Learn the places to avoid, the distractions to be aware of, and the smartest products to prevent getting pickpocketed in Barcelona.
Unfortunately, it turns out the rumors are TRUE. Barcelona, as incredible and unique a city as it is, also takes the cake when it comes to being the number one city in the world for pickpocketing! But fear not – these tips will help you avoid this petty crime while visiting.
Perhaps it’s the warm weather year round or the inexpensive cost of living – but Barcelona seems to attract a larger population of needy than other European cities. In the Catalunya capital alone, more than 3,055 individuals are homeless or living in public housing communities.
This community of needy has lead over the years to an increase in pickpocketing and general theft. In addition, in 2020 the amount of theft has nearly tripled due to COVID-19 wiping out tourism during the busiest season of the year – summertime.
Thieves are in a state of desperation and taking measures into their own hands – literally! No one, including locals that have lived their whole lives in the Catalunya capital are immune to being pickpocketed. It can literally happen to anyone!
So as a tourist, you need to be aware of the risks and situations that could present an easy opportunity for thieves. If you follow the below tips, use common sense and always pay attention to your surroundings, you will certainly have a memorable experience visiting this incredible city!
Avoid Getting Pickpocketed in Barcelona with These Tips
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1. Know Your Surroundings
Like every major metropolitan city, Barcelona has its ritzy areas, its touristy areas and of course, it’s seedy ones. And these barrios, or neighborhoods, are to be avoided by tourists (especially at night!) unless you want to fall victim to a pick-pocketing situation.
What ares am I referring to? El Raval, which borders Gothic Quarter running parallel to La Rambla stands out as the worst. It isn’t uncommon here to find drug dealers, apartment squatters, low-level public housing complexes and some parks where prostitutes might gather.
During the daytime, El Raval can have some neat shopping boutiques and unique handmade gifts. But once the sun goes down, get movin’. This is not a neighborhood where you want to get lost in the dark.
Other areas that are less crime/drug ridden but also may pose a pick-pocketing risk are Barceloneta (loads of clubs and nightlife), Sagrada Familia (where you’ll find the famous basilica drawing in thousands of tourists daily), and Gothic Quarter (highly touristic for its cathedrals, architecture and outdoor restaurants).
2. Purchase Anti-Theft Travel Items
Anti Theft Backpacks
If spending $100 on an anti-theft travel backpack helps save you the trauma of loosing your cash/cards, iPhone, passport, or other belongings, then that is money well spent!
Traveling to Barcelona in the cooler months? These travel scarves are the perfect fashion friendly accessory while also being functional with a hidden secret pocket for cards, keys and cash.
Yup, that’s what I said – underwear! Never heard of Squirrl? This Australian-based company has created comfortable cotton bikini style underwear for women – but with an amazing secret front pouch. Ain’t NOBODY getting into your belongings when wearing these puppies!
3. Try Fitting In Instead of Standing Out
I’ve written several pieces on The Expat Chronicle about being an expat and fitting into the culture – rather than standing out. The same goes for being a tourist. It pays off here to blend in!
I’m not suggesting you change your entire style or wardrobe just for a one-week trip to Spain. But at the same time, you may want to leave your American flag stars and stripes t-shirt in your closet at home.
The moment you are recognized as a tourist becomes the moment you’re also targeted for potential pick-pocketing. Not sure what to pack so you’ll look more like a local in Barcelona? Check out my How Not To Look Like a Tourist in Spain Guide here.
4. Leave the Glam at Home
Luxury handbags, expensive jewelry, even that Apple Watch may not be worth carting across the miles to Barcelona – unless you want to scream to pickpocketers that you have high-priced items worth stealing.
Even as an expat living here for more than three years, I am ultra careful not to leave home with my engagement ring, LV handbags or pricey earrings. It’s just not worth it – so use common sense over fashion sense when it comes to your flashy goods.
Even locals that are natives here need to be vigilant! Leave the glitzy stuff behind, guys.
SHOP LUXURY HANDBAGS
5. Don’t Get Distracted
Undoubtedly Barcelona is one of the most awe-inspiring cities in the world. There are so many sights to admire and photos to take. Even as an expat I am guilty of getting swept away and caught up in the ambiance of this amazing culture! But beware – this can be a dangerous trap…
The clown ladies standing outside the Barcelona Cathedral handing out balloons to happy children? SCAMMERS! The vendors along La Rambla beckoning tourists with noisy trinkets and toys? WATCH OUT! And the kind but persistent men selling bouquets of roses in Placa Reial? TOTAL DISTRACTION!
These fabrics of Barcelona society that have become a natural part of everyday life here are huge distractors for tourists. And interacting with them typically means you’re being targeted for more than a friendly welcome.
But even riding public transportation on a normal day can leave you frantically searching for your wallet wondering how you could have fallen victim. Mothers on buses preoccupied with their noisy children are prime targets! I have one too many friends that experienced this and were left devastated.
6. Less Cash and More Cards
This one may not surprise you much, since modern day technology suggests an almost cashless world. But I’ll just touch on it from the perspective of safety when traveling.
Credit cards are always preferred over cash since cards can be cancelled if lost or stoles. Some even require a pin code for any purchases to be made. Cash on the other hand is gone once it’s gone. There’s no replacing it and the value cannot be proven when reporting to authorities.
When traveling abroad, look for a credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees attached to purchases such as the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card .
7. Children Aren’t Off Limits
It sounds completely heartless for a mother with children to be the target of a pickpocketing incident. But to someone whose single goal is to lift a wallet or purse, a distracted parent on public transportation is ideal!
I have a friend who lived here as an expat and had her belongings stolen not once or twice – but FOUR times! This included two wallets and two bicycles.
Why was she repeatedly targeted? My guess is her three young children kept her occupied (as kids do so well!) and someone took advantage of an easy situation. Multiple times. It was horrible to see her experience but also a good lesson learned.
Never take for granted where you are, who you are with or how aware you think you may be in Barcelona.