The city of Barcelona is popular among lovers of good food, beautiful architecture, and nightlife. It is one of the most visited cities in Europe, with over seven million annual visitors.
The best thing to do in Barcelona is just walk around the famous landmarks and historic neighborhoods, from the Gothic Quarter to La Rambla.
Lovers of art and architecture have plenty to see in Barcelona, from Gaudi’s buildings including the still-unfinished La Sagrada Familia to the works in the Picasso Museum.
The city is also popular among young visitors thanks to its lively nightlife, pretty beaches, and local festivals such as Primavera, one of the world’s best music festivals.
If you are planning to visit, there will be plenty to keep you busy when you are there. However, you might be hesitant to visit if you don’t know a lot about the city.
Before visiting any unfamiliar city, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the safety challenges you might face. That’s why we put together this travel guide to help you understand what precautions you need to take — let us be your guide!
Is Barcelona Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Barcelona is a safe city to visit. The rate of violent crime and other violent incidents is fairly low.
However, petty theft incidents against tourists are common and you should make sure to keep a close eye on all of your things. When you read the news about the city, it seems very contradictory.
Read on tourist forums and sites and you’ll find lots of people complaining about the many pickpockets. In fact, Barcelona routinely tops lists of the cities in Europe with the worst pickpocketing problem (people specifically mention La Rambla as the worst place for pickpockets).
However, according to other metrics, Barcelona is one of the safest cities in Europe. The Economist named it the 11th safest city in the world and the 4th safest city in Europe in the 2021 Safe Cities Index.
The index evaluates cities on a few different factors, including infrastructure, digital, personal, health, and environmental security. This information seems contradictory at first, but it makes sense if you think about it.
The city has a world-famous city that makes the quality of life in the city very high. Many residents consider it to be a safe city. The most common crimes, such as pickpocketing, tend to target tourists.
Common crimes in Barcelona include:
- Bag snatching
- Tourist scams
- Verbal harassment
Violent crimes are fairly rare, although they can happen, just as they can happen anywhere. Barcelona experiences many of the problems that countries mention in their travel advisories for Spain.
For example, the United States issues a Level Two travel advisory for the country of Spain due to the risk of terrorism in major Spanish cities, including Barcelona.
The city has also had deadly terrorist attacks in the recent past. In 2017, an ISIS-affiliated terrorist drove a van into a crowd on the popular pedestrian street of La Rambla, killing 15 people, including tourists.
Many people in Barcelona are still traumatized by the attack several years later. However, the Spanish and local governments have ramped up anti-terrorist efforts since and there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack in the city recently.
Civil unrest is also a common concern that people worry about for Barcelona. The city is in the autonomous region of Catalunya, where many people speak Catalan instead of Spanish and don’t identify with the country of Spain at all.
In 2017 and in 2019-2020, there were protests for independence that often turned violent.
The pro-independence movement has calmed down since after a series of political and legal defeats, and there haven’t been many violent clashes in the last few years.
However, it’s still a good idea to steer clear of any demonstrations you may encounter. Plus, avoid the topic of independence as the local population is fairly divided.
Crime in Barcelona
Crime is one of the primary concerns for visitors to Barcelona, especially since many tourists warn other travelers about their theft experiences in the city. However, what do the statistics say about crime in the city?
According to Numbeo, the crime in the city is moderate. The city scores a 51.01 out of 100 on the site’s crime index, which is a medium value.
People are most concerned about petty theft and other minor property crimes, which fits with the anecdotal evidence about crime. However, there is some good news.
The violent crime rate is low to moderate, and most respondents don’t spend a lot of time worrying about extremely violent crimes in the city.
In 2018, there were only 10 homicides in the city, which is a low number for a population of about 1.6 million. Crime is also trending downwards. In 2022, overall crime declined by 14.6% compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
Theft rates declined by 26.6%, muggings declined by 19%, and homicides declined by 39%. Although there were increases in sexual aggression, assault, and internet scams, the numbers are positive overall.
What this means for visitors is that you don’t have to be constantly on your guard regarding crime.
While you should be on your guard against crimes such as petty theft, and use your common sense in the city, you shouldn’t ruin your vacation worrying about everything that could go wrong.
The crime that you are most likely to encounter in Barcelona, backed up by crime statistics, anecdotal evidence, and travel advisories, is petty theft.
All forms of petty theft are common, including pickpocketing, bag snatching, theft from vehicles, and scams. The historic district of Ciutat Vella experiences the most crime in Barcelona.
Most of these crime incidents are petty theft incidents targeting tourists.
The pedestrian area of La Rambla is the most common location for theft due to its popularity among tourists. The Canadian government lists other common locations for theft in Barcelona in its travel advisory for the country of Spain.
These locations include:
- Park Guell
- El Prat airport
- Barceloneta beach
- Sagrada Familia Basilica
As a rule of thumb, be careful of pickpockets and bag snatchers at popular tourist locations, on public transportation, and around transportation hubs that attract a lot of tourists.
Most pickpockets target tourists because they know that they have fewer street smarts than locals, so you want to make yourself as little of a target as possible. Don’t telegraph if you are lost; duck into a store or business to open a map or look up directions on your phone.
Don’t wear expensive jewelry or designer clothing as that singles you out as a lucrative target. The Australian government includes some advice about preventing theft in Barcelona in its travel advisory for Spain.
The number one tip according to its travel advisory is to never put your valuables somewhere that a thief can reach easily. That means no setting bags on the ground on the metro or hanging off of your chair in a café.
Always keep your bag strapped across your body and held close to your chest. Wear backpacks on your chest on the metro; it looks silly, but it is harder to steal.
Distraction tactics are often used by pickpockets and scammers. Ignore anyone that comes up to you on the street and is insistent to talk to you.
Be careful if someone seems overly helpful, such as alerting you to bird poop on your clothes, offering to clean you up, or offering to take your picture. Often, this is cover for a theft. Some scammers are becoming more sophisticated recently and posing as police officers.
Undercover police officers rarely operate in Barcelona, or if they do, they don’t communicate with the public. Any police officer who stops you will be in uniform and show you ID.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
As mentioned above, one of the few crimes that increased in Barcelona in recent years was sexual aggression. Female travelers should probably take extra precautions when traveling to this beautiful city.
The city is very popular among young visitors thanks to its nightlife, including clubs, beach bars, and festivals.
However, nightlife establishments are some of the most common locations of sexual aggression and assault (committed both by locals and other tourists). When you go out at night, make sure that you always go with a trusted group of friends, never alone.
Never go off alone with a new acquaintance or allow someone in your group to do the same. Always watch your drinks and never accept drinks from strangers as drink spiking can happen in the nightlife establishments.
If something does happen, the Barcelona police have a station that operates 24 hours a day in the major tourist area. Contact them immediately and seek help.
Avoiding Bad Areas
There are some parts of central Barcelona that are safe during the day, but a bit sketchy at night. Here are some of these locations, so you can know to avoid them after dark. An evening store down La Rambla is a popular activity among tourists.
However, the southern end of the street, closer to the water, is seedy at night. Besides more petty thieves, you might even encounter prostitutes.
The neighborhood of Raval, to the right of La Rambla if you are facing south, also has a lot of petty crime, especially at night. Avoid parks at night, such as Park Guell or Park Montjuic. Crime increases in these areas after dark.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for visitors to Barcelona:
- Be sensitive to the local context. Some people in Barcelona identify as Catalan, not Spanish, while others identify the other way. Some Catalans want independence from Spain, and this has caused political unrest in recent years. Avoid discussing this sensitive topic with locals unless they bring it up or assuming anyone’s political views.
- Don’t drink alcohol in the street. Barcelona has a reputation as a party city, but it has strict laws governing alcohol consumption. If you get caught violating the rules, you could pay an expensive fine.
- Be respectful of locals. Many locals are becoming more and more frustrated with the vast tourist numbers in their city, so try to be respectful to avoid ruining relationships further. Obey local laws governing tourists, such as no beachwear outside of the beach.
- Keep most of your valuables in your hotel safe. That way even if you get robbed, it won’t be devastating.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions that you might want answered about visiting Barcelona:
Is it safe to walk at night in Barcelona?
Walking at night in Barcelona is only safe under certain conditions. Make sure that you stick to well-lit streets with other people around and try to walk with other people.
Is it safe to go out at night in Barcelona?
If you are just going out at night for a walk, make sure that you follow the tips mentioned above. If you are going out to explore the nightlife, only go with a trusted group and try hard to protect your valuables while you are out and about.
Is Barcelona safe for female travelers?
Generally, Barcelona is safe for female travelers. However, you should take extra precautions when walking at night or checking out the local nightlife as there have been assaults against travelers before.
Which is safer, Madrid or Barcelona?
Madrid and Barcelona have similar problems for tourists, including high rates of petty theft. However, Barcelona has a higher rate of pickpocketing, making it slightly more dangerous.
Is Las Ramblas safe at night?
Las Ramblas, another name for the main promenade La Rambla, is full of people and well-lit even at night. However, if you are taking an evening stroll, stick to the northern end of the street as the southern end is sketchy after dark.
So, Is Barcelona Safe to Visit?
Visiting Barcelona requires some precautions such as putting your valuables in a safe place away from pickpockets. However, besides the risk of petty theft, the city is fairly safe to visit.
So, with so much to see and do, and an overall safe environment, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Barcelona has to offer. Happy travels!