Barcelona pickpockets safety tips. How to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona

Pickpockets Barcelona

Barcelona pickpockets safety tips

Updated September 2018

Is it safe to travel to Barcelona? Is Barcelona safe for tourists in terms of general crime? Yes, We believe that Barcelona is a safe city to visit. Our Barcelona safety guide deals with general safety and petty crime in Barcelona. 

Tourists are generally safe in Barcelona and can walk in safety and use public transport safely. Violent crime is rare in Barcelona and it is considered very safe to walk the streets day and night. Public transport, metro and taxis are considered safe and reliable.

The ‘Safe Cities Index 2017’ by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), confirmed that Barcelona was one of the safest cities in the world in terms of general crime and overall ranked 13th in the world.
concluded then that Barcelona was the 4th safest in the European Union and 5th safest in Europe - only lower in general safety terms than Stockholm, Amsterdam, Zurich and Madrid in 2017.

Barcelona is a still, in our opinion, a very safe city to visit in 2018 and was named as one of the ten cities in the world preferred by TripAdvisor travelers appearing in sixth place in the 2018 edition of TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Destinations Awards, where Spain has several destinations confirming its place as a top destination for travellers
Of course we always recommend you always check international sources, such as the UK foreign office travel advice website and also that of your own country's foreign ministry for updated safety recommendations. 

General crime & safety

The main daily general crime problem in Barcelona is pickpockets. Other crimes against tourist can include robberies of luxury watches of a value generally from 20,000 to 100,000 USD, so these crimes are rare. Pickpockets are the main crime problem for most tourists visiting Barcelona.

Read more below and find Barcelona pickpocket safety tips. Although Barcelona is considered safe for tourists, there are many pick-pockets and bag thieves in Barcelona areas with popular tourist attractions. Pickpockets are especially on Las Ramblas pedestrian street, in the central metro stations and the Sants train station. Other areas of the city generally does not have problems with pickpockets except near major tourist attractions.

Follow our Barcelona safety tips to avoid becoming a victim of Barcelona pickpockets. These simple safety tips will teach you how to avoid being robbed or mugged by pickpockets during your stay in Barcelona

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10 quick Barcelona safety tips

Barcelona essential pickpocket safety tips:

1. Don't carry your wallet in a back pocket
2. Don't put phones, cameras on table at cafes
3. Wear your backpack on the front in touristy areas
4. Always keep bags closed and on your lap at cafes/coffee bars
5. Be wary of any strangers approaching you or touching you
6. Don't participate in street games like the three shell game
7. Be extra aware on beaches and in the metro
8. Be extra aware when watching street shows
9. Be extra aware on La Rambla, Sagrada Familia church, Sants station and in the metro
10. Be extra aware in hotel lobbies, at airport bus stops and airport transport

And be careful if you are wearing high end watches.

Barcelona general crime levels

The biggest crime problem In Barcelona for tourists in certain areas is being a victim of Barcelona pickpockets. Sadly there are many pickpockets in popular tourist areas, so be aware in busy tourist places, airports, train stations, metro and also in your hotel lobby. Pickpockets in Barcelona are not violent. They target handbags, phones and wallets, which they try to steal without the owner noticing. We recommend you read the safety tips below to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona.

Long term foreign residents and local residents in Barcelona will tell you that that Barcelona is generally a very safe city. Agressive and violent behavior in the Barcelona nightlife is very rare, especially compared to nothern European countries. You can walk the streets alone at night out without feeling threatened and the Barcelona metro is completely safe from violent crime. You often see police patrolling on streets and in traffic both day and night. In the summer extra police patrols are on La Rambla, which is the street in Barcelona that has most pickpockets. Petty crime numbers are coming down, both on La Rambla and in the metro. However, be aware of pickpockets at Sant station. The police station at Sants has been closed and this has led to an increase in bag snatchers at the station.

Is Barcelona safe to visit? Yes. It is very safe. The Spanish do not generally drink to excess, which generally keeps the nightlife peaceful and limits brawls and fight. Smoking pot seems to be much more popular in Spain than heavy drinking. So you are more likely to be hugged in Barcelona, than mugged. But like any big city, muggings in Barcelona can happen.

They usually occur late at night after 01:00 in the morning and mostly around at the port end of La Rambla and in the lower part of the Raval neighbourhood, but as we mentioned muggings with violence are very rare. People who walk alone very late at night in those areas and who might be a little drunk are most at risk of being mugged. Generally everyone can walk the streets of Barcelona and tate the metro in complete safety from violence.

Now if you found this article because you have already been robbed, then scroll down to the bottom of this page to find Barcelona emergency numbers and a link to the Barcelona police station to report the theft online. 

How to avoid Barcelona pickpockets

¡Alto ladrón! That's how to say 'Stop thief' in Spanish but it might not help much as you might not even notice you were were robbed! Barcelona does have a bad reputation for petty theft and pickpockets and tourist areas are rife with pickpockets and petty thieves. This is because Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world which has attracted a permanent pickpocket population. If there were Olympic medals for pickpocket and bag-snatching schemes, then Barcelona would win the gold. But you can avoid being the victim of a pickpocket with a little common sense by using the safety tips below.
The areas where you need to be careful are the touristy areas like the La Rambla, the Sagrada Familia temple and generally anywhere near famous Barcelona tourist attractions
If you use your common sense and take some simple precautions, you will be not be robbed. Also be vigilant when you are on or around Barcelona tour buses and be careful when you are in the Metro trains. In other areas of Barcelona pickpockets are not a problem. We do not want to scare visitors by posting many stories about specific robberies but you need to know that many tourists do get robbed of phones and bags every day in Barcelona. The stories are always similar, so there is really no point in repeating them. We would rather tell you how you can avoid becoming the victim of theft in Barcelona. Just follow the simple safety tips below and the chances of you being robbed in Barcelona are really very small. The BarcelonaYellow team have lived in Barcelona for many years and we have all walked around the city center and Las Ramblas a thousand times without being robbed.

Tips for avoiding pickpockets

1. Dress like you would at home
Try to avoid the 'tourist uniform' when on vacation. Just wear your regular clothes. Some of us have a secret wardrobe of really old colourful vacation gear and we recommend that you leave at home because it might be a bit fashion scary AND make you a easy target for pickpockets. Barcelona is very much a casual clothes city, so just wear the kind of casual wear that you would at home , say like T-shirt and jeans etc.  A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t wear it at home, don’t wear it on vacation.

2. Dress to suit the season
Spain does not have a tropical climate so it is too cold to wear shorts and short skirts in the winter months. In the summer months of course light summer attire is normal. The clothes worn in Barcelona are more of less the same style as in all European cities and the clothes tend to follow the seasons.  If you are visiting Barcelona from November to April dress more warmly with a jacket or fleece and long trousers. If you are the only person on the street in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops in the winter months, then you are an easy target for pickpockets. Read about Barcelona weather

3. Be discreet with guidebooks and maps
Keep the guidebooks and maps out of sight until you need them. You can avoid pickpockets simply by looking less touristy if you don't clutch a guide book and map at all times.  A guide book or map is the single biggest clue for pickpockets. So have a look at it and then put it away. When you want to consult it again, then go into a doorway or somewhere discreet out of view, then get the map out again. We recommend a small and light guidebook or a foldable map of Barcelona. You can get free maps at hotels and tourist offices all over Barcelona.

4. Watch your bag at cafes
In Barcelona's cafés and restaurants Do NOT hang your bag over the back of a chair, or in an empty chair next to yours or even under the table. That's an easy target for a pickpocket. Sometimes pickpockets will sneak up behind chairs and take bags. Put your bag in your lap and keep a hand on it. If you have it under the chair or table, then keep a hand on the strap if possible but it's best to have it in your lap. Look around and you will see that Barcelona residents often keep their bag in their lap.

Don't become a victim of bag snatching

5. Don't be a target
Don't show the Barcelona pickpockets what you have got. Pickpockets are most attracted to tourists who have good stuff. If you are a walking shop window, then you can expect shop-lifters. The less you have on display the less interesting a target you will be. So we recommend that you keep the expensive cameras and phones in your bags or pockets when not using them. When you get to a place of interest in Barcelona, then take out your camera and take some photos. When you have finished, put the camera away instead of leaving it dangling around your neck. If you have a big camera, then consider a neutral camera bag, that doesn’t have a brand name on. Or simply cover or remove the labels.Don't display an expensive camera with a telephoto lens dangling at your side. Keep a hand on the lens and keep it in your lap when seated.Don't display a camera bag with brand name on bag and the straps. Cover or remove the brand name. Bring fewer lenses. Keep bag on lap when seated.Don't use a big bag if possible. Put it in your lap - never on back of chair or between your legs under chair.Don't leave a table or smartphone on cafe tables. Keep them hidden when not in use.Don't carry your wallet in your back pocket. Leave your reguflar wallet at home and just bring a small one with cash and 2 credit cards and whatever ID you need.Don't leave zip open on rucksack and don't wear on back with the flap open. It's safer to wear it on front or avoid rucksack altogether.

6. Don't put phones on café tables
Don’t put anything like wallets, mobile phones or tablets on restaurant or café tables in Barcelona.  Especially outdoors and especially on La Rambla street. Be wary of kids or beggars trying to sell newspapers or magazines to you, purportedly donating profits to help the homeless. If you do forget and leave something in full view on the cafe table, these kids will quickly target you. Their trick is to put the paper down on the table pretending to let you see it, then as they leave they deftly scoop up your phone or wallet, when they pick up the paper again. It's a free magic show, but rather costly!

7. Don't wear expensive watches 
Owners of high end watches should exercise care. Watch brands like Richard Mille, Patek Philippe, Hublot, Rolex, Hermes, Cartier, Panerai, Audemar Pigue or Ulysse Nardin can be targeted by specialised gangs who look out for high-end watches to steal.

8. Wear your backpack in front
Wear back-packs and rucksacks on your front and keep them zipped up. If you have a shoulder bag, then tuck it under your arm and grip it. Make sure all bags are closed and zipped and in your sight, especially when you are in the Metro. Try to avoid shoulder bags, money pouches and camera straps with thin straps. Pickpockets can cut through them in a second and slip away with the the bag without you even feeling it. Avoid big wallets in back pockets and don't take all your cards and cash with you. Leave some at the hotel. Leave your passport at the hotel safe, unless you need to change money in a bank.

9. Be wary of distractions
Beware of anybody touching you at any time, or approaching you or an odd distraction. This could often a misdirection technique intended to distract your attention, while they rob you. Scamsters often operate in teams and while you are talking or being distracted by one, you might be robbed by another. One of the typical metro tricks in Barcelona is on the escalators. Someone in front of you drops coins and keys on the steps. Total confusion. While you are helping pick things up, you are being robbed. Be aware of people dropping keys or wallets near you. While you are helping them retrieve their wallet their friends might be stealing your bag. So if you experience something odd check your pockets and bags first before you help others. Another common pickpocket trick is for one or two pickpockets to pretend to hug you and be your friend. They might try this when they can see that you are a little tired or drunk late at night. So don't drink and hug! At least don't hug strangers if you are under the influence. Another trick is to claim that you have pigeon droppings on your shoulder, which a 'friendly person' will offer to help brush off. Again it could be a distraction. There are many scam variants. So be wary of distractions, avoid physical contact and push people away if necessary. Pickpockets will very rarely attack you with violence. If they feel that they have been caught out, they just shrug their shoulders and wait for another victim. Be wary of offers of help and be very aware if you accept them. Also be wary of anyone who says that they are the police and ask for identification. Some pickpockets pretend to be police and ask to see your ID and try and get to your wallet in this way. Never hand your wallet to a stranger and if someone says they are a policeman then ask them to take you to the police station.

10. Stay away from street games
Stay away from the street games like the Three shell game. Don't even watch them. They are a scam run by gangs of criminals. You can lose your money playing the games, and at the same time because your attention is distracted, you can also have your pocket picked. The most typical street game scame is the three bottle tops where you have to find the ball underneath one of them. Or the three cards. This is a well known street game called 'trilo' and played by 'trileros.' It is a complete scam and from 2011 is classified as a criminal offence by Barcelona police. Four or five of the of the people watching the game, and who encourage you to play, are members of the 'trilero' gang and some might be pickpockets too. So stay far away from this game. There are other free shows and human statues on La Rambla, which are often good fun but be aware while you are watching street show, because you will be distracted, which makes it easier for the pickpockets. 

11. Leave some credits cards
Leave some in your home country and leave some cash and cards at your hotel or apartment in a safe place. A good rule of thumb is not to take unnecessary plastic cards on holiday. You don’t need video cards, gym cards, library cards, and all the other loyalty cards you have at home in Barcelona. Take them out of your wallet before you leave home. If you are unlucky and have your wallet stolen, then at least you will not have to replace every card you own. Important tip: If you wallet is stolen and then returned to you, with credit cards still in it, but without the cash then cancel the cards anway. Basically if your cards have been out of your possesion, cancel them.The person returning your wallet might be a member of a pick-pocket gang and they might have taken pictures of your credit cards using a phone, so that your card numbers can be used online. So if your wallet is out of your possesion even for a short while, then the safest thing is to cancel all cards as soon as possible.

12. Tips about ID and passports
Nowadays you very rarely need photo ID to make smaller credit cards purchases but you will need it to exchange money at banks, and perhaps if you want to make a major purchase then you might need to show some photo ID. But if you are just out for the day and don’t plan to spend too much, then we recommend leaving your ID documents in the hotel safe or your room safe. Most quality hotels have room safes. Hostels will also usually have safe in the reception or another system for safeguarding valuable items. And it’s a good idea to have a few copies of your passport with you and the phone numbers to cancel cards if necessary. 

13. Keep cash in separate pocket
If you are unlucky and have your wallet or bag snatched then at least you will have a few euros for food and the bus home to your hotel in Barcelona. If you are a couple, then don't put both wallets, phones etc in the same bag!

14. Make list of important numbers
Write down a few personal phone numbers and keep them separate from your wallet or send them to yourself in an e-mail. Some people have their phone stolen and find that they cannot actually recall any numbers in their head. Remember you can always call Barcelona emergency numbers for help.

15. Safety on Barcelona beaches
Barcelona has very nice beaches, but there are many thieves on the beach, especially around Barceloneta. If the beach is very crowded, then try not to have anything of real value and keep it covered. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t  leave your stuff on the beach, while everyone in your group goes for a swim. If someone lies next to you is alone and just has a towel and no books, sun lotion, etc then be extra careful. Of course if are asleep, then you won't notice, so don't fall asleep on the beach. The worst beach for being robbed is Barceloneta. The others further to the north are not that bad.  If you have time then north of the city of  Barcelona for nicer beaches, where you won't ever be robbed. By the way you can trust the drinks vendors on the beach. They often help catch the pickpockets and hand them over to the police. On the beach you could try the old safety precaution of putting your wallet in your shoe. But heed the words of  legendary US comedian Jerry Seinfeld:

We go to the beach, go in the water, put your wallet in the sneaker, who's gonna know?
What criminal mind could penetrate this fortress of security?
'I put it down by the toe. They never look there.'
'They check the heels, they move on.'

16. Safety in Barcelona metro
There are many pickpocket gangs operating in the Barcelona metro. Be aware of any distraction. People dropping things - or asking you something. Check your belongings first, then respond. We recommend that you wear a purse or bag with a secure clasp and thick straps. Keep backpacks in front at all times. Keep the purse or bag close to your body and in front or under your arm. Grip the bag tightly at all times, when you are in the Barcelona metro system The safest place for a wallet is in your front trouser pocket with your hand around it! Never in your  back trouser pocket. Be careful of cargo pants or shorts too. The side pockets are practical but easy to empty. A good tip is to put a thick rubber band around your wallet. A rubber band creates more friction and resistance than smooth leather, if your wallet is being removed from your pocket which gives you a greater chance that you will notice it leaving your trousers! Be aware of loud arguments or commotions that may be staged in order to distract you, while an accomplice picks your pocket.  If you have something stolen, yell out immediately to warn others. 
Don't be afraid or embarrassed to SHOUT OUT! Tell the train or bus operator, and shout for someone to call the police. This creates a bigger chance of someone discarding your wallet then running.  If a person finds your wallet, then ask them to wait until the police get there. This could be an accomplice! Often a friend of the pickpocket will pretend to find your wallet and return it, (without the cash) to stop you running after the pickpocket, who is his friend! Be extra careful if the Barcelona metro is crowded or if you are bumped or jostled.

16. Don’t drink too much 
Sorry to spoil the party, but most pickpocket scams are particularly effective if you have had too much to drink

17. Report theft to police
Report theft to police and do it before you leave Barcelona. There is a good chance the money will be gone if your wallet is found, but perhaps a friendly Catalan will find your wallet and hand it to the police. It might have a lot of cards and photos intact. And you will be able to claim insurance with an official police report. At the moment you have to go to a police station ( 'una comisaría de Mossos d'Esquadra,') but you might be able to report a theft from your hotel in Barcelona. Ask at reception. The most convenient police stations to report a theft in the centre of Barcelona are the police stations on Plaça Catalunya and on Nou de la Rambla. You can find the full list of police stations on the links below.

18. Beware of fake policemen 
If you are stopped by plain clothes policement who are not in uniform and if they ask to see your wallets, check your credit cards or ID, then they might well be fake police. Say you want to go to the police station but do not give them your wallet or credit cards. Real Spanish policemen are not corrupt. Real Spanish policemen do not fine people on the street. Real Spanish policemen never ask tourists for ID or to see their wallets or credit cards. So if you are stopped by plain clothes policement and they want to fine you or see your ID, then they might be fake police. Ask to see their ID, be very aware and tell them you prefer to go to the police station. Do not give them money or show them any ID. They will snatch your wallets or cash. Also they might take photos with smartphones of credit card numbers so just keep your wallet safe and if they insist then find help in a shop or office or look around for uniformed police

Emergency numbers Barcelona
Police stations Barcelona

Related pickpocket useful links

Site about pickpocketing techniques and how to avoid them!
Article from the Observer in 2003 about 10 most common tourist scams for travellers. Many of them are still used.

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Last Updated on Friday, 07 September 2018 13:06