Everyone who has done even the smallest amount of traveling in Europe has likely heard of Amsterdam's infamous red light district. A central, easily accessible neighborhood teeming with brothels, strip clubs and sex shops, many tourists include it on their itinerary even if they don't plan on taking part—it's one of those things you just have to see.
However, the Dutch capital isn't the only popular European city with a red light district. In fact, most major destinations are also home to at least one neighborhood with a higher amount of prostitution and other sex-related businesses. One of the most unique, however, is more than a thousand miles to the south of Amsterdam, in Spain's passionate and colorful capital of Madrid.
Though a long way from the very public red light district of Amsterdam, Madrid's sex district is so central and interwoven into normal Madrid that it's a good thing that the city's sex district is relatively safe. If it wasn't, a lot of Madrid's most important and well-known streets would be off limits!
However, Madrid's unofficial red light district isn't just limited to the city center. In fact, there is a second area of town, the Casa de Campo park just to the west of the city, where prostitutes tend to congregate. While the enormous park does offer plenty of family-friendly activities and is generally safe, there are still areas where larger groups of sex workers are out and about. The atmosphere in these areas of the park is more unsavory and best avoided if possible.
Red Light District in Madrid
At first, Madrid's sex district may not seem like much. In fact, it's little more than a large number of sex shops, invariably with "cabins" to watch pornography and some with peep shows. A few also offer contact with the "models."
The biggest such sex shops are on Calle Atocha, the street that connects the main Atocha train station with the city center. One of them also has a museum of erotic art.
The other main areas where you will find such shops are on Calle Montera (connecting the buzzing tourist hotspots of Puerta del Sol and Gran Via), as well as in the streets immediately north of Gran Via. Not long ago, there was even a sex shop on Gran Via itself.
However, in recent years the whole area has begun to undergo a makeover of sorts, leaving its sex-focused reputation in the dust. Calle Montera is now a pedestrianized thoroughfare that even has a casino at the top of the street.
In general, with the exception of petty crime such as pickpocketing, central Madrid is quite safe. The only area we would recommend keeping away from (at night, at least) is Calle Luna, a large plaza and street just north of Gran Via. The streets around here have a number of sex shops and attract many prostitutes at night. In the daytime, though, there are plenty of people around frequenting the nearby bars and restaurants, making it a safe place to be.
Prostitutes congregate around this area north of Gran Via, but you'll also find them on the aforementioned Calle Montera. Here, they are known to be more aggressive in their seduction techniques, making distinct clucking noises and at times even grabbing ahold of men. Due to the unsavory atmosphere and high number of prostitutes, Calle Montera at night is probably best avoided.
However, aside from the somewhat aggressive techniques the sex workers employ, as well as the fact that the street is aesthetically displeasing, trouble rarely occurs. Women in particular, as long as they keep walking, should not have anything to fear. Usually, it is quite obvious which girls are the prostitutes, so neither the sex workers nor their clients are likely to pay you any attention.
Men, on the other hand, should be more wary, as the amorous attention that the girls lavish on you is often accompanied with stray hands that might find their way onto your wallet. It's always good to exercise caution and keep an eye on your belongings while walking through the heart of any major city, but in Madrid's red light district, you can never be too careful.