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Barcelona/Barcelona airport SAFETY ALERT

I was recently the victim of a robbery that (based on my 50 years law enforcement experience) may have been an "inside job" involving BCN airport employees. The police suspect gang involvement as well. I also learned that crimes against tourists have become more frequent, blamed on local policies against arrest, prosecution and incarceration. (One pickpocket on the street had 87 prior arrests.). The United States State Department elevated Spain to a level two enhanced threat. I also spoke with people from other embassies who echoed this.

In my case, I rented a car from Hertz. I believe that I was followed into the adjacent parking garage where the rental cars are parked. I was given a high end vehicle (much more than I reserved) and when I went back to the rental counter in the terminal to complain about it I was told that's all they had. So I went back to the vehicle and drove out of the airport. Shortly thereafter a dark vehicle with two men inside pulled alongside of me. The passenger was making motions suggesting possibly something was wrong with my car but being suspicious I tried to get away from them but they continued to follow me. I pulled into a well-lit service plaza and got out of the SUV to check to see if indeed there was something wrong. "Out of nowhere" the passenger in the dark car came up and tried to slash a tire. I yelled, pushed him off and a cab driver nearby came to my aid. However, while this was going on, the suspect's accomplice got into my SUV and stole my backpack. Fortunately my passport, wallet and credit cards were in my secure pants. I am hoping that the police can identify the suspects from the gas station's video.

Although this incident was particularly brazen -- and I was lucky to have survived -- I learned from the police and embassy folks that it was hardly isolated and that people working at the airport have been involved. Further, crimes also occur within the airport.

This is the first incident for me in nearly two million miles of travel. The police believe (and I think correctly so) that I was targeted and there was likely nothing different that I could have done, especially as I followed the recommended advice of pulling into a well-lit, ostensibly safe location. My main luggage was secured in the hatchback area where I was standing and they didn't get that.

I would encourage anyone going to Barcelona (if you even choose to go there) to be especially vigilant as these incidents are becoming more brazen and several steps above that of ordinary pickpockets and tourist scams. I have been in other parts of Spain where I would feel safer but Barcelona has a well-deserved reputation for crime against tourists, Beware.

Posted by
128 posts

I'm so sorry that this happened to you. Congratulations on keeping your vital documents on your person instead of in your backpack. I love Barcelona. It ranks as one of my top five cities in Europe. But the scams and pickpocketing hazards are the worst I've encountered in Europe. My wife was pickpocketed in the Metro station at Placa de Catalunya. When we went to the police station to report the crime, there was a LONG line of other tourists reporting scams and pickpocket attempts as well. A sign of the problem: Everything at the station could be done in English as well as Catalan and Spanish. If you go, be sure to secure your credit cards and passport in a money belt or cross body purse. Travel smart and enjoy the wonders of Barcelona.

Posted by
4351 posts

Wow. That is one travel experience I don’t want to have and one travel story I hope never to have to tell! I am glad it wasn’t worse that it was!

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks for the kind wishes. I would seriously consider alternatives to Barcelona. Yes, things can (and do) happen anywhere but it's become a cottage industry in Barcelona and with the acquiescence of the local government. It was very clear that the hands of the police are essentially tied. Perhaps the only way to move that needle is if the city takes an economic hit.

Posted by
7024 posts

Thank you very much for sharing. I admit that I have put Barcelona pretty low on my list because of hearing things like this. It's not worth it when there are so many other places (including the rest of Spain) that I can travel to.

Posted by
6788 posts

Sorry to hear that you were victimized, and sorry to hear this about that great city. Thank you for sharing your experience and good on you for having the awareness and presence-of-mind to do all the right things. Still, it's disturbing and sad to learn about this.

Posted by
4014 posts

I was born and raised in Barcelona but unfortunately it's not the same city that it was 10 years ago not even the same city that it was 5 years ago. Honestly there are just as interesting places to visit in the rest of Spain as Barcelona without needing to worry too much about crime and overtourism.

My suggestion is look at Valencia if you want to taste of how nice Barcelona was before it started to go down the toilet. Valencia is now my new favorite city in Spain.

Posted by
273 posts

I’m glad you are okay Dick. I agree with Carlos. Barcelona is a thieves den anymore. I posted last March how my friend that I was traveling with didn’t even make it out of the airport before being pick pocketed. Then the next day we witnessed a couple being assaulted and robbed in the middle of the day in a busy street. I’ve not experienced this in other Spanish cities, only Barcelona. Anyone traveling there should be on high alert.

Posted by
172 posts

Well, after reading about the original poster’s crime experience, I’m all the more glad that I’ve been doing most of my recent travel in Central America — stuff like that has never happened to me there (seriously!). But then, Central America is not a hot global tourist destination as, I understand, Barcelona has become; and I suppose the “bad guys” are going to go where the tourist hordes go.

And as those tourist hordes increase in a town or city, they can cause other negative knock-off effects that make crime easier. For example, a gradual loss of community as people from far-and-wide move into a tourist city in search of that Great Modern Passion of Global Humanity — Jobs! And there will also be an influx of tourism entrepreneurs from all over, including those starting up the unregulated hotels you know as Air B&Bs, the damaging consequences of which are too well known to require further comment from me. In short, a sort of “Gold Rush” mentality can take over major, hot tourist destinations, and history teachers us that those gold rush towns of California and the Yukon could be pretty ugly places.

I realize this has been a broad generalization, and that many popular tourist destinations manage to avoid the above-mentioned evils; and I’m not going to theorize further as to why. I’ll just say that when I hear of crimes, like the one the OP described, occurring at hot horde-tourist detinations, I’m not too surprised, and you shouldn’t be either. But then it’s not my problem — in two weeks I’m heading for El Salvador, and I have no concerns at all!

Posted by
37 posts

I finally decided to jump in here because I am bilingual, and I have lived, worked and gone to school in both Spain and Central America, and Mexico (and I have close friends and family in all three places), as well as traveled all over the world.

My deepest sympathy is for any victim of a crime, any time, any place.

I live in a large eastern US city that has car-jackings, shootings, robberies and murders every day. Some crimes are limited to certain neighborhoods, some are among specific group members (drug dealers), some are crimes of opportunity (they like your watch or shoes), some are committed by mentally unwell people. One must always be vigilant and try to prioritize safety.

When one travels for pleasure, sometimes our guard is let down because we are relaxed and happy. We may not know all the latest crime statistics in the country we are visiting, or know what are the latest scams. However, in my opinion, there are few places 100% free of crime.

Yes, more tourists are being targeted and becoming victims, because the numbers of travelers have increased, there are more homeless since Covid, and more migrants are entering Europe, in addition to all the criminal elements that existed already. Poverty is real everywhere, and social media influences desire. Also, life is more costly, and people need and want fast money.

No, Central America is not safer--my cousin had her child kidnapped for ransom (some police are in on those kidnappings), criminals drive up to your car on a motorcycle and point a gun at your car until you hand over your valuables, there are drug wars, civil wars, and so many other things I cannot name them all (my first visit to CA-1972). The Mexican Yucatan peninsula was a peaceful and somewhat isolated oasis for tourists, but now drug dealers engage in battles, and police have to regularly patrol (my first visit to Mexico -1968). Look what happened to Acapulco!

As to Spain (my first visit 1981), again, it was a bit isolated, and crime was tempered because Franco was extremely strict. However, the civil war and political violence had dominated the country for decades before that, and many had died.

As a tourist, I try to be aware of everything in advance--I read these forums, local online newspapers and news reports, weather predictions, etc. But being a victim of a crime is often unpredictable, unpreventable, and no-fault.

Thank goodness you were not physically hurt, and most of your belongings were untouched. The government and police in Barcelona are going to have to increase protections for tourists or people will begin to limit their travel if they feel unsafe.

As a matter of fact, I am cruising this Summer to Barcelona, and I decided to go straight to Madrid instead of stopping in B. for a while, mainly because I don't want any hassles (I have expensive clothes in my luggage from the cruise!).

I am sorry you had this terrible experience, and I wish you the best in all future travels. Stay safe, everyone!

Posted by
172 posts

@PhilaLady; Yes, I know there is crime in Central America. But while this again is a generalization, as it must be for a short comment, those scary C.A. crime statistics that our news media mistake for news are pumped up mainly by rivalries and bad deals occurring in the world or illegal drugs, which tourists can easily avoid. (And through no fault of its own, Central America has the misfortune of being too close to a huge, wealthy, degenerate country with a giant appetite for those drugs, and the money to pay good prices for them. You know what the capitalists say — wherever you have a huge eager market at hand, someone will seek to satisfy it.)

More generally, I agree it was good of the original poster to warn us of his crime experience; but that appeared, at least from the description, to have been a more tourism-generated sort of crime, the sort we should really come to expect when too many of you are going to too few of the same places. I suppose if I had to summarize my point briefly, it would just be, spread yourselves out more. It’s a big world; you don’t all have to go to Venice and Barcelona. My personal experience is that local people seem to be friendlier in places (like Central America) when they don’t have to churn thousands of demanding tourists through their cities every day; and criminals-of-opportunity tend not to be interested in places with few opportunities.

Posted by
19 posts

Although comments about Central America and parts of the United States are interesting -- nowhere is immune from crime -- the distinction here is not just crime targeted at tourists but exacerbated by involvement of airport employees and with acquiescence of local authorities. I can tell you from professional experience that there are things that can be done if the will exists. "Sting" operations are but one example. What makes tourists such an easy target is that we're not likely to be there to cooperate with prosecution in the event of an arrest. That, of course, is a trick not reserved to foreign criminals but exacerbated when the venue is a foreign jurisdiction. American criminals often try to bank on the missing witness and shake in their boots when the victim they thought would never show up does. Knowing this I made it clear to the police in Barcelona that if they arrest I am coming back for court -- if they pick me up at the airport! :)

Posted by
1424 posts

A similar thing happened to me near Barcelona airport about 20 years ago. Together with 2 friends I had flown to Barcelona and we had just picked up our rental car. I was driving and as soon as we left the airport area, a car with 2 men drove up next to us and pointed at the car. I immediately knew what was going on and told my friend sitting next to me to grab her phone and pretend to make a call while I mouthed the word “policia” to them. They angrily gave me the finger and drove off, probably to find a new victim.
I guess they thought that a car with 3 women in their early twenties was an easy target, but they were wrong :-)

Posted by
1 posts

We are just planning our family trip for late May (5 adults), and after reading this, I'm now reconsidering Barcelona. We are frequent European travelers, mostly to southern England, Amsterdam, Paris, Italy. We did a trip to Rome in July 2022 (SO HOT!), so we knew to be aware of our surroundings, purses, pickpockets, large evening crowds, etc. Is Barcelona 2024 worse than that?

Posted by
19 posts

Probably worse. Here's why.

We're accustomed to the run of the mill scams and pickpockets. Targeting people in the airport (with assistance from people working there), violent attacks, trying to force cars off the road, etc., takes it to a much higher level. The fact that it's well-known and the local government chooses to do little, if anything, about it makes it more compelling.

I want to be fair and point out that other cities try to sweep crimes against tourists under the rug. For example, "flash mobs" in Chicago's Loop were first reported in the Loyola University student newspaper as the city tried to keep it quiet.

Posted by
58 posts

My husband and I are scheduled to go on a cruise from Casablanca to Barcelona in April. We disembark on May 6th and I made reservations to fly to Madrid on May 8th, thinking we'd take in the sights in Barcelona for two days. From there we will go to Santiago de Compostela for two nights and then to Madrid for two nights. I'm willing to pay a penalty to change my flights. Since we've never been to Spain, I'd appreciate any suggestions. Should we spend an extra night in Santiago de Compostela and and extra night in Madrid, or should we just spend two extra nights in Madrid. BTW, is Madrid safe? I was very excited about this trip...until I saw the post and now I have no desire to go to Barcelona at all. Help!

Posted by
10359 posts

Should you change your itinerary? I understand your sentiment. However, you could take steps to make yourself more comfortable.

For your comfort, take a taxi from the cruise port to your hotel and from the hotel to the airport. That's what I did in Barcelona when we were there to take a transatlantic to the US, but we arrived by train, not air.
Keep your valuables in a money pouch or money belt at all times when out.
Join a tour group for sightseeing to be/feel safer.

Pack as light as you can for the cruise so you aren't weighted down when transferring.
Use ATM machines inside banks during banking hours. Truthfully, so much is done by tapping a credit card, that you won't need many euros.
I prefer hotels away from Las Ramblas tourist area. Last time we stayed at the H10 Marina near the cruise port. Lovely hotel, anything-you-want-to-eat breakfast and it was a different ambiance in that area, more locals and fewer tourists. It's a short walk to the Ramblas and other quarters.

I live three hours from Barcelona by train and go there a couple times a year for various reasons. Yes, there's robbery, pickpocketing, drug dealers. There's Dick G's and Dutch Taveler's driving experiences, too. Madrid is safer. But there are interesting things to see in Barcelona. It's a question of if you want to feel on edge while you are there, or if you feel fine with precautions, or if you want to just move on to Madrid, another fabulous city.

Posted by
6 posts

I'm sorry this happened to you. Many thanks to you (and the rest of the RS community) for posting the warning. I'm thankful that I booked a refundable airfare and hotel reservations for our trip in April which I will now re-route to exclude Barcelona from the itinerary.

Posted by
19 posts

Barcelona's train stations are not immune. Besides pickpockets and bag thieves just a few days ago ten women were assaulted at one.

In Chicago we've seen a spike in crime in The Loop but at least the police have responded with extra patrols. In Barcelona the cops just take reports and don't do much else about it -- and that comes from the top.

Posted by
1424 posts

I should have added that despite the bit of an unpleasant start, we had a great time in Spain. We stayed in an apartment in a coastal town south of Barcelona and made various trips from there, including to Barcelona. We had no issues at all.
I have since returned to Barcelona and had a similar great time. I would not hesitate to visit Barcelona again.

Posted by
208 posts

I think the key in ALL situations is to pay attention and be aware of your surroundings. Crime is and has always been a "fact of life". Travel introduces some extra variables that don't exist when you're in your own home or in your own neighborhood, but a bit of caution ahead of time (things like money belts) and then applying a bit of situational and self-awareness will go a LONG way to keeping you safe at home or abroad.

I will 100% visit Barcelona again. I'll visit Chicago. I'll visit all sorts of cities around the world.

Posted by
960 posts

Link to the report from February 11, 2024 of the assault on 10 women at Camp de l’Arpa station on the Barcelona metro’s line 5 (noted above by Dick G).

https://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2024/02/11/watch-thug-beats-multiple-random-women-on-a-train-platform-in-spain-before-being-arrested-for-a-hate-crime/

This was an assault (as Dick G indicates), not a violent pick-pocketing or theft attempt. Sadly, it seems similar to reports and videos of subway attacks in NYC that have occurred in recent years.

Posted by
7906 posts

We have been to Barcelona twice and loved that city. It was over 10 years ago. Even then pickpocketing was unbelievable.

We have a tour in May with Gate 1 that starts in Barcelona, goes north into southern France then back through Basque country down to Madrid. I would not dream of going to Barcelona without wearing my money belt and my wife taking her pack safe purse.

From 1987-91, we lived in Germany and did a lot of travel to surrounding countries. Germany was very safe, crime was low. I know a native that married a local American and she goes back every year and says that Germany has changed and that going out at night is far more risky.

Yes, we live on coastal Georgia not near a large city, but crime is worse here, but still not so bad. However, in many of American big cities, crime is terrible and downright dangerous to visit.

Posted by
208 posts

As the saying goes, "We don't the world as it is, we see it as we are."

Barcelona is safe. Germany is safe. Chicago is safe. Most likely the place you live is safe.

Practice caution and be aware of what's going on around you, and the odds are enormously in your favor that you will have a safe and wonderful afternoon or European vacation.

Posted by
19 posts

I wish I could be as myopic or naive. As stated, crime can happen anywhere and at any time. But those of us who live in Chicagoland would take strong issue that it's "safe." We know better. Of course, we know that there are areas where you are more (and less) likely to be a victim of a crime, times of day when you may be more (and less) likely to be a victim and situations that may enhance your likelihood of trouble. Riding the L at 2 a.m. is not for the faint of heart.

But there are some critical differences. The most significant is that rarely are visitors singled out to be victims. If a flash mob hits people at a McDonald's or even someone's car is broken into while parked at O'Hare or Midway your status as a visitor is seldom a factor. The airports are very safe and actively patrolled. There have been occasional luggage thefts from baggage claim but access to the international terminal is secure and so foreign visitors are not targeted.

Concurrently the police are proactive in many known potentially vulnerable areas and crimes against visitors are taken seriously. If, for example, you are attending a show in the theater district there will be special police patrols in the area and even more significant presence during major events. Having worked with the Chicago Police Department for many years many officers go out of their way to be helpful to visitors and, unlike Barcelona, engage in specialized enforcement when there is a problem (such as "stings"). Yes, we are in a historically high crime area but as a visitor you are seldom likely to be a target because of your status as a visitor. The city makes some effort to protect visitors. However, it is inaccurate to label Chicago as "safe." Violent crime is a way of life here. But at least the police make an effort to do something about it and actively investigate as well.