What are your options?
Flying direct to Barcelona International
Barcelona really is Spain's great all-rounder, and with the opening of the vast new Terminal 1 at the city's El Prat International airport in 2009, plenty of space has become available for budget airlines to move into the old Terminal 2 and offer flights to Barcelona instead of out of the way alternatives like Girona and Reus. Given this opportunity, the no-frills operators have come in droves, meaning that cheap direct flights to Barcelona are now available from the likes of Ryanair, Vueling and Monarch in addition to more established players such as easyJet and Jet2.
What about flights to Girona or Reus?
Thanks to these new budget airline routes, there really is little need to consider flights to Girona or Reus as an alternative to getting to Barcelona. Both Girona and Reus are well over an hour from central Barcelona by bus, whereas El Prat is a 20 minute train ride from the city. Flights to Barcelona are now available from most parts of the UK, and you should also be to find direct flights to the Catalan capital from Dublin or Cork. The only reason to look at flights to Reus or Girona would be if the timings of the Barcelona flights were unsuitable or there was a massive price difference.
Connecting flights to Barcelona
Again, there really is no need to look at connecting flights to Barcelona if you are booking reasonably far in advance, and the flights from your local airport operate on the days of the week that are suitable. If not, then onward connections can be found via London or the usual European hubs, primarily Amsterdam, Paris and of course Madrid.
Getting from Barcelona Airport to the city centre
Flights to Barcelona operated by scheduled airlines such as British Airways arrive into the vast new Terminal 1, which is situated between the two parallel runways. Amazingly the Catalan authorities have committed a British-style planning cock-up by not linking this new building to the rail network. Instead you have to take a shuttle bus across to Terminal 2, which is used by most budget airlines. You can also take the bus straight from Terminal 1 into the city, which takes around 30 minutes.
Would it be worth considering taking the train as an alternative?
A highly controversial AVE line is currently under construction linking the existing route from Madrid to Barcelona with a fast service onwards to the French border. At the moment, taking a train instead of flying is only worth considering if you have plenty of time on your hands because the French high-speed network ends 250 miles northeast of Barcelona. Allow around 15 hours to get from London to Barcelona by train. Oh, and it won't come cheap either – you'd be doing well to get any change out of £200 for a return train ticket.
What about flights + rail?
From the UK at least, Barcelona is much more suitable for a combined fly and rail trip than it is as a rail destination in its own right. The most obvious city to combine with Barcelona is the Spanish capital Madrid, which is just 2 1/2 hours away from Barcelona Sants station using the ultrafast AVE train.
I would suggest booking the train segment at least as far in advance as any flights, and I would also suggest looking at flights to/from Madrid first, as they are not quite as widely available as Barcelona flights.
Another alternative would be to head along the coast to Valencia, a city which has a modern architectural scene that easily rivals Barcelona. Like Madrid, flights to Valencia are also not as widely available as flights to Barcelona.
Or fly + ferry?
Why not combine a visit to Barcelona with with a trip to one or more of the Balearic Islands? Plenty of sea connections are available from Barcelona's ferry port to any of these islands. Local hopper flights to Majorca (Palma), Ibiza or Menorca (Mahon) are also available from Barcelona. There is a vast range of flights between the UK and the Balearic Islands.
Finally, how about fly + drive?
Plenty of options for car hire are available at Barcelona International Airport, but you can expect to pay a little bit more than you would for car hire at other Brit favourites such as Malaga or Alicante. Considering that the city of Barcelona itself has so much to offer, I'd only recommend hiring a car if you're planning to visit rural Catalonia, rather than Barcelona itself.