Lock me in your heart and throw away the key”, so the saying goes. But can we love without locks?

If you know a little about me by now, you’ll appreciate that I’m a fan of during touristy things when I visit a new destination without actually looking like a tourist. I’m always encouraging the support of local jobs and businesses when we travel while blending in with locals, as invisible tourism allows you to have an authentic travel experience and helps these people out in the best possible way. Everybody wins!

I do have one exception to doing a touristy thing, however: I’ll never leave love locks in Paris or any cities I visit. Yes, I know I’m in the minority here. The horror!

But why? It would be super romantic to leave a love lock on a bridge during your honeymoon in Paris, right?

Well… Most places I have visited have been with my travel buddy, but we always questioned whether this trend was actually doing more harm than good. In my eyes, this seemingly harmless act is the exact opposite of invisible tourism, which is something I’m very passionate about and the reason why I created my blog.

Love locks in Prague

This love without locks guide will cover:

  • Origins of love locks
  • Negative impacts of love locks
  • Opportunists hold the key (quite literally) to love locks in Paris
  • Love without locks: Alternatives to lock down your love
    • Forward thinking alternatives to love locks on bridges in Paris & beyond
    • Supporting the preservation of our cities
  • Have I convinced you to love without locks?

Why you shouldn’t leave padlocks in Paris
(or, anywhere)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from an unromantic grinch. Generally speaking, I do realise most people leaving these love locks on bridges and other structures are well-meaning. They’re caught up in the romance of it all… I get that. I’m not judging the majority of these people, I mean… It is a nice idea in theory to leave a piece representing you and your lover behind forever, right?

I’m not sure if many people don’t realise or seem to mind that their eternal lock they’re leaving behind is only as eternal as it takes for the padlock to rust or authorities to come along with bolt cutters… Which isn’t very long, at all.

Origins of love locks

In my earliest travels 10 years ago, it seemed love locks were an emerging trend. I visited 16 countries in Europe that trip and have to admit I can only really remember seeing padlocks in Rome and Paris, they were very few of them. At first I didn’t even know why they were there!

Fast forward to today and this trend has absolutely exploded all over the world. Theories suggest the trend originated someplace in Europe and has now extended to most corners of the globe, even as far as Melbourne, Australia and little Wellington in New Zealand, which is not usually a very touristy destination.

A blurry shot of love locks by the Trevi Fountain I took in Rome, 2008. I can only imagine the number of locks here has exploded since then!
A blurry shot of love locks by the Trevi Fountain I took in Rome, 2008. I can only imagine the number of locks here has exploded since then!

Overloaded: Negative impacts of love locks in Paris

So why haven’t I bothered leaving my mark? It’s true, my individual lock probably isn’t going to make much of a difference. So let’s think of it this way: Paris had 24 million visitors in 2015 alone. For a moment, imagine if 24 million people all put a lock on a bridge or structure. The extra and unaccounted-for weight will inevitably take a toll and cause irreversible harm to the structure.

Some of these structures are centuries old and people are so swept away by the seemingly romantic gesture that thinking about the long-term damage their lock will do is the last thing on their minds. These beautiful structures are part of the reasons we visit a city but they will slowly decay by being inundated with rusty locks.

Why I'll Never Leave Love Locks in Paris (Or, Anywhere) • The Invisible Tourist

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Critics even argue love locks are form of vandalism and I have to agree. Not only do they look ugly and cause damage by rusting over time being exposed to the elements, the keys thrown into the rivers pollute the waterways which leads to poor water quality.

And they also pose a hazard. According to the city of Paris, 65 tonnes of locks were removed from the Pont des Arts in June of 2015, and 35 tonnes from the Pont de l’Archevêché near Notre Dame. Each section of the guardrail on the Pont des Arts was weighed down by a whopping 330 kilos of locks, and sections would collapse regularly. Paris City Hall decided to take action after a panel of locks on the Pont des Arts collapsed onto the walkway of the bridge, nearly injuring tourists.

Those are some INSANE figures!

Additionally, a centuries-old lamppost on Ponte Milvio in Rome, Italy almost toppled over under the weight of these locks into the river below, prompting authorities to remove the locks as a safety precaution.

"Eternal love" in a padlock
Lamppost on Ponte Milvio, Rome. Credit: hjj on Flickr

Opportunists hold the key to padlocks in Paris
(quite literally)

In cities where love locks are popular I absolutely refuse to support local businesses or street vendors who promote and sell locks for this very purpose in exchange for making a quick buck. Why should we be supportive of people who are happy to accelerate the damage being done to icons in their very own cities? These vendors are opportunists and have a LOT to answer for.

They’re simply preying on people’s emotions rather than exercising common sense.

We need to help preserve these destinations, not contribute to their gradual decay and demise.

Rust forming on the locks over time

READ MORE: 9 Inspiring Reasons to Visit Switzerland in Winter (For Non-Skiers)

Love without locks: Alternatives to lock down your love

For me, a better alternative is to take a piece of the city home with you! I’m not in any way saying steal ancient rocks from the Acropolis or fill a jar with sand from a beach in Barcelona. No, no, no.

By this I mean purchase a stunning painting from one of the talented local artists along the Siene or treat yourself to a locally made bag, clothing item or unique piece of jewellery. Anything that hasn’t been mass-produced and has been created with thought and care to remember your visit. Support local jobs!

As well as your photos and memories, I believe these are the types of things we should be taking home with us. We are free to use these things whenever we like and remind us of our fond time on our trip, rather than wondering if our rusty padlock we left on some European bridge fell victim to bolt cutters from authorities, without the chance of ever seeing or finding it again.

Support locals! Take some art home with you to remind you of your visit to Paris

READ MORE: Why You Shouldn’t Use Airbnb: 8 Troubling Issues You Didn’t Know

Forward thinking for alternatives to love locks on bridges

The more we try and stop something, the more people are going to figure out ways around it. I get that, too. But how can we compromise on this? I don’t see why there can’t be dedicated places for lovers to leave their locks. Places like South Korea and Russia already have dedicated lock sculptures created specifically for this.

Perhaps this is the type of compromise we need – lovers get to leave their mark on a city in a non-damaging way and iconic structures are free to be as beautiful and clear of locks as they day they were completed. Everybody wins!

Before the padlocks were removed from Pont des Arts in Paris, the authorities placed signs over the locks explaining why they were going to be removed. The signs read:

The weight of your love weighs down our monuments and endangers the capital’s visitors.

Because our bridges will buckle under the weight of all the love locks, the City of Paris is removing them. Since 2008, many of you have come here to pledge your love and attach locks to Parisian bridges. This actually does long-term damage to the capital’s cultural heritage and creates safety problems. 

As a result, the City of Paris has opted for a long-term alternative. From this autumn, the lattice grills will be replaced with glass panels which will allow the bridge to retain its transparent charm.

But before that, Paris invites you to post your selfie and declaration of love on the lovewithoutlocks.paris.fr website where you can also discover the original work of four artists currently displayed on Pont des Arts.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Tourists can now take their photo in the place where they may have left a love lock, upload it to social media with the hashtag #lovewithoutlocks and have it appear in a feed on the website.

Trees of Love on Luzhukov Bridge, Moscow
Top: Love locks before they were removed from Pont des Arts, Paris. Bottom: Trees of Love on Luzhukov Bridge, Moscow (credit: Gallery.ru)

Supporting the preservation of our cities

There is an amazing website dedicated to raising awareness and informing people of the dangers leaving love locks in Paris (and around the world) creates. No Love Locks, a preservation group in Paris created by Lisa Anselmo and the late Lisa Taylor Huff documents damages caused by the overwhelming impact of love locks and provides numerous examples of street vendors in Paris who attach heavy bike chains to bridges and other structures in order to sell more locks – it needs to stop. I certainly agree with Lisa’s quote:

One man’s expression of love must never come at the expense of the cultural heritage of others. When you come to another country and willingly deface an historic landmark, that is vandalism by definition. It’s becomes about ego, and it’s morally bankrupt.”

Their work on encouraging preservation of Paris from the padlock invasion has been featured in numerous articles by major news outlets. More recently when the locks were removed from Pont des Arts in Paris, No Love Locks shared images on their Facebook Page as they captured lovers resorting to tagging the glass panels as a new way to leave their mark on this Parisian icon. This blatant graffiti is completely disrespectful to locals, their city and is the exact opposite of being an Invisible Tourist.

So… Have I convinced you not to leave padlocks in Paris?

Love locks have proven time and time again they are contributing to the demise of the structures they are attached to. Surely, this can’t be what we really want to happen to our beautiful old cities and I ask that if you are thinking about leaving one behind to reconsider.

Are love locks really about love? Or gaining likes on social media?

If we want to preserve these incredible destinations, we need to be Invisible Tourists – do as locals do and leave nothing behind that could potentially harm structures of the destinations we love so much. I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I am an Invisible Tourist and this is why I will never lust after love locks.

What are your thoughts on padlocks in Paris? Do you agree with their removal from iconic structures? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. If you agree with my article on this unpopular truth, please share it or come and join me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to support invisible tourism!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist


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Why I'll Never Leave Love Locks in Paris (Or, Anywhere) • The Invisible Tourist


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Alyse
Author

Australian-based Alyse has been travelling "The Invisible Tourist Way" for eleven years and hopes to encourage fellow travellers to do so, too. She's passionate about history, preserving local cultures and travelling efficiently. A professional language hoarder, she can usually be found burying herself in travel books and Wikipedia articles. Her dreams? Always about the next destination and how to make the most of the experience.

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for this excellent piece Alyse! I’m currently visiting Stockholm and was surprised to see love locks pretty much everywhere here. They aren’t as prevalent as in Paris, but pretty much every bridge or waterfront railing in the centre of the city has a handful of them. To me they are basically litter and I wish people wouldn’t leave them. If they want to remember a place, they should take a photo or as you suggest, buy a thoughtful and ethically chosen local souvenir.

    I’m a hiker and adventure traveller and in that context I’m a really big proponent of the Leave No Trace philosophy. The idea behind it is to prevent tragedy of the commons type situations in fragile wilderness settings. So of course it advocates against graffiti and littering but also for visiting at off peak times to spread out our impact. I hadn’t thought of applying Leave no trace principles to my more urban adventures, but your post has inspired me to think about that more.

    • Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
      Alyse, The Invisible Tourist

      Thanks so much for your comment, Taryn! That’s a shame to hear about Stockholm. Oh yes I love the Leave No Trace philosophy as well! It’s very important, especially for the benefit of our future generations. It’s definitely possible to apply it to urban adventures, too. Most of my adventures are urban and I find I get so much more out of a trip by being “invisible”. Happy to hear I inspired you ? Keep smiling and travelling!

  2. Avatar

    I’m not a fan. I’ve seen the love-locked bridges of Paris, Prague and the like and people trying to make them a “thing” in other cities and a big part of me just screams “NO!” It is a form of vandalism, despite what anyone says… and I think love is best celebrated quietly, without fanfare. But that’s just my opinion. ?

    • Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
      Alyse, The Invisible Tourist

      I completely agree, LC! I find it annoying when a bridge has a few padlocks on it from people trying to make it a thing, as you say. Why try and be like everybody else? Being different is much more fun, I think. And yes, how does the saying go, “the sign of a good relationship is no sign of it on Facebook?” ?

  3. Avatar

    I really appreciate this post! I’ve never been a fan of love locks (though I do enjoy taking photos of them, weirdly?). However, my opposition to love locks has always been more symbolic. I think it’s a super crappy gesture to “lock” your love, and to me it has connotations of possession that I view as dangerous in any relationship. Thanks for expanding my perspective on this to include a discussion of historic preservation as well! I never thought of love locks in terms of their physical impact on a city, but that makes total sense! Another reason to be against love locks. Great post, thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Alyse
      Alyse

      Thank you so much Alissa, I’m really happy to hear I could help expand your perspective! The locks kind of remind me of couples who get matching tattoos… They don’t really seem to end well (stereotypically speaking!) Thank you for your great comment 🙂

  4. Avatar

    Thanks for this article. When I first heard of “Love locks” I thought, “how sweet!” That thought quickly passed as I thought about the damage! I refuse to leave locks and whenever I host friends going to Europe, I make it plain that, while they are traveling with me, I will not allow them to do this. I do like the idea of cities providing a designated base for locks. Good compromise! My only hope is that the value of the metal once it is smelted down will off-set the cost of damage repairs and employees who must cut the locks off.

    • Alyse
      Alyse

      Good on you, Gail. It’s great to know there are some of us out there that think about the negative long-term ramifications of these seemingly innocent locks. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  5. Avatar

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful blog, I heard about this bridge that the government of Paris unlock all these locks, cause the weight of locks damage the bridge.

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