If you read travel websites about Barcelona they will often talk about it being the "pickpocket capital of Europe" or at least about how pickpockets are a major concern.

However, in the last 5-10 years the amount of cash people carry has declined. Mostly to almost zero and we just use cards.

Mobile phones have become less appealing to steal as you have the ability to brick them remotely if you find it has been stolen. People no longer really carry huge DSLR cameras as they just use phones, as well.

Hence, is pickpocketing still an issue in Barcelona given that people don't carry valuables anymore? If so what valuables should I be looking to protect?

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 20:01

3 Answers 3


Based on spending months in Barcelona, pickpockets still are an issue in the city. Anywhere that tourists congregate in Barcelona — on La Rambla walking street, in front of Sagrada Familia cathedral, on the beach in Barceloneta, and in the metro, for example — pickpockets inevitably are at work.

Of course, this is not a problem only in Barcelona; it is not uncommon in other locations that also have a large number of tourists. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities — it certainly is one of the world's best for walking — but it also is a statistical reality that there are more pickpockets in Barcelona than there are in plenty of other places that also have many tourists and people.

The reasons for pickpockets in Barcelona are numerous. It is a largely affluent city with pockets of not insignificant poverty (El Raval, for example), receives millions of tourists a year (including tourists from cruise ships that may only be visiting the city for a few hours), and Spain has long had very high unemployment rates.

Perhaps most notably, though, the historic penalties for getting caught as a pickpocket in Barcelona were negligible (theft less than €400 was barely a crime). There reportedly was a change in the law this summer to make prosecution of repeat offenders more likely, which may help, but the statistics have not changed much yet:

According to police figures, between January and the end of May this year there were 34,000 thefts reported in the city, around 225 per day. So not quite the 12 per hour of 2018, but not far off, averaging just over nine per hour.

By comparison, London has roughly 127 reported pickpockets a day and it is a much larger city. It might not be fair to label Barcelona the pickpocket "Capital of Europe" — a lot more data would be needed to really verify such a title — but it definitely does have a lot of pickpockets.

Although Covid substantially reduced cash usage around the world, southern Europe still has much higher rates of cash use than northern Europe53% of transactions in Spain are in cash — so there still is plenty of cash that can be stolen in Barcelona.

Payment cards, passports and IDs, jewelry, watches, personal electronics, designer bags and luggage itself also remain targets of theft. Cards commonly can be used for some small transactions before being disabled. Identity documents can be resold and often combined with stolen online information for identity theft by transnational crime syndicates. Jewelry, watches, designer goods, and at least some personal electronics still have plenty of resale value in the hands of sophisticated criminals, as well.

If the risk of a penalty is close to zero — as it long has been for being a pickpocket in Barcelona — the reward is greater than zero, and the alternative very well could be unemployment (zero), it doesn't take much of a return on investment for an activity to continue.

It is best to keep the answer specific to Barcelona — and the areas mentioned are the most precise advice that can be provided — but to protect yourself, not carrying much in the way of valuables is a good first step. It also is smart to not wear flashy clothing, jewelry, or watches and be aware of your surroundings and cautious of your belongings regardless of their value when in Barcelona.

  • As well as having to be aware and cautious in any other place where there are many tourists (or people in general.)
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 16:09
  • 7
    @Willeke I love Barcelona very much; it is one of my favorite cities. However, it is a statistical reality that there are more pickpockets in Barcelona than there are in plenty of other places that also have many tourists and people. You certainly are correct that it is wise to pay attention anywhere. However, for example, London has roughly 127 reported pickpockets a day and it is a much larger city.
    – travelgasm
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 0:53
  • 4
    This doesn't seem to fully answer the question (unless you're suggesting that pickpocketing has become essentially a recreational activity where financial return is irrelevant). No matter how low the penalty, there must be some minimum reward to make pickpocketing worthwhile compared to other activities. ...
    – nanoman
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 7:00
  • 11
    @nanoman The question was... in Barcelona specifically is pickpocketing still a problem even though people don't carry as much cash. The answer — based on personal observation and statistical data — is yes. Pickpocketing still continues at roughly the same rate regardless of any changes in carried items. Spain has long had very high unemployment. If the risk of a penalty is close to zero, the reward is greater than zero, and the alternative is unemployment (zero), it doesn't take much of an ROI for an activity to continue.
    – travelgasm
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 8:09
  • 2
    For what it's worth, @User1, I lived in Barcelona from 2002 to 2010, and although I can confirm that pick-pocketing was very, very common, it was also quite easy to defend against. As long as you were a little careful (always have your bag in your sight, preferably using its straps to attach it to your chair and things like that), you wouldn't have any issue. Neither I nor any of my friends were ever targeted but they do tend to go for tourists. Either way, although a nuisance, it wasn't something we thought about much. We just developed some good habits and went about our day.
    – terdon
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 16:33

Not to take anything from the excellent, accepted answer, but I'd question the OP's assumption that pickpockets are only interested in cash.

A few years back, my wife's purse was taken from her handbag in the British Museum. She lost some fifty pounds in cash, but the first we knew about any of it was when she got a call from her bank. The thief had done a fast tour of all the local convenience stores, and at each store, (s)he had bought £20-30 of alcohol and cigarettes on each contactless card my wife had in her purse (both debit and credit). The total loss on cards was very much larger than the cash loss, although of course it was reimbursed by the bank (debit cards) or simply cancelled (credit cards).

The thief will have resold those goods at a substantial markdown, but I'm pretty sure a good crop of contactless cards is at least as valuable to a thief as a reasonable amount of cash, moreso since the contactless transaction limit was raised to £100.

  • 3
    ah yes this is a very good point! I hadn't even thought about this method of turning a cahless wallet into cash quickly. Explains why even when cash usage is on the decline, pickpocketing is still rife
    – User1
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 12:22
  • 4
    @phuclv in the UK, "All contactless payments, as with other card payments, are covered by the issuing bank in the event of fraud" (from s4.1.1 of the PDF available from the UK Banking Industry body, here, so the bank takes the hit, not the retailer.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 21:16
  • 1
    @User1 I do mention that, in the last sentence of my answer- but yes, I agree that's relevant! The tranactions-before-PIN-mandated count is set by the card issuer; I have some as low as three, and some as high as 20. Since the card issuer takes the risk of rogue use of the card, I think it's fair they can set the limit according to their appetite for risk.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 7:59
  • 2
    And passports? A customs officer (Canadian) told me stolen passports fetch tidy sums on the black market, reused by forgers and illegal migrants. But this was 20-odd years ago. In that time my passports have improved a lot in anti-forge technology. Not sure about every country's... Pickpocketing is by nature an activity of chance.
    – frIT
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 9:36
  • 2
    And speaking of bricked mobile phones, they can still be sold for parts.
    – Trang Oul
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 10:10

As someone who's lived in Bcn for 13 years, I can confirm that it's still a problem, from seeing it for myself and first-hand reports. I know policemen and women and they have also confirmed as much.

Going off on a tangent slightly, it's true that pickpocketing is barely penalised, with repeat offenders literally getting caught each night and at most spending a night in a cell. It sounds ludicrous, and in fact, if you are a victim and you hit your thief you are more likely to get into trouble as violence is strictly penalised. But, the result is that Barcelona is generally a safe place as thieves will usually avoid confrontation and just hand back whatever they've taken if caught in the act.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .