There seems to be a lot of warnings about pickpockets in Spain. I realize this is an issue anywhere you go but Spain seems to stand out more in this respect. Would love to visit Barcelona and Madrid. Particular areas to avoid? Thoughts, comments, anyone?
Pickpockets are an issue everywhere that there are tourist crowds. These big cities have plenty of tourist crowds and some especially dedicated thieves. In Barcelona, perhaps the busiest area is the Ramblas, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go there, and it's also not the only place to be careful. I would simply never leave the hotel without my valuables secured in my moneybelt, under my clothes. The money that you have easier to access should be just what you need for the day or half day - maybe 50 euros. Please see Rick's Safety Tips.
We've spent a lot of time in each and still have all of our stuff. Moneybelts are an individual call - - we've never used them.
I also park on the streets. The worst thing that ever happened on the Dreaded Ramblas was that I had to shake awake a drunk hooker that was asleep against a tire early in the morning so we could get going.
Thanks Laura, for the great advice.
Interesting story, Ed. Thanks for your reply.
Just use common sense. Would you go there if you were home? Would you flash the money if you were home? Would you yell "Tourist here for the picking!" if you were home?
Well, do not do it when traveling, anywhere!!!
"...Nothing shuts tourist more than trying to access money belts in the street or shops..."
That's not how they work. Money belts are intended for deep storage, never to be accessed in public. Just keep days spending money and perhaps one credit card if you have multiple cards in your wallet/purse, and you limit any losses from a robber to just a days spending money.
Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of the world so using a money belt type device or the hotel room safe is essential. The alternative is the possibility of having to spend a couple of days canceling cards, arranging replacement passport/cash should you get robbed. Not how I like to spend my vacations;)
My solution is to buy a pacsafe purse - cut proof strap, lockable zippers etc, for travel to and from airport, train station. Then leave my valuables in hotel safe, and take cash tucked in my bra when going out.....??? I'll report back.
you don't need steel cables and all that nonsense -- you need common sense. petty thievery including picking pockets is organized crime in Europe. if you have a wallet in your pocket or a backpack or a purse carried behind you or accessible in a crowded situation then your odds are good of losing your valuables. A cross body bag kept under control works just fine. Spain is not more prone to this than Italy or France. many of the organized criminals who ply this trade have taken advantage of the EU lack of borders to move from Eastern Europe into tourist capitals. there is very little cutting of straps or other dramatic assaults -- mostly there is deft removal of wallet or picking an expensive cell phone up off a cafe table.
There are lots of ways to keep your valuables safe from pickpockets. Each person has to decide for themselves which they are most comfortable with (physically and psychologically).
A true money belt is worn under clothes and is difficult to access for both the wearer and any thieves. But that means they aren't convenient for regular use - spending cash, a credit or ATM card. You take a risk losing those if in a regular wallet.
Some women work great with a pacsafe type purse - not because it has steel cables - but because it has multiple zippers and secure clasps to get inside it (most regular purses just zip or clasp at the top and are easy pickens). So even though a thief will know she is carrying a purse, they can't access it. But the wearer can easily access cash and cards. But it has to be worn at ALL times and never thrown over the back of a chair or set on a bench while you look at something (not all women are good about that).
Many people wear a neck pouch wallet. It is similar to the secure purse in that a thief cannot get to it without you knowing but you can easily pull it out and access it anytime.
I personally wear a belt loop wallet. It folds over and has various zippers and Velcro to get inside. No thief can get inside but I easily can. I use it for everything and never worry about accessing it in public because I know no one else can.
So pick one you feel comfortable with and don't worry about pick-pockets.
"Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of the world...."
Based on what facts?
A common criminal complaint reported to police in Times Square...... You guessed it.
"Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of the world...."
Based on what facts?
A common criminal complaint reported to police in Times Square...... You guessed it.
Based on this:
The Big Apple didn't make the top ten. With some practice were hoping to get up there in 3-5 years or when the Mets win the World Series.
"...Perhaps then it is saver to with draw the amount you want from an ATM each day...."
Most American banks impose hefty ATM fees when withdrawing overseas. Using the ATM on a daily basis is an expensive proposition for most. In any event you would still need someplace safe to store your plastic.
My wife and I have traveled all over western Europe and she carries a pack safe purse and I have velcro on one side pants pocket with a money clip and credit card and feel safe.
I like to keep anything I'm carrying down to one handle and keep an open zone around me as much as I can. When the crowd gets thick enough that I wouldn't automatically notice someone touching me or my stuff, I tune up my senses and try to be extra careful.
The Ramblas in Barcelona is infamous for pickpockets. I didn't notice anything unusual, other than some wheelchairs that seemed like they were really trying to run into me (perhaps as a diversion for a thief?). I literally had to jump to evade two different wheelchairs and another ran over my wife's foot, stopped on top of it and didn't move. I've heard stories about any crowded place in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia and crowded Metro cars are regularly mentioned as places to be especially careful.
My worst ever thief experience in Europe was in Madrid. I stopped at a grocery store and bought more than I expected so I reached into my neck wallet to get another 50 euro bill. A few blocks of window shopping down the road I noticed a guy who stopped when we stopped, started when we started, crossed the street when we did. I'm sure he spotted my neck wallet in the store and started following me then, trying to figure out a way to get the wallet and get away.
After I was positive he was following us. I stopped, turned toward him and stared directly at him. Without making eye contact, he turned 90 degrees, crossed the street and disappeared down an alley in about 30 seconds.
He didn't end up stealing anything but it's the most active interest a thief has ever taken in me.
"....Maybe one could link to something newer than 2009..."
Okay. Account from someone who has lived there:
".....But what does that prove..."
It proves that there are a lot of pick pockets in Barcelona. In order to not be a victim it is essential to use a money belt or a hotel room safe, and just keep a days spending money in your wallet. This way you minimize you losses, and a robbery won't ruin your trip. Alternatively you could also hire this gal she'll watch your back:
Thanks for some very helpful tips, Douglas, Brad and Michael Schneider. Others...not so much!
I am from Barcelona, and live in Barcelona, and I have just read some nonsense comments.
Are there pickpockets in Barcelona? Yes, but just line in any other important tourist and crowded city.
Should you not go to BCN because of pickpockets? NO, for sure you don't need to change your plans because of pickpockets!
Should I be scared when visiting in Barcelona? Of course NO
Should I take care of my staff when visiting the city? Yes, like in any other crowded place.
Look, I am from Barcelona. I have walked thousands of times in the center and in the most touristic places of the city, and I have NEVER felt unsafe.
Of course, I am not a tourist in Barcelona, but you can relax. Just don't leave your wallets in your back pocket, take care of your bags, be careful when the metro is full...
Btw, you'll see a lot of police in the center ;)
I just spend 5 nights in Madrid and didn’t have any problems, but it is early - April and not high tourist season yet.
I just had a house guest from Poland that said he got robbed in Barcelona in the Las Ramblas area. He says “they are very good in Barcelona, the best in the world, be VERY VERY Careful". He said he didn’t even notice them taking his backpack. I think it was on the ground next to him, he said he felt a “swish” like the wind, and it was gone. Fortunately he didn’t have anything of value in it and shortly later, someone came to him and said they found his backpack! It was probably the thief, but he was glad to have gotten it back. He could tell his clothes had been rummaged through, but since there was nothing of value they gave it back.
My husband and I are always careful with valuables, money, etc. when traveling and wear a neck wallet we keep inside our clothes. However, we had a pack stolen right out from under our nose in a small cafe right off Las Ramblas in Barcelona. A man dropped a key behind me and tapped me on the shoulder to point as if it was ours. When we turned around to look his partner took the pack in the chair right next to me. We didn't even realize it was gone until we went to leave. When we went to file a police report the police station was full of people who had similar things that had happened to them. We didn't lose money or passports as they were in our neck wallets. I would just caution to keep everything with a hand on it. We had just gotten off a red eye and were headed to a cruise ship so between fatigue and our guard being down we were sitting ducks.
It's not so much being unsafe -- was told that all "they" want is your money, not to harm you.
Even though I thought I had taken enough precaution, I was "mobbed" as I entered a trolley in Lisbon, pushed my way through but after sitting, noticed my wallet missing from a front pocket of my vest (thought I had protected it), stood up to move toward the group at the front and, "miraculously," the wallet suddenly was lying on the floor at their feet and "graciously" handed to me...with only the few Euros, which had been it, missing. Am glad I had the rest in a money belt and a little in a neck pouch!
I have traveled throughout Asia & Europe (including Barcelona & Madrid) & have been robbed once...My travel purse was stolen in Berlin, as I was foolish enough to put it in my backpack while moving from one hotel to another. Fortunately, my credit cards & most of my cash were in my Rick Steves money belt. These days, my husband & I leave most valuables (including most of our cash) in our hotel room safe & carry only what is necessary for that day. My husband does not feel the need for a money belt, as he wears travel clothes from Tilley Endurables, complete with secret pockets. They have lots of styles for women, too. When not using a money belt, I typically carry a lightweight cross body bag & keep it close at all times. Follow these suggestions & you should be fine in Spain or any other country in Europe. Read about current scams (on this website or in the Rick Steves books) & you will know what to expect. Best wishes for happy travels!
Hi, I was with a friend of mind travelling in September 2013 in both Barcelona and Madrid for 5 days in each city. We had been particularly worried about the prospect of pick pockets in Barcelona but found to our delight that we felt quite safe the entire time. We travelled exclusively on the Metro and used it towards evening on a number of occasions. On two separate instances we were "packed like sardines" into the train carriages at peak hour, but felt safe using our Pacsafe handbags which we had in the front of us at all times. We walked to restaurants at night without any concerns.
There were no buskers to speak of in La Ramblas where in the past pick pockets were very active. We noticed a high police presence along this tourist avenue.
We loved Barcelona (more than Madrid) it is such an interesting city. Go and enjoy! Cheers
I've never felt that Barcelona was any worse for pickpockets than any of the other major cities in Europe. I've walked up and down La Rambla and other streets there, travelled the Metro and wandered through crowded stores such as La Bouqueria with nary a problem. When I was in Barcelona last year, I did see small groups running the "Shell game" scam, but they seemed to only stay in each location a short time and would pack up quickly when the Police appeared on the horizon. There were frequent foot patrols with pairs of Police officers on La Rambla from Plaça Catalunya to the water.
There are pickpockets in many places in Europe, so it's a good idea to use a Money Belt for storage of larger amounts of cash and other valuables, and use vigilance and reasonable precautions such as not leaving bags or cameras hanging from the back of your chair when dining.
I have had the experience of reaching into my right front pocket, and found myself "shaking hands" with an unsuccessful pickpocket.
My wife and I were then serenaded with a chorus of obscenities from the would be pickpocket and his two skinhead friends.
Money belts are well worth using.
When I went to Barcelona in 2009 on a Rick Steves tour I was all prepared with my money belt. I kept about 20 Euros plus small change in my front pocket but nothing else easily accessable. I did however have a pair of rather expensive sunglasses. I got on the subway and as I usually do hooked the glasses into my right front pocket. As there were no seats available I held on to one of the center poles as did several others. A seat opened up and two of the young men standing headed for the open seat. As they went by one of them snatched my sunglasses. However while I didn’t feel the pick I did, because the train was stopped, hear the distinct “click” of the glasses closing.
I quickly checked my pockets and realized that the glasses were missing. However the theives had not left the subway car so after the doors closed I walked over and confronted the man who had brushed up against me (his buddy had taken the seat so he was still standing). He looked at me uncomprehending (either real or feigned) but I noticed that while he had tried ro hide them he was holding my glasses. I grabbed his wrist with my left hand and gestured with my right that he should open his hand. At the same time I smiled and accused him of pulling a trick on me as if he was a 5-year old. I got my glasses back and the two of them quickly left at the next stop! Needless to say I kept a tight reign on my glasses for the rest of the trip and 5 years later I still have them!
Don't forget....these people are VERY skilled at what they do. I don't know about Spain, but we were going through the Naples train station several years ago following Rick's 2-week tour of Italy. To say my pants were fitting tight after two weeks in Italy would be a monumental understatement. I had a THIN wallet tucked deep into a FRONT pocket. We were 15 minutes into the train ride to Sorrento before I discovered it missing. Kind of mixed emotions - really pissed at the violation but had to admire the skill set. Be careful....in ANY city.....moneybelt at the very least.
My husband and I spent 9 days in Barcelona and Madrid in February on a RS tour, and no one in our group had any problems. Nor has anyone I know who has been there had problems. Can't stress highly enough my agreement about money belt or other container worn INSIDE your clothing for deep storage. The only thing that should be in your (zippered) pocket or cross-body bag is one credit card and the day's cash. We see the tourist sights, spend time in crowded spots, and use public transit every time we're in Europe, just like when we're home and go to NYC. We're aware and smart, not fearful, just like when we're here in the US. Thousands of travelers have great stories to tell about marvelous adventures in Europe and they far outnumber any of the negative incidents. Go and enjoy!
My husband and I visited Barcelona in 2011. We were on the subway and my husband was standing near the door when 2 young men jumped on and one of them put a small map in front of my husband's face, apparently asking for directions. My husband tried to explain that he did not speak Spanish. After a few seconds the young men exited the subway right before the door closed. Some ladies standing near us started saying "pickpocket-pickpocket." My husband checked his pocket and found that his wallet was gone. Fortunately, we are Rick Steves travelers and my husband's valuables were in his money belt. The thieves got dinner on us and a cheap wallet, but that is all. In our seven trips to Europe, this is the only type of theft we have experienced, and it was a small incident thanks to Rick. We loved Barcelona and we hope we get to go back some day.
By the way, standard money belts are not comfortable for me, and I found a money belt that goes around the leg, right below the knee, that works beautifully. It is also easy to access when necessary.
Yes there are pickpockets in major tourist destinations. But the sound advice you get here from many of the regulars is spot on. I love Barcelona and can't wait to go back. I wear a money belt and carry a small purse cross body. My husband jokes because I won't et him carry his wallet. I do, however give him 5 or 10 euro in case we get separated so he can make his way back to where we are staying. But knowing him, he would find a cafe for a beer first.
Fortunately, we've never been separated that long on a trip. Be aware of your surroundings and be street smart. I would never not go to a place because it is known for pickpockets. Happy travels!
We have traveled all over the world and never worried about pickpockets in Barcelona or Madrid. It can happen anywhere, so you just need to be aware. However....the only place my husband got his pocket picked was inside the Basilica in Vatican City in Rome. Just a small amount of cash taken and we got to go behind Vatican walls to the police station to report it...The wallet was found across the way from the Pieta behind a statue along with lots of other wallets. In Barcelona we hung out on the Ramblas and never worried. In Madrid at the Plaza Major the same thing. Just be vigilant. AI always have a purse that goes across my shoulder and my husband carries very little cash and puts a rubber band around his wallet making it difficult for pickpockets to snatch it. Visit Barcelona and Madrid without worries. Gorgeous cities and fabulous experiences, both so very different.
Question: Has anyone ever had any problems with using a hotel safe? I wonder how secure they are, and who exactly has a key or can open them? One time my safe was locked when I arrived at my hotel and I told a janitor who was working in the hallway. He came in and seconds later he had my safe open! Obviously he new a secret code that would open it. Not sure I trust using those safes anymore. PS: I kept my room door open while he was in my room, in case he tried to attack me or something.
Don't forget to watch your luggage too. We were waiting for a train change and I had my small roller bag behind me, when a well dressed man in a suit walked by too close. If the tourists we were chatting with hadn't noticed and grabbed my bag, I think it would be long gone. Later we saw the same well dressed man, wearing sunglasses, scouting out the area for another unsuspecting tourist.
We spent a week in Barcelona last September and had no problems. My husband wore a hidden moneybelt and I wore a crossbody bag, which I constantly held firmly. We spent a lot of time on Las Ramblas, in the 'mazey' lanes of Old Town, and in the indoor food market. Use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings constantly; if anything doesn't feel right, walk away. Look like you know what you are doing and where you are going, even if you don't! We did ride the subway several times, where we were overvigilant, especially getting on and off. We also took the train from Barcelona to Roses near the French border; no problems on that train or in the station. Most of our Barcelona travel was on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus; watch the crowds while boarding and getting off. Don't write off this beautiful, culturally rich city; just keep your eyes and ears open, and don't let drinking too much Cava and Sangria let your guard down!
This Christmas in Madrid, walking in front of the new Cathedral, a young woman came up behind me and slipped her hand into my coat pocket. I'd just taken a photo and slipped my iPhone back in the pocket, and she probably didn't realize it still had my hand -- as always -- wrapped around it, as well as the lanyard we designed -- as always -- wrapped around my wrist.
As she and her girl friend walked away past me, I noticed that they were fairly obvious. They were carrying large, visitor-center-type, city maps for cover and distraction, but weren't carrying or wearing anything that indicated they might be tourists.
We'd been told, in preparation for our trip to Spain (Madrid, Toledo and BCN) that we'd need to show our passports to use our credit cards. We prefer to leave them back in the safe whenever possible, so instead we just carried photocopies of the passports. We never did get asked for ID when using our credit cards, though.
A safety precaution we take is to never both carry a credit card from the same joint account. One wallet lost or stolen; both cards useless.
I did buy a PacSafe for Christmas in Rome several years ago but, even though I got the modest-sized one, found it too heavy on the body for carefree roaming and it usually stayed in the room while I loaded up my pockets with just what I needed (and loaded up my husband's pockets, too...). The last 3 or 4 trips I've carried Rick's Veloce guide bag, which is a light, cross-body bag, plus there's also a loop at the top to casually rest your hand through. I also use it for an around town bag. I just wish I could razor off the "Rick Steves" embroidered across the face of it. Love the bag, but not to advertise it.
In Barcelona we wandered all around the old Barri Gotic, and up and down Las Ramblas (even on New Year's Eve), and didn't feel uncomfortable. Just kept aware of folks.
BTW, if you have 7-10 days, I'd suggest taking the train and spending a couple of nights in Toledo.
I had a money belt and a wallet for one day in Madrid. Then I only had a money belt.
After a quick bite in McDonalds for dinner I checked and my wallet was gone.... I was right down in the popular tourist area near the Prado museum. My newly acquired euros, drivers license and credit/debit cards were in the wallet, other valuable documents and American dollars were in the money belt. Tough to travel without credit/ATM cards. It took seven days to replace the cards. Use only money belts.
Keep on traveling - I did for another 90 days without any more problems.
I've been in law enforcement for many years. if you think you are about to be a crime victim make noise. A few years ago in Barcelona I was in the Placa Real just off Las Ramblas. It was broad daylight. 4 young men surrounded me. One approached me and grabbed my shirt collar and said "that's a nice shirt." Immediately I went into survival mode and screamed loudly. It drew a crowd. The 4 men ran away. Making noise made it difficult for them to do me any harm. Keep in mind this can happen anywhere.
Our 2012 Barcelona pickpocket experience occurred in the early evening, during a steady rain while we 3 were unloading 6 bags from car at end of alley leading to flat we'd rented, block off Ramblas. Despite best plans & prudence, understand pickpockets work off distraction (repeated car horns at our stopped car), diversion (young crowd of 3 running along narrow sidewalk opposite side of street) and opportunity (6 bags at end of alley with me on a cane!) And then there were 5! Rick Steves backpack and electronic toys (ipad, bose speaker) and Rx meds gone - in the turn of 360 degrees!. Some do's and don'ts: Don't let theft ruin your trip. Don't leave home without duplicate lists in money wallets around your neck/waist of meds, cc #s, serial #s - where we kept our serious cash, cc, passports, photo ids, plane tix. Do file itemized/euro value police report; made insurance claim report easier month later. Do understand Catalonia government does not prosecute pickpocket thefts under E500. Enjoy fabulous Barcelona. Don't leave your brain at home!
I have travelled to over 80 countries in the last 40 years, several of them more than once, and have had my pocket picked in two places, Nairobi and Rio. Neither was for the equivalent for more than $5. Some thoughts. 1/ Do not carry large sums of money in outside pockets unless you anticipate needing it immediately. Have your money in the bottom of the pocket, then put a "barrier" on top of it, e.g. a folded map, a wadded up handkerchief, etc. 2/ A money belt around the waist with your shirt tucked in works well. If you need to access it, find a washroom, and go into a toilet cubicle to access it. Few will question why you need privacy in that location. 3/ I like using an around the calf wallet as well. The money is more accessible ( you are tying up your shoes, pulling up your socks, whatever. Just be discrete about it. The last time I took something out I was in a Starbucks- my leg was hidden by the comfy chair and everybody was busy with their wifi gadgets). Just be advised that the elastic they use on these wallets stretches out of shape quickly. I buy better elastic webbing at a sewing section and just replace the inadequate webbing with the stronger stuff. 3/ If I am in someplace with good security, such as an airport, I will use a wallet that hangs around my neck for my passport, tickets, boarding pass, spending money. Never elsewhere, the cord can be used as a weapon against you. 4/ Beware of cute children. When I was in Paris two little Gypsy girls about 7 years old tried to pick my pocket, obvious a mile away. When I told them to go away they laughed, called me something nasty, and spat at me. I told a French cop about it, he shrugged in exasperation and exclaimed, "They're everywhere!". Their parents turn them out as thieves because they know the authorities can't do anything about it. 5/ If you are being targetted get loud and draw attention to the situation. Don't be intimidated. Realize that most people will be on your side, may have been victims themselves, and that thieves hate attention. In France at a small grocery store the clerk tried to short change me. I demanded my money- he got snarky. I told him I would call the police- he sneered and said go ahead. I turned to the outside door beside the cash and bellowed "Police, police,police.!" People in and out of the store jumped, cars stopped, and I got my money. The grocery was just down the street from the campground and the hostel; I'm sure he pulled that stunt a lot. 6/ Finally be modest. There are good and helpful people everywhere but they have their own lives to live. If someone acts as if running into you is the greatest thing that has ever happened to him/her realize that it is probably not true and that there is a pretty good chance that you are being set up.
Pickpockets are everywhere including the USA. The last contributor has great travel advise. I, too have been traveling the world for the past 40 yrs using a variety of money holders and haven't lost anything. Last week, I bought a new money belt called a Roosport. It is a soft money/passport/phone pouch that attaches to panties or inside my waist band with very strong magnets, thus avoiding an annoying waist belt. It is my new favorite travel accessory.
It is possible that magnets can deactivate your ATM cards. It happened to me in Europe, but my husband had his card which worked for us.
I travel w my Nikons and lens without worry. I keep the equipment strapped to my hands or around my neck.
Ask your family to keep an eye on each other and strive to be diligent in being cautious w your valuables.
There is no need to teach your children to be rude, just be cautious.
I have spent a total of about six weeks over the past two years in Spain, and have had absolutely no problems with pickpockets. I even carried a backpack-style daypack in both Madrid and Barcelona. You just have to be aware of your surroundings. And please don't tell your children it is OK to be rude anywhere. Plenty of Americans act that way already - no sense adding to our bad reputation abroad.
Just a heads up, the scam they tried to work on me in Barcelona was a person gets on the metro before you, stops short to "look for a seat" thus you stop short too as his accomplice bumps into the back of you. Luckily I am impatient, and was irritated that he was blocking the way like a dummy, and quickly stepped around him, as doors were closing he jumped back off. I had no clue what was going on, another passenger told me his accomplice had his hand on my backpack ( full of dirty clothes). Luckily I keep a money belt and a Pacsafe purse! Live and learn.
Even with the risk of being 'rude', my experience is that it's better to be safe than sorry if a stranger approaches you in most European countries. I had read up on the various tricks (e.g. smearing dirt on your jacket, the 'blocking' trick on trains or escalators, asking for the time to distract you, etc.) but we were not sure about a group of youth who approached us near the Ramblas on a Sunday morning to "interview us for a school project".
We shooed them away and only later read that this had been a trap. Several other tourists had become their victims, with their valuables being pickpocketed while being distracted.
We just returned from barcelona. Although much more of a police presence on the main streets, the Metro was particularly filled with pickpockets. One man next to me had on a jacket with longer sleeves and was giving hand signals to someone ahead. Really unfortunate. You see them in the metro station and can sometimes spot them. A man on our tour got robbed from his front pocket. Young women carrying jackets over their arm were quick to pick tourists and then went running up the escalators. Keep your money belts on and you will be fine.