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A brief history of the world's most infamous red light districts
Posted on 09/02/2015

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SEX: They may be the home of disreputable behaviour and illegal endeavours on just about every continent, but the world's red light districts often have a highly recommended club scene, not to mention a history to intruige even the most passionate of museum evaders. It's time to take a glimpse into the infamous world of the planet's sex districts.

Reeperbahn, Hamburg

Reeperbahn, Hamburg
© Joerg Hackemann / 123RF

Sometimes described as "die sundige Meile" (the most sinful mile), this stretch of road used to be a simple rope-making neighbourhood serving Hamburg's prosperous harbour. Today the district is a tale of two halves - bars, restaurants and theatres abut sex shops, museums and strip clubs, drawing in everyone from art fanatics to...well sex fanatics.

Pigalle, Paris

Pigalle, Paris
© ? ZoonarK Afanasyeva / age fotostock

Pigalle's longstanding claim to the title of Paris' most prolific red light district began back in 1881 with the opening of Le Chat noir cabaret. It was closely followed by the world-famous Moulin Rouge and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the years the quartier has attracted some of Europe's most famous artists to live amongst its shady haunts, including Picasso, van Gogh and Dali.

Kings Cross, Sydney

Kings Cross, Sydney
© Chee-Onn Leong / 123RF

In the early part of the 20th century, this now buzzing district was home to a wealth of artists, poets, actors and writers. Its transformation into Sydney's red light district came after WWII when servicemen on R&R would visit from the nearby Garden Island naval base. Nowadays, you will find some of the liveliest bars and clubs on Sydney's nightlife scene, as well as its more infamous strip joints.

De Wallen, Amsterdam

De Wallen, Amsterdam
© Sarkao / 123RF

De Wallen is Amsterdam's oldest and largest sex district. Due to its proximity to the harbour in the 18th century, De Wallen quickly gained a reputation for its brothels and prostitutes. Today it is amongst the best-known in the world, holding approximately 300 red-light-illuminated cabins rented by prostitutes. For those who don't fancy walking the area's streets, a museum housed in a former brothel gives a brief history and insight into the lives of the girls who have worked the same set of streets for centuries.

Istedgade, Copenhagen

Istedgade, Copenhagen
© Oleksiy Mark / 123RF

Istedgade is a one-kilometre stretch of cheap hotels, lounging prostitutes and, surprisingly, some of the hippest bars in Copenhagen. It may not be cheap but this area has slowly become home to some of the city's best places to eat and drink. It is still possible to find a couple of red lights and the occasional X-rated window display but the area now has a distinctly more upmarket feel.

Kabukicho, Tokyo

Kabukicho, Tokyo
© Sean Pavone / 123RF

The red light district with no red lights, Tokyo's Kabukicho is nevertheless home to a continuous stream of neon-signed sex shops and other establishments. But with a buzzing scene of heaving bars and small eateries, it's far from relegated to the sleazy sidelines. Kabukicho is also thought to be home to the infamous yakuza - a Japanese mafia group which runs hidden, illegal brothels and clubs all over the district.

Langstrasse, Zurich

Langstrasse, Zurich
© Kasia Bialasiewicz / 123RF

A good example of the gentrification that many of Europe's red light districts are undergoing, Zurich's Langstrasse is now home to many more artist workshops and upmarket boutiques than it is to sex shops and brothels. Several years ago, the Swiss government embarked upon a campaign to smarten up the seedy face of this neighbourhood. It is now a popular venue for inner-city festivals, carnivals and even open air cinemas in the summer.

Patpong, Bangkok

Patpong, Bangkok
© ? Thor Jorgen Udvang / age fotostock

A walk through Bangkok's Patpong district is not an easily-forgotten experience. Catering mostly to tourists, the area's streets literally pop with 'sex for sale' signs, souvenirs, massages, sex shows and museums. Only one of Bangkok's numerous red light districts, Patpong found fame with American soldiers on Rest and Recuperation during the Vietnam War and has never looked back.

Pascha and Das Bordell, Cologne

Pascha and Das Bordell, Cologne
© ? ZoonarD Raev / age fotostock

Cologne has also taken a novel approach to cleaning up its red light district - by constructing Europe's first high rise brothels. Pascha and Das Bordell were purpose-built to provide the girls who worked the city's streets a safer environment in which to work. The two infamous districts of Im Stavenhof and Kleine Brinkgasse have since shed their red-light reputations and the latter is slowly transforming into one of Cologne's more upmarket neighbourhoods.

Geylang, Singapore

Geylang, Singapore
© Stanislav Komogorov / 123RF

Along with its copious amounts of street walkers and red lights, Singapore's Geylang district also happens to be one of the best places to sample the city's street food. This is the ultimate stop-off for local specialities from all over Asia - spicy noodles, regional Chinese delicacies, Malay and Indian food all vie for attention from the swarms that pass through its neon-lit streets.