This is a difficult article to write because I don't want to scare people off from coming to Barcelona. By writing about safeguarding your personal safety in Barcelona and how to ensure you are not pick pocketed or robbed implies that the city is not safe.
However it's true to say that there is a pick pocketing and bag snatching problem in Barcelona.
|The wrong thing to do on La Rambla. You should go to a café or restaurant to consult your map. This couple have clearly labelled themselves as tourists.|
So many times I walk down La Rambla and see tourists with maps open, looking lost and with their bags unguarded. These tourists will almost certainly be noticed by all the wrong people and be an instant target. You can be a tourist, no problem, but what you must behave like is a savvy tourist and you will be much, much safer.
Please take these precautions to safeguard yourself. I know you may think it will never happen to you. You may even think that "all big cities are the same in this respect" but I would say perhaps think again. I see so many tourists that are leaving themselves wide open for something to happen and all they need to do is just take a few simple steps to help safeguard themselves.
Is The Ramblas Safe? (The Ramblas is the main promenade through central Barcelona)
In my opinion, the Ramblas is safe. At night (after 23:30) the south end of Las Ramblas (between the Grand Theatre Liceu and Colum) may be a little seedy but still relatively safe. However, if you're not comfortable, you can avoid this area at night. The rest of the Ramblas is pleasant to walk at night as thousands of people come to see street performances you should however still keep your wits about you on Las Ramblas.
Credit should go to Barcelona town council that are taking steps to make the city safer for tourists. We have noted a significant drop in the number of site visitors writing in to us about thefts and robbery over the last year. This is not to say that there is no longer a problem - there is, but it does appear that things are definitely improving.
Site Visitor Feedback from Jan in the UK
I have lived in Barcelona for 18 years now ( drank from the fountain I'm afraid!) and I wanted to add my reassurances that Barcelona is indeed a safe city, however I would comment Spanish worry about their clothes and that people who live here don't ever dress in shorts on the metro or in centre of town - to do so identifies you as a tourist. (Therefore increasing risks of being a pickpockets target).
In restaurants don't leave your bag on the floor or hanging over your chair especially in Ramblas area as they will pick it up or quickly cut the strap.
Thanks Jan - what you described actually happened to a friend of mine. She left her bag on the back of her chair. It was gone in minutes in a full restaurant with tables all around her. We still don't know how they managed to take her bag.
If you want to know the "dress code" in Barcelona and what you should wear to blend in with the locals - see our Barcelona Dress Code Article
Pick pocketing and bag snatching is a problem on the Ramblas, at rail stations, on the beaches and on the metro (subway). One visit to any police station will demonstrate that.
Following the next 16 Safety Guidelines will radically reduce the chances of someone trying to pick pocket or rob you. We have compiled these guidelines after reading actual real events sent to us from site visitors. Each one of the guidelines will help protect you against the most common theft types.
1) Pick pockets prefer to choose easy victims - if you look like you're paying attention and don't have any valuables on show it's less likely that you will be pick pocketed.
2) Pick pockets and scam merchants often work in groups. This can confuse people - one person (or a group of people) would cause a distraction while another takes your valuables. If you are confronted with a group of people attempting to gain your attention promptly turn your back and walk away.
3) Only carry around as much money as you need for that day no more. Leave valuables that you aren't going to use on the day in the hotel safe.
4) Do not carry around a haversack on your back - be especially aware of this on the metro. Pickpockets have been known to steal from haversacks on people's backs when on the metro. If you have a haversack wear it the other way around with the bag in front of you.
5) Do not have a camera slung around your neck (or any other expensive items like video cams) I was once witness to someone snatching a camera from around someone's neck and running off with it.
Keep any valuables out of sight. If you have a camera put it in your inside jacket pocket. If it's too big for this then put it in a small bag and have the bag strap go diagonally over your neck and shoulder so that it goes under your arm -this makes it much more difficult for someone to snatch your bag. Keep the bag in front of you - not at your side. The bag should not be a camera bag - choose a small ordinary day bag with a zip fastener top.
Do not put your wallet in the bag - keep that separate.
6) If you need to look up anything on a map go into a café and sit down rather than look up your destination in the streets. This is like advertising that you are new to the area and a tourist and that is exactly what pickpockets are looking for.
7) In Cafes and restaurants pay attention to your bags/purses and wallets. This may seem obvious but when you're on holiday it's easy to "switch off" and not pay attention to where your belongings are. Typical places where bags are stolen are in cafe's when tourists put them down at their feet, or if they leave their wallets in their jacket pockets and put their jackets on the back of a chair. When you put your bag down keep it in sight. If you can't keep it in sight all the time wrap the bag strap around something so that it can't just be easily picked up.
8) Watch out for distraction / theft scams - these start with a distraction e.g. someone asks for directions, drop money in front of you, asks you to make a donation -and variations on these distractions. Then once your attention is taken either the person involved or someone else will steal from you. Watch out for the famous bird poo distraction/theft scam. Someone will come up to you claiming that you have had bird poo on your back. They will attempt to "help" you wipe it off, whilst pick pocketing you of course! This is now an infamous and all too common scam. (see site visitor feedback below) or read one site visitor's experience of this scam.
9) Pay particular attention at stations.
Stations are hotspots for pickpockets and thieves. There are many reasons for this:
a) You have identified yourself as a likely tourist by being there.
b) You are also likely to be a little disorientated in a new place.
c) There are legitimate reasons for someone to press up against you or to be in close vicinity to you, e.g. getting on or off a train or metro.
d) You have to either pay for tickets or take your tickets out from a purse or wallet. The pickpockets will be watching for this because then they will know exactly where you keep you money. They will watch where you put your purse or wallet after you have paid for your tickets.
e) You are most likely loaded up with all your belongings at this point. Unlike when you have made it to your hotel you can take out just what you need.
So what can you do? The tip here is to keep your purse / wallet out of sight. Keep your tickets separate from your purse or wallet. If you can obtain your tickets in advance of your arrival in Barcelona (see the tip below) that way you do not need to take out your purse or wallet to pay for tickets.
Read one account of a tourist couple that was targeted at a station by thieves. They had read our safety tips and were prepared in advance and avoided the theft.
Buy a transport pass that covers all your transportation needs before you arrive in Barcelona e.g. the Barcelona Card. This way you do not need to handle money to pay for tickets when you are travelling on the public transport in Barcelona and it will also mean you are much less of a target.
10) Pick pockets work very fast. One second they are there and the next they're gone. Just be aware of the people around you and pay attention to what they are doing. Pick pockets are often looking at one thing - tourists and tourists bags - they are not interested in anything else around them, except maybe the police, so if you keep your eyes open you will become more aware of when to keep your guard up. The most common place for pickpockets is Las Ramblas and in particular at night there are pickpockets that are posing as prostitutes.
11) Take out a travel insurance policy - make sure that you meet the terms of the policy before you leave (some policies require that you can prove your belongings are worth what you say they are worth).
When I was Trekking in Nepal I did not have receipts of purchase for the camera I lost in the mountains and the insurance company refused to pay out. I recommend you get it in writing or via e-mail from the insurance company that you don't need proof of the cost of every item.
Make sure also that you meet the terms of the policy this often means making a police report and getting an official police statement which you can take back with you to make your claim. Unfortunately when in Nepal I was 3 days trek from civilization and could not report the loss to the police station within 24 hours. This, along with the lack of receipts, meant that the insurance company would not pay out - it's not just Barcelona where you can be scammed!
12) Keep your passport safe -
Spanish law requires that you have photographic identification with you at all times although a photocopy of your passport is often seen as sufficient.
13) Do not be fooled by fake policemen or "undercover" police: This is now becoming an all too common scam. Several people are involved with this scam. They say they are undercover police and they have seen someone come up to you earlier who they have been following. They ask for your identification and wallet / purse of course to check your identity but when you do they run off with your wallet!
What you can do: First of all policemen are clearly identifiable in Barcelona with clearly recognizable uniforms. It is unlikely that a real "undercover" policeman will ever need to speak with you. If an officially dressed policeman stops you ask to see their identification and when they show it to you look at it carefully make sure that it is indeed real. Do not be satisfied with someone flashing an ID at you.
14) Emulate the dress code of the Catalans. You will be seen as a savvy tourist and also much less likely to stand out from the crowd. You will also have an excellent excuse to buy some new clothing! Read our article on dress code and how to blend in with the locals.
15) Avoid walking in dark isolated back streets, especially if you are alone.
16) When on the beach do not leave your belongings unattended. If you're going to do some sunbathing etc ensure to leave any valuables locked up in the hotel safe.
In addition to the above if you are intending on driving a car in or around Barcelona we highly recommend you read our Barcelona car crime and safety tips article. Car crime in Barcelona.
Distraction Theft Strategy: Site Visitor Feedback Submitted by Barry, UK
I went to Barcelona this month, July, and was visiting Parc Güell, with my young son, getting off at the metro stop Vallcarca, I had stopped to plan a route to the next destination and fallen behind the other tourists. I was in long trousers with no bag approximately 200 metres from the metro station near a Subaru garage. I felt something on the back of my neck and a guy in front of me said it was a bird, I was covered in filth, I took off my shirt and started wiping off the filth, the man who had identified it as bird muck came over with water and tissues and started helping me, I refused his help, he was there 15/20 seconds and left with my wallet and approximately €300.00 and a tube ticket. Fortunately, we had nothing else in the wallet and some spare money back at the hotel, I reported this to the police within the hour, with a very good description and location but they didn't want to know, they suggested I report it to my insurance company.
Site Visitor Feedback from Jennifer, UK
"Having perused your website, my friend and I, both middle aged ladies, took on board your safety tips and felt reasonably confident about security. However, we were still robbed and thought our experience might prevent others from falling victim to the same scam.
Outside the Sagrada Familia we were approached by two women who forced a red carnation onto each of us. Mine was pushed down the front of my tee shirt! They indicated that there was to be an exhibition of flamenco and then asked us each for 1 cent. As this was such a small amount of money we both thought this would be a good way of getting rid of them and got out our purses. That was what they wanted. They tried to 'help' us find the appropriate coin by putting their fingers into the coin compartments of our purses. Later, and too late, we realised that whilst doing this, they had milked out the notes from the note compartment. The next day we returned to the same place and watched two other women pull the same scam."
Bag Snatching Crime
Bag snatching is also a problem in Barcelona. I have been witness to a bag snatch on one occasion. The bag was around the person's shoulder but only had a very thin strap. The thief ran in, grabbed the bag, ripping it off the shoulder strap and then ran off. It all happened in a few seconds.
It is hard to avoid a bag snatch from happening as we all need to take around a small bag with us for our visit. The best thing to remember is do not put any valuables in the bag. If the bag looks like a camera bag or a purse then it is more of a target than an ordinary looking day bag. Another thing to avoid is to wear bum bags which are very easy to remove. Thieves know that you keep your valuables in these too so bum bags are an A1 target with PLEASE STEAL ME written all over them. If you don't believe me, just visit any Barcelona police station and ask anyone in the long queue why they are there.
Site Visitor Feedback - Bag Snatching Experience.
Denise, Newburyport, Massachusetts, USA
"I wanted to thank you so much for all the helpful information in your newsletters. We (mother and 17-year-old daughter) made our trip last week, and used a great deal of information I had found on your website.
We loved Barcelona! It was our first trip to Europe, and we were both in awe beyond words at what we saw. We also found the people friendly, the food great, and the wine fantastic.
The only downside was on our very final evening, we took the parallel metro, hoping to take the funicular to be able to see Montjuïc at least from the air, since we ran out of time to see it on foot during the day.
When we got out of the metro station, we found that the funicular was closed, and walked across the street to the little park, where the view was stunning.
As we returned to the station, a thief sliced off my purse (just exactly as you had described in your newsletter!) and ran off! Thanks to your warnings, I had no cash or credits cards in it, but unfortunately did realize afterward that there was a roll of slide film my daughter had taken - I wish I had that back. But, silly me for having gone in to the park - even though we didn't go far, I should have been more aware of who was around me.
Thank you very much for your warnings - this could have been worse! - great website and newsletter!"
Dodgy areas at night - Areas to avoid at night. Parts of the Raval area ( to the left of the Ramblas as we look northwards), Parts of Barri Xines, and the Southern most end of the Ramblas and streets off it. Any small dark empty streets - but this is common sense - if you want to be much safer try to avoid quiet empty streets and if you do have to go down them then try to ensure you are with someone.
Site visitor feedback - Robbery - Submitted by Per, Hamburg
"I have just been robbed yesterday night in Barcelona Gothic quarter, and then I found this site. I think the section about safety is great, but the section about robbery seems too short! :-) My lesson for today: Never go out alone at night, and try to avoid not only dark empty streets, but also any bending streets where you cannot be seen by other people, even when there are plenty of people around in the streets. These two guys who stole my money were very quick, intimidating, but I guess they would not have taken the risk if I had had my friend with me. I have to add that I have never been robbed before, even though I live in the red light district in Hamburg, plus I don't look like the typical tourist either. It can happen to just anyone, and that is something you may want to add to your info page too. Apart from that: Nice site!!"
Site Visitor Feedback - Beach Bandits.
And here is some feedback from one site visitor if you're not completely convinced that you should take these precautions:
" I fell victim to a wallet snatching bandit on the beach in Barcelona. Thinking it was a nice night to camp out on the beach, I fell asleep on one of those lawn-chairs that are provided. At night beach bandits come up to you silently and sift through your pockets as you sleep. I heard of an American girl who lost her passport this way as well. I thought you might be able to add this to your site. Thank you. Barcelona is a very beautiful city, and I will surely return (though have not sipped from the fountain yet!) " Kris from Ottawa
"I'm just back from a week in Barcelona and unfortunately all did not go to plan. I had read the Safety Tips but I should have made my partner read them too.
We had gotten the train from the airport to Passeig de Gràcia and were getting off the train. He got held up by a supposedly elderly woman in front of him. By the time he had realised there was something wrong, they had made off with his wallet and all his spending money for the week. Unfortunately because he hadn't visited this website, he had decided that putting his wallet in his bag was safer than in his trousers as his trousers had no zips. He had also taken his wallet out of his bag on the train and obviously was being watched. I would advise everyone to read the < Barcelona-Tourist-Guide.com > safety advice themselves and to make sure that everyone else in their group reads them too. Those extra few minutes may just save you heartbreak of having your holiday ruined." - Niamh from Ireland
"I'd like to warn your users about an all too common scam which is unfortunately being used on the streets of Barcelona. This happened to me on 18 May, and I think you'll be doing your users a great favour by alerting them to this attempt to steal goods and possessions. It works like this: A young man comes up to you and asks for directions to a popular landmark - e.g. the Gaudí Museum or the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. As you're explaining or just saying you don't know, 2 or 3 men come up to you both and say they are police, and flash an ID card at you that looks like a police ID. They ask if you know the person that asked you for directions. They then explain that they have been trailing this man under suspicion of drug smuggling and that you are now also a material witness. They ask for your ID. When you take your wallet out of your pocket or bag they assault you and run off with the bag, passport, or whatever they can get their hands on. My advice is don't ever stop and discuss anything with anyone you don't know - if this happens to you, you just say 'sorry I don't know' and walk off very quickly and don't stop - like I did! "
Andy Varga, Sitges
One famous scam and can be found on the Ramblas every day of the week. It is the pea under the egg cup shuffle scam. I am amazed that tourists fall for this scam time and time again.
Basically you bet on which cup the pea is under. The person shuffling will put a pea under one of three cups move them around and then you have to guess which one it's under.
If you are watching this "show" you may not be aware that there are about 10 to 15 people involved with this scam. They all gather around the person shuffling so that tourists crowd around out of interest. The victim is then attracted to the crowd and watches the performance. People are betting on where the pea is and each time the victim does not play but watches and is amazed to see that each time they guess correctly where the pea is. Apparent tourists pass by and join in - some win some lose but then win back again and walk away with the money. Each time the victim thinks that they had guessed correctly where the pea is.
The host of the "show" will then invite the victim to bet and can be quite forceful about this. With everyone else who has already bet looking on there is quite some peer pressure to try your luck. "Why not" you think - I was right 10 times so far.
The victim puts down their bet and sure enough this time they get it wrong and lose their money. If you complain you get 10 people crowding around you explaining it's the luck of the game and you leave feeling cheated.
The very best thing that you can do when you see this street "performance" is walk on by.
Bouncing cartoon characters.
One of the biggest scams around is run by people that sell bouncing cartoon characters. These cut out characters bounce up and down to the music that is coming out of a stereo placed near by. They cost anything between €5.00 to €10.00 per character and of course you need a stereo to make them bounce - I think not!
Tourists buy these and are very disappointed to find they don't work when they get back home. The reason is those figures that where so merrily bouncing away in the street were hooked up by a fine hair-thin wire that is practically invisible. The wire is attached to the back of the stereo cassette player that has a small wheel that spins around making the characters jump and making it appear as though they are jumping to the music.
I'm just amazed that the people selling these have the nerve to go on selling them when thousands of people are disappointed by what they have bought. Don't fall for this one! It may be only €5.00 to €10.00 but why not spend your money on something you will be happy with instead of funding scam artists to upset more tourists.
I've just been reading all the unfortunate experiences of visitors to Barcelona regarding being pick pocketed etc. I've been paying homage to Barcelona via holidays for eight years now, and I am aware of the scams being acted out. There is no easy answer, except to pay heed to the advice given on this site. Try to keep a low profile, emulate the dress code of the Catalans, and if you find yourself drawn to watch some street theatre or other, keep an eye on the people around you. You will be surprised at how you will recognize those intent on pick pocketing !
The beach is a prime target for those intent on stealing. While you are busy sunbathing or swimming, it is a robbery waiting to happen, so keep your belongings hidden, and don't leave them unattended I've been a victim in this situation, and have also seen it happen to others when at the beach. I reported to the beach patrol guardia that ' a one-armed women accompanied by a man were rifling through people's belongings that had been left unattended.
Barcelona is a safe city (despite all the things you've read above) and to not visit it because you are afraid of what might happen is a terrible waste of a potentially wonderful experience.
Problems are most likely to start when tourists don't take the right precautions. Those that will follow these guidelines will significantly reduce the chances of anything unsavoury happening and increase your chances of enjoying a trouble-free visit.
Just take a few precautions and it's unlikely that you will fall victim to a scam or pick pocket or bag snatch. Thieves prefer to choose easy victims so follow the Personal Safety Guidelines listed above.
But whatever you do don't fall for the thought that you will never be a victim of theft in Barcelona. Keep your wits about you and take the above precautions.
And remember if it does happen to you take it in your stride and remember that it has happened to many others too (me included). You will not have been the only one.
Take a positive stance like Denise of Newburyport, Massachusetts, USA in her letter above. You will have happy memories to take back that way.