Barcelona pickpocket

How to avoid Barcelona pickpockets in 10 steps

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Barcelona is a top city to visit but tourists are also targets for Barcelona's pickpockets. A local expat shares her tips on how to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona, including areas to avoid in Barcelona at night.

Barcelona is a wonderful place to live, but it’s a den of thieves. It’s topped the poll as worst city in the world for pickpockets, and the sad truth is I can’t remember the last time I went out and didn’t see someone chasing after a bag thief or plaintively yelling for the police.

Here’s how to avoid it happening to you.

1. Get the airport bus

If you fly to Barcelona, take a cab or the bus from the airport. On the train, thieves only have to pay once to spend the whole day rifling through people’s pockets, and thefts are common both at Sants station and on the trains. The bus, which costs around EUR 5, is a far safer bet.

2. Don’t carry more than you need

Savvy Barcelona residents empty their pockets before a big night out, and you should too. Go to the ATM during the day and take only the cash you need to go out at night. Empty your wallet of everything else — credit cards, photos of loved ones, library card, Spanish driver’s licence, whatever — and there will be a whole lot less to cry about if the worst happens.

Officially, you’re supposed to carry ID at all times in Barcelona, but a photocopy of your passport should suffice if you get stopped by the cops. If you’re out shopping, you’ll need ID to pay by credit card — just be sure to keep it tucked away in a money belt or somewhere safe.

3. Be tourist-aware

Out in the untouristy suburbs you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pickpocket, but around La Rambla they’re 10 a penny. Hot spots include: Carrer dels Escudellers (which runs down one side of Plaza Reial and is also known as 'scally alley'), Plaza George Orwell, Carrer de la Princesa and Carrer dels Carders in the Born, Carrer de Sant Pau in the Raval, and of course, La Rambla.

None of these places are no-go areas by any means, but if you’re staggering down Escudellers at 6am you won’t be short of company as you trip over the empty wallets on your way home.

4. Leave your backpack at home

If you must carry a backpack, wear it on your front where you can see it. In any case, the best option is to carry a bag you can wear across your body so it can’t be pulled off your shoulder. Bags that have zips and secret inner pockets are even better.

Never put anything of value in outer pockets and, if you really have to walk alone at night, keep your hand over the zip and the bag on an unexposed arm (facing the wall rather than the street).

5. Know underground versus overground

Bag-snatchers love the metro. Gangs work together in groups and are particularly active around the train doors during evening rush hour and on the touristy green and yellow lines. One of the common scams in Spain known as the 'tapon' involves a member of the gang dropping something in front of the victim and then bending down to pick it up. As people back up behind them, accomplices get busy with everyone’s bags.

6. Be terrace smart

Watch the locals on a restaurant terrace. They don’t leave their bag on an empty chair or their phone on the table and neither should you. If you really must take your bag off your shoulder, keep your valuables on your person and the bag strap tied to your chair or between your feet.

Taxi drivers will tell you that all thieves are Moroccan but don’t be fooled — pickpockets are just as likely to be a group of young girls or a frail old lady. Be on your guard for anyone coming to your table and asking for change — there’s a good chance they’re scoping your stuff. Most of Barcelona’s genuine homeless tend to stay in one spot. 

7. Cab it

If you’re drunk as a skunk, don’t even think about walking home or taking the metro. Pay for a cab.

8. Blondes don’t have more fun

It’s not just in the bars and clubs that blondes get all the attention — the pickpockets love you too. Nothing screams tourist more than blonde locks, and short of dyeing your hair there’s not a whole lot you can do. Practice your psycho ‘don’t mess with me’ face, and avoid making it worse by not jabbering on your phone in your own language, carrying an expensive camera or gawping too long at your map.

9. Lock it up

On the beach, take as little as you can and never leave your stuff unattended. If you’re travelling alone, ask the nearest friendly-looking group to keep an eye on your things if you go swimming, or use the lockers at Platja de Bogatell or Barceloneta (the lockers are underneath Passeig del Maritim, not far from the big fish in Barceloneta, and on the beach at Bogatell).

10. If you luck out…

If the worst happens and you do get robbed, check all the nearby bins. Thieves are just after your valuables and will ditch everything else quickly. It’s worth reporting the incident to the police (especially if you have travel insurance), as sometimes things do get handed in. The Guàrdia Urbana station on the Ramblas (no. 43) is open 24 hours, but to save time you can report the loss online and then nip into the police to sign the form within 72 hours. 

Natasha YoungReprinted with permission of Matador Network.

Natasha Young has lived in Barcelona on and off since 2004. When not teaching English or writing, she can be found by the sea, stuffing her face with arroz negro or putting the world to rights over a bottle of Viña Sol. This post was originally published on the author’s blog and requires permission.

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