How to stay safe in Barcelona

Barcelona is famous for its creative architecture, its winning football team and its fabulous beaches. But you may also have heard of its unfortunate reputation as a place where tourists are targeted by pickpockets and swindlers.

The good news is that, although Barcelona suffers from pickpockets and scamsters, violent crime is far less common than in other large cities such as London and New York. Read this guide, keep your wits about you, and above all don’t let fear rob you of enjoying one of the world’s most fantastic cities.

Top safety tips

Carry only the essentials around with you: a photocopy of your passport, the cash you need for the day, and your camera on a strap around your neck.

Money by Images_of_MoneyLeave credit cards, passports and non-essential valuables locked up (preferably in a safe) at your accommodation.

If you carry money and other valuables in your pockets, use your inside coat pockets if you have them. If not, use your front pockets. Try to avoid keeping things like your wallet in a back pocket – this can be a very easy target for thieves.

Keep your bag closed at all times and carry it in front of you. In restaurants and bars, make sure you keep it not only in your sight but preferably in your lap or between your legs (don’t leave it strung over the back of a chair).

Be especially vigilant when in a crowd. Whether on the Metro or on the street, any gathering of people is potentially a prime spot for pickpockets, especially when there’s something like a street performer to distract attention.

If you need to use an ATM, find one that is just inside the bank. These are commonly found and safer than those out on the street. In either case, be alert and aware of what’s happening around you.

Make photocopies of all important documents, and also compile a list of the numbers to call if you lose your bank cards. This will give you a headstart if you do happen to be the victim of a theft.

“I’ve been robbed – what do I do?”

Trileros by ondarioDon’t panic – it’s unfortunate but it’s not the end of the world. The first thing you should do is cancel any bank cards that have been taken. Call your bank or credit card company to report the cards as missing.

Go to the police station to report the theft, with as many details as possible about the items lost. Although they are unlikely to catch the thief, they can give you an official police report of the theft (known as una denuncia), which should help you claim a payout from your insurance company.

If your passport has been stolen, you will need to contact your airline to find out whether they require a temporary passport to allow you to fly home, or if a police report is sufficient. In the former case, contact your country’s embassy or consulate. Most of these can issue temporary passports quite promptly. Make sure you turn up with passport photos, identification, and the police report.

The scams

Over the years, the pickpockets and con artists have come up with all kinds of ingenious ways to part visitors with their money. Here’s the lowdown on the most common ones.

Ketchup spot

Someone spills a ketchup-like substance (or something that looks like spit or bird mess) on your shoulder or back. Later on they offer to clean it for you, and during the cleaning process they (or an accomplice) empty out your pockets. Don’t fall for this scam. Clean it yourself or ask someone else later.

The ‘Tourist’

One of the latest trends in the pick-pocketing world is to dress as a tourist and join a walking route. Often carrying a map, sunglasses, water and a camera, they accompany the group as if they were really taking part in the walking tour. Be friendly but vigilant, and always keep a close eye on your things.

Lost on the Metro

Someone gets pushed into the Metro in order to get to your stuff more easily, and usually they ask you if this is the metro to Sants. As a tourist you are usually helpful and willing to help them, and they leave at the next station, but not empty-handed! Be wary and watch your belongings closely.

The Clumsy Old Man

Beware of old men with walking sticks! While most are innocent, there is a well-known trick in which an old man bumps into you or trips on your chair in a restaurant, taking the opportunity to sweep your bag away across the floor with his stick. The moral of the story is to keep your bag in your lap or safely between your legs when seated.

Want more info on the tricksters’ ploys? Read on for scam-busting details of other such classics as ‘The Nightclub Flyer,’ ‘The Soccer Dance’ and ‘The Map-Trick’.

Worried about pickpockets? Consider booking an apartment in the much quieter district of Gràcia. Here there is much more of a community feel, yet it’s still very well connected to the city centre.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this post. I wish I’d read it before I went. I am a smart traveler and have visited over 10 countries without incident. But in Barcelona, the alert should be, not, “Be careful you don’t get robbed,” but “ASSUME you will get robbed and take those precautions!”

    I was robbed while IN my car in Barcelona on my way to Madrid, so I had everything organized and with me. While I stopped on Gran Via to pick up a friend, One man distracted us from the front and another opened the back door and took my purse with everything. I was used to American cars where the doors automatically lock. In my Swiss rental car, there was a DOOR LOCK button on the dash, which I should have used. My rental car was also broken into while completely empty, parked on a hill out of the way from tourist areas. Crime here is definitely beyond that of other major cities (I live in NYC and comparatively NYC is Utopian crime-wise).

    • Hi Heilau

      I am very sorry to hear about your bad experience in Barcelona, it’s a shame that people can leave with a negative impression of the city because of the behaviour of a few individuals.

      I am glad you think the article can help others to avoid a situation like yours in the future. And remember that Barcelona is not, in general a dangerous city so don’t let thieves put you off visiting again!

      Please let me know if you have any more questions

      Lucie

      • We were eating at a pastry shop and before we knew it our camera bag was stolen! It had camera equipment and almost 2 weeks worth of pictures from Mallorca and Barcelona. I just wish I can get those pictures- the equipment can be replaced but not the memories. Those guys stole our memories!

        • Hi Langga

          I’m so sorry to hear about your camera bag, it’s such a shame you lost so many photos. I guess the only good thing that can come from this is sharing your experience so other people also become more aware of the problem. I hope our article is useful in hindsight and that if you return you get some new, great photos and have a safer trip.

          Lucie

  2. I wish I could like this article, but a technical problem doesn’t let me do so. it says “An error occurred with Facebook Platform Opt In. Please try again later.”

    • Hi Aila,

      Apologies, at the time the like function was down. If you feel like it, you can try again. Glad you enjoyed the article! If you need any more tips or advice on your stay in Barcelona, just let us know!

      Thanks

      Rochelle

    • Hi Alice. Thats awful! I hope they didn’t get away with too much. Barcelona is generally a safe place to be, but you must keep an eye on your belongings at all time as opportunity theft is a constant menace. I do hope this hasn’t spoilt your trip and you enjoy the rest of it. Chloe

  3. be very careful on the train from the airport- I stuck my hand into my loose outer jacket pocket, and ‘shook hands’ with the pickpocket who was checking out my used tissues and gum wrappers….and we were nowhere near his stop…..I’m a lot bigger than him, so I just held his hand like an old friend till the next stop and kicked him out. Sure he’s back again right now.

    • Hi Riddly!

      Sorry to hear about your experience great to hear that he didnt take anything and all that you had for him were gum wrappers! Of course in every major city there are pickpockets but the main advice, you and I can give others is to not carry around valuables and if you have to make sure that you do not make them visible to others. If you need to carry them, make sure that you are keeping a close eye on them. I hope you will visit again and you dont have this problem. Barcelona is truely a great city and it would be a shame for a minority to ruin your time here.

      James

    • Hi Petty!

      Great to hear that you will be visiting Barcelona! Scams like these are rare and as long as you keep an eye on your belongings you will be fine. The main advice I can give you is to carry only essential items ie. phone and money and leave your passport and other valuables items somewhere safe. You should also not walk around the side streets along at night especially in the Raval area. I have no doubt you will enjoy your time in Barcelona its truely a great city like many other cities crime does happen but its few and far between.
      Have a great trip, let us know if we can help you with anything!
      James

  4. Well, I “was” looking forward to my trip to Barcelona…but after reading this…well, my enthusiasm has dwindled. Hoping for the best & keeping my fingers crossed…and my valuables close!

    • Hi there,

      At least you know now that you need to be careful. We want to make sure you have a great time here, so if you bear these tips in mind you should be able to enjoy all the great things Barcelona has to offer. Don’t be scared; be excited! Barcelona is a wonderful city and you’ll be entertained no matter what you’re into.

      Bon voyage!

  5. Hi

    I just read an ebook with details of other common scams in barcelona called “Barcelona Scams – A Visitors Guide to Avoiding Common Street Scams for 2013”

    I was mugged there last year. I bought this book so I’m not so unlucky on my next trip and thought other readers might find it useful too.

    • Hi Erin,

      Thanks so much for the recommendation. Although Barcelona is generally a safe city, it is still useful to know a few tips before you go so that you can keep yourself and your things safe. A book like this one should help you arrive in the city fully prepared to avoid the common scams.

      We hope you enjoy your next visit!

  6. I am so looking forward to my trip to Barcelona, and on the other hand I am very apprehensive for my safety, I am 81 years young traveling solo, and staying at a small hotel on Nou de Sant Francesc off the Rambla. I plan to follow all the safety rules, that I have read. My main concern is that I have planned several activities that take place in the evening and for the moment cannot determine if taxis will be plentiful so that I will not have to walk home alone, even if it is a short distance, I don’t mind this expense. . I was thinking of carriying pepper spray but I wonder if a flashlight might not be a better idea or a police whistle. Still mulling over my options. Any advice would be most appreciated. Thank you..

    • Hi Roz,
      Thnaks for your comment.
      You should know first of all that Barcelona is a generally safe city. While some areas of the city are notorious for pick pocketing and scams, there is rarely any violence directed at tourists in the city. The following article is also work a look as it contains a few tips to beating the most common scams: http://www.oh-barcelona.com/en/blog/2012/tourist-guide/information/beating-the-barcelona-tricksters-25685
      You’ll quickly find that there are always plenty of taxis in the city and you can hail a free one by just signalling with your hand – they will almost always see you and will stop right by you, no matter how inconvenient it may be to the drivers behind them! Just make sure you ask them to drop you off right by your hotel’s door and they will be happy to.
      We hope you’ll enjoy the activities you’ve planned for the evening and we’re sure that you will always find somebody else on the activity happy to wait with you a couple of minutes at the end of the night until a taxi passes by – even waiters in restaurants will generally be happy to help if they’re not busy.
      A flashlight shouldn’t be necessary as all parts of the city centre (especially close to where you will be staying) are well lit all night.
      If you any other questions or concerns then don’t hesitate to reply again!
      Happy travels!

  7. I visited Barcelona last week as a tourist and while shopping with my son at Nike Store at Paseo de Gracia, my wallet was stolen from my pant pocket while I was paying for the jacket. The security as well as the staff at the store were not helpful and had a non-caring attitude. The police station did not have an English speaking person to take the police report. Overall, they do not care and it has become a part of their culture as a norm.
    It is hassle and will deter tourists like me from visiting again!

    • Hi Hardeep,
      We are very sorry to hear of your unfortunate experience while on holiday.
      We hope you have been able to sort everything out since the incident and please know that we are here to offer any more advice should you need it.
      Barcelona is, of course, a generally safe city, but does have the unfortunate reputation for theft. That is why we try to offer all visitors as much advice as possible with articles like this one and like this one too: http://www.oh-barcelona.com/en/blog/2012/tourist-guide/information/beating-the-barcelona-tricksters-25685
      We hope your next trip will have a happier ending.
      And like we said, we are here to answer any questions or worries that anybody may have.

  8. I am sitting in my Hotel room in Barcelona right now after being scammed out of over 1000 euro and a gold necklace my late father left me. (Group of woman come up talk, laugh, dance, hug, steal!) I am reluctant to even step outside my hotel room, and just want to get out of this city, the next 3 days can’t go soon enough. Any city that allows this type of thing to happen in the streets should be ashamed of itself. Don’t get me wrong i was naive and shouldn’t have been in that situation, too much money on me, drunk and alone, but I have been like this in cities all over the world and never had an issue. I am positive the team of 4 that duped me are known to police but having read much on this topic today, it seems the police are implicated at worst and apathetic at best to the whole thing. You have lost me Barcelona, and I will be sure to pass on the message, as I wish someone had for me before deciding to come here. NB: I am sure the majority of this city and its inhabitants are lovely and those people (if I would call them that) are most likely gypsies and not even from here, but what I can’t get over is how this type of behaviour is accepted, and almost lauded. For me It has all had the impact of making the Paella a little less tasty, the architecture a little less impressive and the music a little less lively. Just my 2 cents (or 1000 euro worth as it turns out).

    • Hi Daniel,
      We are sorry to hear about your unfortunate incident and hope that you yourself are your OK.
      You’re right that Barcelona, while generally safe, does have some problems with robberies and that this behaviour is at times the norm. That is why we do all we can with our articles like this one to advise and warn people beforehand so that the chances of anything unfortunate happening are less.
      If you have any other questions or need any other advice then we are here to help.

  9. I am staying in Barcelona with a friend this summer. We are both girls and will probably go to a club once or twice. I have heard that the clubs open in the early hours of the morning. But I am concerned that everyone will already be in bed and that we might encounter some dangerous people on our way back to the hotel. What an you tell me about club safety? Is it a dangerous scene? Will club security escort us back to the hotel if it is close enough? I have heard that some taxi drivers have been known to drive the opposite way with bad intentions. Please help! I’m very worried (not so much about pick pocketing but actual violence – especially since we are two girls)

    • Hi Jane,
      You’re right that the clubs generally run late, from 1am to 6am, so it will be late when heading back to the hotel.
      Unfortunately it is very unlikely that the club security would escort you back to your hotel, however you should both be fine without them. Given that there are two of you, it is unlikely that anyone would approach you and a taxi home is the safest way if you take one of the city’s official taxis (in black and yellow).
      The area of the club is also worth taking into consideration. Be especially careful if at all near Las Ramblas, but apart from that it is probably even safe to walk home.
      And the other thing is that at 6am it will already be light outside in the summer! So that should make you feel even safer!
      Enjoy your stay and let us know if you’ve any more questions!

  10. Just back from Barcelona, a city where you can’t relax or take your eye off your possessions. A guy shouted to my daughter that she had a massive spider on her. We just kept walking, I’ve no doubt if we stopped we’d have been robbed. Several times when stopping on streets outside shops, people came along and sat beside us. On looking at them several times, they moved away. A woman on her flight home was lifting her luggage onto the airport train. A guy helped her on with it and then pressed the button to shut the train door. She moved her elbows outwards to open the door, whereby someone behind her opened her bag which was on her shoulder and took her purse. An old man on the platform actually got the purse back from the thieves and returned it to her. Best protection is a money pouch available from outdoor shops, which you wear around your neck inside your clothes. You can’t see it. They look for easy pickings from bags or pockets. No handbags in Barcelona and empty pockets, the only way to stay safe. Police chase after illegal traders selling handbags when they should be targeting pickpocketers. It’s a lovely city but if tourists stopped going, they’d have to get their act sorted. We weren’t robbed because of the money pockets but I wouldn’t go back again. I’d rather spend my money in a city that embraces tourists and not robs them.

    • Hi Ann,

      We’re sad to hear that you had so many problems with pickpockets in Barcelona. The police presence is growing in touristy areas which is reducing the amount of both pickpockets and illegal traders, but obviously at the moment there are still quite a few.

      Good idea about the money pouches though, it keeps your money and important items hidden and safe.

      As with any city, the best thing to do is to only carry your essentials round with you and to keep them hidden in money pouches like you suggested or in a closed backpack. Then as long as you keep an eye out in crowded places, you should be fine.

      I hope you still managed to enjoy the rest of your trip because you are quite right, it is a really lovely city.

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