To see what urban Jamaica is like, travel to the southeast coast and visit Kingston. This vibrant, bustling city is Jamaica’s capital and home to almost half of the country’s entire population!
Kingston is the cultural and economic epicenter of the island. From music, art, and cuisine to business and tech, this is where all the action is. In fact, Kingston is so influential in Jamaica that locals simply call it “town”, as in “the town”.
Surrounded by lush forests and rolling hills, flanked by the Caribbean Sea, and dotted with parks and green spaces, Kingston is a visually stunning city.
If you think Kingston might be the place for your next trip, read on to find out everything you need to know to make your visit worthwhile!
How to Get to Kingston
Kingston has an international airport — the Norman Manley International Airport — which receives flights from all over the world, including direct flights from major US cities.
The drive from the airport to New Kingston, the district where most hotels are, takes about 30 minutes.
Most visitors to Jamaica land at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay but it’s not recommended if you’re visiting Kingston. The drive would be close to 3 hours! You could also opt for a domestic flight from Sangster to Tinson Pen, Kingston’s domestic airport.
Note: Kingston is both a parish and a city, with the boundaries for each being different. When people talk about Kingston, they’re almost always talking about the city.
Things to Do in Kingston
Pay Tribute to the Music Legend at the Bob Marley Museum
Jamaica has not one but two museums dedicated to the reggae superstar! The larger and more popular of the two is in Kingston. Bob Marley’s home and studio, which ended up being his final residence, has been converted into a museum.
You can get a guided tour of the museum, which includes the main house, theater, and exhibition hall. Also inside are gift shops and a cafe, with Bob Marley-inspired souvenirs and food.
This is a must-see for Bob Marley fans! You’ll see his home recording studio, his instruments, the gold and platinum records he’s received, and more. For his contributions to Jamaican culture, the museum has been deemed an official Jamaican Heritage Site.
Take a Tour or Stroll Through Devon House
Devon House is a source of pride for many Jamaicans, as it was the home of the country’s first black billionaire. The 19th-century manor has now been converted into an attraction. It’s sort of a combination of a museum, park, and small shopping center.
You can take a historical tour of the manor, then get some food from one of the eateries and enjoy it on the perfectly manicured lawns. You could also snag some souvenirs or try I-Scream ice cream, which is famous all around the island!
Explore Pirate History at Port Royal
Once “the wickedest city on Earth”, Port Royal is now but a shadow of its former pirate glory. The city has been repeatedly ravaged by natural disasters and now mostly sits sunken beneath the Caribbean Sea.
This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do here. In fact, it’s rather the opposite! Port Royal is filled with historical sites such as the Fort Charles Museum and the Sunken Pirate City.
At the latter location, you can get permission to dive and see firsthand the ghastly remains of the New World’s most notorious trading post.
Where to Stay in Kingston
Spanish Court Hotel
At the heart of New Kingston, with food and nightlife options all around, you’ll find Spanish Court Hotel. Everything about this hotel feels clean and modern. That includes the spacious rooms with large marble bathrooms.
Spanish Court Hotel boasts a large infinity pool, as well as a spa and fitness center. On-site, you’ll find the fine dining Rojo Restaurant, as well as the more casual The Lounge and The Cafe. The slightly more excitingly-named Sky Terrace is an open-air, poolside restaurant and bar.
Strawberry Hill is a small, unique resort on a former coffee plantation, just outside of Kingston. It’s nestled in the Blue Mountains, where you can get an amazing aerial view of the city and the sea.
This resort is made up of 12 cottages, each with a private terrace or balcony. The quiet and intimate atmosphere here makes it a popular choice for honeymooners!
Despite the small size, all the amenities you’d expect are here. There’s a restaurant, a bar, an infinity pool, and a fully decked-out spa.
Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel
Formerly the Great House of a sugar cane plantation owner, the Terra Nova retains that Old World charm without all the grisliness.
The elegant interior extends into the suites, which are spacious and refined. There are only 46 suites, offering a boutique feel, especially combined with how lavish this hotel is.
Terra Nova is home to an outdoor pool, a 24-hour fitness center, as well as a business center. The two restaurants and the cafe here are frequented by tourists and locals alike. The Regency Bar & Lounge is also a nightlife hotspot in the area.
Where to Eat in Kingston
Sonia’s Homestyle Cooking
As the name would suggest, you should go to Sonia’s Homestyle Cooking if you want to try some authentic, homestyle Jamaican food. Whether you’re looking for oxtail, curried goat, stew peas, or jerk chicken, you’ll find it here.
Aside from the food, another highlight is the natural juices made from local fruits, such as soursop, June plum, and Otaheite apple.
Jamaica is a multicultural island, with Indians being the biggest minority. It’s not surprising that you can find lots of stellar Indian restaurants on the island! Tamarind is considered by many to be the best of the best.
Indian cuisine has greatly influenced Jamaican cuisine, so you’ll find many fusion dishes in addition to straight Indian ones on the menu. The menu here is never-ending and even includes other Asian cuisines, such as Chinese and Thai.
So So Seafood Bar & Grill
Don’t let the name fool you; the food here is far from so-so. So So Seafood is an unassuming, modest restaurant with big flavor, located in New Kingston.
If you’re looking for some Jamaican seafood dishes, this is the place to be. Using fresh-caught seafood, they offer classic and innovative dishes with a Caribbean twist. The bar is great too, serving some unique and refreshing cocktails.
Fridays are the best day to go, as there will be a live DJ mixing reggae and dancehall sounds.
Is Kingston Safe?
For such a beloved destination, Jamaica is notorious for its high crime rate. Violent crime in Jamaica is mostly related to gangs and is usually limited to inner city communities.
The communities to avoid in Kingston are August Town, Grant’s Pen, and Harbour View, though tourists hardly have any reason to go here anyways. You should also stay out of Downtown unless you’re just passing through to get to the waterfront.
Tourists are rarely ever targets of violent crime or even end up in the crossfire. Rather, the main things you should be cautious of are robbery and pickpocketing.
Here are a few quick tips for ensuring your safety in Kingston:
- Don’t walk around alone in deserted areas and try to avoid walking on the streets at night entirely, unless in a large group.
- Use a reputable cab service rather than taking the bus or catching a taxi on the street.
- Avoid carrying a lot of cash or valuables on you, including flashy jewelry.
- Make sure your hotel room is secured, both when you’re inside and outside.