Safety Tips for Visiting Barcelona (and the Rest of Spain)

Scams to look out for and what to do if you are robbed

Sign warning of pickpockets in Madrid
Sign warning of pickpockets in Madrid. Daniel Lobo/Creative Commons

Everyone has heard horror stories about people being mugged or pickpocketed while on holiday. However, usually they haven't followed basic safety advice, leaving themselves as easy targets. Even if you have read this sort of advice before, its always worth having it fresh in your mind.

Advice for Not Standing Out Like a Rich Tourist

  • Dress appropriately. I’m not saying buy a whole new wardrobe, but that University of Denver hooded sweatshirt might be best left at home.
  • Try to keep maps out of sight. If you need to follow a complicated set of directions, sit down in a bar for ten minutes and write them down.
  • Look confident. This goes hand in hand with the above point. Look like you know where you are going, even if you don’t.
  • Keep your voice down. You can spot a tourist from a mile away - for some reason they always talk louder than everyone else. It may just be the fact that they're speaking English and everyone else is speaking in Spanish. Whatever the reason, talking loudly makes you stand out.
  • Be careful where you put your valuables. Internal pockets are better than external ones. If you do need to put things in external pockets, try to keep your hands over them so you can feel where your valuables are.
  • Use the security provisions provided by your hotel. Do you really need to take your camera out? If not, leave it behind.

Known Scams Used by Thieves (Particularly in Barcelona)

Conmen work in pairs or groups, so be extra careful when approached in street.

Watch out for the classic tricks - people are still falling for them. These include: asking for change, asking for directions, someone 'helping' you with your bags and hustling tricks such as the cup-and-ball game.

Paul Cannon, Barcelona expert, warns of these ploys adopted by tricksters in Barcelona. Some of these may be urban legend, but it's worth knowing about them just in case.

The Football Move

Popular along Las Ramblas and Gothic Quarter backstreets, this is an attempt to snatch your wallet by craftily invoking the universal bond of football. Having approached you with a line about some Barça player, a leg is thrust between yours to show you a move and the hand reaches into your pocket for your goods. Before you know it he's gone and you're left looking for the referee.

But the best advice is simple - use your common sense. Most of this is pretty obvious stuff and to list every single thing you can do to keep safe would take forever. Take the same precautions you would back home (such as not walking alone down dark alleys), remembering to add into the equation the fact that you look like a tourist and are probably carrying more expensive equipment than you would at home.

But don't let worrying about safety ruin your holiday. Most trips are uneventful and trouble free. Enjoy yourselves!

Tickling Prostitutes

A group of prostitutes is known to prowl Las Ramblas looking for men to tickle. You may snigger, but their technique is deadly, going in for a fierce group tickle before disbanding with whatever they managed to pull from your pockets. 

Cutting Handbag Straps

Ladies, beware. Your handbags are at peril. My advice is to purchase a bag with extra tough straps.

ATMs (Cash Machines)

If an ATM swallows your card and a man appears offering a solution involving you phoning some hotline on his mobile, tell him to beat it. He wants your pin number.

Tapping On Your Car Window

You've stopped at a traffic light. A guy taps on your window mouthing something. Don't open the window. There's another guy waiting to reach in through another window and steal whatever he can. In fact, make sure your doors are locked and your windows closed when driving around. Especially in the El Born area.

Stealing in Bars and Restaurants

Don't leave your mobile on the table. Or your bag under the table. Or anything out of sight for an instant. It'll get lifted the moment you turn your head.

On The Beach

Don't leave your stuff unattended when you go for a swim down at the beach. It'll disappear. Ask someone to keep an eye on it for you.

Bird Mess

'You've got some bird mess on your back,' you hear a kind stranger say. You take off your bag and twist round to take a look. And hey, presto, your bag's gone.

On The Metro

There's a growing contingent of thieves posing as tourists and operating on crowded Metro carriages. So keep your pockets covered, even if the guy standing next to you in the 'I Love Barcelona' shirt looks harmless enough.

Card Games on Las Ramblas

No matter how much of a gambler you think you are, don't get drawn into those card tables on Las Ramblas. It's not a fair game with good odds - it's a magic trick that involves crafty slight of hand. Anyone who appears to win is simply in on the act. All that'll happen is that you'll lose your money.

What Should You do if Your Money or Wallet is Stolen?

Spain is a relatively safe country, with violent street crime quite a rarity, but you should always be careful of pickpockets, especially in busy, touristy areas. Keep your money in inside pockets wherever possible, or wear a money belt. Keep a hand on your camera or handbag at all times and be careful about hanging valuables over the back of chairs when in a bar or cafe.

The most common place in Spain to get robbed is Barcelona. 

Most insurance policies require you to have some sort of crime number from the local police if they are going to pay out after a robbery. Your Embassy in Spain should be able to help, but it may be easier to go straight to the nearest police station. You should find a policemen who at least speaks rudimentary English.

But before you contact the police, your biggest priority should be to call your bank to cancel your cards. The 'chip-and-PIN' system is much more widely used than before but many places don't have it, which means that, in theory, anyone can access your money. The Spanish are pretty lax about checking the signature when someone buys goods, though in theory they should always ask for photo ID when accepting credit cards.

If you lose your travel documentation, you'll need to get them replaced.

Remember, the number you need to call will probably be on the back of your card, which you've just had stolen, so make a note of it beforehand. To avoid spending an unnecessary amount of time on hold to your bank (on an expensive international call), you may be able to get a relative back home to cancel your cards for you, but check first to see if your bank will do this (when I had my cards stolen - in the Madrid metro - my family were able to cancel my cards for me).

Some people like to take traveler's checks with them when traveling, as a precaution in case their cash cards are stolen. But there is nothing to say your traveler's checks won't be stolen too. Traveler's checks are not so easy to cash in Spain, so you may be better off hiding a second card in a different pocket or at your hotel.