Paris, the indisputable City of Love. Everything about this mesmerizing city breathes romance: its elegant landmarks, its picture-perfect streets, its elegant hotels, its mouthwatering food, its artistic soul, its enchanting language, its convivial cafés, its artistic heritage, its meandering Seine River and the romantic bridges that span it. One of those bridges, the Pont des Arts, is nicknamed the Love Lock Bridge or the Lover’s Bridge.
Years ago, lovers used to lock their love by engraving their names in a padlock and attaching it onto the railing of this bridge. But when Paris’ Love Lock Bridge ended up succumbing to love of so many visitors, the love locks were removed and the bridge was restored to its original state. Love locks or not, the iconic Pont des Arts is still a must-see and one of the most romantic places to visit in Paris at night. Here’s why you should include it in your Paris itinerary.
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Where to find the Pont des Arts or former Love Lock bridge in Paris
The Pont des Arts or Passerelle des Arts is the pedestrian bridge over the Seine that connects the Louvre Museum on the Right bank to the Institut de France on the Left Bank. As a result, it connects the 1st and the 6th Paris arrondissements. It is flanked by the Pont du Carrousel downstream and by the Pont-Neuf and the Île de la Cité, home to the Notre Dame cathedral, upstream.
The closest metro station is Pont-Neuf (line 7).
Short history of the Pont des Arts
No less than 37 bridges span the river Seine in Paris. Each and every one has its own story to tell. The river banks that they connect have been listed as Unesco World Heritage.
The Pont des Arts was the first cast iron bridge in Paris. It was constructed between 1801 and 1804, under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, and comprised nine arches as well as a wooden deck. The bridge was named after the Palais des Arts, which was the name of the Musée du Louvre under the First Empire.
The Pont des Arts was originally meant to resemble a suspended garden, where Parisians could spend some time on one of the benches while enjoying the collection of plants and flowers… initially for a fee. But the toll didn’t hold long, because Parisians tended to skip the Pont des Arts in favor of the Pont-Neuf.
In 1975, this iconic Parisian bridge was declared a Historical Monument.
The narrow arches of the Pont des Arts made it difficult for boatman to navigate the Seine River and fluvial accidents were commonplace ever since the construction. Over time, the many accidents and, in addition, the damages from the bombardments during the two world wars, had left the bridge weakened. It was closed off in 1977 and, two years later, when once again it got hit by a barge, the Pont des Arts collapsed over a length of sixty meters.
The original cast iron Parisian bridge was replaced by the steel bridge that you can visit today. Town planner Louis Arretche designed this new version, which was inaugurated by PresidentJacques Chirac in 1984. The Pont des Arts is now 155 meters long and 11 meters wide and comprises sever wider arches that allow for easy navigation. Theazobé wooden platform is equipped with benches and lined with elegant lampposts.
How the Pont des Arts became Paris’ Love Lock Bridge
The urge for couples to immortalize their love in some way is not new. The countless declarations of love scratched in trees around the world are a typical example.
The first notion of love locks appeared in the poem named “Prayer for Love” by Serbian poetessDesanka Maksimovic. It was based on a tragic lovestory that took place shortly before the First World War. The poem describes the story of a young couple, madly in love, who secretly met every night at theMost Ljubavi bridge ina town called Vrnjačka Banja. When the young soldier was sent off to Greece, he eventually met the love of his life. When his first love found out, she died of heartbreak. Out of superstition, local women started hanging love locks to that same bridge, the Bridge of Love, in an attempt to safeguard their love.
But the popularity of the love locking trend only really took off after the release of the Italian movie “Ho Voglia di Te” (I want you) in 2007. It was inspired by the like-named novel, from the hand of Italian author Federico Moccia, which was published a year before. One scene features the protagonists locking their love by attaching a padlock to a lamppost at thePonte Milvo in Rome and throwing the key into the Tiber river.
It didn’t take long for young European fans to pick up on this hype. In 2008, the first padlocks of love appeared in the City of Love. Because of its convenient steel frame and romantic location, the Pont des Arts soon became the Love Lock Bridge in Paris.
Over the next few years, it became a tradition for visitors to Paris (and perhaps some Parisian too) to symbolize their eternal love by writing their names and a date on a padlock, attaching it to the Paris Love Lock bridge and then throwing the key into the Seine river.
The distribution of padlocks near the Love Lock bridge became a profitable business for some. Then again, many lovers arrived prepared with an engraved padlock in their bag and the intention to perform the romantic ritual on the Paris Love Lock bridge.
And I have to admit, it was just as fun to read some of the names and dates on the locks while passing by, imagining the persons who declared their love.
But the Pont des Arts got more love than it could handle…
The end of the Love Lock bridge in Paris
In 2014, the Paris Love Lock bridge literally succumbed to the weight of all that love. The grilles of the Pont des Arts were not strong enough to carry hundreds of kilos in padlocks. With over 700,000 locks in total, weighing 45 tonnes or the equivalent of 20 elephants, and the prospect of another 7,500 locks added each year, an intervention was needed to guarantee the public safety and save this iconic Parisian brige.
In August 2014, the Paris Mayor’s Office launched the campaign “Love without Locks” in which they tried to convince tourists to find other ways to celebrate their love on the padlocks bridge. But no picnic or selfie could convince lovers to refrain from hanging even more tokens of everlasting love. The City of Paris had no other option but to remove the padlocks. On June 1 2015, the grilles were removed and eventually replaced with glass panels to prevent history from repeating itself.
The same was done at other Paris bridges, ones that also suffered from the love lock craze: The Pont de l’Archevêché at the southern tip of the Île de la Cité and the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor that connects the Orsay Museum to the Tuileries Garden.
Jeweler Phileas le Cléateur had unhooked 800 padlocks before the big sweep and made it his mission to return them to the lovers that affixed it to the famous Love Lock bridge. So, if you ever locked your love on the Pont des Arts and would love to get your precious souvenir back, you have a small chance of finding it here.
Love locks repurposed
Since the locks represent a precious souvenir for hundreds of thousands of lovers from around the world, it would have been rather heartless to get rid of them all-together. Therefore, while the majority of padlocks was recycled, the City of Paris decided to auction off a part of the collection and donate the profits to charities that support refugees.
In 2017, a total of 165 lots, of which 150 lots were clusters of padlocks and the remaining 15 were grilles, were offered at the auction. Minimum prices ranged from €150 to €10 000. Bidders from around the world took their chance to obtain a piece of the iconic Paris Love Locks bridge… and perhaps even a precious memory from bygone times?
In 2020, a selection of the Paris love locks returned to City of Love for a few months and was on display at the Palais-Royal. The padlocks were part of a 3 meter high house-shaped artwork called “Chez Nous” from Franco-Mexican artist Carmen Mariscal. It was intended to reflect about whether love is a link or a chain and whether the house is a refuge or a prison.
What the Pont des Arts looks like now
When you visit the former Love Lock bridge in Paris, you’ll still notice some of padlocks being attached to either the lamp posts or to the bolts that hold the glass panels together. But the most overwhelming aspect of this once famous bridge with locks in Paris has always been the view. The love locks never bothered us but they might have distracted from the surroundings. Now that the Pont des Arts is largely lock-free, the striking decor has reclaimed its status as the true focal point.
The stately Institut de France with its characteristic dome, the impressive Louvre Museum, the upstream views of Pont-Neuf with the Île de la Cité and the downstream views of the Orsay Museum and the tip of the Eiffel Tower.
The Pont des Arts is still a cheerful place where people come to relax, to write, to draw, to danse, to enjoy a picnic or to discover an art exhibition pop-up that happens to take place. It’s also one of our favorite places in Paris to watch the sunset (rather than taking a sunset cruise) before experiencing Paris at night.
Other beautiful bridges in Paris
The Pont des Arts is not the only famous bridge in Paris. Here are some other Parisian bridges that are just as popular:
- Pont-Neuf: Contrary to what its name suggests, the Pont-Neuf or New Bridge is actually the oldest bridge in Paris. It wasn’t at the time of its construction in 1604, though, hence the name. This elegant bridge with its 12 arches connects the Left Bank to the Île de la Cité and the Île de la City to the Right Bank. It was the first Parisian bridge made out of stone instead of wood. Pont-Neuf is adorned with almost 400 unique stone masks, representing divinities from fields and forests.
- Pont Alexandre III: Many believe this to be one of the most beautiful bridges over the Seine. It connects Les Invalides to the Grand Palais. Pont Alexandre III is a prime example of Beaux-Arts style. It’s lavishly adorned with Art Nouveau lamps, nymphs, winged horses and nymphs. This iconic Parisian bridge provided a romantic decor for over a dozen of movies.
- Petit Pont: Petit Pont or Little Bridge is located in the 5th arrondissement where it connects the Quartier Latin to the Île Saint-Louis. It’s located right opposite Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ most photographed bookstore.
New love lock location in Paris
Ever since the release of the successful Netflix series Emily in Paris, the love lock trend seems to have resurfaced. Tracing Emily’s footsteps to the Rue de l’Abreuvoir and the La Maison Rose café, the lovebirds seems rediscover the romantic appeal of Montmartre.
It didn’t take long before the first love locks popped up at the balustrades in front of the Sacré-Cœur. Most of those mention either the year 2020 or the year 2021. Well then, are the infamous love lockers really only Paris tourists? Because the pandemic-related travel bans didn’t allow for many outsiders to visit the Parisian streets at that time…
Romantic places to stay in Paris
Forget the Eiffel tower, some of the most romantic places to stay in Paris are located on the banks of the Seine with views of either the Pont des Arts, the Pont-Neuf or the Île de la Cité.
Here are some of the most ecxlusive and romantic hotels that tick these boxes and that are definitely worth the splurge for that special trip:
If you prefer the privacy of an apartment, then these are top romantic choices near the Pont des Arts:
Other love lock bridges around the world
Paris isn’t the only city that had to deal with love lock bridges. The hype quickly became a global phenomenon. Some other love lock bridges around the world, most of which have also cracked down on this practice, include:
- The Luzhkov bridge in Moscow, spanning the Moscow River and is in close proximity of the Kremlin and the Red Square.
- The Hohenzollern bridge in Cologne, spanning the Rhine River.
- The Ponte dell’Accademia in Venice, spanning the Grand Canal.
- The Brooklyn Bridge in New York, spanning the East River.
Have you ever hung a padlock onto a bridge as a declaration of love? Or do you have a precious memory about the Love Lock bridge in Paris or one of the other bridges mentioned in this article? We’d love to hear all about it. The comment box is all yours.