How to Avoid Pickpockets and Enjoy Barcelona

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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:

1. Carry a purse that you can wear across your body.

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!

For extra security, carry an anti-theft purse. I spend hours of research on my Buyer’s Guide that tells you what it is, how to select one, and the TOP anti-theft purses on the market!

2. 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! My husband always keeps his wallet in his front pants pocket and keeps his hands close to it.

Don't get robbed in Barcelona!

Ready to get butt-robbed.

 3. If you must bring a backpack, wear it on the front and not your back.

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.

4. Don’t leave valuables unattended – even if it’s at an arm’s distance.

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.

5. Pay extra attention while on the metro.

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.

6. Be cautious while talking to strangers even if they seem friendly.

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:

  • A few people who supposedly work for a charity campaign asked a couple if they could sign a petition. In the meantime, someone was stealing their wallet.
  • 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 a little hurt.)

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!


  1. Is Barcelona safe? In general, yes. 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 down unlighted areas at night. As cool and trendy as it’s becoming, don’t hang around El Raval neighborhood alone at night.
  2. What about the terror attacks of 2018? 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, police presence has been up 1000% it seems. If you are a US citizen, register with the US Embassy, and they will send you emails about upcoming demonstrations, etc. and places to avoid.
  3. What do I do if I get robbed? First, cry. Mourn your stuff. Because they are probably gone. Then, you’ll have to go to the local police office and report the crime. It might be worth doing. If you’ve lost your passport or wallet, you’ll have to go to your local embassy to report it.

Don't get robbed in Barcelona! 6 tips to avoid pickpockets

Have you ever been robbed? Can you add any more tips to avoid slithery-slimy pickpockets? 

About the Author Justine Ancheta

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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Leave a Comment:

Kiana says April 23, 2015

Hello Justine! I just found your lovely and fun blog. I’m an American (from Miami) living in Barcelona and I love reading about your experience in the city. I smiled when I read that someone stole your backpack off a stroller. Get this: someone stole a diaper bag off my son’s stroller! They probably didn’t realize what it was since it looked like a purse (I don’t like things in baby colors or prints so I tend to buy just black and grey accessories) but the thought of the thief arriving home and looking through the bag only to discover diapers and wipes and juiceboxes makes me giggle. I can’t be too mad!

    Justine Ancheta says April 23, 2015

    Hi Kiana! Nice to meet a fellow American (mom!) here! It’s maddening, isn’t it? Yeah…come on people, off a stroller? Haha..I hate foofy diaper bags too! They must have been disappointed to find only Cheerio crumbs and no wallet. They probably threw the diaper bag on the floor and stomped on it! I’m gonna check out your blog!

What to wear in Barcelona in the winter - Latitude 41 says November 18, 2015

[…] purse with a long strap so that you can wear it diagonally across your body. If you’ve seen my post on how to not get robbed, I explain it […]

Rebecca says December 26, 2015

Thank you for your helpful entry!

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