Barcelona is a very safe place and having lived here for many years I have never felt uneasy or threatened. However, like any big city, we do have pickpockets in Barcelona and the metro provides very nice opportunities for them. To help guard your belongings in the underground, let me give you some safety tips that I would usually offer the visitors on some of my tours.
How to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona’s metro system:
The golden rule
The whole time you are in the system, carry handbags and rucksacks in front of your body with your hands on top. A pickpocket will realise there is no inconspicuous way into your bag and move on to an easier target. Never carry phones or wallets in back or side trouser pockets. They need to be in a safe inside pocket.
To really be on the safe side, do not take out your purse when purchasing the tickets. Have your money ready before you go down into the subway. The ticket machines will give change so don’t worry if you only have notes (no change is given to a 50 or 100 note with small purchases).
People asking directions
Be aware of people with a metro map in hand pretending to need help for directions. It is a perfect excuse to get in close with a map that distracts you and hides their nimble fingers as they work. Just tell people you are a visitor and can not help them. Also, don’t look too lost yourself and, if you need directions, ask someone using metro maps or signs on the wall, keeping an eye on the correct body distance.
Entering the barriers
Make sure your bags and rucksacks are in front, tightly clasped, to avoid people pushing in behind you. You can’t physically turn around in that split second making an easy getaway for these quick thieves.
Getting on and off the Metro
Always wait in the middle of the platform for the train as end parts are more crowded and distracting. Hold tightly on to your belongings when entering the carriage, as groups of 2 or 3 pickpockets can push in behind you trying to make a quick steal. They wait until this moment because, if successful, they will jump off the metro with the prize just as the doors close so it is useless to raise the alarm. The same rule applies when getting off the train.
On the escalators
On exiting the metro, the escalators are always crowded, providing yet another opportunity for our enterprising bandits. Again, be vigilant of your belongings as the step beneath is just the right level for hands covered by a jacket or newspaper to make light work of removing a wallet from a shoulder bag.
All the tips I have given you here are for the worst scenarios. Please do not think of the metro as a dangerous place to be avoided. In fact, it is so cheap and efficient that I always recommend it to people on tours as a great way to get around the city if attractions are not within walking distance. With a little sense and caution, you can take full advantage of its benefits.
Photograph by Jonathan Petit