Barcelona street crime today

She steals from anything under her cardboardThree female thieves with cardboard shields; two thefts from a park; one pigeon poop pickpocket; one postcard technique theft; one very prolific, multi-talented pickpocket; continuous 3-shell, or pea games; and more. No partridge or pear tree.

Bob and I just took three days to re-evaluate the street crime scene in Barcelona. I don’t know why it’s such a contentious topic. Visit any travel forum and you’ll find defenders who say street crime isn’t bad there, that it’s no worse than in any big city, that it’s the stupid tourists’ fault.

Bob and I love Barcelona and believe me, it pains us to say it; but yes, Barcelona is right up there among the cities with the highest rates of theft from tourists. Still. Then and now.

We did not spend every minute of our three days there seeking out thieves. We began by visiting a park with our friend and his children. We did not see the thefts that occurred there just then, but the perpetrator was apprehended, the police were still on site, and Bob spoke with the three victims, two of whom were a young French tourist couple. Their valuables and documents were stolen as they lay dozing, or semi-dozing. The gentleman was alerted when the thief tried to get into his bag, which he was using as a pillow. Must have been a thrill-seeking thief to attempt stealing items from right under a man’s head.

The pigeon poop perp.We did not loiter in dark alleys or hang around after hours. We tramped the beaten path. The pigeon poop perp targeted us in the middle of lunch hour on a broad business and shopping street, across from a big hotel. Kharem, whom we’ve found almost every year since 2001, was hard at work with a brand new style on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s main tourist artery. Same with all the other thieves we came across in these days. If you do stray from the well-worn paths, you’ll find more and different crime, for sure.

We were strolling to our friends’ apartment for dinner, technically off duty with cameras put away, when we saw a young man steal from a restaurant table. We were not looking for crime.

The receptionist in our hotel (which has 90 rooms), said she gets reports of theft from the hotel’s guests about once a week in the summer, but much less during the rest of the year because then guests are mostly Spanish business people who behave differently. The next evening, the receptionist told us that her cell phone had just been stolen from her handbag as she sat in a coffee shop with friends.

A receptionist at another hotel, which was located closer to Las Ramblas, said he gets one or two reports a day from his guests. I don’t know how many rooms that hotel has.

An Australian doctor told us he had just spent six days in Barcelona at a pathology conference. One of his colleagues had her passport stolen and when she went to the embassy, fourteen other conference attendees were there reporting thefts.

peppers, eggplant, anchoviesOver the next week or so, I’ll be posting details of the above incidents and characters, and more from this research trip. I may not remember to mention what a good time we had in Barcelona, the good meals we had, the beautiful architecture we feasted our eyes on, or the lively ambiance we enjoyed. These are only a few of the delights the city has for tourists to discover. In some way, I’m sorry that my writing focuses on crime. I don’t want to hurt the reputations of cities I love. Neither do I want to scare anyone away from visiting just because there is a relatively high rate of theft.

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  • Hi Bambi, Zac and I are going to Spain on Mon 5/9. So I thought i’d check into your blog. It is good to connect with you even this way. So now I am pretty darn worried about staying safe and Zac wont take it seriously so I’m even more worried. What’s the best way to carry your valuables when out and about I was planning on a small backpack.
    Anyhow, if was fun reading about your most recent escapades. We are all well. Avis

  • While breakfasting outside of a cafe in Barcelona, a woman at the table next to us had her purse stolen. She had left it under the chair while she went into the cafe. Her travel companion had been sitting there, unaware of anyone even approaching. I was a bit judgemental about her situation, as I live in Chicago and know you can’t leave your stuff unattended.

    Later walking down C/ Pau Claris around 11:30pm, we passed by a little side street that appeared to be the hot hang out if you are one of the city’s many motorcyclists.

    I was carrying a small clutch purse that was dangling from my wrist by its decently sturdy strap. While waiting to cross the street, I heard the loud whine of a throttle, suddenly my purse was snatched off of my wrist. One man driving the motorcycle, another sitting on the seat behind him holding my purse in his hand. They had driven up onto the sidewalk, travelling at 25 mph and had charged me from behind. The purse strap broke quickly, so I am lucky. They could have broken my arm if I had a stronger strap.

    My passport was locked in the hotel room safe along with my other credit card, so I was OK. They did get my beloved I Phone (great tool for navigating in Europe) a small amount of cash and a quickly cancelled credit card.

    I’ve travelled quite a bit, and have partied late on streets from Buenos Aires to Paris. I was a bit tipsy, I felt my trusty clutch was a good way to stay in control of my belongings. I’ll give Barcelona another try, but I’ll do it with purse that lays against my belly on strong strap that goes over my neck.

  • Hi Sean. I’m certainly NOT as talented as Bob when it comes to thievery and sleight-of-hand. I do a little bit on stage… Out in the street, I find thieves, film, photograph, and as you mentioned, document our research. I do most of our writing, while Bob is the public speaker. Thanks for your compliments!

  • Hey Bambi, I was curious about something: your husband is obviously highly talented when it comes to all things sleight-of-hand, but I always wondered if you were just as talented at pickpocketing? Or do you do more of the documenting aspects of your updates? Keep up the good work, I always enjoy your blogs!

  • I’ve only ever had two encounters with street thieves and both times I escaped without losing anything, and I learned a lot.

    One was in Milan, one was in Barcelona. So I have to agree with you that southern Europe is the riskiest (compared to Africa, Guatemala, and all over the USA).

    In Milan it was a begging roma lady who used a tight spot in the sidewalk to close in too close to me, attempting to distract me with her disfigured eye and rapid hand movements. She had accomplices nearby that moved into the sidewalk to further crowd our group. Upon disengaging myself and the friends I was leading, I found that a pocket on my backpack has suspiciously opened itself!

    In Barcelona, coming back late and drunk from partying, some boys overtook me with a football and wanted to involve me in their “football game”, passing the ball back and forth to me. When I felt one of their hands near my pocket, I ran past my friends calling to them to come with me. My friends didn’t understand, and when I looked back, the boys were unsuccessfully trying to snatch one of their purses and the other girls were beating the boys with their umbrellas. I dived into the mele, grabbing the purse snatcher. The boys decided that getting beating by girls with umbrellas and tackled by me wasn’t their definition of a successful job and split.

    I consider myself lucky that I got these great “training scenarios” without losing anything!


  • I just returned from Barcelona and had a wonderful time without incident. November is a great time to visit the city, with moderate temperatures and no big crowds. Common sense can help you avoid being a target. Never leave luggage, cell phones, or pocket books unattended, even for a moment. Avoid crowds whenever possible, including the street performers. Definitely use public transportation, but avoid rush hours when trains and buses can be crowded. I purchased a T10 ticket and used the train to get to my hotel from the airport. My cost was €.72 ( 94 cents US ). Where else in the world can you get from the airport to any where in the city center for less than a dollar?

  • We agree that Barcelona is a fun city to visit with great food.

    Because of your excellent book, we have never had a problem

    there or anywhere else. As Bob says, we try to keep pace in our face.

  • With cautious optimism, I will say: perhaps Rome and other cities in Italy (excluding Naples). I was just there and, though I didn’t look hard, I saw much less pickpocket activity than ever before. Not none… but much less. Perhaps it was an off day. Or perhaps Berlusconi is already having an effect? Not likely…

  • thanks for the tip and quick response. I think its great what youre doing GREAT BLOG!!!.

    What city do you think has seen the biggest drop in street crime?

  • I can mention SOME top cities, but not THE top. I haven’t been everywhere (but almost!), and things change. So, what makes the list? Naples, Italy is way up there for theft. St. Petersburg, Russia is very high for pickpocketing and rolling night-clubbers. Lima, Peru, has a lot of snatch-and-grab type theft, and so do many other cities in South America. Johannesburg, South Africa is terrible, I’m sad to say, but the victims are locals as much as tourists. Not a lot of tourists go into the city of Johannesburg, or it would be even higher. And Mexico City, of course, is having a particularly bad crime time right now. This is not an exhaustive list, but what comes first to mind. And it doesn’t mean you should stay away from these cities, either. Just use caution if you visit.

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