Aug 14 2009

Crime in Barcelona

Good advice from a Barcelona cafe

Good advice from a Barcelona cafe

There has been an enormous amount of discussion on the internet over the last couple of years about crime and safety in Barcelona, much of it negative in the extreme, and I thought it about time to set a few things straight.

Barcelona (and Spain in general) is generally a very safe place – the locals will tell you that violent crime is virtually non-existent and this is backed up by the stats showing that Spain rates a lowly 28th in the list of World crime, way below UK and US.  A holiday in Barcelona is much safer in terms of violent crime than most major cities in the world.

It is, however, a city and like all cities, it is not crime free – the figures hide growing levels of what they label “petty crime” – that is, pickpocketing and bag snatching.  To compound the problem it’s often you, the tourists, who are the targets and the groups that perpetrate the petty crimes are organised and skilled at their trade.

So, how to avoid being a victim in Barcelona – or indeed, any city?  Below are a few simple measures which will keep you and your belongings safe and out of the criminals’ clutches.  We do not advocate (as we’ve read on other sites) trying to “dress like locals” or avoiding all contact with locals – measures like this are unneccessary and affect your enjoment of this fabulous city.

  1. Be aware of your surroundings and people around you – sounds basic, but holidaymakers do tend to relax and be less wary than they might be at home.
  2. When you go out to any of the major tourist areas – in particular La Rambla, Raval and Barri Gotic – carry only the valuables you need (perhaps some cash, a card, a camera) and keep it in a zipped bag which can’t be easily opened.  Small rucksacks are fine, but be aware that they can be opened while on your back – ideally carry them on your front.
  3. Most of the scams involve people approaching you (see major scams below).  If someone does come up to you for any reason, your first priority should be your valuables and yourself – put a hand on your wallet / purse / bag and keep it there.  Anyone genuinely wanting your help or even to sell you anything is unlikely to make you feel uncomfortable in any way – if someone gets too close for comfort, just excuse yourself and get out of there.
  4. Where possible, carry bags diagonally over your shoulder so that they can’t be pulled off you.  In restaurants and bars secure bags firmly – either keep them on your knee or very securely between your feet with a strap around your foot.
  5. Avoid the worst areas late at night (i.e. after midnight) – most especially the Drassannes area at the bottom of La Rambla
  6. When travelling to and from your hotel or apartment, keep a very close eye on luggage – it can be a prime target for some groups

The main “scams” to be aware of are:

  • Map bearers – or any other people who approach looking for advice etc.  They work in groups – while you generously help one, others are targeting your pockets and bags, which have often been conveniently hidden by the map!
  • Heather / flower sellers – little old ladies don’t look threatening, but they can have surprisingly nimble fingers when relieving you of your valuables.
  • Escalator sandwich – the person in front of you drops something and starts scrabbling on the floor for it – the accomplice behind uses the distraction to do the deed.
  • Poo squirters – a relatively new one, in which someone helps you when you unfortunately get bird poo dropped on your shoulder.  What you don’t know is that he or an accomplice was the source of the poo and while helping clean it off he’s checking your pockets.

Just to reiterate the start of the post – Barcelona is generally a very safe city.  Watch out for the above and you’ll have a great time with no problems.

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