Kingston

Destination Location

Kingston
  • 17.9833, -76.8:primary
  • 18.0289, -76.7972:secondary
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Overview

Get ready to experience the hub – and the heart – of Jamaica. Located at the edge of the Liguanea Plains, Kingston Jamaica offers a pretty comprehensive list of attractions for visitors. And with only a 20-minute drive to Norman Manley International Airport, Kingston is a great starting place to discover everything the area has to offer.

Look up and see the Blue Mountains. Don't miss the opportunity to drive into these mountains, home of Jamaica's famous coffee. Along the way, you'll enter Blue Mountain/John Crow National Park. And a little further you'll find trails that lead to magnificent views of the island. While you're there, take some time to visit Mavis Bank, a coffee farm that invites visitors to come and see how the world famous Blue Mountain Coffee is grown and processed. A cup sampled on its own home soil, so to speak, is a must for every coffee lover to experience.

Once back in the city, head over to Devon House. Situated on Hope Road, it is an old colonial mansion of outstanding elegance and architecture. King's House next door is the residence of the Governor General. Further up the road lies the Bob Marley Museum, which attracts thousands of reggae fans each year. Not far away is Hope Botanical Gardens, which also houses a small zoo featuring birds and animals from all over the Caribbean. Revolution Gallery showcases ceramics, sculpture, textiles, jewellery, prints and photographs by Jamaica's leading artists.

A trip to Port Royal, once the pirate capital of the New World, is worth seeing. Over the years excavation work has been done to recover artefacts from this rich town. The Maritime Museum and Port Royal Archaeological and Historical Museum house artefacts salvaged from the sunken city.

Fifteen minutes by boat from Port Royal is a Lime Cay, small, low-lying island with one of the most beautiful beaches in Jamaica. The white sand beach and clear water create some of the best snorkelling on the south-east coast.

Of course, the real flavour of Kingston is in its food. Jamaican cuisine is an eclectic mix of the best that African, European, Indian, and Chinese cuisines have to offer. Try the popular Jonkanoo Lounge, Grogge Shoppe or Carlos Cafe. No vacation is complete without trying the area's famous curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and salt fish (cod), fried plantain and jerk chicken.

Kingston is a fantastic destination for:

  • culture and history

Events of interest:

Bacchanal / Jamaica Carnival

Bacchanal includes 21 high-energy, fun-filled events.

Blue Mountain Music Festival

Blue Mountain Music Festival is a premier music festival held annually in February in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. The two-day event offers visitors an incomparable experience where music meets food, art, craft and nature. It attracts visitors from across the globe who want clean, family-oriented. Spend the entire weekend on the grounds of the festival camped out, lodge with a local bed and breakfast or guest house or head into the mountains for the experience of a lifetime.

Kingston City Run

The Kingston City Run in March includes a 5K race/walk and a half marathon as well as a health and wellness fair and after-party. The route takes runners through historic sites in Kingston – a great way to burn some calories while seeing the sites!

Bob Marley celebrations

The first week of February features activities throughout the island to celebrate the life and achievements of music legend Bob Marley. Activities in Jamaica usually include a service at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and ceremonial laying of plaques at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.

Destination basics

Consider heading out early if you’re planning to explore the area. Early in the day it's cooler than the afternoon when higher humidity levels raise the temperature. With an average year-round temperature of 30 C (86 F), remember to pack a hat and sunscreen.

Kingston's eateries, mostly centered in the New Kingston and Half Way Tree sectors, are plentiful, and for relaxing, open-air dining, especially after a busy day of meetings or sightseeing, New Kingston has some rich pickings. There are reasonable lunchtime choices downtown, and elsewhere anything from small jerk bars, where you can try out the island's spicy barbecued specialties, to up market seafood restaurants. Variations on Jamaican Cuisines are on offer in many establishments, but you will also find good Asian, Middle-Eastern, vegetarian and fast food restaurants, the latter, springing up around the Parade area and in the shopping malls.

On Knutsford Boulevard, you can find lots of vans selling a satisfying lunch for around US$2.50, and for classic Jamaican fast food, try Mothers, Tastee, or Island Grill. Their takeaway patties, or in the case of Island Grill Jerk Fish, make a great change from burgers (branches across that island).

Here's just a sampler of a few of Kingston's most interesting restaurants, by district.

Downtown
The inexpensive Bench & Bar Restaurant is a magnet for office workers seeking good breakfasts and lunches. Lasagne and kebabs meet with curried chicken and steamed fish, with daily specials costing around USD 6. The owners also run the famous Blue Mountain Inn out of town in Mavis Bank.

The Ocean Restaurant is an unpromising-looking cafe facing the sea, but handy for lunch after a trip round the National Gallery of Jamaica. Very affordable dishes include chicken, goat and fish curries and steamed fish. Expect to pay around USD 3.

Uptown
Chelsea Jerk Centre is a mecca for jerk dishes. This popular shack has spicy chicken and pork specialties doused in hot pepper sauce for around USD 3.

The Grog Shoppe, located in an old brick warehouse on the grounds of Devon House, offers a feeling of Port Royal in the 1680s. Cocktails are exotic and colorful (many people just come here to drink), and dishes include ackee crepes, suckling pig, Jamaican hotpot and callaloo as well as steaks and Blue Mountain burgers, with prices starting from USD 6. Try and get a table outside under the mango tree. Jazz is played on Tuesdays.

At the Hot Pot, behind the Wyndham Hotel, you can sit at wooden tables under awnings in a courtyard and try out Jamaican favorites like xxtail soup, goat curry, bammy and stewed beef.

Red Bones offers top notch Jamaican nouvelle cuisine in a lovely garden setting and trompe-l'oeil decorated dining rooms. Jamaica's in-crowd are regulars here, keen to try out imaginative dishes like drunken cod fish and herbed chicken and listen to blues music.

Akbar is Kingston's best Indian restaurant, with pleasant atmosphere and fabulously decorated interior.

Out of Town:

Jamaican born chef James Palmer presides over Strawberry Hill, part of Chris Blackwell's up market resort retreat. Palmer's signature is modern Jamaican cooking, and he even stages cooking courses. You dine either in the atmospheric colonial style dining room, or outside on the terrace. Sunday brunches feature jerk lamb with roasted garlic guava glaze, jerk pork, ackee and salt fish, fried bammy and more. Evening meals might include starters like Angel hair pasta with grilled jumbo shrimps, and such entrees as curried goat roti with mango relish or baked yellowtail snapper with lemon butter sauce.

Blue Mountain Inn is a romantic four-room oasis half way up the Blue Mountains, with a superb dining room run by the charming, hospitable duo, Ilean and Malcolm McInnes. There are four tiny dining areas to the taverna, including a roadside café and garden area with mountain views. Main courses feature dishes like Yallas River Shrimps with crayfish sauce, and Blue Mountain tree tomatoes.

BARS Kingston offers a good selection of cafes and hotel bars in the uptown district. Traditional bars are generally one-room affairs, reserved primarily for local men, where cheap rum is the order of the day.

Recommended outdoor venues include Peppers (31 Upper Waterloo Road), a popular bar attracting the after-work crowd.

Elsewhere, try the Jamrock Sports Bar & Grill (66 Knutsford Blvd), which stages a happy hour. Popular with the in-crowd, this sophisticated joint features wall-to-wall TVs, and loud music.

Few Caribbean islands can offer up the diversity of our island country —where there's so much more than "rum, sun & reggae"—especially in the often overlooked capital city of Kingston, the heartbeat of Jamaica and the second largest English-speaking city south of Miami, Florida. Kingston overlooks what is the seventh largest natural harbour in the world. Like a fan, the city spreads north from the harbor as far as the foothills of the famous Blue Mountains—impressive peaks that form a glorious backdrop to the whole.

What better way to combine business with leisure than to take in all that Kingston has to offer? With an eye on satisfying the most demanding visitor, this cosmopolitan city extends excellence in upscale high-rise accommodations, fine international dining, pulsating nightlife, business and financial services, shopping and culture. Just like any major metropolitan city, we have our share of street vendors, beggars and unappealing, less desirable areas, but north of the harbor and uptown, New Kingston sparkles!

Most people think of Kingston as being divided into two parts. It's not unlike a vibrant modern American city in that there's a downtown sector—stretching north from the waterfront to the busy traffic junction at Cross Roads—and also an uptown sector, which extends to the smart suburbs located at the base of the mountains. It will probably take you at least half a day to check out the downtown sights —maybe a bit more to encompass all the must-dos in the uptown area.

DOWNTOWN KINGSTON
A great place to sample the essential atmosphere of this noisy and vigorous metropolis. Finding your way about on foot is pretty easy, since Kingston uses the grid system. If you get tired, flag down a taxi (fix the price beforehand) as rates are fairly reasonable and it's more straightforward than trying to tackle the chaos of the city's bus system.

The waterfront is a pleasant place to begin your tour of the area. Mixing alongside industrial-looking ships and warehouses, you get fishermen and pelicans, vendors flogging root snacks, and people dozing under the shade of a palm tree.

Ocean Boulevard is the waterfront's breezy main strip, and its focal point is the emotionally charged Negro Aroused statue depicting a crouched man breaking free from bondage. This is a replica of the original, now in the National Gallery of Jamaica, by Edna Manley, wife of former prime minister and National Hero Norman Manley and mother of another former prime minister, Michael. The highlight of the waterfront is the National Gallery, a repository of Jamaican art, with important works by John Dunkley, Carl Abrahams, David Pottinger and Barrington Watson. (See recommended tours for more information).

The Kingston Crafts Market at the western end of Ocean Boulevard (open daily except Sunday) houses myriad little stores where you can pick up jewelry, T-shirts, carvings and richly embroidered baskets, though don't expect to be able to barter prices down. The area just north of the grassy waterfront forms the historic city center, though many grand 18th century buildings were flattened in an earthquake in 1907. In colonial days, King Street was the main thoroughfare, and despite the earthquake, it still retains a number of beautiful old buildings with columned verandahs and decorative carvings. Half way up is the Parade, a large square used as a parade ground by British troops in the 18th century as well the site for grisly public floggings and hangings. The center of the parade is the shady, statue-filled area, William Grant Park. Today, following a massive facelift in the 1980s, the Parade is one of the most vibrant spots in town—music blares from ghetto blasters, traffic screeches, vendors hawk their baubles and queues for taxis and buses spill onto the road.

North of the park is the elegant sky-blue wedding cake building of the Ward Theatre, a magnet for thespians since the 18th century and home to the annual panto as well as seasonal spectacles; feel free to nose around the inside.

To the west, stretching three blocks from the Parade, is the crowded, colorful and cacophonous Jubilee Market (M-F)—also known as Solas Market. It inspired a famous Jamaican folksong: "Come we go down a Solas Market; come we go buy banana." Further west are the ghetto areas known as the yards, where hard hitting wall murals act as territorial markers. The region is a no go for tourists - even Jamaicans from neighboring areas think twice before entering the opposition's turf.

Duke Street & Around
Kingston has many handsome old churches, but one of the most impressive is the octagonal St Andrew Scots Kirk, built in the Georgian manner by a group of prominent Scottish merchants, and surrounded by a gallery supported by Corinthian pillars. Upon completion, it was dubbed the handsomest building in Kingston.

Headquarters House & Gordon House
Two blocks west of East Street is Headquarters House, a trim little townhouse once known as Hibbert House, but now home to the National Heritage Trust, which has its offices in the former bedrooms. You can explore the rest of the building; the debating chamber is on the ground floor, still furnished with original furniture and impressive portraits of Jamaican heroes, and the basement has some offbeat relics and a mish-mash of art collections.

Gordon House is where Jamaica's parliament resides. The House of Representatives meets here most Tuesdays at 2pm, and the Senate sits in chamber on Fridays at 11am. Entrance to the public galleries, for a glimpse of how Jamaica conducts business, is free.

Other downtown sites:

Walk along North Street and you reach the imposing domed Holy Trinity Cathedral, the island's center of Catholicism. Gleaner Building, at the junction of North and East streets, is home to Jamaica's premier newspapers, the Daily and Sunday Gleaner.

UPTOWN KINGSTON
The district north of Cross Roads—is where the commercial sprawl of hotels, banks, embassies and offices meets the residential areas of Hope, Mona, and Beverly Hills.

Centuries ago, uptown was mostly rural, save the odd sugar estate or livestock farm. But Kingston's wealthy merchants soon bought up the land—seeing in it a chance to escape the noise and bustle of the waterfront area. The process continues, and you will be able to spot newer, more fashionable residential quarters as far north as the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

New Kingston
The heart of uptown—a pulsating urban centerpiece dominated by high rise financial buildings bounded by Trafalgar Road, Half Way Tree Road and Old Hope Road. It is likely that your hotel will be located here and it's a good area too, for restaurants and bars (see Dining & Drinking section). You can also easily walk to all the most interesting sights from here.

Half Way Tree
This busy quarter about a mile west of New Kingston used to be a tiny village, dominated by the parish church of St Andrew (always open; free). It's one of the oldest churches on the island, a tranquil,17th century redbrick building with delicate stained glass, and marble wall tablets commemorating Jamaican civil servants and English soldiers. Half Way Tree's central plaza (now a busy shopping area), was where farmers would rest as they traveled towards the city's main markets. The eponymous cotton tree under which they rested has long since gone—but a clock tower now stands in its place, erected in the early 19th century as a memorial to the British King, Edward VII.

Carry on walking east of Half Way Tree, and you hit Devon House on Hope Road. This impressive edifice was built in 1881 by Jamaica's first black millionaire- it has fine landscaped grounds where you can stop for a snack or a drink - and the tour of the house is well worth considering (see Recommended Tours section).

Half a mile up Hope Road brings you to Jamaica House (closed to visitors),used as the Prime Minister's office, and King's House—the official home of the governor-general. You can get a tour of the staterooms in this impressively restored 19th century house; more interestingly - the governess occasionally holds afternoon teas, as part of the island's successful 'Meet the People' program. Contact the Jamaican Tourist Board on +1 876 929 9200 for more information, or reservations.

Hope Road is also home to the much-vaunted Bob Marley Museum. It then forks up towards the Hope Botanical Gardens and Coconut Park—the latter, a haven for kids, with great rides and a small zoo housing lions, mongoose and monkeys.

If you have wheels, consider driving into the Blue Mountains from here —or at least going up onto Skyline Drive—a road noted for its stunning views over the city and across the harbor to Port Royal. You can get there by following Barbican Road to its northernmost edges—then join Jack's Hill Road and then onto Skyline Drive.

Music
Music abounds in Kingston. Numerous recording studios that have blossomed throughout the city, giving birth to new titles and bands almost every month of the year. As with the rest of the island, buses double as mobile discotheques, and shops and bars blast reggae, ska and dancehall from mammoth speakers. You can get a good idea of Jamaican music just from wandering the streets of Kingston. Better still, hit some clubs to hear live bands perform.

Reggae developed during the 1970s as singers like Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jimmy Cliff gained popularity throughout the island. By the time of Bob Marley's death in 1981, reggae had achieved international acclaim. Both the Bob Marley Museum and the Tuff Gong Recording Studios, run by Marley's son Ziggy, are well worth a visit (see Recommended Tours).

Friday night is the time to catch live music in town. Remember that the scene doesn't really start to get going until around midnight. There is also a good retro scene where vintage oldies pull in the nostalgia crowd.

Theater & Dance
Kingston has a year-round calendar of lively theater and performance, mostly with a local flavor. Plays often incorporate dance and include a message—sometimes concentrating on the tribulations of the poorer classes, or commentary on the slave era. That said, many performances are bawdy, upbeat affairs, and whatever your tastes, be it comedy, tragedy, or political satire, there will surely be something to suit. Most of the plays feature Jamaican patois, but not so that you won't understand what's going on in a general sense.

Jamaican pantomime is a distinctive art form completely different from British pantomime, though there are nods in the direction of traditional fairytales from the British Isles. Folklore is prominent, audience participation high, and song, dance and satirical stabs at the political scene are rife.

Jamaican dance covers classical, African and contemporary forms. Kingston is blessed with having the acclaimed National Dance Theatre Company based at the Little Theatre. The troupe, famed for its elaborate, colorful costumes and African themes, was founded in 1962.

The Ward Theatre north of Parade features the city's primary annual pantomime (running December through April), Jamaican folk singers and other kinds of performance. The Little Theatre is home to the NDTC, whose season runs from mid July to mid August, with performances also in November and December. The Barn Theatre on Oxford Road features lively folk and jazz performances by the University Singers as well as shows by the Cari-folk Singers, a troupe renowned for preserving traditional Jamaican folksong.

Cinema
Extremely popular with the locals, Kingston's cinemas feature a good smattering of Hollywood hits. Most are located uptown with tickets selling for cheap. Expect an intermission and to stand for the National Anthem. The most comfortable include the five screen Carib Cinema on Cross Roads, and the Palace Cineplex at the Sovereign Centre on Hope Road.  

The Arts
Kingston has a vibrant art scene. Kick off with a visit to Kingston's National Gallery. The Jamaican School can be found on the first floor. Here are works by the school's leader, the sculptress Edna Manley, as well as paintings by the self-taught primitive John Dunkley, a Kingston barber who started off by painting his entire shop with colorful organic forms before moving on to canvas. More mystical in feel are the works of sect leader 'Kapo' Reynolds (his figurines made of wood are particularly enchanting), and Albert Artwell, Everald Brown, David Pottinger and Osmond Watson—all of who use Rastafarian symbolism in their paintings. It is recommended that you get a guide to show you around. 

Rastafarian art can be seen also at Bolivar Art Gallery, which holds works by many of the leading Jamaican artists. The Grosvenor Gallery shows both permanent and temporary exhibitions by renowned figures, or stop by the Contemporary Art Centre, owned by a local painter, and always showing some interesting exhibits.

Some of the leading hotels are good venues of artistic expression. The Jamaica Pegasus on Knutsford Blvd has a basement gallery housing regular exhibitions of Jamaican art, while the neighboring Hilton Kingston Hotel possesses a great collection of works by Portland artist Ken Abendana Spencer in its lobby.

Events
Time your visit to coincide with one of Kingston's many festivals.

In January, the National Gallery stages its Annual National Exhibition, a showpiece for both new artists and the more established crew.

February is the month for the Bob Marley Birthday Bash, held at the Bob Marley Museum and around the island. Celebrations concentrate on the late musician's birthday on 6th February. February is also the month for the University of the West Indies Carnival. This annual celebration feature steel bands, parades, mas players, soca jump ups and the choosing of a carnival king and queen.

April sees the carnival proper bursting onto the streets of Jamaica. The festivities kick off early in the month, with costume parades and all night parties.

On August 6th, see The Independence Day Street Parade that wends its way through the streets of central Kingston with costumed parades and Junkanoo.

December is the month for the Devon House Christmas Fair.

Kingston

Parish: Kingston; St. Andrew

Country: Jamaica

Kingston by the Numbers
Population: 662,426
Elevation: 9 meters / 30 feet
Average Annual Rainfall: 81.3 centimeters / 32 inches
Average January Temperature: 25.7°C / 78.3°F
Average July Temperature: 28.5°C / 83.3°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 50Hz; standard North American two-pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT -6

Country Dialing Code: +1-876

Did You Know?
Kingston’s harbor is the largest natural harbor in the world.

Kingston was originally founded as a place of refuge for people who survived the Port Royal earthquake in 1692.

Orientation
Kingston is the capital of Jamaica and located in the southeastern part of the island. It is situated on the Caribbean Sea. It is about 128 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Montego Bay.

If there was a prize handed out for tenacity among the world's cities, Kingston would be up there with the winners. A real survivor, this hardy metropolis has risen like a phoenix from fires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes.

Kingston survives in spite of its grossly exaggerated reputation as a dangerous city of tenuously reined-in chaos. Because of that reputation, most tourists stick to the holiday destinations of the north coast. Ironically, though you will undoubtedly see something of the rough edges of this town, the hustlers who plague the tourist centers of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are relatively sparse in Kingston.

Kingston was founded at the end of the 17th century as a refuge for survivors of a devastating earthquake that had hit Jamaica, and that all but destroyed Port Royal, a large town on the opposite side of the harbor. Before the earthquake, the Kingston area housed little more than a few pig farmers and fishing shacks. Earthquake survivors set up homesteads, and very shortly plans were drawn up for a new town to be laid out beside the water and to be named in honor of the British king, William of Orange.

By the early 18th century, Kingston's natural harbour enabled the city to flourish as an important seaport. The traders who grew fat on the profits built fine town houses throughout the city, and freed slaves and immigrant workers flooded in, hoping to share in the city's boom. Some hundred years later, when Kingston finally received recognition as the island's capital, the rich had gravitated towards uptown Kingston and the northern outskirts, and the poorer population huddled in shantytowns on the edges of the old town.

Calamities plagued the city's early years, changing the look of the city: a massive hurricane in 1784, an enormous fire in 1843, a cholera epidemic in 1850, fire again in 1862, and the devastating earthquake of 1907 that destroyed nearly all the buildings south of Parade. The largely destitute population of the downtown area helped swell the Rastafarian movement during the 1920s and '30s. Major riots during the Depression '30s gave rise to the development of trade unions and political parties set up to represent the workers and the dispossessed. But improvements in housing and working conditions were slow in coming. Not until the 1960s did this vibrant city see any tangible change. The much needed facelift given to the old downtown area, together with the expansion and redevelopment of the waterfront area, coincided with Kingston's growing international fame as a center of reggae music. Shops and offices emerged during this facelift (casualties of which included the once famous Myrtle Bank Hotel and Knutsford Racetrack—now New Kingston—and Victoria Market), as well as wide boulevards and multi-story buildings. But for the people of West Kingston, this development was seen as primarily superficial—and the 1970s and 1980s proved tense times politically.

Today, Kingston is something of a divided city. The wealthy largely live in the smart suburbs to the north, traveling in to work in the relatively sanitized zone of New Kingston, and rarely venturing downtown. But there are hopes that the city's politicians are beginning to address the problems of the ghettos, gangs and party factions. This comes coupled with proposals for tourist development, with the return of cruise ships being the priority.

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