Kingston Town is the beating heart of Jamaica. Home to half of the country’s 2.7 million people, Jamaica’s capital lies in a basin surrounded by lush mountains and fringed by clear Caribbean waters.
It’s a city with a rich history, where the threads of Jamaica’s colourful past are prevalent in dusty colonial buildings, forgotten pirate strongholds and well frequented cook shops.
Although many families will race to one of the many family-friendly beaches on the coast, it’s well worth spending some time in the capital as there are lots of things to do in Kingston, Jamaica
Updated 2021. Guest post by Philippa Langrish.
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Before we travelled to Kingston a lot of people asked me whether or not Jamaica was safe to visit. The reality is that the country – and the capital Kingston – does have a high crime rate. However, it’s more than possible to get out and see the ‘real’ Jamaica without any problems, you just need to be careful. Before travel take a look at your government travel advisory such as the FCO to see if any travel restrictions are in place.
Trip Savvy has some good advice on travel in Jamaica, including areas to avoid in Kingston itself. Travelling with my children makes safety a number one concern for me. I never take unknown taxis and always opt for trusted, recommended drivers. If you don’t have a local contact ask your hotel, or guest house host for a reputable taxi driver.
Things to do in Kingston
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The city of Kingston was founded in 1692. It sits on the southeastern coast of the island and is both the capital and the largest city in Jamaica.
This wasn’t always the case, however. Until 1692, when a devastating earthquake ripped across the island, Port Royal was the island’s epicentre. At the time, it was the largest city in the Caribbean and called the “London of Jamaica”.
Today, Kingston is a busy city with some fun tourist attractions and sights to see. If you do decide to spend ac couple of days here then here’s our pick of the best things to see in Kingston.
Visit Port Royal
Port Royal, famously once the richest and wickedest city in the world, is well worth a visit. Throughout the 17th Century, it was home to the real Pirates of the Caribbean – a swashbuckler’s paradise with one in four buildings thought to be a bar or a brothel.
Today, Port Royal is a sleepy fishing village next to Fort Royal and one of the most popular things to do in Kingston. This is, after all, where Jamaica’s history began.
The actual Fort is a fun place to explore Jamaica’s history. My kids loved clambering over the old English canons and getting dizzy in the “Giddy House”, which was originally an artillery house built in 1880 and is now partially sunken in the ground.
If you are not in a hurry and looking for some authentic Jamaican grub then head to Gloria’s Seafood in Port Royal for delicious curried lobster.
For more ideas on foods that you have to try in Jamaica, take a look at this post.
The Royal Botanical Gardens, more commonly called ‘Hope Gardens‘, is the largest botanical garden in the Caribbean. They were established in 1873 on a parcel of land from the estate of Major Richard Hope, one of the original English colonisers. The gardens are home to myriad indigenous plants as well as the Sunken Gardens, the Coconut Museum, the Peace Garden, the Chinese Garden and more. They are the largest public green space in the city and a lovely, colourful place to visit.
Grosvenor House Gallery
Another one of the most popular attractions in Kingston is Tina’s art gallery and studio Grosvenor House. The space has a creative corner which holds art workshops for adults and children. There is a pretty lawn for the children to play and a café. My two children had fun beading necklaces, whilst I took a peak at the exhibition of Jamaican landscapes and portraits.
Bob Marley Museum
Bob Marley is credit with bringing reggae music to the world. He remains a cultural hero in Jamaica and is unquestionably one of the island’s most influential people. Explore his life and works at the Bob Marley Museum, from his childhood in one of Jamaica’s poorest neighbourhoods to worldwide fame. The museum is located in the reggae musician’s old home, which is still owned by the Marley family.
You can’t visit Kingston Jamaica and not stop by Devon House. This landmark mansion was the home of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Stiebel. The house is a charming blend of Georgian and Caribbean architecture and the courtyard gardens are beautiful. Tours of the house and the grounds are available and are a great way to learn more about the history of the property and its significance in Jamaican history.
The other reason you should visit here, however, are for the delicious Jamaican Patties and the world-famous ice cream. Devon House is home to the original Devon House ice cream parlour where you can enjoy enormous servings of delicious ice cream. Signature flavours include Devon Stout, made with the local Dragon Stout, Soursop and Blue Mountain Coffee.
Fort Clarence Beach
If you’re looking for a beaches in Kingston Jamaica then you’ve got a few to choose from. We went to Fort Clarence Beach and this quickly became one of my favourite things to do with kids in Jamaica.
The beach has a token entrance fee which ensures the area is well looked after. We headed here one morning for a breakfast of local fish at Andre’s Fish Shack. We chose our fish from an iced cooler and the cooks at Andre’s grilled it for us. We then sat on the beach feasting of fresh catch with a side of Festival (cornmeal dumpling) and Bammy (cassava flatbread).
This article has more suggestions on beautiful beaches near Kingston.
Another beach option is Lime Cay, a small cay located just off the coast of the mainland. It’s not far from Norman Manley International Airport but the best way to get here is to take a 15-minute boat ride from Port Royal. The cay is home to brilliant white sand and the surrounding water is blue, warm and calm – perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Make sure to take your own food, water and any other supplies you might need as there are no shops on the island.
National Gallery of Jamaica
The National Gallery of Jamaica is the biggest and oldest public art gallery in the English-speaking Caribbean. It was established in 1974 and is a wonderful showcase for Jamaican and Caribbean art. The gallery houses early, modern and contemporary art from the island and the surrounding region. There are five permanent galleries and several temporary exhibitions every year.
Where to stay in Kingston Jamaica
Norbrook, Beverly Hills and New Town are the best places for families to stay. Norbrook and the Hills are quiet, safe residential neighbourhoods, where you can find many 5* guest houses TripAdvisor and Booking.com.
New Town is the business district where you can find brand name hotels with family facilities. If you have never rented through AirBnB before, I can offer you a £27 Airbnb referral credit (this means you get £27 off your first booking).
If you’re exploring other parts of Jamaica, make sure to read this review of Treasure Beach.