Barcelona is beautiful but…

Barcelona is beautiful, many P-O visitors start or end their holiday at the busy El Prat airport….but like any big city, it’s a hotspot for street crime.

Crooks and scammers stalk the streets and public transport, constantly on the lookout for new and inventive ways of relieving people of their valuables.

In particular, they target tourists, usually relaxed and feeling mellow, putting them right at the top of the hit-list of potential victims.

Unfortunately, Spanish law classes any theft worth less than €400 as a ‘falta’, a misdemeanour, rather than a ‘delito’ or crime, resulting in such a very small fine if caught, the same each time, that it is no deterrent!


P-O Life readers’ experiences

Barcelona is such a stunningly beautiful city I regret having to pass on this warning. Friends (a young couple – the man tall and well built, not an obvious choice as a victim) report that within a five day break in Barcelona last week they were targeted no fewer than 3 times by trios of street robbers. They had been warned to carry nothing of value but this did not stop the gangs blatantly approaching and simply going through the man’s pockets as he had his hands full carrying a baby and stroller up metro escalator.

On a recent trip to France arriving via Barcelona airport we had some of our bags stolen in the hire car compound of the airport. We had just picked up our keys and while loading the car with our cases etc we were distracted for no longer than 20 seconds. In that time some of our smaller cases included my wife’s handbag were gone. The car hire company called the police but there was nothing they could do. Not a nice start to a holiday. Maybe next time we will fly into Perpignan.

Some friends stopped for a drink at a motorway services near Girona. When they set off again, they discovered they had a puncture. A helpful chap stopped and helped them change the wheel. He also helped himself to their money, credit cards and passports.

In Barcelona airport we were distracted for no longer than 20 seconds as we picked up our keys in the hire car compound. In that time, some of our smaller cases including my wife’s handbag were stolen. Not a nice start to a holiday.

My 19 year old daughter was a victim of a purse snatcher in Barcelona. She had been careful all day but got her purse out to pay for some fruit and had it snatched from her hand. Be careful out there.

A common scam on the streets of Barcelona is where a young man comes up to you and asks for directions to a popular landmark. He is followed by 2 or 3 men who flash police ID cards. “Do you know this person?” they ask “He is wanted for drug smuggling/fraud/burglary… You may be a material witness. Can we see some ID?” You take your wallet out of your pocket/ bag… and the rest is easy!

As we were walking in Barcelona, a thief cut through the straps of my handbag with large scissors.


In Los Ramblas our son had his tobacco pouch in his back pocket. A pick-pocket lifted it thinking it was a wallet. Realising his mistake he handed it back to him!

A friend was travelling to the P-O in a hire car. Just outside Barcelona at some traffic lights, (looking at a map and looking very tourist like) some motorbikes/scooters pulled up parallel to him and managed to slash/puncture his tyre. He pulled off the road, pulled out his luggage from the boot to find the spare, and you can guess the rest. He was stripped of all his belongings at knifepoint! Apparently they target hire cars and also women travelling with children.

Just a heads up that the “AP 7 highway bandits” are still active between here and Barcelona. Today about halfway there a car zoomed up next to me in the fast lane with their hand on the horn. The driver was keeping pace with my car, blasting his horn and pointing to my back tire indicating something was wrong.  Thanks to my reading previous warnings on PO Life on this, I realised this was likely a robbery attempt to get me to exit and stop.  Instead I looked at him and shook my head “no”. Even though I kept driving and he  drove off at the next exit, I was quite shaken. I drive a duty-free lease car with red plates so clearly he thought I was a tourist.
Stay vigilant and keep safe, everyone! 

Need to report a crime?

Useful Vocab

Whilst the majority of tourists are not victims of crime and have a great holiday, it doesn’t do any harm to take a few simple precautions.


  • Keep the car locked even when you are inside
  • Be vigilant if approached by a motor cyclist
  • Avoid stopping at deserted rest areas on the motorways
  • Keep your bag/wallet completely out of sight
  • Familiarise yourself with your travel insurance policy (ie do you need to make a police report for it to be valid?)
  • Try not to look too much like a tourist!!!! (No knotted hankies around the head please…)

Do not

  • Stop if you are flagged down by a stranger
  • Stop to give directions, answer queries….
  • Have maps on display inside the car clearly identifying you as a tourist
  • Assume that any ‘official’ approaching you is genuine
  • Carry more than the bare minimum around with you. Leave passports, money, credit cards locked in your hotel. Take photocopies if you have to. Use a money belt
  • Stop (unless driving is dangerous) for a flat tyre until you find somewhere safe (eg a police station!)

If, after all that, you are still victim of a crime, it is now possible to make a complaint online.

Click : PROCEDURES, then PROCEDURES BY TOPIC, then EMERGENCIES. SECURITY. and finally REPORTING. Choose the option that best fits your experience.

How to report a crime online

Stay safe!


  1. After many years this is still going on. I got robbed on AP7 in the same way last week.

    1. Really sorry to hear this. Could you give us a few more details so other people can be aware?

  2. These wretches are good psychologists. They know when we are likely to be easily distracted, and they move fast.
    Any time you may put your bags down is when they will strike. It’s so hard to be vigilant when you head is full of other things, and we are kind of conditioned to be trusting.

  3. The exact same scenario, as you describe, happened to my husband and I, way back in 2000 at the Avis rental. We were returning the car, and my hubby was in the office paying when a young man came up and I thought that he wanted to check the mileage. I was taking luggage from the car, and second later, I looked for my handbag and it was gone along with the man. We were still living in the US. Our passports, credit card, plane tickets [yes, it was before e-tickets], cash, were all taken. It was horrible. The police could have cared less. Avis could have cared less. When we returned after having had to fly to Madrid to obtain new passports and incurred an extra night at a hotel, I wrote a letter to Avis explaining that because he had been talking to their agent when we pulled in, I assumed that he was one of them. Eventually, they reimbursed us for the hotel in Madrid, and the passport fees.

  4. Nothing the police can do or nothing the police will do? The constant petty crime tarnishes plenty of holidays but it does not stop people flooding to this fabulous city and so there seems to be no political will to do anything about it.

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