I took myself on a walking tour of De Wallen and these are my top 10 must-see sights in this magnificent part of Amsterdam. Yes, De Wallen is where the red lights are but there’s so much more to see here.
De Wallen, also known as The Red Light District, is the oldest part of Amsterdam and if you explore its streets on foot you discover how its medieval character, history and beauty blends perfectly with its quirks.
I enjoy the flexibility of self-guided walking tours because I can walk at my own pace, take detours along the way and explore streets that aren’t on the official walking tours of De Wallen. I saw places that are known historical attractions but I also discovered so many new things that I didn’t know about the area.
#1: Coffee in Amsterdam’s oldest building
A walking tour of De Wallen wouldn’t be complete without stopping at De Koffie Schenkerij. This is the most adorable coffee and cake spot in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. It is situated in Amsterdam’s oldest building, De Oude Kerk. The owners worked with De Oude Kerk Foundation to revamp the sacristy, dating back to 1517, into a beautiful space with authentic details and modern touches. I just love a space with a story!
The courtyard garden is where I would want to be on a warm day – shaded by trees and the old stone walls of De Oude Kerk. When you go inside it feels like walking into a cosy cave with vintage curtained walls, rich colours and beautifully-painted wooden ceilings. Everything on display looks delicious and I enjoyed my generous slice of carrot cake topped with a delicious cream cheese frosting.
#2: De Wallen in tulip season
Look out for all the beautiful flower boxes filled with tulips. These planters are outside De Oude Kerk in front of De Koffie Schenkerij.
#3: See the greatest Amsterdammer of all time
The Majoor Bosshardt monument and bronze statue is on Oudezijds Voorburgwal. It was commissioned to honour Alida Margaretha Bosshardt (1913 – 2007) who was an officer of the Salvation Army. She spent many years working as a social worker in The Red Light District to help prostitutes, the homeless and people struggling with addictions. In 2009, two years after her death, she was named “Greatest Amsterdammer of All Time.” Read more about this remarkable woman here.
#4: Oldest canal in Amsterdam
The Oudezijds Voorburgwal is the oldest canal in Amsterdam and was dug between 1342 and 1380. The canal is lined with large canal houses from the Dutch Golden Age that have been beautifully renovated. Oudezijds Voorburgwal is just under a kilometre long and eight bridges span the canal so its easy to explore on foot.
This is one of the best views on my walking tour of De Wallen. I took this photo just after a brief but powerful hail storm! The dark clouds are still in the air and the light is just perfect.
This Google Earth image gives you an aerial view of where the Oudezijds Voorburgwal is.
There is so much to see in Amsterdam’s Chinese district near Zeedijk and Geldersekade in Amsterdam’s old city. It was established in 1911 which makes it the oldest Chinese district on the European continent.
Look out for the bilingual street signs in Dutch and Chinese.
Chinatown’s beautiful He Hua Buddhist Temple was built in 2000. “He” means “lotus” in Chinese and “hua” means “flower,” so “He Hua temple” means “lotus flower temple.” It is the largest temple in Europe constructed in a traditional Chinese palace style.
It is accessible to anyone but is closed on Mondays and Chinese holidays. The temple is a walking tour in itself and I will definitely go back to see inside!
And of course, it wouldn’t be Chinatown if you didn’t see these Maneki Neko lucky cat charms (even a Covid kitty) in many of the store-front windows. The Maneki Neko is believed to attract good luck and fortune for businesses and their owners. If the cat’s left paw is waving, it attracts customers to the store. If the right paw is raised, it invites good fortune and money.
I just love them! 😃
#6: De Waag
De Waag or “the weigh house” on Nieuwmarkt Square was built in 1488 and is the oldest remaining non-religious building in Amsterdam.
It was built to be a city gate and part of the walls of Amsterdam but as the city expanded it was no longer needed. Over the years it was used for many things: traders could weigh their goods here and it housed a fire station at some point.
One of its more macabre purposes was to house the Surgeon’s Guild anatomy lessons. These lessons, which involved dissections, could only take place in winter because otherwise the smell would be unbearable.
These anatomy lessons also inspired one of Rembrandt’s early masterpieces, “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp” in 1632. The event depicted in the painting dates to January 1632 when Dr Tulp, the official city anatomist, permitted one public dissection a year.
Believe it or not, anatomy lessons were social events in the 17th century! The Surgeon’s Guild commissioned 26-year-old Rembrandt to paint a portrait of the public dissection. This was his first major commission in Amsterdam.
#7: City gardens
The residents of De Wallen have the most creative city gardens. I love how home owners with hardly any space in front of their houses arrange pots and other quirky objects to create something beautiful. This was my favourite tiny garden – the rusty drain pipe turned into a plant holder is genius!
The area’s city gardens aren’t listed in the formal walking tour of De Wallen but I did find this walking tour of small gardens in other parts of Amsterdam. It is also an easy one to do with kids.
#8: Paint and varnish factory
I adore the symmetry of this historic building and Rijksmonument on the Prins Hendrikkade. This is the facade of the former “H. Vettewinkel’ en Zonen” paint and varnish factory, established in 1889. It was built in the Neo-Renaissance style. In the 19th century most of the building was destroyed by large fires and only the wall on the water remained intact.
#9: Amsterdam’s narrowest alley
At only 100 cm wide, Trompettersteeg is the narrowest alley in Amsterdam (according to Iamsterdam). There are many red lights in this little alley, so I can imagine that it’s probably also quite a busy street.
The street first caught my eye when I saw the psychedelic murals painted on both sides.
I read up about Trompettersteeg and I found this article in De Parool newspaper. The mural is a project of Amsterdam Street Art and was subsidised by the Gemeente of Amsterdam and Business Association BIZ Burgwallen. The Amsterdam coat of arms features prominently in the middle (the red, black and white sections) and this connects the mural with the city.
#10: Flower bikes of Amsterdam
A walking tour of De Wallen is not complete without seeing the magnificent flower bikes of Amsterdam. These are without any doubt the most beautiful bicycles in Amsterdam, and the world.
This one is next to De Oude Kerk on De Oudekennissteeg but there are also other flower bikes elsewhere in the city. Artist Warren Gregory, known as “The Flower Bike Man”, is the man behind the floral bikes of Amsterdam. You can find him on Instagram at @flowerbikeman to see more of his bicycle creations.
And…this is the end of my walking tour recommendations. There is something to see around every corner in De Wallen and I hope you have as much fun as I did!
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