Sagrada FamiliaTourist Office of SpainBarcelona was never out of the spotlight, but since 2009 when Penelope Cruz won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Woody Allen’s Vicki Cristina Barcelona, the city beckons more seductively than ever. Cruz’s work made the movie Oscar-worthy, but the scenery in and around Barcelona stole the show. Woody Allen did it right.

Tours visiting the film’s location highlights are already popular, with at least one including a stay in the luxurious Hotel Casa Fuster, a landmark building on the elegant Paseo de Gracia (or Passeig de Gracia in Catalan, the language of Barcelona). It overlooks the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, the gem (and ongoing work-in-progress) of maverick architect Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926).

There are sights that shouldn’t be missed in this vibrant capital of Catalonia, even if you’re there on business. (It’s one of Europe’s favourite meeting places.)

La RamblasTourist Office of SpainThe broad, 1.2-kilometre, tree-lined pedestrian walkway known as La Ramblas has lost a little of its past elegance (you’ll find the elegance remains on Ramblas Catalunyas to the north), but it’s still one the best people-watching spots in the city, lined with news kiosks, flower sellers, buskers and bird sellers.

Wander a block or two east to explore the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter). You’ll come to the 19th-century Place Reial, ruins of the old Roman city, and the enormous 14th-century cathedral, a glorious testament to gothic architecture.

Barri GoticJanice StrongNearby is my favourite Barcelona restaurant – Los Caracoles (The Snails) – even though others may top reviewers’ lists. It’s at Calle Escudellers, Number 14, and you’ll find chickens barbecuing over an open-fire right on the street. The smell is enough to drive anyone inside, and the food doesn’t disappoint. Reservations are recommended for dinner – call 34-933-023-185.

A restaurant legend is Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats, Catalan slang for “just a few people,” call 93-302-41-40). The place was a favourite of Picasso (and yes, featured in the movie) and the fin de siècle eating place was the locale of his first exposition.

While we’re talking about one of Spain’s most famous native sons, you’ll enjoy the museum dedicated to his work on Calle Montecada. The street is worth a visit just to see the medieval mansions, many “modernized” in neo-classic style.

MontjuicTurisme de Barcelona/Espai d’ImatgeFor fans of the Olympic Games (Barcelona hosted them in 1992) a stroll around Montjuic will evoke memories, and the view of the city and sea is beautiful. On the same mountain is Poble Espanol, with its collection of replica buildings from different Spanish regions – houses, palaces, whole streets even – all housed within a replica of Avila’s famous walls.

Parc GuellTurisme de Barcelona/J. JrullasDon’t miss a visit to Parc Guell, a must for Gaudi fans. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was intended as an early 20th-century housing complex for the wealthy, but it didn’t work. Commerce’s loss is the public’s gain, because it’s a favourite with families for picnics and gatherings.

A city tour is the best way for first-time visitors to orient themselves, and you’ll spot markets, lively squares, museums and galleries that can keep you busy for days.