Must see attractions in Kingston, Blue Mountains & the Southeast Coast

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kingston

    National Gallery of Jamaica

    The superlative collection of Jamaican art housed by the National Gallery is the finest on the island and should on no account be missed. As well as offering a distinctly Jamaican take on international artistic trends, the collection attests to the vitality of the country’s artistic heritage as well as its present talent. The collection is organized chronologically, introduced by Taíno carvings and traditional 18th-century British landscapes, whose initial beauty belies the fact that their subjects include many slave plantations. Several galleries represent the Jamaican school from 1922 to the present. Highlights include the bold sculptures of Edna Manley, the vibrant ‘intuitive’ paintings of artists including John Dunkley and David Pottinger, and revivalist bishop Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds. Other displays chart the course of Jamaican art up to the present, including abstract religious works by Carl Abrahams, Colin Garland’s surrealist Caribbean fantasias, ethereal assemblages by David Boxer, and the work of realist Barrington Watson. Temporary exhibition spaces frequently offer up the best of contemporary Jamaican art, as seen during the superb biennial temporary exhibition that takes place on alternate (even-numbered) years between mid-December and March.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kingston

    Bob Marley Museum

    The large, creaky, colonial-era wooden house on Hope Rd, where Bob Marley lived and recorded from 1975 until his death in 1981, is the city’s most-visited site. Today the house functions as combined tourist attraction, museum and shrine, and much remains as it was in Marley’s day. The hour-long tour provides fascinating insights into the reggae superstar's life after moving Uptown. His gold and platinum records are there on the walls, alongside Marley’s favorite denim stage shirt, and the Order of Merit presented by the Jamaican government. One room is entirely wallpapered with media clippings from Marley’s final tour; another contains a replica of Marley’s original record shop, Wail’n Soul’m. Marley’s simple bedroom has been left as it was, and next to it is the kitchen were he'd fix healthy fresh juices. At the rear of the house you'll see the spot where gunmen attempted to kill him in 1976. The former recording studio out back is now an exhibition hall with some wonderful photos of Bob, and a theater, where the tour closes with a 20-minute film. Photography isn't allowed inside the house, but you'll almost certainly be instructed to sing 'One Love' at some point. It's possible to buy a joint ticket that includes entry to the Tuff Gong studios.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Southeast Coast

    Morant Point Lighthouse

    Bath is the gateway to the Morant peninsula which juts into the Caribbean Sea. The 30m-tall, red-and-white-striped lighthouse marks Morant Point, the easternmost tip of Jamaica. Cast in London in sections that were shipped to Jamaica and erected in 1842, it is the oldest iron trunk lighthouse in the world, and visiting it is a tremendous adventure. The lighthouse keeper is generally happy to give tours to the rare visitors, and will ask you to sign his visitors book (a tip wouldn't go amiss). The powerful view and the windy silence make for a profound experience as you look out over rippling sugarcane fields toward the cloud-haunted John Crow Mountains and the deserted, wave-lashed shore. To sea, you can imagine almost seeing Haiti, due east. The beaches here are unsuitable for swimming but you will have their wind-whipped beauty all to yourself – the lighthouse keeper assured us the fishing is great. You need a car happy with rough roads to reach Morant Point. From Bath, take a right in Golden Grove to the one-street village of Duckenfield – GPS navigation may send you astray, so aim for the tall, unmissable chimneys of the Duckenfield sugar factory. Keep the factory on your left and take the dirt road that runs straight into the cane fields. Several lesser trails branch off from it, but as long as you stick to the main one, it’s very difficult to get lost – in a couple of places there are signs pointing to the lighthouse. The fields of sugarcane and entirely empty horizon have a haunting quality, as if the land is trying to summon the ghosts of the enslaved workers who toiled here in the colonial period. The dirt road meanders through cane for around 8km before emerging at the coast, at which point the lighthouse comes into view. A 4WD is strongly recommended during the rainy season.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kingston

    Devon House

    This beautiful colonial house was built in 1881 by George Stiebel, the first black millionaire in Jamaica. Antique lovers will enjoy the guided tour, highlights of which include some very ornate porcelain chandeliers and fascinating paintings and photographs. Note the trompe l'oeil of palms in the entrance foyer and the roundabout chairs, designed to accommodate a man wearing a sword. Amid the grand surroundings, Stiebel even managed to discreetly tuck a gambling room away in the attic. The tree-shaded lawns of Devon House are very popular with Kingstonians. The popular former carriage house and courtyard are home to several shops – including Devon House I-Scream (tours include a free scoop).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kingston

    Life Yard

    An innovative art and permaculture scheme, Life Yard is regenerating an area of downtown Kingston once beset with gang problems. The program is centered on an urban farming project, and its Rastafari organizers have also worked with the community and visiting artists to cover the whole street with beautiful and uplifting murals. It's not just pretty pictures though – youth projects include breakfast and homework clubs, workshops, educational support and media training, so the community can tell its own stories. There's a cafe selling vegan food (8am to 6pm), with much of the produce coming from the permaculture garden. Several of the residents are registered tour guides – contact them in advance to set up a full day's tour. It's essential to introduce yourself when you arrive – this is a residential area, so don't just snap photos of the walls without asking permission (it is readily given). Inquiries from long-term volunteers with transferable skills are welcomed.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kingston

    Liberty Hall

    At the end of a tree-lined courtyard, decorated with cheerful mosaics and a mural depicting Marcus Garvey, stands Liberty Hall, the headquarters of Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) in the 1930s. The building now contains an excellent multimedia museum about the man and his work, which allows the visitor to appreciate Garvey’s impact as a founder of pan-Africanism. As in Garvey’s day, Liberty Hall has a community outreach program, holding after-school programs for neighborhood children and computer literacy classes. There's also a superb reference library with a focus on Garvey, African history and the diaspora.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Around Kingston

    Fort Charles

    Jamaica’s latitude and longitude are measured from the flagstaff of Fort Charles, a weathered redoubt originally laid in 1655, and the only one of the town’s forts to survive the 1692 earthquake. Originally washed by the sea on three sides, the fort is now firmly landlocked due to the gradual silt build-up. At its peak, 104 guns protected the fort. Many cannons still point out from their embrasures along the restored battlements. In the center of the courtyard stands the small, well-presented Maritime Museum, containing a miscellany of objects – from glassware and pottery to weaponry – retrieved from the sunken city. Horatio Nelson, who later became Britain’s greatest naval hero, lived in the small ‘cockpit’ while stationed here for 30 months. Behind the museum is the raised platform known as Nelson’s Quarterdeck, where a young Nelson kept watch for enemy ships amid fears of a French invasion. A plaque on the wall of the King’s Battery commemorates his time here. A small redbrick artillery store, the 1888 Giddy House, sits alone just behind the fort. The 1907 earthquake briefly turned the spit to quicksand and one end of the building sank, leaving the store at a lopsided angle. Next to the Giddy House is a gun emplacement with a massive cannon – which also keeled over in 1907.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Parade

    William Grant Park, more commonly known as ‘Parade,’ is the bustling heart of Downtown, and originally hosted a fortress erected in 1694 with guns pointing toward the harbor. The fort was replaced in 1870 by Victoria Park, renamed a century later to honor Black Nationalist and labor leader Sir William Grant. The north and south entrances are watched over by cousins and political rivals Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante respectively. A large fountain stands at its center. At North Parade, the distinguished Ward Theatre, built in 1911, once hosted the annual Boxing Day pantomime – a riotous, irreverent social satire. Sadly, the building has fallen into disrepair over the years, although there are plans to restore it. For now, you can admire the cracked sky-blue facade with white trim. The gleaming white edifice facing the park’s southeast corner is Kingston Parish Church, which replaced an older church destroyed in the 1907 earthquake. Note the tomb dating to 1699, the year the original was built. The tomb of Admiral Benbow, commander of the Royal Navy in the West Indies at the turn of the 18th century, is near the high altar, while plaques commemorate soldiers of the colonial West Indian regiments. The crenelated redbrick building facing East Parade is the 1840 Coke Memorial Hall, named after the founder of the Methodist churches in the Caribbean, Thomas Coke. South Parade, packed with street vendor stalls and the blast of reggae, is known as ‘Ben Dung Plaza’ because passersby have to bend down to buy from hawkers whose goods are displayed on the ground. King St leads from here to the waterfront, and to a replica of Edna Manley's Negro Aroused statue, depicting a crouched black man breaking free from bondage; the original is in the National Gallery of Jamaica.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Trench Town Culture Yard

    Trench Town, which began life as a much-prized housing project erected by the British in the 1930s, is widely credited as the birthplace of ska, rocksteady and reggae. It has been immortalized in numerous reggae songs, not least Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry,’ the poignant anthem penned by Marley’s mentor, Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford, which was written here. The yard's museum is stocked with Wailers memorabilia, along with the rusted-out carcass of a VW bus that belonged to the Wailers in the 1960s, and the small bedroom that was Bob and Rita Marley’s home before superstardom. Tours include a visit to the house and yard, parts of the surrounding neighborhood and its series of splendid murals. Also on-site is the Trench Town Development Association, responsible for transforming the home into a community-based heritage site, and dedicated to promoting social justice and self-reliance.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Tuff Gong Recording Studios

    Tuff Gong is one of the Caribbean’s largest and most influential studios. It was Bob Marley's favorite place to record and is now run by his son Ziggy. Visitors are taken on a one-hour 'Making of the Music' tour with the entire music production process explained from rehearsal room through mixing desk to vinyl pressing, centered (of course) around Bob Marley. It's possible to buy a combination ticket including the Bob Marley Museum if you visit both on the same day. If someone is recording when you visit, you may not be allowed to see all sections of the studio.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Alpha Boys School

    Few have had an impact on modern Jamaican music like Alpha Boys School and its students. A nonprofit vocational school serving young men from the inner city, Alpha has been administered by the Religious Sisters of Mercy since 1890. The school is where many of Jamaica's musical pioneers in jazz, ska and reggae (from Skatalites members to Yellowman) got their start. Hour-long musical history tours run every Friday at 11am, but if you've got some chops you can book a session playing live with Alpha alumni – a brilliant reggae jam experience.

  • Sights in Blue Mountains

    Mavis Bank Coffee Factory

    Established in 1923 and located 1km southwest of Mavis Bank, this is the largest coffee factory in Jamaica, producing Blue Mountain coffee sold under the Jablum label. You can tour the factory to see the coffee beans drying (March to August) and being processed, including cupping (tasting) for quality assurance of the final beans; call in advance. At the end of the ‘from the berry to the cup’ tour, you can purchase roasted beans at bargain prices.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Coronation Market

    This huge cast iron–framed hall hosts the biggest market in the English-speaking Caribbean. It holds a special place in Jamaican culture as both 'stomach' of the country and the old heart of Kingston's commerce; indeed half the country appears to be shopping here, especially on a Saturday. It's a brilliant and lively show of noise, produce and commerce, but leave your valuables at home and watch out for pickpockets.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Hope Gardens

    These 18-hectare gardens, replete with manicured grounds, exotic plants and beautiful flowers, date back to 1881, when the government established an experimental garden on the site of the former Hope Estate. The spacious lawns, towering palms and flower-scented walkways provide a lovely respite from the urban jungle. Other attractions include an orchid house, greenhouses and ornamental ponds.

  • Sights in Blue Mountains

    Craighton Coffee Estate

    Just north of Newcastle, you can take a one-hour tour of the attractive 200-year-old Craighton Estate Great House and coffee plantation. During the tour, your knowledgeable guide explains to you the basics of coffee cultivation and a mildly steep walk leads you up to a gazebo surrounded by coffee bushes, with wonderful views of the mountains and the villages below. Tasting is included.

  • Sights in Blue Mountains

    Cinchona Gardens

    A dilapidated old house sits atop these 2.5-hectare gardens, fronted by lawns and exquisite floral beds. It's a little rundown, but the views are fabulous: to the north stand the peaks, but you can also peer down into the valleys of the Clyde, Green and Yallahs Rivers. The Panorama Walk begins to the east of the gardens, leading through a glade of towering bamboo and taking in the juniper cedar, camphor and eucalyptus trees, as well as a striking display of orchids. It was the cultivation of Assam tea and cinchona (whose quinine – extracted from the bark – was used to fight malaria) that led to the founding of Cinchona Gardens in 1868. The grounds were later turned into a garden to supply Kingston with flowers. In 1903, the Jamaican government leased Cinchona to the New York Botanical Gardens and, later, to the Smithsonian Institute. Finding Cinchona can be difficult without a guide. From Clydesdale, you can either hike (1½ hours) or drive uphill along the muddy dirt track for about 3km. There are several unmarked junctions; ask for directions at every opportunity. Don’t underestimate the awful road conditions: a 4WD with a low-gear option is absolutely essential. Alternatively, you can drive up the more populated route via Mavis Bank, though the road conditions can be as atrocious. Most of the trails that snake off into the nether reaches of the mountains are overgrown, but the 16km Vinegar Hill Trail, an old Maroon trail leading down to Buff Bay, can be negotiated with an experienced guide.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Institute of Jamaica

    The Institute of Jamaica is the nation’s small-scale equivalent of the British Museum or Smithsonian, housed in three separate buildings – the National Museum, the Jamaica Music Museum and the Natural History Museum. The institute hosts permanent and visiting exhibitions. The National Museum holds an eclectic array of exhibits, from Taíno carvings and colonial samplers, to a model Air Jamaica plane and a particularly fine bust of the famed nurse Mary Seacole. The small but informative Music Museum traces the history and development of Jamaica’s music, from traditional instruments to drum machines and keyboards used by artists like Sly & Robbie and Augustus Pablo. The Natural History Museum's small collection of preserved specimens on display is of perhaps least interest to casual visitors, but it does most of its important work in community outreach and environmental education.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Beat Street

    Beat Street is the popular name for Orange St, running north from the corner of Parade. It's one of the great wellsprings of Jamaican music and was home to Sir Coxsone Dodd's legendary Studio One Records, as well as the original studios of Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Prince Buster's famous Record Shack. Sadly, the musical caravan has moved on, but the sites are commemorated in a series of colorful murals celebrating those who recorded here, including of local boy Dennis Brown. Only one recording studio still operates here, the brightly painted Small World on the corner of Charles St, with Rockers International the sole surviving record store. With little outside support, locals are trying to restore some of the area's history and local pride – it's not hard to find a local guide who can wax lyrical to visiting reggae enthusiasts about the glory days when this was the center of Jamaica's musical universe.

  • Sights in Kingston

    Peter Tosh Museum

    Reggae legend Peter Tosh finally gets his due in this tiny museum. A co-founder of The Wailers (he co-wrote 'Get up, Stand up'), Tosh was an early campaigner against apartheid, a pan-Africanist and an advocate for ganja – most notably on his album Legalize It. The museum tells his story with respect and makes the most of its small collection of memorabilia, including a pair of Mick Jagger's gold microphones from when Tosh toured with the Stones. The most notable item is his famous guitar shaped like an M16 rifle, while the most unexpected is Tosh's beloved unicycle, bringing a touch of levity into the life of this militant musician.

  • Sights in Around Kingston

    Lime Cay

    The idyllic Lime Cay is one of half a dozen or so uninhabited, white sand–rimmed coral cays about 3km offshore from Port Royal. Immortalized in the final showdown of the movie The Harder They Come, it’s ideal for sunbathing and snorkeling. Shacks sell food and drinks. Arrange a trip from Morgan’s Harbour Yacht Marina (Wednesday to Sunday only, J$1500, minimum four people). You might talk the local fishers into taking you for a reduced rate on their motorized boats (‘canoes’); agree a round-trip rate first and only pay half until they come to pick you up, or risk getting stranded.