Advice On Street Safety In Madrid
Contrary to other big cities, safety in Madrid is relatively high. You will rarely have any problem in the areas most people visit.
However, you should be wary of pickpockets in the center and particularly around Plaza del Sol, on the Metro (pay attention when taking line 8 connecting the city with Barajas airport) and around the main tourist landmarks.
Madrid pickpockets are not violent but they can ruin your trip if your wallet or smartphone is stolen. Cancelling credit cards or going to the Embassy to get a new passport can be a long and annoying process. And you will need a copy of the report to make any kind of insurance claim (travel, auto, etc.) or to receive a new passport in the case that it was stolen.
Although you should be careful, don’t be paranoid. The large majority of people travelling to Madrid visits and return home safe and sound. Act like you would do at home and everything should be fine.
Follow some simple advice and save yourself lots of trouble.
- Travel relaxed but be a bit cautious. Always remember that as a tourist you are a potentially easy target. You carry valuables and are probably disoriented. Don’t make things easier for pickpockets.
- Don’t leave your luggage and personal belongings unattended. Always keep an eye on your stuff no matter where you are –the airport, a train station or while check a map in the middle of the street. It would be too tempting for a stranger to grab your backpack and run away with it.
- Don’t bring everything with you everywhere. In other words, use your hotel room safety box and leave there what you won’t need (passport, credit card, plane tickets, extra money). If you go shopping take with you a debit card or only one credit card. Bear in mind that you will need a proof of identity to pay with plastic, but your national ID or your driving license will do the trick.
- Always keep a copy of important documents separated from the originals. You can use the old fashioned photocopy or my favorite, a copy stored in the cloud that you can access from any computer or tablet.
- Keep your wallet or purse out of reach. Never put your wallet in your pants’ back pocket. If you have a backpack, put it in an inner pocket away from the zippers. If you have a bag, put it in the bottom and cover it with other items.
- Beware of masses. Pickpockets love crowds, they are perfect to shove and rob you while you are poking around. Wear your backpack in front of you. Stay particularly focused while you are at Plaza Mayor, El Rastro and the subway.
- Be careful with your bag or backpack in restaurants and cafés. Put your legs inside your backpack straps and no one can pull it freely. If it’s relatively small, place your bag on your lap and cover it with your napkin. In any case, don’t let it hang on your chair or on the floor.
- Never leave your smartphone on the table unattended. This rule is valid for any other valuable. Under the Spanish law, you don’t have the right to report it as a theft because there has been no physical contact or interaction between the criminal and you.
- Be particularly careful with your camera and your camera bag. If it’s a compact camera don’t put it in your pockets. If it’s a DSLR wear it always over your chest so that you can look at it. I once saw a tourist being robbed the lens only with the body was still hanging from their neck (although I have to admit that this didn’t happen in Spain).
- Avoid dark and empty streets. Madrid streets are generally safe and are busy with crowds at almost any time of the day (and night) but make sure you are not walking on your own for a long time. Needless to say that using ATMs in those streets is a no.
- Purchase online travel insurance against loss and theft.
What To Do In Case You Get Robbed
The most important thing after realizing you have been robbed is not to panic. Steady your nerves or you won’t think clearly and act efficiently.
Have a quick look at your personal belongings and check the damages. Ask yourself what is missing.
If your wallet or purse has been robbed, contact your bank immediately and cancel all your debit and credit cards. If your passport has been taken away, contact your embassy or consulate and ask for help. The officials will tell you what to do.
Then, go to the nearest police station. Look for Policía Nacional stations and make a formal complaint. You can also call the 24h report hotline: 902 102 112.
Madrid has a special bureau offering assistance to foreign visitors who, for whatever reason, need to go to a police station. The Foreign Tourist Assitance Service (Servicio de Atención al Turista Extranjero or SATE) is located at Madrid’s central police station:
c/ Leganitos, 19 (next to Plaza de España)
Opens every day of the year from 9:00 to 0:00.
Telephones: 915-488-537 and 915-488-008
The SATE’s purpose is to attend to your needs if, during your stay, you are involved in incidents that require police intervention. The main services provided include: help filling out paperwork for police-related matters, locating family members, cancelling credit cards, contacting embassies or consulates, and providing tourist information.
Additionally, the OAC (Oficina de Atención al Ciudadano or Citizen’s Assitance Offices) mobile units are run by Madrid’s Municipal Police. Here, they will help you with
- First aid and medical assistance available in SAMUR ambulances.
- The formalities of petty crime (e.g. cancelling credit cards).
- Your embassy contact details.
These specific offices are located at Puerta del Sol, Almudena cathedral, Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the corner of calle Serrano with Jardines del Descubrimiento, Chamartín train station, Santiago Bernabeú Stadium, Madrid-Barajas airport T-4 (arrivals) and Plaza Tirso de Molina, on Rastro flea market days.