Is Barcelona Safe? And How to Avoid the Barcelona Pickpockets!

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.

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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.

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.

A wallet in the pocket is an open invitation to Pickpockets in Barcelona
A wallet in the pocket is an open invitation to Pickpockets in Barcelona

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.

Tourists in Barcelona - Safety in Barcelona & Barcelona Pickpockets
Tourists are usually easy to spot!

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.

Don't flash the cash - be sensible and hopefully stay safe and avoid getting robbed in Barcelona
Don’t flash the cash – be sensible and hopefully stay safe and avoid getting robbed in Barcelona

Look Confident 

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!

Be Prepared

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.

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!

Barcelona Travel Tips

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How to Avoid Pickpockets in Barcelona

12 thoughts on “Is Barcelona Safe? And How to Avoid the Barcelona Pickpockets!

  1. Kathy says:

    Great tips that should be applied everywhere when traveling. Thanks so much for posting this. It’s a good reminder.

  2. Emily says:

    As far as I know (hee), I never got pickpocketed in Barcelona — though I’d much rather be stealthily stolen from than attacked (probably most people would!).

    I agree with most of these, and want to add that no matter the size of your handbag, it’s better to have one that properly zips instead of just kind of latches. Even better if there are multiple compartments with their own zips; my friend did this when we traveled to especially tourist-y places in Bali, and all she ever lost was her chewing up (that’s probably one disappointed pickpocket).

  3. Claire Sturzaker says:

    Ah it is impressive and very annoying how slick they can be, it just takes a moment of distraction or a lapse in concentration and you’re done for! its almost a rite of passage now to be a victim of pickpockets at least once before you truly know Barcelona but I wish it wasn’t like that! Thanks for sharing your experience Joachim!

  4. Joachim Bakken says:

    My camera got stolen in 2000, on Mont Juic…it vanished in thin air, can´t believe how good some of those pickpockets are. Then again, only happened to me once in my 15 trips to Barcelona the last 20 years.
    I´ve seen things “happen” on Las Ramblas, Barceloneta and the metro, though…Too many to write about here.

  5. Pingback: 10 Tips to beat the Pickpockets in Barcelona | AC

  6. Claire Sturzaker says:

    That’s impressive Sue! Do you have any tips to share? Touch wood, long may it continue!! 🙂

  7. tobyo says:

    great tips! and I love the last paragraph. I was sooooooooooo nervous in Barcelona that I nearly let that ruin my time there. I hope to be less nervous on my next trip to that lovely city.

  8. Claire Sturzaker says:

    Absolutely, I have never felt unsafe walking around by myself at any hour of the day or night. As long as you’re aware of your surroundings you are usually fine! 🙂

  9. cataberton says:

    I love Barcelona and always felt safe in the city. But its true you need to be careful while walking through tourist areas. Grat tips!

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