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.
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?”
Don’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.
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.
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.
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.