People often ask the question “is Barcelona safe?”. To reassure visitors to Barcelona, I’ve updated this post to explain why Barcelona is safe, and a few tips to avoid the notorious Barcelona pickpockets and not get robbed in Barcelona.
Is Barcelona Safe?
The first thing I have to emphasize is that violent crime in Barcelona is very rare. In the last couple of years, there has been an increase in muggings and thefts involving violence, but compared to other major European cities like Paris or Rome, Barcelona is still very safe. Gun crime just doesn’t happen here, and I feel much safer in Barcelona than I would do in many cities in the United States. However, pickpockets in Barcelona are annoyingly common.
No matter how safe a city is, you should still take care as you would do anywhere. Walking around at night on busy streets is fine, but try to avoid walking around alone on quiet streets. The Gothic Quarter and El Raval are more popular among tourists, and so are among thieves too. The tips below are designed to help you avoid the pickpockets in Barcelona, but can also apply for keeping you safe and out of trouble.
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Why Is Pickpocketing Such a Big Problem in Barcelona?
One of the reasons for this is that theft of property worth less than €400 is a misdemeanour, not a crime, so Barcelona pickpockets are only ever issued with a fine and are not remanded in custody.
Pickpocketing appears to be a full-time job for some people, and they make a lot of money from unsuspecting tourists like us. Barcelona pickpockets are common all over the city, but especially in busy tourist areas like Las Ramblas and the metro. This video highlights some of the key places where the pickpockets work, and one woman’s crusade against them.
Although tourists are often easy targets, even locals complain about getting robbed in Barcelona! It can happen so quickly you really have to be on your guard all the time. I lived here quite happily for a year without any trouble at all. Then my purse got stolen twice in the space of two weeks. Bugger, and bugger. And just over a year later it got stolen again. Bugger yet again.
So these are my suggestions to help avoid these irritating occurrences, although they are by no means guaranteed to protect you, they will hopefully help to reduce the risk of falling foul of pickpockets in Barcelona.
How to Avoid Pickpockets in Barcelona
Be vigilant of your Belongings at All Times
Keep a close eye on your belongings all the time, especially in busy, tourist-heavy areas like the metro, La Rambla, the beach, bars and restaurants. Never leave your valuables unattended, even for a moment. Even seemingly worthless belongings are at risk too; a friend of mine had his clothes stolen while kite-surfing in Barcelona! I try to wear a bag with a strap across my body to avoid bag snatching, although it isn’t common here it can happen.
A bag with a zip is much better than an open tote-style bag, and make sure that the zip is facing forward to stop people sneaking their hand in behind. Keep your hand on the bag as much as you can remember, and on the front of your body instead of behind. If you have a backpack, keep it on your front, or invest in a theft-proof backpack.
Keep Your Bag on Your Lap While Seated
Keep your bag on your lap or in close contact with your body whenever you are sitting down anywhere; on the beach, in a restaurant or bar, everywhere. Crafty thieves have been known to sneak under tables to whisk out handbags, and I once had a close call on the beach when a thief crawled on his belly across the sand to try and grab my bag from right next to me – luckily we spotted him just in time!
For larger bags which won’t sit comfortably on your lap, attach them to the table or chair leg, and keep them as close to you as possible. I have heard of instances of thieves swiping bags with frightening speed so pay attention at all times.
Do not put your Wallet or Phone in your Back Pocket.
I would think this is bloomin’ obvious but I see it every day. You are begging to be robbed when you saunter down the street with a wallet poking out the back of your jeans and waving a proverbial flag saying ‘steal me!’ Front jeans pockets are better, but loose trouser pockets are also very easy for pickpockets to stick their hand in and pull out a phone or wallet.
Gents, consider a man-bag to take away the temptation of leaving valuables in your pocket, or if you can leave it in the hotel safe, do it.
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Ladies, Bigger is Better!
You know how it’s always a pain to find your make-up, keys, or purse in your biggest handbag? Well, the pickpocket will find it pretty hard too – the more space and the more stuff you have in your bag (with the purse shoved in the middle), the harder it is to find quickly. A scarf or cardigan on top of your belongings also acts as a barrier to prevent sneaky pickpockets from seeing and getting hold of your valuables.
Unfortunately, those little cute bags are all too easy to open & grab what’s inside; I’ve even had my purse stolen from a small bag that was right in front of my body – on a busy metro I was an easy target, despite thinking I knew all the tricks!
Tourists, Try not to be Quite so Obvious.
It seems at least 50% of the population of Barcelona walk around with maps in their hands, looking quite lost. I get that it isn’t easy to find your way around, and I don’t want to put you off the good Samaritan who offers to help you – but do keep extra guard when anyone approaches you to help, or ask you a question. As well as being wary of that person, they may not be alone and their partner in crime may be behind you waiting for the distraction and a chance to strike.
If you need help with directions then ask at a café, or approach a friendly looking face and hope for the best. I would be very wary if someone offers to take you to the place, unless you are 100% sure they can be trusted, don’t go with them, just say thank you and be on your way – and perhaps ask someone else to confirm their directions.
Don’t get so Drunk you can’t Stand Up.
Unfortunately drunk, sleeping, or lost tourists are the easiest targets for Barcelona pickpockets, so make sure you can handle your booze well enough to be aware of what’s going on. Try to keep your bearings, or stay in a group if you are very drunk so your friends can help you home or back to your hotel.
If you find yourself lost and alone & need help then go into a hotel and ask them to call you a taxi or ask for directions. Be careful not to fall asleep on the metro on your way home, as you become another very easy target.
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Be Especially Vigilant on the Metro
Although the metro is a cheap and convenient way to get around the city, it is a favourite spot for Barcelona pickpockets as there are lots of people, small spaces and they have time to plan their attack. ALWAYS keep your hand on your bag/pockets etc while on the metro.
At busy times, people are often stood close together, in particular, when getting on and off the metro. This is the time when most pickpockets will strike. Be aware of any distraction at one end of the carriage, pickpockets often work in pairs or groups and are waiting for your attention to be focussed elsewhere.
Don’t Flash the Cash
Another obvious one, but pulling out a wad of 50s to pay for a €2 juice at the Boqueria Market isn’t the smartest move. Keep some loose change and small notes easy to hand and keep the wads either in the safe at the hotel, or well hidden around your person.
Try and spread out your cash in different pockets/wallets so if one disappears it’s not the end of the world. You could even have a ‘decoy’ wallet with a small note in to keep in view to distract the thieves from the Real McCoy where the rest of your money is.
Barcelona pickpockets like an easy target, so simply being aware and vigilant automatically makes you a more challenging victim than a hapless idiot. Not that everyone who gets robbed is a hapless idiot. It does happen to even the best of us, so don’t feel bad about it!
I hope that these tips have helped you learn how to avoid the pickpockets in Barcelona, but you should still prepare for the worst. Before you leave home, make a separate record of all your credit card numbers & the phone numbers to call and cancel them. Do the same for your phone in case that does get stolen – and call immediately to cancel it even before reporting it to the police!
Keep a scanned copy of your travel documents – passport, visa, ID card, on email as well as a paper copy back at the hotel, so if they get stolen you can easily report it.
Get Travel Insurance
No matter where you travel, you should always get travel insurance to cover you in case something does happen. Travel insurance from WorldNomads is available to people from 140 countries, and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
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What to do if you are Robbed in Barcelona
If you are one of the unlucky ones who does fall foul of the pickpockets in Barcelona, the next step is to act quickly.
Cancel your credit cards and phone immediately before the thief has the chance to run up any bills. If you still have your phone, many cards can be cancelled straight away on the banking app. Otherwise, borrow a friend’s phone to call your card company. If you are alone, you will be able to call from the police station.
Report the theft as soon as you can – to the metro attendants if you’re underground, or the nearest policeman and they will tell you what to do. You will have to go to the police station to get a crime number to be able to claim on your insurance, which unfortunately takes valuable sight-seeing time out of your day.
There is a police station at the airport in Terminal 1, in El Raval at Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 76-80, and at Placa Catalunya metro station if you are robbed on the metro.
The most important thing to remember is to not let it ruin your holiday.
As long as you are safe, remember that possessions are just objects; phones can be replaced, money can be claimed on insurance, and the rest of Barcelona is still waiting for you to enjoy!
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Although some people prefer to stay in a quieter area of the city, I love being right in the centre of Barcelona so I can walk everywhere. Areas in the Gothic Quarter and around La Rambla do get noisy at night, so bring some earplugs with you. If you are travelling to Barcelona on your own, be careful walking around quieter streets alone at night, especially in Raval. Barcelona is a safe city, but still be aware of what’s going on around you.
Hostels in Barcelona
I stayed at Fabrizzio’s Petit Hostel and loved it, and they even had free paella nights if you are backpacking on a budget and want to try some delicious Spanish food. There are private rooms and dorms available, and I really enjoyed my stay here. Read my full review of what I think is the best hostel in Barcelona, or book it on Hostelworld.
If Fabrizzio’s isn’t available then there are plenty of other hostels and budget hotels in Barcelona, including plenty of options for private rooms in hostels. You could also try Hostel One Las Ramblas which is great for solo travellers or Fabrizzio’s Terrace which also gets excellent reviews and has private rooms or dorms to choose from. Take a look at all the hostels in Barcelona on Hostelworld to check prices, read reviews and book your hostel online.
Hotels in Barcelona
There are hundreds of hotels in Barcelona to choose from, and you can find something for every budget. Staying outside of the city centre is cheaper, but as you only have 2 days in Barcelona these options are all in or around the Gothic Quarter so you can easily reach the attractions in Barcelona on foot or with the metro.
Luxury: The 5* Mercer Hotel has a rooftop pool, chic décor with original beamed ceilings and exposed brick walls. Guests love the helpful staff, comfortable beds and the location.
Mid-Range: The H10 Madison hotel has lovely views of the Gothic Cathedral from the roof terrace and gets rave reviews for the friendly staff and excellent location.
Budget: Chic & Basic Born Hotel is in the popular Born neighbourhood. It has a restaurant and bar onsite, and guests loved the boutique style and the location.
Airbnb in Barcelona
There have been problems with Airbnb in Barcelona, with large companies buying up apartments to rent to tourists and pushing out local residents. If you do decide to book an Airbnb in Barcelona I would recommend staying in a private room in an apartment, so you are helping someone who lives here to pay their rent, which is now at record levels in the city. Something like this room in the gorgeous apartment hosted by the Soler family or this room in Mod’s flat in the Gothic Quarter are central places to stay and close to everything you might need.
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
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