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Barcelona has earned a terrible reputation as a haven for thieves. I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard about people having their belongings stolen from tourists and locals alike. Passports, money, credit cards, cameras, mobile phones — they’re whisked away as fast as you can blink. Maybe you’re quickly glancing at a tapas menu in a restaurant, or briefly pausing to take a photograph at Las Ramblas. Your mind is simply on enjoying your trip. Unfortunately, instances like these are great opportunities for getting robbed.
I’m no stranger to petty theft either — even after two years of living in Barcelona. A few years ago, my backpack was stolen while I was having lunch with my toddler and some friends at a restaurant by the Sagrada Familia. And, who would steal a kid-sized backpack off a stroller, anyway?
So after going through the seven stages of loss and grief, I got a little smarter. Here are some tips to avoid getting pickpocketed if you’re visiting Barcelona:
Like the next gal, I can appreciate a cute purse. But if it has straps just long enough to be worn on one shoulder, forget about it. With one quick tug, that purse is being whisked away to be scoured for euros and an iPhone.
The purse I carry has a strap that is long enough to be carried on one shoulder and is slung diagonally on my body. It always has a zipper so that its contents are less accessible. No button closures with wide openings!
When you’re busy getting around in the city, you’re sitting down, standing up, squeezing through tight spaces, and getting brushed by strangers. With so much contact, you’ll naturally lose sensitivity on your bottom that you couldn’t really feel your wallet sliding out. Plus you can’t see behind you! My husband always keeps his wallet in his front pants pocket and keeps his hands close to it.
A backpack has a way of announcing “I’m a tourist!” But when you’re out roaming the streets, you have to put your sweater and water bottle somewhere, right? The risk of carrying one on your back is having that pesky blind spot behind you. But if you wear the backpack frontwards while you’re navigating thick crowds, at least you’ll have a better view of your things.
ALTERNATIVE! Buy an anti-theft backpack. A lot of these have no accessible pockets from the front, so pickpockets will have a hard time finding a zipper to unzip. They’re also armed with slash-resistant straps and body material in case thieves try to cut them with a sharp object. Check out my guide on buying an anti-theft backpack.
At a restaurant, I always keep my purse on my lap and/or still strapped on me. Don’t hang your purse around the back of the chair. I did that once at a cafe by MACBA, and a man came close to me and pretended to admire the artwork on the walls. I glanced at him only to realize he was eyeing the goods.
Another time, a relative left his iPhone on the table while having dinner. It disappeared faster than he could Instagram his patatas bravas.
I use the metro all the time. When you’re on it, notice how local women wear their purse. If they’re sitting, it’s usually on their lap still strapped to their bodies with their arms resting on top of it.
One time, I saw a woman sitting by the doors, falling asleep. Just as the doors were closing, a man grabbed her bag and headed out, not giving her enough time to react. I’ve seen this happen with a fancy smartphone as well.
Another tactic I’ve also seen is a group of fake tourists holding an unfolded large map and pretending to study it. They try to slip their hands out in hopes they can grab something valuable.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to anyone. Just be aware that pickpockets often dress like tourists so they can blend in. And they talk to you! Here are some other situations that I’ve heard of or seen:
Getting pickpocketed can happen in any big city, really. It’s just very unfortunate that weak law on pickpockets prevails in Barcelona. Me – I’m very relaxed when I go out, even when I’m with my three small children. I don’t necessarily sweat it, but I’m a little more cautious of my belongings. There’s no reason to avoid the buzzing energy that is Barcelona!
Have you ever been robbed? Can you add any more tips to avoid slithery-slimy pickpockets?
California native, churro aficionado, and mom of 3, Justine Ancheta writes fervently about Barcelona and Spain. Since 2008, she's been eating burnt onions (calçots) and tripping on cobblestones in the Gothic Quarter. She shares tips on popular attractions, exposes offbeat non-touristy spots, and gives insight on exploring Barcelona with kids. Her next Catalan culture challenge: top level of a human castle (castellers).
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