After the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, Seleucus I Nicator won the territory of Syria, and he proceeded to found four "sister cities" in northwestern Syria, one of which was Antioch, a city named in honor of his father Antiochus (very passionate about founding cities, he is reputed to have built in all nine Seleucias, sixteen Antiochs, and six Laodiceas). This particular Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the Near East. The city was the capital of the Seleucid Empire until 63 BC, when the Roman Empire took control, making it the seat of the governor of the province of Syria Palæstina.
This city is famous since forever, and a point of pilgrimage, as an important centre of early Christianity, with some of the first non-hidden churches. Today it takes pride in being a truly multicultural place, where you can hear prayers in many different tongues. Many sects of Christianity (Greek Orthodoxy, Syriac Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism to name a few) and Islam (Sunni and Alawi), as well as Judaism, are all represented with their dedicated temples in Antakya.
Ethnically, Arabs constitute almost half of the population whereas the other half is constituted by Turks. Arabs in the city speak Levantine (Shami) dialect of Arabic, which is also prevalent in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The Asi River (also known as the Orontes River) flows through the city center, which is several kilometers inland from the sea.
The 'Havas' bus runs from the airport hourly to the city centre for 9 TL, and takes around 20–30 minutes. If you need to get back to the airport, the Havas leaves from the front of the 'Buyuk Antakya Hotel' (on the river, close to the Mosaic Museum; it is a huge resort style hotel, you can't miss it) every half hour most days, but check the Havas website for specific departure times. This is a lot cheaper than a taxi! You will have to flag the Havas bus down from the front of the hotel, as not many people use this service, so make your presence known as it drives past.
You can also use dolmuş taxis in order to get to the city center. Many dolmuş taxis wait just in front of the airport and as soon as any four customers are gathered, the taxi heads towards the city. The taxis charge approximately 10 TL per person. All in all, if you accept to share the taxi with other passengers, taking a cab is TL Havaş as the taxi drops you off in whichever part of the city you want to get out while Havaş only stops at specific points.
The 1 bus station (otogar) is located about 7 km northwest from the city center. Once you arrive look for minibuses to take you within walking distance of the center. Many of the hotels are located on Istiklal street.
To get from Antakya to Aleppo in Syria, the best option is to catch a bus from the central bus station (otogar) outside of town. It's too far to walk there, but there are bus connections from the town centre. The journey to Aleppo should cost you 10 TL (2009). The last bus (during Ramadan) leaves at 11:00 in the morning! This might be different outside of Ramadan, though. You can also try to catch a taxi from the town centre, which can be fairly difficult, as you normally have to wait until there are enough people sharing the taxi. The journey should cost you around 25 TL each if the taxi gets full. If you don't want to wait, you can pay for the whole taxi and depart immediately, which is going to be about 100-120 TL.
It is possible to cross the border step by step. You catch a bus to the Turkish border control, hitchhike to the Syrian border (which is about 5 km away, and you are not allowed to walk) and then take a taxi from there to Aleppo. You should be prepared for an extremely time-consuming trip. There's no other possibility to get from the Turkish border control to the Syrian one than waiting for a car to hitchhike. This can take some hours. At the Syrian border neither buses nor taxis are to be found, so you will have to hitchhike again. Most people will charge you for hitchhiking, and normally they will try to rip you off. Speaking Turkish and/or Arabic will certainly help, but if you don't, this trip is going to be really difficult. Apart from that it's more expensive than the direct bus.
- 1 Hatay Archaeological Museum (Hatay Arkeoloji Müzesi), Cumhuriyet Mh. Gündüz Cd. 1. Tu-Su 09:00-18:30 (summer), 08:00-16:30 (winter). Also known as the Mosaics Museum (Mozaik Müzesi), the local archaeological museum has the second largest collection of classical/Roman mosaics in the world. The museum also features a good coin collection, artifacts from the Iron and Bronze Ages found in sites nearby and a very impressive sarcophagus with great reliefs. You can check many items from the collection through the official website of the museum. 40 TL.
- 2 Church of St Peter (Saint Pierre Kilisesi) (The church is about a 30 minute walk from the museum. To reach the church you need to go across from the museum, through the bazaar and at the end (when you exit the bazaar) make a left and go on for about over a kilometer — the church will be visible up on the hillside.). 09:00-19:00 (summer), 08:00-17:00 (winter). One of the oldest churches of Christianity, Church of St. Peter, is a must-see in Antakya. 40 TL.
- 3 Büyük Antakya Parkı. This is the park that is located just in the midst of the city, by the River Asi and behind the famous mosaic museum of the city. Many locals visit the park during the day, and especially early in the morning to do sports. There are many open air tea houses within the park, hence it's the address to go for a tea or coffee or hookah when the weather is nice.
- 4 Titus Tunnel (Titüs Tüneli), Çevlik, Samandağı (in the village of Çevlik, 7 km north of the town of Samandağı, 31 km southwest of Antakya). 09:00-19:00 (summer), 08:00-17:00 (winter). The Titus Tunnel is a Roman engineering marvel. During the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), the Roman governors of Seleucia Pieria (Samandag), the port city for Antioch ad Orontes (Antakya), decided to divert a river. They put Roman legionnaires, sailors and prisoners to work cutting a channel along and through the rock for about 1.4 km (nearly a mile). Continued under Emperor Titus (79-81), inscriptions tell us it was completed during the reigns of the Antonine emperors decades later. Today the channel is dry, but still worth a visit. A small parking area and entrance is just inland from the beach at Samandag. A path ascends along the channel, open to the sky, up and down steps and rocks, to where an arched limestone footbridge crosses. Above the footbridge, the channel continues into the solid rock. You'll need a powerful flashlight/torch to continue. 15 TL.
- Thanks to the large laurel (Laurus nobilis) groves on the mountains surrounding the city, laurel soaps (defne sabunu, also known as garlı sabun locally), which are said to have some benefits on the skin and hair, are unique to this city and are made of local olive oil with some laurel extract stirred in.
The city is known for its tasty cuisine (one of the most delicious in Turkey), which has many Middle Eastern influences. One of the must eats in Antakya is a dessert called Künefe, which is a shredded pastry with cheese. There are many Künefe houses scattered in the city, but they are especially concentrated in the main square of the city, Köprübaşı. Hatay Künefe and Kral Künefe, both located in Köprübaşı, are among the most famous Künefe houses in the city.
There are many restaurants in the city center, but most of them serve döner and other fast food. In order to try local cuisine, try Anadolu Restaurant (in Saray Caddesi), Sultan Sofrası Restaurant (in Köprübaşı) or Sveyka Restaurant (in Kurtuluş Caddesi). As for döner restaurants, Restaurant Nuri and Restaurant Abdo (both in Saray Caddesi) are the most famous ones for Et Döner (beef döner) whereas Kebo, a tiny place located in Atatürk Caddesi, is the most famous place for Tavuk Döner (chicken döner).
Harbiye, a touristic municipality which is 10 km away from Antakya, has many restaurants as well and people frequently go from Antakya to Harbiye for long dinners.
- Ornikos, Pisirim Merkezi, Fish Market Area. To eat like the locals, go to the Fish Market and buy a couple of fresh ones from the iced bins, then take them to the nearby cafe Ornikos where for a small fee you can have your fish cooked and served up with house salad and a beer.
- 1 Cabaret Bar, Hürriyet Cd (Central Antakya). An upstairs bar which opens out on the first floor of the building, with a balcony, and front windows overlooking the pedestrianised street below. In June 2011, there was a live band playing Turkish covers, and it looks like live music is a regular feature. Beers are inexpensive and the waitress service good. Located in Saray Caddesi.
- Ottoman Palace. A five-star thermal resort and spa convention center.
- Hotel Mozaik, İstiklal Caddesi 18 (Sultan Sofrası Üstü), ☏ . Located in the city center, the hotel rooms are very clean. 75 TL with breakfast for a single room, 100 TL for a double..
- 1 The Liwan Hotel, Silahlı Kuvvetler Cad No:5, ☏ . Only boutique hotel in Antakya. The building was used as presidential residence of the former Syrian president. Central location with walking distance to historical places.
- 2 Savon Hotel, Kurtuluş Cad. No:192, ☏ . Former soap factory converted to a hotel in 2001, located in the old city area of Antakya, between the Mosaic Museum and the Church of St. Peter.
- Sami Akar Saray Otel, Zenginler Mah, Hürriyet Cd. No: 3 (A multi-story building in the pedestrianized street.), ☏ . Cheap and cheerful, popular with down-on-their-luck freelance journalists. Hot water, wi-fi, simple breakfast served 07:00-10:00. Rooms are clean and relatively quiet. Singles start at 364 TL.
- Antik Beyazit Hotel, ☏ . Kind of a modest place but not without a morning breakfast option.
- Kavinn Butik Otel, Zenginler Mah, Prof. Ataman Demir Sk No:15, ☏ . An inn with a Turkish authentic feel that has a great breakfast. 289 TL.
Telephone code of Antakya is 326.
- With extensive transportation links to Syrian city of Aleppo, you can use the city as a transportation hub if and when the civil war in Syria is over. Antakya was the jumping off point of most overland travellers into the Middle East before the conflict.