Is Barcelona Safe to Visit?

A pickpocket stealing a phone out of a woman's bag - Is Barcelona Safe and How to Avoid Barcelona Pickpockets

People often ask me “is Barcelona safe?” or “is it safe to travel to Barcelona?”.  To reassure visitors to Barcelona, I’ve written this post to explain why Barcelona is safe to visit and share some Barcelona safety tips from living in this beautiful city for five years.

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Is Barcelona Safe?

The first thing I have to emphasize is that violent crime in Barcelona is very rare.  In the few years before COVID, there was an increase in muggings and thefts involving violence, but compared to other major European cities like Paris or Rome, Barcelona is still a very safe city.

Gun crime just doesn’t happen here, and I feel much safer in Barcelona than I would do in many cities in the United States.  However, pickpocketing and petty crime in Barcelona are annoyingly common.

During the Pandemic, crime rates dropped dramatically as tourists stayed away, and now as visitors begin to return, the city is stepping up the fight against crime with more police on patrol and tougher sentences against repeat offenders.

Visitors should also be aware that the police are cracking down on drunk and disorderly behaviour, so while you’re in Barcelona please visit responsibly!

Police in Barcelona - Is Barcelona Safe to Visit?
Police in Barcelona – Is Barcelona Safe to Visit?

Terrorism in Barcelona

Unfortunately, there is a risk of terrorist attacks in Barcelona, like many places in Europe and around the world.  In 2017 there were two incidents in Barcelona where vehicles were driven into pedestrians – one on La Rambla, the main tourist street in Barcelona, where 13 people were killed.

In previous years, there were attacks from Eta, the Basque separatist group, although they have now disbanded and are no longer considered a threat.  These days it is Islamist extremists who are more likely to carry out an attack.  Be vigilant but not paranoid, you would be extremely unlucky to be caught up in a terrorist attack in Barcelona but sadly it is a possibility.

Barcelona & COVID

During the pandemic, Barcelona, like all cities in Spain brought in strict lockdown rules to try to control the spread of COVID-19.  People were not allowed to leave their homes unless it was to carry out necessary tasks such as buying food or medicines.  Masks were compulsory both inside and outside, although regulations have since been relaxed.

For up-to-date COVID regulations in Barcelona, check the official government information from your country.  The UK government website is updated frequently with regulations and advice regarding what to do if you have symptoms of COVID or test positive during a visit to Spain.

Political Demonstrations in Barcelona

There is a strong sense of Catalan pride in Barcelona, and many people want to see Catalonia separate from Spain.  They see the economic and political control that the Government in Madrid has over the country as damaging to Catalonia and to the Catalan culture.

In 2019, nine Catalan politicians were jailed for their part in a referendum for independence that the Spanish government ruled illegal.  They were pardoned and released in 2021, but feelings run high in Catalonia about the freedom to choose their future.

In times of elections, debates about the political situation and on the National Day of Catalonia on 11th September be aware that there are likely to be demonstrations, marches or large gatherings of people.  While this can be a spectacle to watch there is a risk that any demonstration may turn violent, or that they may be violently suppressed by the police, so I’d recommend avoiding anything like that.

Crowd of people in Barcelona with Catalan Flags - Political Gatherings in Barcelona are Best Avoided by Tourists
Political Gatherings in Barcelona are Best Avoided by Tourists

Barcelona Pickpockets

One of the reasons for Barcelona being infamous for pickpockets is that theft of property worth less than €400 was treated as a misdemeanour, not a crime, so Barcelona pickpockets are only ever issued with a fine and are not remanded in custody.  However, new, tougher sentences might help to deter repeat offenders.

Pickpocketing is a full-time job for some people in Barcelona, and they make a lot of money from unsuspecting tourists.  Barcelona pickpockets are common all over the city, but especially in popular and busy tourist areas like Las Ramblas, La Sagrada Familia and on the metro.  So-called petty theft of wallets, bags and phones is a major problem.

This video highlights some of the key places where the pickpockets work, and one woman’s crusade against them.

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.

How to Stay Safe in Barcelona

No matter how safe a city is, you should still take care as you would do anywhere, and common sense goes a long way to protecting your personal safety in Barcelona.  Walking around at night on busy streets is fine, but try to avoid walking alone on quiet streets.  The Gothic Quarter and El Raval are popular tourist areas, and so are specifically targeted by thieves.

The tips below are designed to help you avoid the pickpockets in Barcelona, but can also apply for keeping you safe and out of trouble.

Be vigilant of your Belongings at All Times

Keep a close eye on your belongings all the time, 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.

Even seemingly worthless belongings are at risk too; a friend of mine had his clothes stolen while kite-surfing in Barcelona!  I try to wear a bag with a strap across my body to avoid bag snatching, although it isn’t common here it can happen.

Use a Theft-Proof Bag

A bag with a zip is much better than an open tote-style bag, and make sure that the zip is facing forward to stop people sneaking their hand in behind.  Keep your hand on the bag as much as you can remember, and on the front of your body instead of behind.  If you have a backpack, keep it on your front, or invest in a theft-proof backpack.

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 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!

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.  I have heard of instances of thieves swiping bags with frightening speed so pay attention at all times.

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 a wallet 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 and pull out a phone or wallet.

Gents, consider a man-bag to take away the temptation of leaving valuables in your pocket, or if you can leave it in the hotel safe, do it.

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!

Ladies, Bigger is Better!

You know how it’s always a pain to find your make-up, keys, or purse in your biggest handbag? 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.

A scarf or cardigan on top of your belongings also acts as a barrier to prevent sneaky pickpockets from seeing and getting hold of your valuables.

Unfortunately, those little cute 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!

You could try a small theft-proof bag like this cross-body to see how that works for you.

Spread Your Money and Cards Around

Don’t keep all of your valuables in one place.  Hiding small amounts of cash in different places, including hidden pockets is a great way to make sure that if you do get pickpocketed, they’ll only get a small amount.

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.

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.

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!

Tourists, Try not to be Quite so Obvious.

It seems at least 50% of the population of Barcelona walks around with maps in their hands, looking quite lost. Yes, Barcelona is safe but don’t get complacent.

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.  As well as being wary of that person, they may not be alone and 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, 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 so Drunk you can’t Stand Up.

Unfortunately 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 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 then 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, as you become another very easy target.

Drink spiking can be an issue, 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.

A metro train in Barcelona - The Barcelona Metro is a Popular Target for Pickpockets - Is Barcelona Safe to Visit
The Barcelona Metro is a Popular Target for Pickpockets – Is Barcelona Safe to Visit

Be Especially Vigilant on the Metro

Although the metro 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, small spaces and they have time to plan their attack. 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 distraction at one end of the carriage, pickpockets often work in pairs or groups and are waiting for your attention to be focused elsewhere.

Don’t Flash the Cash or Jewellery

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 well hidden around your person.

Try and spread out your cash in different pockets/wallets so if one disappears 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.

Avoid wearing flashy and expensive jewellery – watches are a particular favourite of thieves so leave the Rolex at home.

Piles of Euros and a Passport - Keep Cash Hidden - Barcelona Safety Tips
Keep Cash Hidden – Barcelona Safety Tips

Look Confident

Barcelona pickpockets like an easy target, so simply being aware and vigilant automatically makes you 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!

Be Prepared

I hope that these Barcelona safety tips have helped you learn how to avoid the pickpockets and stay safe in Barcelona, but you should still prepare for the worst.  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.

Get Travel Insurance

No matter where you travel, you should always get travel insurance to cover you in case something does happen. Travel insurance from WorldNomads is available to people from 140 countries, and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home.  It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
Get a quote now:

What to do if you are Robbed in Barcelona

If you are one of the unlucky ones who does fall foul of Barcelona pickpockets or are a victim of any other crime in Barcelona, 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.  The same goes for violent crime or sexual assault which must be reported in person at the nearest 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 thief 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 the banking app.  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 as soon as you can – to the metro attendants if you’re underground, or to 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 day in Barcelona.

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!