Athens may be known as the “cradle of Western civilization," but admiring its ancient buildings is only one reason to visit.
Magical monuments and museums
Europe's oldest major city knows how to show off its 3,400 years of history. The city of three million people is filled with Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments, most famously the Acropolis. A UNESCO World Heritage Site built nearly 2,500 years ago, the hilltop citadel is a collection of several ruins, including the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike. In contrast, the adjacent New Acropolis Museum — 10 times the size of the landmark's original museum — opened just seven years ago, and displays an even more extensive collection of millennia-old sculptures and objects recovered from the site. Elsewhere in Athens, museums showcase archaeology, ancient Greek art, Byzantine art, Cycladic art (ancient art of the Aegean islands), ancient epigraphs and coins.
Sports and entertainment
Greece may be the birthplace of the ancient and modern Olympics, but Athenians don't rest on their laurels (an expression that originated in ancient Greece, by the way). They love to root for their local professional basketball and soccer teams. They love to hike in the mountains and national park surrounding the city. They love taking in an IMAX or OMNIMAX film at the huge Athens Planetarium, which screens several daily. And they love exploring the live theater options at more than 100 theaters citywide. Visitors can also enjoy these diversions.
The Greek islands' resorts, beaches and ancient temples are so popular that they have more hotels than mainland Greece. Athens is the gateway to the islands, which are only a quick ferry trip away from the city. Among the best and most popular islands are Santorini (with an active volcano and streets carved into cliffs), Hydra (a car-free island where locals get around on donkeys) and Sifnos (mountains and beautiful beaches) — but altogether there are 200 inhabited Greek islands, so it's easy to pick one where you can escape the crowds.
Festivals and food
The August full moon is celebrated throughout Greece. More than 100 monuments, including many in Athens, are open for free visits during the moon's appearance on August 17–21, with music, dance, theater, art and films. Film takes center stage when 50,000 indie cinephiles flock to the Athens International Film Festival (September 23–October 4), with screenings from filmmakers around the world at five theaters. But every day is a festival at Athens' tavernas (casual restaurants), where Greek food and wine are consumed and celebrated.
Athens can be hot and a bit crowded in August, so September through November is a perfect time to visit, when it's still warm and the prices are lower — though Athens is a bargain year-round. It's far less expensive than most of Europe's other great cities, like London, Paris and Rome, and the euro is barely more valuable than the U.S. dollar now. Buses, subways and taxis are the best way to get around in Athens, and many ferries also go to the islands.
If you go
United Airlines has launched new nonstop service to Athens International Airport from Newark Liberty International Airport, extending through October 5. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.