburgwal has plenty of nocturnal activity up its sleeve. Yes, there are more risque theatres than you can shake a Dutch waffle at, but you also find oodles of gritty bars and eateries.

    In fact, the gastronomy is so varied that you can pick between Japanese ramen takeaways and European gastropubs selling stacked burgers. Once you've sated your appetite, consider dropping by one of the alternative music dives or café-bars. They include Café Rock Planet and the legendary traveller haunt of The Bulldog Mack, where happy hours usually bring in crowds of Interrailers and backpackers.  

    Good to know about the Oudezijds Voorburgwal

    The Oudezijds Voorburgwal is one of the main strips of Amsterdam's red-light district. Bear in mind that means you'll be close to lots of brothels and theatres that aren't really out to entice family travellers. To put it another way, this might not be the best place to base yourself if you're hitting The Dam with the kids.

    The whole area is also always very busy. That's especially true after dark, when the pubs and clubs and coffee shops fill to bursting with partiers. Be ready to deal with lots of noise if you're going to be staying in the vicinity.

    You should know that the Oudezijds Voorburgwal is very popular with hawkers of contraband stuff. Usually a stern "no, thanks" is enough to dodge them. The area is also known as a hotspot for petty crime, so beware of pickpockets and the like, especially after dark.

    Getting there should be a breeze. The Oudezijds Voorburgwal runs parallel to Damrak, which is one of the main streets in Amsterdam. It's also only a couple of minutes' walk from Centraal Station.

    photo by A. Bakker (CC BY 3.0) modified

    Oudezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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