Barcelona – a Gangster’s Paradise?

I was rather anxious before visiting Barcelona. It seemed that whenever I told my friends that we were going there, they would respond by saying that either they had been mugged in Barcelona, or their friends had been mugged in Barcelona. This isn’t the case for any other city I have visited, so I was apprehensive to say the least. My boyfriend’s sister and her husband were mugged… by children (!!) in Barcelona and had around 200 Euros taken.

Torre Agbar, BarcelonaI decided to research the scams online. I won’t repeat them all here, as you can find comprehensive coverage online by googling “Barcelona scams” or similar. Upon reading the forums I found that the scammers used the same scams over and over again, and therefore there are around 10 common scams. I found that knowing these scams helped – so if someone tried anything I would be able to say “ahh, the classic bird-poo scam. Textbook”, rather than falling for it – hence averting disaster!  As it happened, we had no problems whatsoever. We just minimised risk by taking common-sense precautions:-

  1. I bought a bag with a cross-body strap and wore it on the front of my body, so my bag could not be easily snatched.
  2. We left passports in the hotel safe
  3. We avoided dodgy areas of town after dark.
  4. We did not put valuables in back pockets
  5. We kept bags in-sight at all times, especially on the Metro
  6. When eating at a cafe I kept my bag strapped to my body, rather than leaving it on the floor
  7. We didn’t get valuables out or put them on the table at dinner
  8. We didn’t stop in the street looking at a map, as this signals that you’re a tourist
  9. We didn’t dress like tourists
  10. If uncertain, we simply didn’t engage with strangers.

One day a lady followed us after we got off a tourist bus and asked (in Spanish) if we had finished with our bus tickets. The tickets expired that day, so she wouldn’t have been able to travel on them anyway. I said no. I wasn’t about to be fumbling in my wallet in the street in the dark. To this day I have no idea if she was trying to scam us – perhaps by finding out if we were tourists or where our wallets are kept. Or she was a sweet lady who has a hobby of collecting used bus tickets, and I’m a terrible person!

We noticed many men on the Ramblas just hanging about. We wondered what they were up to, but eventually one of them muttered to my boyfriend “Speed, Marajuana, Cocaine?”, so maybe that’s what they were doing loitering all evening!

I was glad that we had taken precautions, however, once we were clued-up, we felt totally safe. The Metro felt no more unsafe than any other Metro system in the world (and I have been on many of them – London, New York, San Francisco, LA, Beijing, Tokyo). The Ramblas felt just as safe as a stroll in Paris or London. So I would urge you not to let Barcelona’s reputation for scams put you off going there.

In fact, I would rate Barcelona as one of the best cities I have ever visited. It has everything – the wide tree-lined boulevards, the tiny quaint Gothic streets to get lost in, the lovely sandy beaches, complete with volley-ball courts and surfers, the harbour with yachts and palm trees.

Barcelona Harbour (Port Vell)It is worth visiting the Olympic Park, on Montjuic hill overlooking the city, where you can look inside the Olympic stadium. The hill also has panoramic views over Barcelona. Port Olympic is also lovely – a second harbour with restaurants and beaches.

The historic Bullring has also been converted into a mall, housing shops, restaurants, a cinema, a gym, and a concert venue. There is a lift on the outside of the bullring, on the Placa d’Espanya, and there is a fee of 1 Euro to go up this. I thought this was a bit naughty as you can get to the observation deck for free by going up the escalators inside the bullring! The observation desk on the bullring has great views of the Placa d’Espanya and the National Palace.

Placa d'Espanya, BarcelonaBarcelona is famous for the architect Gaudi. His work is beautiful and versatile, ranging from the huge gothic cathedral the Sagrada Familia, which is unfinished. Work is still ongoing! (and has been since 1882!).

It is worth noting that if you want to go up to the top of the towers you will be given a time slot 2 hours after the purchase of your ticket. You are free to go away and come back, or look around the ground floor of the cathedral. But it is not possible to go up the tower straight away. However these signs are only at the actual gate, not at the end of the massive queue. So we queued for 30 minutes, only to find this out when we got to the front of the queue! We decided we couldn’t wait there for 2 hours as we had already bought bus tickets to get around to Park Guell and other places. It is therefore worth factoring this into your plans.

Sagrada FamiliaGaudi has also designed some unusual houses – the Casa Batlló and the La Pedrera, as well as Park Guell. Park Guell houses the longest bench in the world, made of colourful mosaic, and it is beautiful but also functional, and it has views over Barcelona to the sea.

Park GuellThere is a tourist bus which will take you around all the sights – we took this as it was convenient and relaxing to cruise around on an open-topped bus with the wind in your hair 🙂 But it is expensive – 24 Euros for a one-day ticket and 31 Euros (around £25) for a two-day ticket. For that you have access to all the tour bus routes, unlimited travel, and hop-on-hop-off. We did this and found it very useful.

We also used the cheaper option – the Metro. This was mostly well signed and easy to use, and the “T-10” card allows you 10 journeys for around 9.50 Euros (normally one journey is 2 Euros, so it is much better value). The T-10 ticket can also be used for more than one person – it is totally legitimate to use the card and then pass it back to other people in your party to use as well. It is just for 10 journeys, regardless of who travels – you don’t need a card each. There were a couple of instances where the Metro was not so well signed – for example getting to the airport, and getting to Monserrat – which I will explain more about in the next blog.

Overall I would highly recommend Barcelona as a lovely city to visit. Just be aware before you go and take sensible precautions so you don’t get mugged. But don’t allow the fear of being mugged ruin your holiday!

Next Blog: Monserrat, Spain.

Previous blog: Dorset, England

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4 thoughts on “Barcelona – a Gangster’s Paradise?

  1. We lived in Spain for 12 years and on one visit to Barcelona, my wallet was pickpocketed by a little lady who stopped to pinch my baby’s cheek!! But in spite of that we love Barcelona– was there last summer with my daughter and enjoyed the amazing architecture even beyond Gaudi, loved his cathedral, the park, the colorful music palace, the bountiful market, and the food, wonderful food!

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