Pickpockets in Madrid and the Rastro.

Rastro, Travel tips

by Ben Curtis

Pickpocketing and theft are a problem in Madrid but it is not something to worry about if you take a few sensible precautions. Obvious things to AVOID are carrying your wallet in your back pocket, or valuables in a back pack on your back – both are asking for trouble. Handbags should be carried under your arm. Be very careful not to leave bags next to you on the floor in bars or restaurants – keep them on your lap. Pickpockets and bag snatchers tend to work in pairs or small groups in Madrid and often one or two members of a gang will distract you (by shoving you, asking an innocent question, showing you a map) while another robs you – be particularly aware in the Metro and around major tourist attractions such as museums. Again, there is no need to be paranoid all the time, but if you are aware of this problem then you are bound to be fine.

What follows in an excellent example of the tricks used in Madrid these days, from Julian, who was on holiday in Madrid with his wife Judith, and was targeted the Rastro market.

So having walked round the Rastro & flea market, Judith & I had bought a few items & were heading out when I got targeted as the victim of a ‘contrived accident’. I knew all about this possibility & Ben had warned us not to have anything of value on us.

It was skilfully carried out because it was made to look as if I had tried to rob the pickpocket.

He was just ahead & was holding a mobile (probably an old broken one) close to his ear. He swung round backwards & bumped into me – the mobile was dropped (flung) against my leg as I walked forward — thus sending the mobile skittering off a few feet away. Instead of just retrieving it – he bent down & grabbed one of my legs with one hand while with the other made a show of frisking my leg where the mobile had hit it, i.e. trying to make it look as if I had deliberately tried to pinch his mobile.

My wallet was in my front pocket out of harms way and I had a firm grip on it. I freed myself quickly from this & he picked up his mobile from the ground.

But the distraction had enabled his accomplice (who I never saw) to remove the contents of my back pocket … just a few sheets of folded A4 paper.

No harm done but it shows that despite taking all precautions the pickpockets can still catch you unawares.

This all happened so quickly that Judith who was walking slightly ahead of me carried on & hadn’t even noticed what had happened.

Do you have a Madrid pickpocket story? Send it in to help others avoid the same trap!


Comment from Damian
Date: April 27, 2007, 2:37 pm

I was pickpocked recently, in the Madrid metro. It was hot and I was carrying my large jacket in my hands, which meant my jean pocket was exposed and out of my line of sight. I was also clearly distracted, telling some people I was with a little of the history of Madrid. The fact I was speaking in English probably made matters worse. As a distracted foreigner who can’t see where his wallet is, I was a prime target.

I’ve seen quite a few suspicious folks hanging around the entrance to Metro stops in Madrid recently – much more than when I lived in Madrid a couple of years ago. Be careful.

Pingback from This week’s links… – Notes from Spain: Travel, Living in Spain, Podcasts, Forum and Photos
Date: April 28, 2007, 8:38 am

[...] We have a great pickpockets in Madrid tale at Notes from Madrid. [...]

Comment from Zeynep
Date: May 10, 2007, 9:50 pm

I have got the experience at the Retiro Park…We were listening the drums…The worse I let him to sit next to me…my bag was under my knees …How fast and quite they are !! unbelievable…When we went to the police station we met other couple who also robbed at Mac Donald’s. I do not carry anything since then when i go out…

Pingback from Great Madrid Bars: Taberna Tirso de Molina, relax after the Rasto – Notes from Madrid
Date: December 18, 2007, 11:02 am

[...] So you have spent Sunday morning on the steep slopes of El Rastro. You have been all the way to the bottom and now you have climbed back to the top again. You have enjoyed browsing around the stalls, if not the crush of people and having to keep a wary eye out for pick-pockets. Now you fancy a drink, hot or cold, and perhaps a bite to eat. [...]

Comment from Jessica
Date: May 27, 2008, 3:19 pm

It is so, so sad. For Madrid and the people who live there who are honest. Everyone I know who’s been to Madrid or Barcelona has the same story.Personally I’ve been robbed twice in a year in Madrid. It has never happened before. I’ve travelled a lot for 30 years. It makes me furios how they destroy peoples holidays and they get away with it. There should be a lot more policemen or some other precaution like cameras photografing the pickpockets. Why would it be worse in Spain than anywhere else in Europe. The police are so used to it they don’t even understand it’s a big problem. Personally will never go back.

Pingback from El Rastro – Notes from Madrid
Date: June 19, 2008, 11:49 am

[...] TIPS: Go early, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., to avoid the masses. Be careful with your wallet, camera and other possessions, as this is a favourite spot for pickpockets. [...]