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As mentioned in my ‘10 tips for embarking a ship in Barcelona‘ the city is now one of the busiest and most popular cruise ports in the Mediterranean (not only for those embarking on a cruise but as a port of call too) and so, as a result, it is a major tourist destination, not only for cruise passengers but those on land-based trips as well. Unfortunately, this can result in a downside for visitors to the city. Petty crime, primarily pickpocketing, is a problem in the busy areas of the city (as in many other major cities around the world) where large groups can be found especially railway and metro stations. As we have visited Barcelona many times, hopefully, I have a few tips for you in order that you visit here (or any other major city), crime free.
It isn’t my intention to dissuade you from visiting Barcelona. It is a fantastic city, one of my favourites. It’s full of wonderful sights to see and experience, so I just want to give pointers to help you have a safe and very enjoyable trip.
- From the moment you arrive in the city, be that by air, rail, road or ship, make sure you are aware of where all your valuables are. My tip would be to take a legitimate licensed taxi direct to your accommodation, even if you are not staying in the city centre. Do not leave bags unattended, especially backpacks, not even for a second at the baggage carousel or whilst loading them into a taxi. The petty criminals are always on the lookout for bags they can easily grab and run away with whilst disappearing into a crowd. If you travel around the city using the metro, local buses or trams, do not travel in empty carriages, stand in well-lit areas of stations and be aware of your nearest exit.
- When you arrive at your accommodation, lock all valuables (passport, wallets, credit cards, keys, jewellery, tablets and cash etc.) in the in-room safe immediately, getting any necessary keys from reception when you check in, don’t leave it until later. If your accommodation does not offer that option, then deposit them in a safe deposit box at reception. If your accommodation does not offer these facilities then personally, I wouldn’t stay there.
- When you go out to explore the city, do not take wads of cash with you, just enough to cover your planned expenses (there are many guides that will give an idea of costs for food and drink). If you must take a credit card, just take one, and ensure you have all the necessary emergency contact numbers for your bank recorded separately and in a safe place. Leave all the others in the safe.
- Never take your passport out with you. Many will tell you that the Spanish authorities can insist that you carry it with you at all times. In reality, unless you are in a position to be challenged by the police, you will not be required to show it – I never have. However, if you lose it, or have it stolen, you will not be boarding that ship! There was a recent real-life account of someone who had his passport stolen on a Saturday just as he arrived in the city, and the ship was due to sail Sunday. But he had to wait until the US consulate opened on Monday to get a replacement and then fly at his own cost to the next port of call to board the ship, whilst the rest of his family boarded on Sunday. If you feel safer having your passport details to hand, take a paper copy out with you.
- Many of us now use our mobile phones for taking photographs, using map applications for directions, where online tickets are stored and have travel guides loaded for information as well as for making calls. Many can now be used to make electronic payments too. A lot of phones these days are valued around £600 – £700 if not more, (approximately $750 – $900 or €700 – €800) and contain so much of our personal data, including banking and social media apps that have so much secure information stored. And of course all your treasured photos from your trip. This is something you don’t want to lose. I’m not suggesting you don’t take your phone out with you. But I would strongly suggest you use a case that has a wrist strap connected, to let you carry it securely with you and still use it. Remember whilst you’re checking your phone for directions or holding it to take a selfie outside the Sagrada Família your attention is distracted from those around you. Pickpockets know this and could easily swoop down on you and grab that £700 out of your hand. When in your accommodation, do not leave it unattended at any time. It’s a very valuable and a very attractive expensive item to criminals.
- When enjoying a snack, drink or meal in one of the hundreds of great city bars and restaurants, if you have bags with you, make sure they are not hung on the back of a chair, and that they are in your eyesight at all times. A good tip is to place it under the table, preferably with any straps secured around a table or chair leg (or your own leg!) making it extremely difficult for a criminal to grab and run away with it. Make sure all the pockets and zips are closed. Never, never leave your wallet or phone lying on the table, pickpockets will swoop down and grab it off the table. I’ve seen it happen.
- One thing that you will notice is that ‘locals’ carry their backpacks, not on their backs, but in front of them so pickpockets can’t dip into them unnoticed. So, if you have to carry a bag, as well as making sure you have it securely held on your person, make sure all zips, clasps and pockets are closed to discourage those sticky fingers feeling around for your valuables.
- Don’t get in a position where you could get surrounded by a group of strangers. Pickpockets work in ‘teams’ and will often surround ‘victims’ and whilst one or more will distract you by asking questions, or purport that they looking for directions by pushing a map in your face, another will be robbing you. A favourite tactic is whilst you are eating, they will lean over you with a map or paper asking for help which hides your valuables and an accomplice will grab your possessions off the table or bar. Another scam is for someone carrying a baby to walk at your side begging. But the ‘baby’ may not be real, and the criminal is carrying a doll on a false arm and as they are begging from you, their real arm in delving through your bag or even worse, your pockets!
- Don’t wear a lot of jewellery, especially that valuable watch, be it a Rolex or an Apple watch! Thieves can spot these from a distance and will target you to snatch chains from around your neck, bracelets off your wrist and grab a watch with an expandable strap off your arm. Leave them locked in the safe! If you’re carrying a phone, all these show the date and time these days! Try and dress to blend in, don’t wear your favourite football/soccer t-shirt or anything that advertises that you are from a country abroad and makes you stand out as a tourist. Make sure all pants/shorts have pockets that can be secured if possible, by zips or buttons. Gentlemen, please, please do not walk around with a wallet full of cards and cash bulging in your back pocket. You are a walking advertisement to a thief. I’ve seen this so many times, it even makes me nervous.
- If you are the process of being a victim of a crime, make loud noises, shouting for help, but do not lash out. This often dissuades your attackers from trying to rob you and they will run off because remember, they are only really opportunists at heart. Try and not retaliate, they may have a weapon, you don’t want to get hurt. Remember, in the eyes of the law, the items the pickpockets are trying to take from you are of little value, there is little deterrent and few, if any, penalties are imposed on any them if they are caught and brought before the authorities. However, if you are extremely unlucky and become a victim, then for insurance purposes you must report the crime to the police and this will mean visiting a local station and obtaining a police report and crime reference. This is not always a quick or easy process (believe me, I’ve been there) especially if you are not fluent in speaking the local language, so take care, and hopefully, if you can only remember some of my tips, you’ll have a fantastic time in Barcelona.
We always look forward to visiting this city (normally because it means we’re going to board a cruise ship!).
Take care and you will have a fabulous time there.