The plaintive lament of Harry Belafonte’s timeless Jamaica Farewell, fittingly describes the magical pull “Kingston Town” has on the heart, the sadness of having to leave and the yearning to return again and again.
Located on the southeastern coast of the island, Kingston, the capital of Jamaica has long established itself as the hub of the Caribbean. It is the largest English Speaking city in the region, home to the 7th largest natural harbour in the world, the seat of Government and the centre of finance and commerce. Kingston is not your typical image of sun, sea and sand, but rather, a cultural Mecca, vibrant and colourful, always abuzz with activities and full of rich history and tradition.
On any given day, or night for that matter, Kingston pulsates with a vibe that is uniquely Jamaican. From top notch restaurants to street-side eateries, fashion shows to street carnivals, you are never at a loss for something interesting or exciting to do in this exhilarating city. Kingstonian by birth, I had always taken my city for granted until the late 1980’s when members of a visiting delegation from Africa kept asking to experience “Kingston by night”. It was then that, through our visitors’ eyes, I discovered that this tiny city, my home, had an enormous reputation far and wide for culture, history, cuisine and much more.
To list everything there is to do would make for a lengthy read so I will try to break it down to my personal “must sees” for any trip to Kingston:
Flying into the Norman Manley International Airport, I highly recommend that you make your first stop Gloria’s. A short distance away, in the historic town of Port Royal,Gloria’s serves up mouthwatering Jamaican dishes that are sure to put you and your tummy in eager anticipation of a fabulous Kingston sojourn. Afterwards, walk off some of those calories by going back in time to a place once known as the “richest and wickedest city on earth”, twice struck by devastating earthquakes, partially swallowed by the sea and abound with pieces of the past and reminders of an era filled with turbulence and intrigue. www.gloriasseafood.com www.visitjamaica.com/port-royal-walking-tour
Naturally, no visit to Kingston would be complete without a tour of the famous 19th century Georgian style Devon House Mansion, beautifully restored with its antique furniture and decoration. Devon House also houses several eateries, including a rustic, old style restaurant called the Grogge Shoppe, fine dining at Norma’s on the Terrace and my favourite lunch spot, the Brick Oven pastry shop. In season, a lobster patty, accompanied by a freshly blended tropical fruit juice and topped off with one of the many delicious flavours of Devon Hose iScream, will give you enough energy to browse through the shops at Devon House for your arts & craft items, handmade leather sandals, bottled condiments, sauces and spices, scented soaps, candles, liqueurs and other souvenirs. www.visitjamaica.com/devon-house-heritage-site
A stone’s throw away from Devon House and perhaps not so well known is the Coconut Industry Board’s retail Coconut Shop where you can pick up traditional Jamaican sweet treats like gizzadas, coconut drops, peanut cakes, grater cakes, coconut tarts & macaroons and naturally, bottles of fresh coconut water and coconut jelly. Do not leave without purchasing a bottle or two of the finest, purest virgin pressed coconut oil. Call ahead and reserve if you can, they go like hot cakes!! www.coconutindustryboardjm.org/shop-gallery
Scotchies aficionados who have had this true Jamaican cuisine encounter in Montego Bay will not be disappointed with its Kingston equivalent. The outdoor garden with lush tropical flowers and rustic thatch-roofed gazebos makes for the perfect dining experience. Like its counterpart in Mobay, patrons can watch the food being cooked on a grill of smoking wood. The food, absolutely scrumptious consists mainly of jerk chicken and pork for which Scotchies is well known as well as other traditional authentic Jamaican fare, including the national dish of ackee and saltfish, roast yam, breadfruit and steamed fish.
Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records, described as one of the best casual dining options in Kingston, boasts several bars, lounge and dining areas, over 45 flat screens in varying sizes, a mezzanine, VIP areas, booth seating and a gift shop that carries exclusive Brand Bolt products. With over 200 seats, the options are great for just about any group size or age and the food selections run the gamut from mouthwatering appetizers to delectable entrees, both local and international. www.visitjamaica.com/usain-bolt-tracks-and-records
The Bob Marley Museum, complete with an exhibition hall, theatre, gift shop and the “One Love Café”, provides a 75 minute guided tour of the former home of this iconic Jamaican and outstanding musician who placed reggae firmly on the world scene. www.visitjamaica.com/bob-marley-museum
The Downtown Kingston Heritage Walking Tour which takes a little over a mile, starts at the 74 acre National Heroes’ Park, and finishes at the National Gallery/African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica. In between are some of Kingston’s most historic buildings, monuments, parks, churches, streets and institutes, giving you an insight of a bygone area and what has come to shape present day Kingston.
The following list, by no means exhaustive, provides an array of activities, places and events that Kingston has to offer year round:
Café Blue www.visitjamaica.com/cafe-blue
Red Bones Blues Café www.visitjamaica.com/redbones-blues-cafe
Sweetwood Jerk Joint www.visitjamaica.com/sweetwood-jerk-joint
Places of Interest:
Hope Botanical Gardens & Zoo www.visitjamaica.com/hope-zoo
National Art Gallery www.visitjamaica.com/national-gallery-of-jamaica
The Jamaican Military Museum & Library www.jdfmil.org/JamaicanMilitaryMuseum
Trench Town Culture Yard www.trenchtowncultureyard.com/
University of the West Indies www.mona.uwi.edu/
Carnival, January to April www.visitjamaica.com/bacchanal-jamaica
Issa Boys and Girls Championship, March www.visitjamaica.com/boys-and-girls-champs
Kingston on the Edge, June www.visitjamaica.com/kingston-city-run
Kingston City Run, March www.visitjamaica.com/kingston-city-run
Reggae Month, February www.visitjamaica.com/reggae-month
Restaurant Week, November www.visitjamaica.com/restaurant-week
And, there you have it, my city. So now what are you waiting for? Log on to www.visitjamaica.com, start planning your vacation and get ready to experience the “Heartbeat of Jamaica”.