The cultural capital and the heart of Jamaica, Kingston is home to the Jamaican Parliament, the National Gallery, Bob Marley lived here, Usain Bolt still does and from Kingston it’s possible to reach the Blue Mountain summit – the highest peak in Jamaica and home to the world famous coffee. But what if you only have 12 hours here? No problem, it’s still possible to pack as much jerk and reggae into your visit here as you can handle. Here are the best things to do in Kingston if you only have 12 hours.
1. Start With A Jamaican Breakfast.
If all happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast, then there is no better start to the day than a visit to the Kingston stalwart Susie’s Bakery on South Avenue. Miss Susie serves up delicious breakfasts of akee and saltfish, green banana and bammy cakes. Or just skip straight to the best ever Jamaican sweet potato pudding and your breakfast eating habits will be changed forever – as will your waist! In a hurry? Grab a pattie – a savoury pastry snack encasing a delicious spicy curried filling of either beef, chicken, lobster, shrimp or vegetable. Morning, noon or night patties are readily available everywhere. Devon House Bakery makes a winning chicken pattie that cannot be replicated outside of Jamaica.
2. See Amazing Street Art at 41 Fleet Street.
Founded by Marianna Farag, Paint Jamaica became something of a street art collective with local and visiting artists getting involved to transform these downtown run-down spaces and use art as a tool to empower marginalised neighbourhoods. Following consultation with local residents the artists created murals that reflected life and stories from the community. There’s peace, there’s unity and motivation to inspire positive change through art. It’s incredible, go and check it out! See more photos and map of how to get there here.
3. Discover Jamaican Art at the National Gallery.
No list of things to do in Kingston would be complete without recommending the National Gallery of Jamaica. Downtown is home to beautiful historic colonial buildings, courts, street markets and nestled away just off Ocean Boulevard is the National Gallery containing the island’s finest collection of Jamaican art. Highlights include the modernist sculptures of Edna Manley, the vibrant paintings of artists like Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh and revivalist bishop Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds.
4. Eat Lunch at Pepperwood Jerk Center (formerly Scotchies).
A visit to Kingston wouldn’t be complete without sampling some famous Jamaican jerk. Some of the best jerk is to be had from the roadside sellers on Barbican Road, (just outside Sovereign North). However, Pepperwood’s laid back ambiance and tropical vibes make it a popular place in town to chow down on some jerk chicken or pork. Slow cooked over pimento wood and best enjoyed with a cold Red Stripe. Alternatively head to Sweetwood Jerk – just across the road from Emancipation Park.
5. Shop at Coronation Market.
Hours can be lost wandering around these crowded Kingston streets in the hot morning sun, amongst grimy tarpaulin covered stalls, side stepping discarded vegetables and fish guts. Seek out the covered, slightly less chaotic part of Coronation Market. Calmer and less frantic, with stalls of fresh produce and cook pots with delicious simmering soups. Best time to visit is on a Friday or Saturday morning- early.
6. Take a Tour of Devon House.
Built in 1881 it originally belonged to George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. Devon House is a beautiful property, rich in history and expertly restored by Jamaica National Heritage Trust. An admission ticket includes a free Devon House ice-cream – which is ranked 4th best ice-cream in the world and climbing.
7. Visit a Rasta Community.
Meet some of the nicest people in Kingston and some of the most talented reggae artists in Jamaica today at Mount Debre Ziet. The Rastas in this community run one of the best stores in Kingston. Sourcing items from as far afield as Ethiopia, and making other items locally such as baskets, hats and belts, this is the place to go if you want to pick up a reminder of your time in Jamaica. But the single best thing you can purchase here is the music (and maybe a Rasta hat or two). The opportunity to buy authentic reggae recorded by local artists is unbeatable. Ras Malekot will happily play you a sample and talk to you about the artists (he knows them all). You can hear Ras Malekot each week on Bess FM (100.1FM) on Friday afternoons 3-6pm.
8. Eat Dinner at Strawberry Hill.
Once you’ve visited the Rastas at Mount Debre Zeit follow the road up to Strawberry Hill. Located just outside Kingston, a short 30 minute drive from the chaos of Papine. Winding up through small hamlets nestled in the beautiful Blue Mountains, every twist and turn in the road offers dramatic views of Kingston below. Owned by Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame, the walls are adorned with the faces of many of the musical greats he worked with. Surrender to the calm and enjoy a cocktail by the log fire as the sun sets over Kingston. Reservations for lunch and dinner required.
9. Sip on a White Rum and Ting at Redbones Blues Cafe.
An evening at the most atmospheric Jazz & Blues bar in town is one of my favourite things to do in Kingston. There’s often live music, poetry and performance art to enjoy. The bartender makes a mean mojito, but I recommend making like a local and ordering a white rum and Ting. For drinks, there’s no need to make a reservation just turn up and enjoy (dinner reservations recommended as it gets busy, especially at weekends). Redbones closed it’s doors at the end of May to relocate to new premises. Goodbye Argyle Road and hello new venue. Details to follow.
10. Party at Skyline Drive, Jacks Hill, Kingston.
Enjoy the rest of your time in Kingston by taking a late night drive up reggae mountain, way up inna Zion or Skyline Drive as it’s known locally, and enjoy the beautiful twinkling Kingston vista below. Every Sunday evening the DJs of the Kingston Dub scene get their rhythm on keepin the fyah blazing until 2am. There is an eclectic mix of people, from rastas to Russian diplomats, hanging out in what feels like a private house party. Oh and bit of local knowledge for Bob Marley fans – Kingston Dub Club is just opposite his former Jacks Hill residence.