Although Kingston is not Bob Marley’s birthplace, this wide, hot, busy city is scattered with memorabilia of this treasured world-famous reggae singer. A lot of the places and Kingston Jamaica tours you embark on will testify to that!
Not just the Bob Marley Museum, but also murals, and pieces of art, like the strong sculpture in Emancipation Park in celebration of the end of slavery named after Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
But there is more, a lot more! Keep on reading to get to know Kingston a bit, or skip down to the tours section for all the things you can do while visiting!
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Quick Facts About Kingston Jamaica
Kingston is the capital of the small Caribbean island of Jamaica and is also the home of its major port, lying at the foot of the Blue Mountains on Jamaica’s southeast coast.
The capital is home to almost 600.000 people with a total population of almost three million in Jamaica.
In the main streets of the city, the architecture has dramatic contrasts as modern buildings lie side by side with architectural relics of centuries past.
The entire Kingston waterfront was redeveloped with hotels, shops, offices, a cultural center, and cruise and cargo ship facilities. The city can be split into two different parts: you have downtown and uptown Kingston.
Also read: 14 Best Ocho Rios Tours In Jamaica 2022!
What’s Special About Uptown Kingston
The part of the city that is Uptown Kingston is also often referred to as “New Kingston,” a fast-growing mainly commercial district that slowly is becoming the business center of the whole of Jamaica.
The New City is known for a mix of high-end hotels, fine dining restaurants, a financial district, a lot of foreign embassies, and newer modern private homes.
Uptown Kingston has newer and modern buildings in comparison to the downtown area, which is characterized by its historic architecture.
Travelers who prefer to stay in modern accommodation probably will be happiest in Uptown Kingston on their vacation!
Bustling Downtown Kingston
Downtown Kingston is where you find all the historic buildings, the large markets, courts, and one of the Caribbean’s greatest art museums.
Just outside of Downtown Kingston you also find the world’s 7th largest naturally occurring harbor – the Kingston Harbour!
Be prepared to encounter large crowds of people exploring and shopping around downtown, on the weekends in particular, so brace yourself!
Kingston is weirdly known to have the cheapest prices in all of Jamaica, so even locals will travel from across the island to do their shopping in downtown Kingston.
Fun Things To Do & Kingston Jamaica Tours
Apart from the large natural harbor, Kingston is super close to the Blue Mountains (coffee heaven) and has a zoo, museums, parks, and historic places where you can expand your knowledge. And there is a lot of “smoke”.
Restaurants, clubs, and nightlife are also vibrant, but if you are a European and used to walking anywhere to take in the ambiance of the city – that is NOT how you do it here.
Kingston’ers drive, they don’t walk, from place to place, and there are reasons for that. You need to know where you are going (it is likely behind a gate and a fence) and you should probably take a taxi.
Here are your things-to-do-in-Kingston Jamaica tours super-guide, to make sure you will not miss out on anything when you stop by the capital of reggae. Be safe!
1. Visit Emancipation Park At Night
The first sight you encounter even before entering Emancipation Park in New Kingston is the strong monumental sculpture of two naked people, a man, and a woman, facing each other.
Arms passive by their side, gazing at the sky over the city.
This sculpture was created by artist Laura Facey, unvailed in 2003, illustrating and celebrating the triumphant rise and victory over the horrors of slavery in Jamaica.
Inside the park, there is a tranquil atmosphere, green and well-kept, trees, colorful beds of flowers, and artsy details.
The park is a popular outing place for Jamaican families in the afternoons and evenings, and you can buy stuff consisting of at least 100% sugar by the entrances!
The whole park is in many ways dedicated to variations of emancipation, in philosophical forms or expressed through art.
In many places around the park, the architect Kamau Kambui has implemented Adinkra symbols in detail, which are ideographical representations of proverbs, philosophies, thoughts, and values originating from the Akans of Ghana.
Each of these symbols “encapsulates the worldviews and keen observations of human behavior, and the interactions between nature and humanity”.
You find them in the perimeter fence, the benches, the walls at the entrance, and even garbage bins, as a tribute to the ancestors of Jamaicans brought here as slaves from West Africa.
2. Visit The Authentic Bob Marley’s House In Kingston
Reggae legend Bob Marley was not born in Kingston, he was actually born in an incredibly small village in Nine Mile, St Ann Parish, just over an hour’s drive from Kingston town.
After his father died of a heart attack, Robert Nesta Marley, later Bob, left Nine Mile when he was 12 and moved to the notorious Trenchtown, Kingston with his mother.
This is where he met all the people who became part of his life journey, bands, musical development, religious path (he was brought up as a catholic, but converted to Rastafarianism), and even marriage.
As an adult and successful musician, he bought the house at 56 Hope Road, New Kingston, which is now a museum and an ode to his life. His music rooms here are untouched, and you can see what I can only assume was a state-of-the-art music studio around the time he passed away from cancer in 1981, at only 36.
The Unsolved Assassination Attempt On Bob Marley in 1976
This house is also where Bob Marley was shot and injured in 1976, possibly a politically-motivated shooting, as political turmoils were the number one reason for assassinations, and outright wars, in Kingston in the 70s.
The unknown gunmen that fired on Bob Marley ended up wounding him lightly. His wife Rita and a few other members of the crew were also injured, but no none died. Who carried out this attempted assassination is still a mystery 46 years later.
A couple of days after the shooting, Bob Marley played as planned at the Smile Jamaica festival in the National Heros Park, showing off his greatest testament: the message of peace and love.
The bad guys don’t take a day off, he said, why should I?
Bob Marley was left with a bullet in his arm for the rest of his life, in fear that if it was taken out it would damage his magic guitar hands.
Although he died very young, in only 31 years Bob Marley managed to make an eternal impact on the world. His music and message to the world are still living, and posters of his face (and rasta hair) can still be found in every little backwater on the planet.
3. Experience The Lush Blue Mountains!
The Blue Mountains are the home of one of the world’s best coffees, it is the longest mountain range in Jamaica, and also includes the island’s highest point! One of the various types of Blue Mountains Tours in Jamaica really is a wonderful experience.
You can hike to the top, hike, and bike in the National Park connected to the mountain range, or just take your car (or taxi) up from either Kingston or from Ocho Rios on the northern side to enjoy the views.
If you like lush green nature, infinite views, and coffee – you will enjoy spending at least a day up here.
You can read more in-depth about my Kingston Blue Mountain tour here! I had a great time with Viator, and although I did not do everything, I have collected an overview of what activities are available if you feel drawn to hiking, biking, or just getting a mountain of coffee!
Be aware that there are always afternoon showers up here in the mountains, and they can be pretty heavy. So either you can go early in the morning or pack a day pack with appropriate rain attire (which I did not, unfortunately).
4. Visit The Old Pirate Harbor In Port Royal
In the 16fth Century, Port Royal was the largest city in the Caribbean, notorious for its gaudy displays of ridiculous wealth, and loose morals.
By the last half of the 17th Century, it was also a major center for shipping and commerce in the whole of the Caribbean.
Founded in 1494, all the way from the start it was a popular homeport for the English and Dutch-sponsored privateers (which is a form of naval mercenaries, hired soldiers).
These privateers came to port with their ships, to spend their treasures decadently in Kingston throughout the 16th century. It was their R&R, if you will, when not serving in battles for whoever had bought their services.
When governments abandoned the practice of using privateers against the Spanish treasure fleets, many of these crews turned pirates, and they continued to use Port Royal as their main port into the 17th century.
Pirates from around the world actually congregated at Port Royal, coming from as far away as Madagascar!
The Devastating Earthquake in 1692
Then on June 7th, 1692, utter disaster struck Port Royal, as a massive earthquake erupted, followed by a devastating tsunami that crushed the city in the blink of an eye, and resulted in most of it sinking into the sea.
The local clergy at the time was sure the whole thing was God’s punishment for the immoral soul of the city.
Two-thirds of the island sank, hundreds of houses disappeared and around 2000 people were killed instantly as the ground liquified and devoured the houses and everyone in them.
Much of the sunken city is preserved just a few meters underwater, along with several hundred sunken ships in the harbor.
Today you can drive out there, past the international airport, and check out the parts of the fortress of Port Royal that escaped the destruction and have been conserved!
5. The Infamous Trench Town
The most popular slum in Kingston, riddled with poverty, heinous shacks, broken homes, ugly infrastructure, roaming youths, and a history of crime, is often referred to as the “Hollywood of Jamaica.” What?
Well, for some peculiar reason, out of this struggling community have emerged many of Jamaica’s famous musicians, sportsmen, and national heroes.
One of them is of course Bob Marley, and then Peter Tosh. Others are Bunny Wailer, Alton Ellis, Mortimer Planno, Joe Higgs, Marcus Garvey, and the Abyssinians.
These guys managed the impossible, to rise to greatness above the horrors of marginalization and poverty.
This weird against-the-odds phenomenon has made Trench Town an iconic tourist destination in Kingston, but the name Trench town comes from its first owner Daniel Power Trench.
He was an Irish immigrant of the 18th century and the son of a wealthy plantation owner and slave-holder living there in the 19th Century.
The Innocent Birthplace Of Reggae
Trench Town is described as the birthplace of rocksteady (an early form of reggae), and reggae music, and it is also known to have been the home of Rastafari ambassador Bob Marley in his formative years.
Like the rest of Jamaica, Trench Town became unstable and dangerous in the early 1970s when politics became violent.
But in Trench Town, there were outright wars going on, with the frontline in the area between 7th and 5h Street, an area that pretty much got shattered to pieces. Today’s largest challenge here is poverty.
Trench Town will proudly present the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, which is a National Heritage Site presenting the unique contribution and place in the history of Trench Town to Jamaica.
Although still a bit of a rocky place, you definitely should visit Trench Town. Most likely you will also be ok on your own in the daytime, but then again, no harm in bringing a driver/bodyguard/historic guide to make sure you have a great time and get out in a good mood!
6. The Kingston Harbor Has On-The-Water Fun!
Downtown Kingston is like a web of square streets in 90 degrees angles like a paper crossword, and at the southern end of the streets they all end up by the Kingston harbor.
Kingston also has the seventh-largest natural harbor in the world, inside the remnants of Port Royal and what is now Norman Manley International Airport, connected to the main island by a large u-shaped breakwater.
Both from the end of Downtown Kingston and from docks out on Port Royal, you can board different harbor cruises outside Kingston.
A Saturday sunset catamaran cruise, for example, starts from Downtown Kingston and lasts for around three hours slowly circling the bay.
Sounds tranquil, but this is a serious party cruise, where the DJ is making sure the mood stays high, an open bar (covered by the tour fee), and a meal included.
There are also snorkeling cruises and day cruises that include lunch with lots of different agencies.
You can choose a chill Sunday lunch-and-snorkeling cruise, which lasts for 4-5 hours in the daytime, and includes a few umbrella drinks and the underwater exploration of colorful reefs!
Check out Loose Cannons Tours which has several vessels and types of cruises in the immediate Kingston harbor area.
I loved the Saturday sunset cruise with them, super easy, high mood, and had free drinks, and a meal.
It also included a pick-up at my apartment and drop-off after the event so I did not have to go searching for a taxi in Downtown Kingston after dark which is always a good thing.
Outside of Kingston, you can opt-in for an ATV terrain vehicle dirty ride experience if you want to challenge your comfort zones outside the city limits!
At Yaaman Adventure Park, you will be able to conquer the dirt and ride through a 980-acre wide area.
This can be a fun way to blow off some steam if you are up for it and then take in exceptional views out over the Caribbean Sea from a strategic vantage point of the park.
If you, like me, like challenges AND contrasts, you can finish the day off poolside with a GT, or at a spa tending to sore, well-deserving muscles!
8. The Jamaica National Gallery
The National Gallery of Jamaica was established in 1974 and is both the largest and oldest public art museum in the English-speaking part of the Caribbean.
The National Gallery has an extensive collection of Jamaican art from various periods, including early, modern, and contemporary art.
A substantial part of the collection is permanently in the exhibition, but the gallery also has a very active and varied external exhibition program.
The program will include things like retrospectives of work by major Jamaican artists, guest-curated exhibitions, thematic displays, and its flagship exhibition which is the Jamaica Biennal.
You find The National Gallery of Jamaica right on the Kingston Waterfront, super close to Glorias Seafood City for chilling before or after!
9. The Venerable Devon House Mansion
Garden view from the second floor of Devon’s house, and the backyard where the “help” used to live – now they sell cookies!
Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel, had a dream of creating an architectural masterpiece in Kingston, which is the reason the Devon House Mansion was built in the late 19th Century.
Now, the Devon House is a museum and a celebrated historic landmark in Jamaica.
It was constructed in a beautiful mix of the Caribbean and Georgian architecture, and today it is curated with a collection of English, Jamaican, and French pieces inhabiting the rooms, some are antiques, and some are reproductions.
Stiebel got super-rich from mining gold in South America and was among three wealthy Jamaicans who constructed such ornamented homes on this corner of Trafalgar Road and Hope Road during that era.
Of course, the corner fittingly became known as the Millionaire’s Corner.
Elegant Devon House Is A National Monument
Around the Devon House, there is still a beautifully managed lush green lawn, more like a park, covering the front area facing Hope Road.
On the back, were the old quarters of the servants and necessary facilities for a mansion at that time. Now, this part is a lush, green beautifully overgrown park‘ish space filled to the brim with plants, flowers, and bushes.
Here is also (apparently) the best ice cream in Kingston, a bakery, several restaurants, and little shops beautifully restored from the old servants’ quarters.
Devon House was declared a national monument in 1990 by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, so now Stiebel’s legacy can live on in these stunning spaces.
You can come and feel the ambiance of the rooms, and imagine what it was like when the women met for game night in the women’s-salon, and maybe had a glass of port!
10. A Chill Day Pass At A Hotel
If you are staying in a city hotel or Airbnb apartment, you may crave some blue cool water in one way or another while in the big city.
You can go to the beach, or, you can book a day pass at a hotel!
A day pass will give you access to all the amenities of being a hotel guest, for a day and a price, much cheaper than booking a room, and exactly the break you need to recuperate and reenergize.
The Strawberry Hill Hotel located high up in the Blue Mountains hillside offers day passes, you can hang by the pool, and enjoy the infinite views and the hotel kitchen.
You will need a car or a taxi to take you up the narrow mountain roads and then back down to the city in the evening.
11. Hope Botanical Garden & Zoo
There is even a little zoo in Kingston! I must admit I have not been there, but according to reviews on TripAdvisor, it could be worth a visit if you really like animals.
It is not a very big zoo but has some large animals, a lot of small ones, and a diversity of birds.
You are able to pet and feed some of them as well, which of course, according to all stress research is super healthy and stress-reducing which is all a part of the holiday intent right?
12. Laid-Back Fort Clarence Beach
Along with Hellshire Beach and Sugarman’s Beach, Fort Clarence Beach lies around twenty-ish minutes from central Kingston and is a super popular spot for Kingston’s people (and visitors) to enjoy the water and beach activities.
You can spend just the day, there are several good restaurants in the area to keep you satisfied – or bring a picnic for lunch!
If you want to spend more than a day, Spanish Town is a picturesque district very close to Fort Clarence Beach.
This is also the oldest continuously inhabited town in Jamaica, which is why the district was declared a National Monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in 1994.
Here are a myriad of historical buildings and sites, like the fantastic 18 Century Iron Bridge erected in 1801. Swing by when you already are in the neighborhood!
13. Historic National Hero Park
For 101 years, the area of Kingston that is now called National Hero Park was the center for horse racing in Jamaica. It was also the site for other sports activities like cricket and cycle racing.
Being a place where people naturally gathered, it was also the venue for traveling circuses that visited the island every now and then.
Then, in 1818 the Kingston Council purchased the property for the exact sum of £985 and 10 shillings, and kept the park open for horse racing and social events,
In 1953 a War Memorial to honor the fallen in the First World War was relocated here from its original location at Church Street.
On Remembrance Day every year, veterans gather around the Cenotaph to honor the memory of the fallen in both world wars.
The site was officially renamed the National Heroes Park in 1973 and is now a permanent place for honoring the national heroes’ monuments erected in an area known as the Shrine, open for visitors.
There is a memorial sculpture in the center of the park, where there still are honor guards watching over it, and having a stylish ceremonial change of guards every day.
14. Take A Zen Yoga Class?
Being the passionate advocate for the slow travel concept that I am, you don’t just need to do Kingston Jamaica tours to have an adventure!
One of the fun ideas in the slow travel mentality is “going local”, slowing down, connecting, and doing things like the locals would do it.
Or just do things you normally would do at home, you can meet and get to know people doing the same things you do, in Kingston, and maybe make new friends!
If you are into yoga (or want to try), you can look up a yoga studio, register, and book a class!
It is super easy to register for free online, and then you can book classes and pay a drop-in fee if you only go once or twice. I discovered Afya Yoga and Pilates, where you can register online, and book the drop-in classes you would like!
This is a really great thing to do if you are traveling solo and want to connect to people living their normal lives in your temporary home. It is also an easier way to connect than on a guided tourist tour or a bar where objectives may be conflicting, to put it courtly.
And of course, it does not have to be yoga, anything really, an activity that you like that is available outside the tourist zone.
Kingston Jamaica Tours | Day Trips To Other Destinations
Jamaica is actually a super tiny island, and you can easily take day trips from Kingston crisscrossing the island in any direction.
This really means that you can have a comfy “base” for your holiday, and then travel to other destinations for the day (you need to get up really early though).
From pretty much any Jamaica destination, there are tours and activities to almost all other destinations on the island, at least the big ones.
This also means, that if you check for organized tours in *your destination*, you probably will get a list of day trips with multiple activities that are in other locations than yours.
So if you want to stay in Kingston, you are able to book activities that will take you to the Blue Mountains, Ocho Rios, or Montego Bay for the day and then back again. Super easy, you can have your cake and eat it!
Why Choose Organized Kingston Jamaica Tours?
Normally I am not a super fan of guided tours when I am traveling, as I more often than not quite frankly prefer to explore on my own. Walking the streets and finding the way through trial and error so to speak, I love that.
In Kingston though, there are a number of good reasons to choose a guided Kingston Jamaica Tour with a local knowledgeable guide instead.
One thing is that it is HOT in Kingston, there are distances to cover, and you probably will need a taxi anyway.
Secondly, parts of Kingston have some security issues, and there are areas of Kingston you do not need to walk alone as a tourist.
A tour guide will know where that is (or how to behave in those areas), and make sure you get to see the best parts anyway.
Thirdly, taking into consideration all of the above, lots of tour companies offer day tours that take you to a variety of attractions preplanned, or you can arrange for someone to take you to the places YOU want to go for the day.
So it is really almost like exploring on your own, only with someone who can tell you all about the different places and keep you out of harm’s way.
I kept on using Viator both in Kingston and throughout Jamaica as they simply have lots of people and tours going on everywhere!
Wrap-Up Kingston Jamaica Tours!
Hopefully, you have got a lot of ideas and inspiration by now, and a few means to plan and book your Kingston Jamaica tours and activities for your holiday!
Some things you will be fine exploring by yourself, while others, well. I do recommend you get a local guide or book a Kingston Jamaica tour for some of your exploring to avoid unnecessary problems.
Then you can enjoy a great holiday full of new adventures!
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