Barcelona: Pickpocket Capital of Europe

April 14, 2011
pickpocketing in barcelona

I’ve been living in Barcelona for over three months now, and I have yet to feel unsafe here. In fact, I feel safer walking home by myself at night here in Barcelona than I did at my college in the U.S walking to the off-campus convenience store for a late-night snack. That’ s not to say that nothing bad ever happens in Barcelona — crime can occur anywhere, but for the most part, it’ s a very safe place to travel.

The real crime that happens in Barcelona is not the stuff of “ Nancy Grace,” but petty pickpocketing. Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of Europe, where thieves have wallet-reaching and purse-grabbing down to a science. I’ ve even heard that thieves come here to train, staging elaborate distractions on the metro. It’ s not just the tourists that fall victim to the thieves, but the locals do too, making it a real problem in the city.

The real crime that happens in Barcelona is not the stuff of “ Nancy Grace,” but petty pickpocketing. Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of Europe, where thieves have wallet-reaching and purse-grabbing down to a science.

While I’ ve thankfully never had anything stolen here in Barcelona, I’ve heard several stories from others who have. One of my friends from our study abroad program told me about the time she thwarted a pickpocketing couples’ plan to make off with her purse at a McDonald’ s. She noticed the couple had been acting strangely while she sat with a friend enjoying a McFlurry off La Rambla, the main tourist drag. When the couple got up after not having eaten anything, my friend looked down to find that her purse had been stolen right from under her chair. She immediately knew what had happened since the couple had been acting so suspiciously, and chased the couple to the stairs of the four-story McDonalds shouting, “ Que haces?” – “ What are you doing?” — in Spanish. Thanks to her quick thinking, the couple dropped her purse and ran.

The Barcelona Mcburglers incident occurred shortly after we arrived in Spain. Since then, we’ ve all been even more vigilant of our belongings in public and haven’t had anymore close calls. That is, we hadn’t until just last week. Another friend of mine was shopping and had her wallet stolen from one of the pockets in her backpack. Never unthinkingly stash a wallet in an outside pocket while you’re shopping. It’s an easy reach for an experienced pickpocket.

Sometimes thieves will take the cash from a wallet, and then toss the rest in a nearby trash can. My friend thought that her wallet may have been in the trash, so she got in line with the other dumpster divers to dig through the nearest garbage bin. Unfortunately, after waiting in line she didn’ t find her wallet among the rubbish. Luckily, the store owner discovered her wallet on the floor the following day with my friend’s cash and used metropass missing, but her credit card still there.

To avoid something like this happening, the best advice I can give you is that you can never be too paranoid! Always carry your bag in front of you.

Not all the girls in our study abroad program have been lucky enough to get most of their belongings back. The night before her flight back to the U.S, a girl had her purse,jacket, and keys stolen from a club. The girl had been watching the communal purse pile at the discoteca for her friends, but glanced away for one moment and her purse was gone, along with her passport, keys, and credit card.

To avoid something like this happening, the best advice I can give you is that you can never be too paranoid! Always carry your bag in front of you. When you are at a restaurant, café, or bar make sure that your purse is on your lap or attached to your chair where you can see it. It’ s also a good idea not to carry your passport or all of your cash on you just in case the worst happens. Also, avoid super touristy areas, not only because they aren’ t as cool to explore, but because there are more thieves there to take advantage
of the less savvy travelers.

Lastly, a decoy purse filled with your used metro passes, or maybe a padlock and chain for your purse wouldn’ t be such a bad investment.

Barcelona: Pickpocket Capital of Europe

About Anna Casey

Anna CaseyAnna Casey studied abroad in Barcelona.

9 thoughts on “Barcelona: Pickpocket Capital of Europe

  1. Avatar
    January 10, 2015

    This article showed up in my Flipboard today, and I must say I’m sooooo relieved the information is outdated now – meaning Barcelona is NOT the pickpocket capital of Europe anymore (although your tips are still totally helpful when traveling to any big city).

    I’ve been giving private tours for couples and families in Barcelona for many years, and I remember 2010 and 2011 as some of the worst in our history. Virtually in every tour someone tried to pickpocket, and I was constantly vigilant and warning my guests: “Wach out, those are pickpockets! Let’s go away, I don’t trust those other either!” I even stopped taking the subway with clients because every time we took it, someone tried to pickpocket us… and we only used it for 2 stops!

    I was even starting to seriously consider a job I love, because it had become a nightmare.

    Thanks god, after the elections we changed Mayor and in less than one year over 100 pickpockets were reported to be now operating in other countries (i.e., they were being arrested somewhere else).

    The next summer, everything went back to normal, and while Barcelona is still a big city and there will always be pickpockets lurking around somewhere, it’s not the plague it used to be and now if you take a few common sense precautions, your odds of being pickpocketed are way lower. As an example, last year I gave around 200 tours, but I only crossed pickpockets a couple of times. Much more bearable!

    Too bad we’ve already gained a bad reputation that will take ages to clear…

  2. Avatar
    Judy DuPree
    May 9, 2014

    I had a pac safe bag in Athens . Be aware that both ends of the bag do not have the wire mesh. My bag was slashed while on the train. Nothing was taken because all my valuables were in the multiple zippered pockets inside. Only a guide book and a scarf were in the large main pocket. I wasn’t holding the bag in front of me but I certainly do now!

  3. Avatar
    May 6, 2014

    Great advice, thanks for posting. As we will be on Noordam lv. BCNon 5 18 but will overnight in a Holiday Inn with about 6 to 8 hrs to explore. We have been to most of the major sights on a previous trip. But is the Hop on Hop off bus still a good way to scout out places to return to for further investigation>
    ?Also I read that so many Museums are closed on Mon. Free on Sun. Is the Picasso difficult to get in on Sun. ?
    Any heads up on vegetarian restaurants greatly appreciated too.

    !Muchas gracias!
    Senior “gypsies” Muriel & Bob

  4. Avatar
    May 3, 2011

    Thanks so much for writing this post. I plan to travel to Europe someday, and this is something for which I wouldn’t have thought to prepare. Thanks to you, now I know! On the other hand, I’d love to sit down with an expert pickpocket and hear his/her story…while clutching my purse to my chest, of course. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Shannon Cavanaugh
    April 17, 2011

    Anna, what a great article. I wish I had it to read before we went to Peru a couple of years ago. Two women were working together. My husband and I were dining at a table when they came up and while one talked to us another sat down and then quickly left with MY BAG! Spent the hole day at the police station not understand one word, but they did find the girl and I got my purse, camera and most importantly my notes back from our five-day hike to Macchu Piccu. Stay safe and again thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I would love to visit Spain.

  6. Avatar
    April 15, 2011

    I was carrying a purse that snapped on the outside and had it behind me while getting on a train. The guy behind me snapped it open, but I quickly put it in front of me.
    Years ago, I would travel cheaply by sleeping on the train. This may be okay, but one night, I was sitting across from one other person and I felt him going for my across-the-shoulder-strap purse when he thought I was asleep. Always be alert to your surroundings.

  7. Rachel
    April 15, 2011

    Great post! I actually dealt with this issue by wearing a money belt under skirts and jeans while traveling in the Ukraine. But it was a pretty big ordeal to get my money out every time I wanted to pay for something.

    Do you recommend any bags that may be more secure than others?

    • Avatar
      June 16, 2011

      Hi Rachel,

      Pacsafe is a company that makes a whole bunch of travel gear that is about as secure as it gets. They have wire mesh bags that you can put over your own backpack and padlock which can be handy. I bought a daypack from that is reinforced with metal mesh throughout so it can’t be slashed and even the straps are impossible to cut or rip when someone grabs for it. My pack lasted me through months in Italy, Ecuador and Peru without anything getting taken from it. The packs are a bit pricey but it was worth it for me to keep me from worrying.

    • Rachel
      June 19, 2011

      Thanks for the tip! I will definitely look into Pacsafe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *