Barcelona Pickpockets: How to Avoid Pickpockets in Barcelona

If you’re planning to visit Barcelona but are wondering about safety and crime, in particular pickpockets in Barcelona, you’re in the right place.  Barcelona pickpockets have gained quite a reputation over the years, and while it does happen in cities and countries all over the world, pickpocketing in Barcelona has caused a lot of issues for tourists and locals alike.  In this post, I’m sharing all my tips for how to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona, how to keep your belongings safe, and tips for what NOT to do (speaking from personal experience!).

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Is Barcelona Bad for Pickpockets?

Along with other European cities like Rome and Paris, unfortunately, Barcelona is renowned for pickpockets.  Pickpocketing in Barcelona is a major problem, especially in busy tourist areas like the metro, La Rambla, and the train station.  Pickpocketing accounted for 48.1% of crimes committed in Barcelona in 2023.

I should also say that violent crime in Barcelona is very rare so it is still a safe city to visit, although watch out for some common tourist scams and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Why are There so Many Pickpockets in Barcelona?

There are several reasons why pickpocketing is a significant problem in Barcelona, I think it’s partly due to the city’s high tourist traffic, crowded attractions, and busy public transportation systems, which create ideal conditions for pickpockets to operate.

Tourists are often distracted by sightseeing and unfamiliar with their surroundings, making easy targets for skilled pickpockets.  There are also lots of outdoor attractions and outdoor dining where pickpockets can make a quick getaway, and at the beach, people leave belongings unattended which are easy for bag snatchers and petty thieves to pick up.

Man pickpocketing a phone from a womans purse - Barcelona Pickpockets
Barcelona Pickpockets are a Real Problem

However, that doesn’t seem to be any different from other busy tourist destinations in Europe or anywhere else in the world.

And although tourists are often easy targets, even locals complain about getting robbed in Barcelona!  It can happen so quickly that you really have to be on your guard all the time.  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, and just over a year later it got stolen again.  Touch wood I haven’t had any problems since! 🤞

One major reason pickpockets thrive here is that there isn’t much of a deterrent.  Thefts of anything valued at less than 400 euros are considered a misdemeanour and carry low penalties, so stealing a wallet is usually a safe bet for pickpockets.  If they are caught, they only have a fine to pay.

That is supposed to have changed in 2022 when a new law designed to tackle repeat offenders was introduced and they could face penalties of 6 to 18 months imprisonment.  However, I haven’t seen any data to show that this has helped the situation, and pickpockets continue to cause havoc in Barcelona.

How to Avoid Pickpockets in Barcelona

You might not be able to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona completely, but with these tips, tricks and theft-proof gear you should be able to reduce the risk and hopefully not get pickpocketed or at least not have anything valuable stolen!

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

There is no stereotypical Barcelona pickpocket – so they’re not easy to spot.  All of the stock photos I found of pickpockets were all men stealing purses from women, but pickpockets can be any gender and will target anyone they see as an easy option.

While I don’t want you to be paranoid, be aware of what is going on around you and who is standing close to you, especially if there is a distraction or commotion that redirects your attention.

Be Vigilant of Your Belongings All the Time

Keep a close eye on your belongings at all times, and when I say eye I really mean keep a hand on them.  Never leave your valuables unattended, even for a moment, especially in bus areas like the metro, La Rambla, Sants train station, the beach, bars and restaurants.

Man pickpocketing a purse from a womans backpack
Anti-theft travel bags and backpacks are very useful!

Use a Theft-Proof Bag

Unfortunately, those cute little bags we all love are too easy to open & grab what’s inside; I’ve even had my purse stolen from a small bag that was right in front of my body – on a busy metro I was an easy target, despite thinking I knew all the tricks!

I’d recommend using a small theft-proof bag like this cross-body if you like to keep things light, or get a larger theft-proof bag that can carry more things you might need, like a water bottle and sunscreen.  Travelon is a great brand for pickpocket-proof bags and has a range of styles and colours to choose from.  I’ve just bought one of their anti-theft cross-body bags and I can’t wait to try it out!

My New Travelon Anti-Theft Crossbody Bag
My New Travelon Anti-Theft Crossbody Bag

 

If you decide not to get a theft-proof bag, a cross-body bag with a zip is much better than an open tote-style bag or shoulder bag, and make sure that the zip is facing forward to stop people sneaking their hands in behind you.  YOu can also get some anti-theft zipper clips that you can clip to zips on a bag and attach it to another part of the bag to make it harder to open.

Anti-theft Zipper Clips on my Bag
Anti-theft Zipper Clips on my Bag

Either way, keep your hand on the bag as much as you can, and have the bag on the front of your body instead of on your back.  Theft-proof bags might slow down or deter pickpockets, but they might still be able to open the bags so don’t let your guard down completely!

Or Theft-Proof Backpack

If you have a backpack, keep it on your front, or invest in a theft-proof backpack like these which are slash-proof and can’t be easily opened by those pesky pickpockets.

Do not put your Wallet or Phone in your Back Pocket.

I see it every day and I want to tell everybody I see doing this that they are practically begging to get robbed.  Front jeans pockets are better, but loose trouser pockets and jacket pockets are also very easy for pickpockets to stick their hand in and pull out a phone or wallet.

Even inside pockets aren’t safe from professional pickpockets in Barcelona, so consider using a money belt or some hidden pocket clothing to keep things out of reach.

This hide-away pocket slips onto your belt and tucks into the waistband of your pants to keep important items like a passport and wallet out of view – and if someone manages to get their hands in your pants I feel like maybe they deserve the money!

Man stealing a wallet from a jeans back pocket - Pickpockets in Barcelona are a Problem - Don't Make it Easy for Them!
Pickpockets in Barcelona are a Problem – Don’t Make it Easy for Them!

Use Hidden Pocket Clothing

I have an infinity scarf with a hidden pocket that I wore the last time I flew into Barcelona, and it was a huge weight off my mind knowing that my passport was safely stashed in the pocket, out of sight and out of reach.

Unfortunately, most of the theft-proof items aren’t the most fashionable (although I love the scarves!), but it could be worth sacrificing your style for a few days to avoid being robbed in Barcelona!

I’m not a big fan of money belts but they can be useful, although an actual belt with a hidden pocket seems like a better idea if you’re only trying to conceal some cash and not larger items like a passport or credit cards.

There are lots of other kinds of hidden pocket clothing and accessories where you can hide money and valuables while travelling.  I’ve got a list of my favourite theft-proof items on Amazon here, or check out these:

Don’t Leave Items on the Table

Don’t leave your phone or wallet on the table while you’re eating at a restaurant, it’s too easy for thieves to distract you and grab it.  A common trick is to wave a piece of paper over the table and grab the phone from underneath the paper while you’re distracted.

That’s one reason why I love having my phone attached to me at all times with a long strap like this.  You can get ones that just hold your phone, or others with a small wallet attached to it.  When I’m walking around I still have my hand on it all the time though, you can’t be too careful!

FIND A PHONE CASE


 

Keep Your Bag on Your Lap While Seated

Keep your bag on your lap or in close contact with your body whenever you are sitting down anywhere; on the beaches in Barcelona, in a restaurant or bar, everywhere.  Often in bars there are hooks to hang your bags on, but only do that if you are sat with it between your legs – even if it is right next to you thieves can take them without you even noticing.

Crafty thieves have also been known to crawl 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!

For larger bags which won’t sit comfortably on your lap, attach them to the table or chair leg, and keep them as close to you as possible.  Thieves can swipe bags with frightening speed so securing your bags straight away means you can relax a little, but still be aware.

Spread Your Money and Cards Around

Don’t keep all of your valuables in one place.  Hide small amounts of cash in different places on your body, including hidden pockets, and if you’re travelling with a partner make sure you share out the credit cards and cash.  While this doesnt’ mean you won’t get pickpocketed, at least if you do you won’t lose everything you have.

Some people like to carry a “decoy” wallet or small amount of cash, something that is relatively easy for pickpockets to grab so they will take that as the easy option and not bother trying to get anything more valuable from you.

I have no guarantee it works, but in the unlikely event that you are robbed and threatened for your wallet, tossing them a decoy with an expired bank card and a couple of small notes could save you from losing more.  However, nothing is worth more than your safety, so it may not be worth the gamble!

More Tips to Stay Safe and Avoid Pickpockets in Barcelona

Look Like You Know What You’re Doing

Barcelona pickpockets like an easy target, so simply being aware and vigilant automatically makes you a more challenging victim than a clueless idiot. Not that everyone who gets pickpocketed in Barcelona is a clueless idiot of course, it can and does happen to the best of us!

That said, so many tourists in Barcelona wander around with maps in their hands, looking quite lost and not paying any attention to what is going on around them.  Yes, Barcelona is safe but don’t get complacent.

I am fully aware 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 be extra careful when anyone approaches you to offer their assistance or ask you a question.

Scams like helping you to wipe bird poop off you are an easy way to swipe your wallet, and as well as being wary of that person, they may not be alone and their partner may be close by and waiting for a distraction and the chance to strike.

If you need help with directions then ask at a café or hotel, or 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.

Don’t Get Too Drunk

No, I’m not your mother, but drunk, sleeping, or lost tourists are the easiest targets for Barcelona pickpockets, 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 close to your friends so they can help you back to your hotel.

Drink spiking can happen, so never leave your drink unattended and only accept drinks from people you know.  If you’re travelling with friends, try to stay together and watch out for each other.

If you do find yourself lost and alone & need help, then go into a hotel or restaurant 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, as you become another very easy target.  I’ve been pickpocketed while drunk on the metro and I didn’t even realise until the next day.  Another friend of mine woke up on the metro to find his wallet, phone and house keys had been stolen.  So don’t let this happen to you!

A metro train in Barcelona - The Metro is a Popular Target for Pickpockets in Barcelona
The Metro is a Popular Target for Pickpockets in Barcelona

Be Especially Vigilant on the Metro

Although the Barcelona metro system is a cheap and convenient way to get around the city, it is a favourite spot for Barcelona pickpockets as there are lots of people crammed into small spaces with not much room to move around. ALWAYS keep your hand on your bag/pockets etc while on the metro.

At busy times, people are often stood close together, in particular, when getting on and off the metro.  This is the time when most pickpockets will strike.  Be aware of any distractions at one end of the carriage, in particular on the first and last carriages that are closest to the exits.

Don’t Flash the Cash or Jewellery

Pickpockets and thieves aren’t stupid, they will be on the lookout for easy targets and targets who they know have something they want.

Avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewellery and watches.  Don’t pull out a big wad of cash to pay for something, keep some loose change and small notes at hand so you’re not displaying what and where you keep the big money hidden.  If you need to rearrange your hidden pockets or where things are hidden, pop into a bathroom to do it in private if you can.

Be Prepared

I hope all these Barcelona pickpocket tips have helped you learn how to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona and stay safe in this beautiful city.  However, before you come here you should also do some preparation in case you do get pickpocketed or fall victim to some other crime in Barcelona.

Before you leave home, make a record of all your credit card numbers & the phone numbers to call and cancel them.  Keep the list on your email so it can be accessed from anywhere, and consider having a paper copy stashed somewhere in your suitcase (just the long number, no other details!)

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 all of your travel documents – passport, visa, ID card, on email as well as a paper copy back at the hotel – I know from having my passport stolen in Ecuador having a photocopy helps move things along much quicker!

Spanish Police - What to Do if you Get Pickpocketed in Barcelona
Spanish Police – What to Do if you Get Pickpocketed in Barcelona

What to do if you are Pickpocketed in Barcelona

If you are one of the unlucky ones who does fall foul of Barcelona pickpockets, the next step is to act quickly.

To report a theft or petty crime in Barcelona you’ll need to go to a police station. Remember to keep the police report for insurance purposes if you have had anything stolen.

The emergency number in Spain is 112.

Go to a Police Station in Barcelona

There is a police station at the airport in Terminal 1, in El Raval at Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 76-80, and at Placa Catalunya metro station if you are robbed on the metro.

While in Spain, you can also call a dedicated English-speaking police line on +34 90 210 2112 from 9am – 9pm 7 days a week.

Cancel Your Cards

Cancel your credit cards and phone immediately before the pickpocket has the chance to run up any bills.  If you still have your phone, many credit and bank cards can be cancelled straight away on banking apps.  Otherwise, borrow a friend’s phone, or use a payphone or the phone at your accommodation to call your card company.  If you are alone, you will be able to call from the police station.

Report the Theft

Report the theft as soon as you can – to the metro attendants if you’re on the metro, or to the nearest uniformed 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 sightseeing time out of your day in Barcelona, but is necessary.

The most important thing 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!  It is awful when something like that happens, but try to not let it ruin the rest of your time in Barcelona.

 

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