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How to Avoid Pickpockets in Barcelona
If you’ve heard anything about Barcelona, you might be wondering – is Barcelona dangerous? I’ve lived here for 13 years, and sadly, I’ve seen how Barcelona pickpockets have infested the streets and targeted innocent tourists. In this handly guide, you’ll learn about Barcelona pickpocket hotspots, smart safety tips, and common Barcelona scams and techniques to help YOU avoid pickpockets in Barcelona.
Today we have a dependable insider source who’s seen it ALL. Karme Màlaga was an employee at the Barcelona Police Station for three years. Karme’s heard all the horrifying pickpocketing scams. She’s sharing extra tips on the whats, wheres, whos, and hows so you can avoid getting robbed in Barcelona too. (She’s also an actor who speaks 5 languages living in Paris, do check her out!) You’ll read some of Karme’s exclusive advice plus what I’ve seen, experienced, and read in the news regarding pick pockets in Barcelona. Read on for tips on Barcelona safety!
Outsmart the Pickpocket: Barcelona Safety Tips
1. Don’t look or act like a tourist.
You don’t have to genetically look like a typical Spanish / Catalan person to blend in with locals. Just dress like a local so you’re not an obvious target. For example, don’t wear shorts and tank tops in March. (Check out my complete guide on what to wear in Barcelona.) It’s fine to BE a tourist, but try not to look lost. If you need to look at a physical map, sit down on a bench discreetly.
I asked Karme, who are the easiest victims? She says, Chinese and Japanese are. (I’m guessing this goes for any Asian tourist that looks innocent.) Also, elderly Americans, Dutch, or German visitors are often targets.
2. Carry a crossbody purse.
A crossbody purse has a strap that’s long enough to go on one shoulder and is slung diagonally across your torso. Don’t just carry a purse on your shoulder, or else the Barcelona pick pocket will rip it off easily. It should always have a zipper so that its contents are hard to access. No button closures with wide openings! Keep your purse snug close to your body and facing towards your front and back. Keep all your zippers zipped.
For extra security, carry an anti-theft crossbody purse. I wrote a Buyer’s Guide that explains how to select one and the top anti-theft purses on the market. Below is my anti-theft travel purse by Travelon. (It’s got 1,700+ reviews!). Pickpockets will have a hard time cutting it with a knife! It can carry a day’s worth of stuff, and in fact, I use it to carry my bulky DSLR camera. My favorite feature is that the main zipper and the front zipper lock, making it hard for a pickpocket in Barcelona to open. Seriously, I have peace of mind as I’m busy taking photos or looking at a menu. I have two Travelon anti-theft purses, and I use them every day because they’re super practical and fashionable. ALSO, you can unhook the main strap and attach it to a chair or other stationary object. Check out this best-selling dependable purse:
3. Better yet, hide your valuables in your clothes.
I understand this might not be possible if you’re out all day sightseeing. But the safest alternative is to look like you’re not carrying anything. Do I do it all the time? No, only in the evening and if I’m alone. So, I would suggest this if you’re going out at night, preferably in the city center like in Born or Gothic Quarter. The more aggressive pickpockets will try to take your purse from you, regardless if it is locked or not. These people work in groups of 2’s or more and will surround the innocent tourist until they get what they want.
If you’re carrying minimal valuables like a phone, key, some credit cards, and some cash. There are some SMART travel products on the market where you can “hide” your stuff.
– A scarf with a hidden zipper pocket! It’s ideal if you want to carry light things and maybe you don’t want to carry a purse.
– A travel money belt. Hide your stuff under your clothes! I have and use this hidden money belt. It slips conveniently under your clothing and is comfortable to wear. It has a zipper in the front, and my Samsung S7 phone, keys, and metro cards fit in it. I wear about a size 8, so my money belt is a medium size, and it doesn’t slide. After your Barcelona trip, you can also use it for workouts or for running!
– A hidden travel pouch which you slide under your bra, or wherever you can attach it to. Imagine: you want to bring 500 euros in cash on your trip, but don’t want it all in one place like you’re wallet. You can keep what you want to spend for the day, and slip the other 400 euros that you DON’T want to leave at the hotel either. If you’re a guy, it comes in black 😉 and you can hide it inside your shorts!
<<<If you want more ideas on how to hide your valuables, check out my blog post: Pickpocket-Proof Clothing with Hidden Pockets! >>>
4. If you’re just carrying a wallet, keep it in your front pants pocket and not your back pocket.
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! Keep your wallet in your front pants pocket and keep your hands close to it.
5. If you must bring a backpack, wear it on the front and not your back.
The risk of carrying one on your back is having a blind spot behind 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. (Karme says thieves have tried to cut backpacks while in line at the Sagrada Familia.) Check out my guide on buying an anti-theft backpack, or check out this dependable anti-theft slash-proof like this Travelon backpack.
6. Don’t leave valuables unattended – even if it’s at an arm’s distance.
Don’t leave your phone or wallet on the table at a restaurant. Karme says a common scam is when a “charity worker” tries to get you to sign a petition. So they put the paper over your stuff on the table and distract you. All while they take the wallet or phone from the table from your pocket or table.
At a restaurant, keep your purse on your lap and/or still strapped to you. Don’t hang your purse around the back of the chair. I did that once at a cafe in Raval, 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 my purse!
7. Pay extra attention while on the metro.
Common metro stations for pickpockets are Plaça Catalunya, Plaça Espanya, and Sagrada Familia. I do NOT have official statistics, but it’s my understanding that certain metro lines are “run” by different pickpocketing groups (mafias, maybe?). They hop from car to car or hang out in the metro station, looking for unsuspecting victims. Watch your stuff when you buy your metro tickets, walk up the stairs or escalator, go in and out the metro car, and inside the car.
Also, when you’re on the metro, notice how local women wear their purse. If they’re sitting, their purse is 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.
Knowing how to avoid getting pickpocketed in Barcelona metro is having awareness and keeping a low profile.
8. Be cautious while talking to “friendly” strangers.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to anyone. Just be aware that pickpockets often dress like tourists so they can blend in. Walk away when you suspect someone is a pickpocket. Here are some other situations that I’ve heard of or seen:
– A playful stranger approached a friend’s father and said, “Hey, dance with me!”. My friend’s dad thought it was funny but didn’t realize there was an alibi near him who stole his wallet from his pocket and ran.
– An acquaintance was at a bar and found himself surrounded by several women who struck up a conversation with him. He had his wallet in his jacket pocket but realized later he’d been robbed. Not to mention, his pride was shattered.
– Someone takes your wallet. You run after it. A “kind” stranger comes to help you chase after him. Then he trips you and steals your watch too.
– Realize that pickpockets often work in teams. They work swiftly and quickly. Be careful of the “kind” stranger!
– Don’t trust “undercover cops”. Cops are usually in full uniform. If an “undercover cop” tries to talk to you, just walk away.
– Don’t let your guard down. Be open and friendly, but keep in the back of your mind that a friendly person could be a pickpocket.
– Walk away from the pickpocket.
9. Don’t wear expensive jewelry like a luxury watch or a gold necklace.
This summer, there was a handful of slimy thieves prying expensive jewelry like Tag Heuer and Rolex watches off people. Ripping necklaces off of people’s necks, too. Just don’t wear them!
10. If you’re out at night in Born or Gothic Quarter, take a taxi back to your hotel.
I hate that I have to write that – but Barcelona at night has changed. Yes, I still here from locals: “Oh, they only target tourists.” But I have also heard others say, “I don’t feel safe in Barcelona anymore.” I think, it depends where you live, and how often you go out at night. Pickpockets prey on tipsy locals and tourists in their merry mood. So, if you DO take the metro or bus at night, do NOT get too drunk or look drunk. You WILL be a target.
11. Bring out your phone cautiously.
You know how people walk with their phone in front of them? Don’t do this at night in the city centre, especially after 11 pm and especially in the Gothic Quarter, Born, and La Barceloneta. Heck, even be careful during the day. I don’t mean to make you paranoid – but smart. Do people still do it? All the time. But there have been numerous cases where people get their phones swiped out of their hands. ONLY TAKE OUT YOUR PHONE IF YOU NEED TO, and be cautious when you do. I live in Barcelona, and I bring mine out all the time, but I don’t live around the tourist-y areas. Knock on wood.
Common Pickpocketing Areas in Barcelona
Here are some common places where Barcelona pickpocketing happens, according to Karme. This list is not exhaustive! Learn more on how to not get pickpocketed in Barcelona:
Plaça Catalunya, Plaça Espanya, and Sagrada Familia. At Sants, here are a few ways to get robbed there:
– Wallet robbed from the pocket. Keep it in the front and your hands nearby.
– Two or three people blocking the entrance into the train to distract the victim and rob him. Stay focused and know where your valuables are.
– Backpacks are cut with knives. Remember, hold your backpack in front of them and between your arms!
– The ticket machine. When you put your credit card inside, it suddenly stuck and it doesn’t work. Then a “kind” stranger approaches, pretending to help you. When he’s gone, you’re robbed. Watch your valuables the whole time.
Hotels and AirBnBs
– If you’re staying at an Airbnb, make sure it is licensed. Find out here.
– The safest neighborhoods to stay in are probably Eixample, Sants, Gracia, Sarria, and Poblenou.
– Try to avoid booking a room on the first floor – as it’s easier for thieves to enter. If your room is on the first floor, don’t sleep with your balcony door open. Some thieves climb the buildings if they see the balcony doors are open. They come in while the victims are sleeping. They put some kind of product on the victim’s mouth and nose to keep them asleep. Then they rob laptops, cameras, iPhones, EVERYTHING and put you in danger.
– Don’t leave very important items in the room. Thieves also can come in when they are not there. Try the hotel safe.
At the beach
– Don’t go swimming with your personal belongings unattended.
If you like taking a dip, bring a waterproof pouch that can go in the water. It won’t leave a drop on your stuff. You can store your phone, money, and hotel key. I have one, and I have peace of mind that I can just leave my towel behind when I want to go in the water.
Check out this waterproof pouch
At a dance club / discoteca
Do NOT accept drinks from people you don’t know. Karme translated cases in which the victim has been drugged by a drink without knowing it and then was abused.
Other places around Barcelona
Las Ramblas, Born, La Barceloneta, La Ribera, and the Gothic Quarter, are where most of the tourists are concentrated and are pickpocketing hotspots.
Again, there’s a lot of talk that more pickpockets are hanging around after 11 pm until the early daylight hours. BE EXTRA CAUTIOUS HERE. (The residents are quite sick of it, and we are currently working to change these archaic laws, complaining, contacting the press, making lots of noise! We’re hoping for a change soon but it is a complicated process.)
Sagrada Familia: Tourists are robbed every day in the summer while queueing to buy tickets. Thieves cut tourists’ backpacks with a knife and the victim doesn’t even realize that she/has been robbed. Carry your backpack in the front. Or, as I mentioned, get a dependable anti-theft backpack, which is cut-proof like this one.
Parc de la Ciutadella: Lots of people like to sit on the grass with their stuff near them. Thieves will take your bags and run.
I’m in a few Facebook Barcelona expat groups and “robbery watch” groups, and many people have lost laptops and bikes. Reading off from the last few Facebook posts, I’ve read pickpocketing cases have been around Palau de la Música in Born, Carrer Avinyó, and Verdaguer metro station. Popular pickpocketing areas change constantly.
CHECK OUT THIS Barcelona Crime Map from a Facebook group against robbery.
BOTTOM LINE, the best way to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona: Secure your stuff, and keep it close or hidden. Be cautious when trusting strangers, even “friendly” ones.
1. Is Barcelona safe for travel? After all this, in general, yes. I go out with my 3 kids all the time, and I feel safe during the day. Do a Google search and you’ll see that Barcelona is among the top 50 WORLD’s safest cities. Practice general safety tips. If you’re a woman, try to avoid walking in unlit areas at night. As cool and trendy as it’s becoming, I don’t recommend hanging around the El Raval neighborhood alone at night.
2. What about the terror attacks of 2017? That sad day was absolutely horrific. I’m not gonna lie – I have kids, and it did instill some fear in me soon afterward. But, as a result, the city tightened up some streets and are more cautious. Since then, they’d targeted terrorists. If you’re a US citizen, register with the US Embassy, and they will send you emails about upcoming demonstrations, etc., and places to avoid. Sign up to get the Spain travel advisory here.
3. What do I do if I get robbed? Before your trip, BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE. Then if you get robbed, cry. Mourn your stuff. Because they are probably gone. Cancel your credit cards. Go to the local police office and report the theft called a “denuncia”. It can take HOURS. You’ll be pissed, but don’t yell at the workers there as they’re doing the best they can. (The main police station is called Comisaria de Policia de Barcelona where they have English speakers. It’s at Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 76-80.) “The most that can happen is you’ll receive a call from the police after a few weeks because someone has found an empty wallet with your ID or passport,” says Karme. But if you have insurance, hopefully, your stuff will be covered. If you want to save time, you can also file your report online. File your police report here. It can only be done online “if no violence was used”. If not, you’ll have to go in person. Either way, you’ll have to go to the police station in person to sign it.
If your passport is stolen. Go to the police first. Then go to your country’s consulate, which will ask for a copy of the police report. You might be able to get a temporary passport so you can fly. Contact your airlines to see if they need a temporary passport. Every time I go to the US Consulate, I ALWAYS see a sad American person or couple filling out paperwork for a stolen passport!
Thanks, Karme, for your insider information! If you want to read more about how safe is Barcelona, Spain – read this Spain 2019 Crime and Safety Report (https://www.osac.gov/Pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=25618). If you want to see statistics on pick pocketing in Barcelona and other crimes, you can go to this website in Spanish.
Have you ever been robbed? Can you add any more tips to stay safe from pickpockets in Barcelona?