I am surprised how often people ask me if I feel safe here, as they have heard it’s a dangerous place! It is very rare that belongings are taken by force or with any threat of force; but Barcelona certainly has a reputation for pickpockets.
Pickpocketing is pretty common, especially in busy tourist areas like Las Ramblas and the metro, as it is not a crime here – at least if the value of the item(s) stolen is under a certain amount – around €300 I believe. So pickpockets have focussed their attention on wallets and purses, going for the ‘easy’, lower-risk option and phone theft has become less common, as iphones and other modern smart phones go over this legal limit.
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.
I suppose at least they just took my purse, not my whole handbag, or phone and keys, but I was so annoyed! And felt stupid for ‘letting’ it happen. 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.
1. Be vigilant of your belongings at all times, 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 – and even seemingly worthless belongings are risky; a friend of mine recently had his clothes stolen while surfing! I try to wear a bag with a strap across my body to avoid bag snatching, although not common here it does happen. And I make sure the zip is facing forward to stop people sneaking their hand in behind you, and keep my hand on the bag as much as I can remember.
2. Keep your bag on your lap or in contact with your body whenever you are sitting down, 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, but it was close!
3. Gents, 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 them 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. Consider a man-bag, or if you can leave it in the hotel safe, do it.
4. Ladies, bigger is better! you know how in your biggest handbag it’s always a pain to find your make-up, keys, purse? 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. Unfortunately those little cute bags are all too easy to open & grab what’s inside.
5. 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; and they may not be alone, 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, 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.
6. Don’t get so drunk you can’t stand up. Unfortunately drunk, sleeping, or lost tourists are the easiest targets, 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 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, you become another very easy target.
7. Be especially vigilant on the metro. The metro is a favourite spot for pickpockets; lots of people, small spaces and time to plan their attack. ALWAYS keep your hand on your bag/pockets etc while on the metro. Be aware of any distraction at one end of the carriage, pickpockets often work in pairs or groups so are waiting for your attention to be focussed elsewhere.
8. 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 better hidden around your person. Try and spread out your cash in different pockets/wallets so if one goes 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.
9. Look confident in what you’re doing. Pickpockets like an easy target, so anyone vigilant and with their wits about them is automatically 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!
10. Be prepared. 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.
If you are one of the unlucky ones who does fall foul of the pickpockets, the next step is to act quickly. Report it 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 valuable day.
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!