Pickpocketing in Europe

7 Tips on How to Avoid Pickpocketing in Europe

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This is a guide on how to avoid pickpocketing in Europe.

Unfortunately, pickpocketing in Europe is a real problem.  We’ve been very lucky that we’ve visited Europe several times at this point and never had an issue.  But we know the struggle with petty theft is real.  And if you’ve ever been a victim of pickpocketing in Europe then you know how serious it can be.

In this article we will cover:

  • Things you need to know about pickpocketing in Europe [including how to avoid pickpockets in Europe]
  • Pickpocketing in Italy [especially pickpocketing in Rome]
  • Pickpocketing in Spain [especially pickpocketing in Barcelona]
  • PIcpocketing in France [especially pickpocketing in Paris]

Pickpocketing in Europe

Generally speaking, Europe is a very safe place to visit. We felt completely comfortable exploring places like Barcelona with kids. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise caution there. Pickpocketing in Europe is a very common crime and tourists are more often than not targeted. That’s because they’re often less savvy than locals and are almost guaranteed to have valuables on them.

Items that are often targeted by pickpockets in Europe are:

  • Cash
  • Jewelry
  • Important documents like passports
  • Electronics like cell phones
  • Entire wallets, purses, and bags

But you can avoid pickpockets in Europe! Let’s discuss how.

How to Avoid Pickpockets in Europe [No Matter the Country]

Luckily, even with the high risk of pickpocketing in Europe, there are some very easy steps you can take to protect your valuables. Here are tips on how to avoid pickpockets in Europe:

Invest In An Anti-Theft Bag

Please don’t store your valuables in your pockets.  No matter how deep they may be, pockets are still easy targets.  It is, after all, literally called pickpocketing.

Instead, invest in a quality anti-theft bag with secure zippers to keep your stuff safe.  I’ve collected quite a few anti-theft bags over the years [you can see all my favorite travel bags and purses here].  This is the number one way to avoid pickpockets in Europe.

If you’re looking for the best backpack for Europe or the best purse for Europe, look no further! Here are my top picks:

Best Backpack for Europe

Travelon is without a doubt my favorite brand for pickpocketing in Europe. Their bags are portable, have great features, and are reliable. 

Zippers are Your Friends

If you opt to use a regular handbag, you can still avoid pickpockets in Europe.  Just make sure it has a zipper closure.  Bonus points if it zips closed and then has a flap that goes over it. 

Be sure your handbag is zipped at all times and check the zipper periodically.  Avoid handbags with a velcro closure or ones that are completely open at the top.

Be Aware of Certain Areas

Be cautious everywhere but there are certain areas where you’re more likely to run into a pickpocket than others.  The most common places where pickpockets seem to gather are:

  • The metro
  • Popular tourist attractions [including popular transit streets like La Rambla in Barcelona]
  • Train stations
  • Markets and malls
  • Beaches

Also, please note that pickpockets don’t wear a name tag saying “Hi, I’m here to rob you.”  Meaning, they aren’t always easily identifiable.  Lots of times they are women and children, someone that looks like a tourist, a group of teenagers, someone that appears to be in distress, etc.

Don’t Be Afraid to Look Silly

If a scenario feels a little sketchy — or even if it doesn’t — don’t worry about looking silly.  Just protect your stuff!

  • Clutch your bag to your chest in a crowded area.
  • Wear your backpack on your chest instead of your back.
  • Wear your coat over your handbag.
  • Sit on your suitcase instead of having it next to you.
  • Use yourself and your friends to form a body barricade around your suitcases with you guys on the perimeter and your personal items on the inside.
  • Keep your purse on your lap when seated — even in a restaurant or bar and even if they have hooks nearby to hang them.
How to Avoid Pickpockets in Europe wear your backpack to the front
Me in Spain looking silly but avoiding pickpockets in Europe

Always Keep An Eye On Your Belongings – No Matter What

This one might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how tricky it can be to avoid pickpockets in Europe that use distractions.  If a stranger stops you to speak to you, ignore them and check your surroundings.  This is often a ploy to distract you from someone behind you accessing your personal items. 

And yes, this applies to strangers that are men, women, or even children!  Unfortunately, pickpockets in Europe come in all shapes, sizes, and forms.  Please don’t set your items down or take your eyes off them.

Hide Your Money and other Valuables

To my fellow ample-bosomed ladies, your bra is more than just a crumb catcher.  If you’re looking to avoid pickpockets in Europe, use it to your advantage.  Your bra is a wonderful place to hide our Euros until you need them. 

For the gentlemen [and the ladies who can’t/don’t want to use their undergarments], invest in a money belt to wear under your clothes.  Keep all of your essentials items like your passport, extra money, credit cards, etc. there.

Pickpocketing in Europe - Hide your valuables
Guess where my Euros are? Hint: not my purse!

Keep It Moving

Try not to stand still in a busy area for too long.  Pickpockets use the hustle and bustle of a busy area to brush past you and take your things.  Pause, take your picture, and move on!  If you need to stop for a few minutes, find a seat and keep your bag in your lap.  You can also lean against a wall with your bag between your body and the wall.

Pickpocketing in Italy

Italy is an absolutely beautiful country to visit [you can see all our posts about Italy here]. But its reputation with tourists has been tarnished a bit by the problem of pickpocketing in Italy. It’s one of the top concerns most visitors have to contend with when planning their trip.

Major cities like Rome, Naples, and Florence are considered the top cities for pickpocketing in Italy.

Pickpocketing in Rome

Pickpocketing in Rome - Colosseum
Popular tourist destinations like the Colosseum are hotspots for pickpocketing in Rome

When looking at cities for pickpocketing in Italy, nothing stands out as much as the pickpocketing in Rome. The city is notorious for having numerous pickpockets that move quickly and discreetely. In fact, Rome is consistently named as one of the worst cities in the world for pickpockets.

To avoid pickpockets in Italy and pickpocketing in Rome, here are more general tips:

  • Don’t take pictures with costumed solicitors. [Yes, sorry, that includes the gladiators that may be outside the Colosseum or near the Trevi Fountain]
  • Don’t stop to sign any petitions. They’re often ploys to distract you while someone rifles through your bag.
  • Keep your bag attached to you in some way, shape, or form. Do not sit it in your lap, on a chair, off a table, etc.
  • Do not sit your cell phone on the table while eating. Pickpockets in Italy will often come by your table to offer you something [like a rose] or ask a question then swipe your phone
  • Ignore anyone that asks you to hold something – including children. It’s often a scam to coerce money from you and/or rob you.
  • Count your change if you purchase something using cash. Clerks will often short change you. It’s not pickpocketing in the general sense but theft is theft.
My experience with pickpocketing in Rome

One night in Rome, I was wearing my favorite Travelon anti-theft backpack when I felt a slight tug behind me. I turned around to a gentleman standing way too close. He looked me square in the face and said “That’s a really nice backpack you have,” scoffed, and walked away. I’m fairly certain he had tried to access my bag and the zippers stopped him.

I bought it to deter a thief. But to impress one too? Made this backpack a worthy investment!

Check it out >

Pickpocketing in Spain

Spain is one of my favorite countries in Europe. The language, the food, the architecture – all of it is absolutely beautiful [check out our visits to Spain here]. But the wonder of the country doesn’t negate that pickpocketing in Spain is a problem. In fact, pickpoketing in Spain has gotten so bad, that one of its cities is infamous for it.

Major cities like Barcelona and Madrid are considered the top cities for pickpocketing in Spain.

Pickpocketing in Barcelona

Pickpocketing in Barcelona is so common that the city is often regarded as the pickpocket capital of the world. Local law enforcement has made a genuine effort to try to clean up these crimes and have seen improvement but it is definitely still a travel concern.

To avoid pickpockets in Spain and pickpocketing in Barcelona, here are more general tips:

  • Don’t drop your guard for fellow tourists. It’s a common pickpocketing tactic in Barcelona to pose as a fellow tourist waiting in a long line.
  • Don’t assume you’re safe inside a tourist attraction. Places that are crowded and/or narrow [like the towers at La Sagrada Familia], are notorious for pickpockets in Barcelona.
  • Please don’t leave your items unattended on the beaches of Barcelona. It’s prime targeted area for pickpockets in Barcelona.
  • Keep your bag attached to you in some way, shape, or form. Do not sit it in your lap, on a chair, off a table, etc.
  • Pickpockets in Barcelona often come equipped with props – things to hand or sell you, costumes [to appear as personnel or police officers], etc.

Pickpocketing in France

The tactics used for pickpocketing in France are some of the most strategic in Europe. Pickpockets in France are able to blend in, be delicate of hand, and be manipulative. Of all the pickpocketing in Europe, France is one of the most concerning.

The most common cities for pickpocketing in France are Paris, Strasbourg, and Nice.

Pickpocketing in Paris

Pickpocketing in Paris

Pickpocketing in Paris is special. Not because of how fantastical the city is or because it is the city of love. It is because the pickpockets in Paris are some of the most stealthy, advanced theives in the world. That’s a personal opinion but one I stand by strongly. Even the most seasoned of travelers can easily fall victim to pickpocketing in Paris.

It’s a wonderful city to visit [you can check out our Paris adventures here] but caution is required to fully enjoy the city!

To avoid pickpockets in France and pickpocketing in Paris, here are more general tips:

  • Be wary of fellow tourists. It’s a common pickpocketing in Paris scam to pose as a fellow tourist to hopefully catch someone with their guard down.
  • Be especially careful at and near the Eiffel Tower. Larger bags are often targeted here because they usually contain cameras.
  • Skip buying a souvenir from street vendors. They’re often pricier than a shop anyway but they could also use their wares to distract and pickpocket you.
  • Don’t stop to sign any petitions. They’re often ploys to distract you while someone rifles through your bag.
  • Be aware that pickpocketing in Paris is very often done by women of all ages. Use caution.
  • Don’t assume you’re safe when you’re in the car. Motorcyclists will often grab phones through open windows [check out my experience with pickpockets in Paris below]
My experience with pickpocketing in Paris

I’ve actually narrowly missed pickpocketing in Paris not once but twice. Once, while using my phone in the backseat of an Uber, a motorcyclists pulled up and tried to grab my phone from my hands through the open window. The driver of the car warned me in just enough time to move [and put my window up]. Another time, after exiting the metro, my purse flap was lifted with the zipper exposed. Luckily, I was using one of my favorite anti-theft crossbody purses and they didn’t get through the zipper. Whew – mon dieu!

Check it out >

What are your best tips for how to avoid pickpockets in Europe?

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