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Pickpockets in Barcelona: How to avoid them

Pickpockets in Barcelona: How to avoid them

Beating Barcelona’s Notorious Thieves

How to beat them: A few true stories of pickpockets in Barcelona

I have been asked many times in my travel about questions of safety or similar causes. In some cities in particular, especially the more visited ones, safety is a primary concern of many people. One of these cities is Barcelona. In my experience, Barcelona is an extremely safe city, but the problem is there are a lot of pickpockets, and professional ones at that. Pickpockets in Barcelona are not impossible to beat. Although they likely act at random, there are places where they are most likely to strike and signs of what to look for in people. I have compiled some suggestions here to help you in avoiding pickpockets in Barcelona.

I think the main things that you need to do to beat pickpockets in general are personal consciousness and awareness. You do not have to be paranoid walking around all day, but it is smart when you know pickpockets are abound that you should be more aware of the people around you and where you leave your things. For general tips on how to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona, you may enjoy this article that I wrote a while back.

The government of Barcelona made this video, which explains some of the methods that the pickpockets use and show some of the areas of the city with the highest rates of pickpocketing. It is in Catalan, but even if you do not understand you can still get the message by looking at the pictures.

Tips for avoiding the pickpockets in Barcelona

1.) Protecting Yourself

– The best thing that you can do to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona is to avoid appearing like a tourist or foreigner. The pickpockets have trained themselves to look for weak and susceptible people who are clueless of the way that Barcelona works. Thus, blending in will help significantly. Do you best to blend in and they will likely ignore you. They look for tourists looking touristy doing touristy things. Here is how to stand out.

– Most importantly, do not leave your things vulnerable to targets. For example, leaving you wallet hanging out of your purse or carrying a wallet in your back pocket is bound to attract some attention. Furthermore, stopping at the ATM and walking around with a lump of cash would as well. Another example would be leaving something valuable such as a phone or a camera on your table while sitting at a café. This list is not inclusive, but you get the point. Drawing attention to yourself, or something valuable that you are carrying, is not a good idea.

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– Secure your goods. Many people just walk nonchalantly with their backpacks full of everything. If you are carrying a backpack, small or large, it is a good idea to make sure that your things in it are not easily accessible. If they are, then walk with your backpack in the front.

 

2.) Know the Problem areas

Part of defeating pickpockets in Barcelona is knowing where they are most likely to attempt to steal your things. Obviously, it could happen in many areas of the city, but it is most likely to occur in the areas frequented by people who don’t know any better: tourists. Being a tourist in Barcelona presents its own set of issues related to pickpockets, but the best thing to do is keep your wits about you when you are in the really busy areas. The largest ‘problem areas’ of Barcelona with respect to pickpockets are:

La Rambla – La Rambla is the single most well-known street in Barcelona. It is also one of the most crowded during high seasons. Walking this street is like a pickpockets dream come true. I’ve heard of several tales of people getting pickpocketed on La Rambla, my favorite was the one where the thief gave the person his wallet back because there was nothing in it.

Tips: La Rambla is a busy street. I recommend walking on the outside of the people. For example, either walk on the street side or behind the kiosks. People walking in the middle are susceptible to being ‘bumped into’ or not feeling the presence of pickpockets. If you walk on the outside, then you will notice people next to you. Additionally, when you get to this area of the city carry your bags in front of you not behind you like normal. I was with a local traveling through this part of the city and he did this without thinking as if he was accustomed to it.

The beach – Known as la playa in Spanish, the beach of Barcelona is one of the most heavily pickpocketed areas. When I was volunteering in a hostel in Barcelona, almost daily I heard people complaining about losing their things on the beach. Passports, cameras, purses, wallets, gone in an instant. Seemingly just disappearing.

Tips: If you go to the beach, then take as little as you need with you. If you do need to take things to the beach (i.e. money, camera, wallet, et cetera) I suggest keeping your bag in front of you where you can always see it. In the event that you take a nap or lay down to catch some sun, you need to lay on your bag (use it as a pillow) or sit on it. Another option would be to bury it under your towel, just don’t forget where you put it. If you want to go for a swim in the water, then it is best to take turns unless you can ask someone around you whom you trust to watch your things. I have typically found dependable people by looking around for groups or couples who have been near me for some time, but you never know with people so be selective.

I should mention that this specifically applies to the more crowded beaches such as Barceloneta. The further away you get from there the more spread out people are and the less you should have to worry.

pickpockets in barcelona on the beach

The metro – Barcelona’s underground is a madhouse for pickpockets during the busy hours. Just the other day when I was there, I noticed a few shady looking guys with what I like to call ‘wandering eyes’. When I walked by them, they turned and looked my backpack over for weaknesses. I turned and looked at them directly to let him know that I knew their game and wasn’t buying it.

Tips: If you can find a seat in the metro, then you would be wise to grab it and leave your things on your lap. If you must stand then stand to where you can put your back against a corner or crevice. I usually traveled with a backpack so I stood against walls and corners because I knew I couldn’t feel someone touching my bag.  Therefore, you should limit someones access to your things. If you are on the metro with someone whom you know, perhaps it is a good idea to stand together.

Touristy-chain restaurants – This is not an exact science, but places like chain fast-food restaurants and coffee shops typically attract non-Spanish people. Non-Spanish people are typically tourists. Therefore, some of the highest rates of pickpocketing happens near those places. That’s why you’ll see guards at the door of McDonald’s and Burger King. They try, but I am sure they cannot catch everyone. I was told by my walking tour guide that the Starbucks near La Rambla had one of the highest rates of theft because people would walk in find an empty table leave their things to order a coffee and return to find that the table was open again (i.e. their stuff was gone).

Tips: Just don’t leave your things on the tables unattended.

Cafés – Cafés and outdoor shops are another big striking point for pickpockets in Barcelona. People are robbed from their table at outside restaurants and other places far too often. They look for people with stuff out on the table, or leaving stuff behind the table. Stuff disappears as soon as they stop paying attention.

Tips: Never leave something like a bag or purse hanging on the back of your chair. Never show your valuables like your smart phone or camera on the table if it isn’t secured to your hand. I usually put my bag between my legs wrapped around one of them. Women typically do this with their purse as well.

Tour Groups – I have heard at least one case of a pickpocket easing themselves into a walking tour group. I don’t know how often this happens, but I know it occasionally does. I talked to one tour guide operator in Barcelona and he told me that once he was giving a tour and he noticed an unfamiliar face in the group about halfway through. He called the person out and they ran off.

Tips: Be mindful of the people in your group. If you see someone unfamiliar who joins in, then you may want to say something, or at least keep an eye on them.

Street Performances – Street performances in Barcelona typically draw large crowds. From people playing with fire to copeira dancing, the street performance scene is quite good in Barcelona, especially around the Gothic neighborhood (Barri Gotic). These street performers generally draw large crowds due to the impressive stunts that they are doing. I have not heard of any cases, but it would be wise to not forget the others around you while you are watching the performance.

Tips: Be more aware in large crowds.

*This list is not inclusive. Just some of the more popular ones.

3.) Know their schemes

I think that the best thing for me to do is just share some scenarios with you. These will help you to understand what pickpockets do.

Scenario 1: Beach Distraction – A person is sitting on the beach. They put their bag behind them while they look at the water. Person A comes to talk to them in the front and distract them while Person B grabs their bag. When Person A leaves it is too late.

By the way, this distraction technique is also used at outdoor cafés and restaurants with people who leave their bags on the back of their chair.

Scenario 2: ATM-newspaper – I talked to a girl who went to an ATM. While she was withdrawing money someone came up with a newspaper and put it between her face and the ATM screen. The person with the newspaper had one hand on the newspaper and was babbling about nothing while the other hand was trying to grab the contents (card and money) from the ATM machine while the girl couldn’t see. She was able to avoid it by pushing the paper out-of-the-way.

By the way, this scam works everywhere not just with the ATM. If someone tries to put some paper, a clip board, or book in your face, chances are their other hand is somewhere else.

Scenario 3: Old man drops something – Someone older person drops something and acts as if they need your help. While you are helping them their teammates are walking away with your bag.

Scenario 4: Hat on the table – A friend of mine was eating at a restaurant with his friend. Unfortunately, he left his camera on the table. Someone comes up to them and places a hat on the table. The person speaks in gibberish and distracts them for a while until they finally get him to go away. A few minutes later they realize that the person walked off with the camera under the hat.

Truthfully and sadly these are not all the scams. There are many more situations, possibly with new variations almost daily. If you have heard of others, please share them below so that we can all learn from them.

To beat the pickpockets of Barcelona it is necessary to know what to avoid, who to trust, and how to carry yourself. I assume based on the stories that I have heard that pickpockets in general look for a certain demographic of people who stand out as being vulnerable. Do you best to immerse yourself in the local culture, act like you know where you are going, and have fun doing it. If you haven’t read my tips for avoiding pickpockets, then I’d suggest that article as a good compliment to this one.

If you enjoyed this, please help spread the word by sharing it! I’d appreciate it. Make a great day, and have a blast in Barna! Clearly one of my favorite cities.

 

Are you traveling soon to Barcelona? If so, you need to read these 3 articles:

1.) For a complete guide to Barcelona click here. I include everything from getting to Barcelona via different airports, buses, and trains, foods to eat, and things to do. A local told me, “I have lived in Barcelona for 16 years, and I don’t think that you missed anything,” with respect to this guide.

2.) Want my insider tips about Barcelona?? If so, check out this insider’s guide to Barcelona, completely free to you.

3.) Suggestions for things to do in Barcelona. Here I list more than 25 of my favorite things to do in Barcelona.

 

Here is a list of other articles on related to Barcelona:

Hostels in Barcelona – A review of 10 hostels I visited in Barcelona

Barcelona Fever – A remembering of why I enjoy Barcelona so much

The Skyline of Barcelona – Overlooking Barcelona’s intriguing skyline

5 Cool Neighborhoods in Barcelona – A few of the more interesting neighborhoods in Barcelona

Snorkeling Excursion from Barcelona – Visit Catalunya’s Costa Brava, it is beautiful.

 

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13 comments

  1. Great tips here. I’d add… I use a Kipling bag. Specifically, the Lancelot

    It’s my go-to bag at home or abroad. Small and light weight with water resistant fabric yet large enough to carry a bottle of water, umbrella, small camera, wireless phone, and sweater (+). Zip closures with a pinch locking cover flap. Wear it cross-shoulder and you have next to nothing to worry about. 🙂
    Maria recently posted…We Deliver!My Profile

  2. Scenario one happened to my friend exactly as you described it. We were sitting on the beach when a guy came up and asked us for directions, putting a map in our faces. A guy came by on a bike and snatched his bag right up and he lost everything.

    And it’s not just pick pocketing! While we were at the US consulate getting my friend a new passport, we talked to the other people who were there because they had been robbed. One guy described that a guy came up to him and wanted to give him a “tango lesson”. He playfully danced around for a bit then pushed him down and robbed him. Another couple described that they were driving when their car tires “suddenly” went flat (ie someone rode by on a motor cycle ans slashed the tires). When they stopped the car they got jumped.

    It really annoys me that theft has become such a problem in this city. At this point, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be robbed if you go to Barcelona. It’s probably the only place I actually tell people not to visit.
    Aryn recently posted…Where The Western Things Are: WyomingMy Profile

    • Those are some pretty intense stories. I have never heard of the other crimes that you mention. My experience with Barcelona has only been about the pickpocketing side. I guess there are some people who have moved on to other crimes, shamefully. I still recommend Barcelona though, it is beautiful. Just don’t leave the house with too much if you are new to the city.

  3. Hi Andy,

    Love these practical tips. So many travellers really ask for it. I’m always very careful when travelling. In Central America we packed all our valuables in a crappy looking Winny the Pooh backpack (we had kids with us!) That worked, no one stole it 🙂

    But of course I did let my guard down and get robbed on the beach in my hometown in Australia once. Duh!
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot recently posted…Urban Safari in Harare and Zimbabwe Travel Myths BustedMy Profile

  4. I have two friends that had problems with thieves in Barcelona. So I think that your tips are quite important for everybody who plans to visit this great city.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted…Macarons Marathon at Pierre Hermé in ParisMy Profile

  5. All great tips Andy and a lot are common sense. I’m still amazed when going anywhere around the world at the number of people who leave phones and things just resting on a table. I always use a safe pocket.

    As for the beach, I’m always uneasy taking anything to any beach. I don’t trust anyone as a general rule.
    The Guy recently posted…The Smallest Kingdom In The World – Island Of Tavolara or Isola TavolaraMy Profile

  6. Yeah, that’s decent advice overall, but really, you will eventually get hit. I’m almost two meters tall and a big dude overall with a generally unpleasant look on my face and I always carry my wallet in my front pocket, but they still hit me with the one scam you haven’t included and will get just about everyone which is pretending to block the train doors. I’ve been visiting Barcelona for years as my wife is from here and I’ve lived in the center for two years now, but still, they got me. More about it if you want: http://www.hudin.com/blog/pickpockets-of-barcelona/

    Honestly, Barcelona is not safe and more violent crime is heavily on the rise as there are essentially no penalties for the thieves and they often have hundreds of arrests against them. For people who are concerned about security I would recommend to not come here until the city authorities and the judicial system make strides to fix the problem. That and the center has become a touristic theme park in the last 10 years with no sense of actual soul anymore other than tourists…

    Also, La Ribera (Born), Santa Catarina, & Sant Pere are places you have a good chance to get hit by the guys on bicycles and yes, you pretty much need to always be paranoid these days.
    Hudin recently posted…The Castilian ChipMy Profile

    • I have heard of some more aggressive stories like you mention Hudin, but I still believe that people can prevent most cases by being smart about their surroundings. Obviously, if it is your time, and you get caught in their sites you may lose, but they often go for easy targets.

      To date, I have never seen any violence in Barcelona. I don’t live there like yourself, but I have spent a good 4-5 months there over several trips. I will agree with you completely on the police situation though. I think that they do a great job of maintaining order and a presence, but they do little to nothing for pickpockets. Most of the time, they’ll just say, sorry. Additionally, many of the overly touristy areas have lost their soul, but not more than other famous European cities.

      It is unfortunate that you had a bad experience, I have seen it really affect other’s experiences negatively as well.

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