The edgy, intense capital of Jamaica is a great destination for those who are less interested in beaches than in music, art, food and Bob Marley.
There are several essential stops in Jamaica for the Bob Marley pilgrim, including the Bob Marley Museum (bottom), in Kingston. Although perhaps a less-compelling destination than the reggae singer's birthplace and childhood home in the mountains, a visit to the 19th-century mansion where Marley once lived is still interesting and feels like entering a time warp. In the courtyard, grizzled reggae warriors, once friends of the legend himself, loll around in the same way they might have when Marley was in residence. Inside, there is a collection of touching family photos and a display of the star's clothing and awards. 'Some people cry,' the tour guide gushes, 'when they see his bedroom and the beat-up bicycle he used early in his career to peddle his records door to door.' Even more gripping are the bullet holes in a wall at the back of the house, souvenirs of an assassination attempt. The museum is at 56 Hope Road, tel: 876 927 9152; www.bobmarley-foundation.com/museum.html.
2. Sun is shining
There are plenty of good reasons to visit Devon House (below right), one of the oldest homes in Jamaica. For the locals, the principal attraction is the ice-cream sold at a little stand on the mansion grounds. And while it's true that on a steamy Kingston day the flavour of ginger-pineapple, sorrel and even stout ice-cream can trump a lesson in the island's history, the mansion itself is worth wandering around. Built in 1881 for George Stiebel, Jamaica's first black millionaire and a noted philanthropist, the house is full of antiques. Highlights are the ballroom's original green and white Wedgwood ceiling, the games room's ingenious Victorian envelope card table and the stunning hand-carved, mirrored wardrobe in the master bedroom. For those who aren't impressed by history, just pack a lunch, picnic on the grounds and listen to the nightingales and turtledoves. Devon House is at 26 Hope Road, tel: 876 929 6602.
3. Buffalo soldier
There's only one fort left standing in Port Royal, once called the 'wickedest city in the world'. Now just a little fishing village near Kingston, more than 300 years ago Port Royal was fashionable, wealthy, decadent and home to the 'brethren of the sea': buccaneers and pirates. All that's left of its salty history is Fort Charles (below left), once a base to the likes of Horatio Nelson. It's a stone structure with hand-cut beams and a few remaining gun emplacements. A two-room museum on the premises houses an impressive collection of cannonballs, swords, brass buckles and buttons. Gunfire blasting from a nearby firing range helps bring the once-mighty British fort to life. Fort Charles is at 79 Duke Street, tel: 876 967 8438.
4. Lively up yourself
Partying in Kingston is not for the fainthearted; 'late and loud' sums it up. Knutsford Boulevard, a long strip of shops and banks during the day, becomes party central after dark. To hear the music of young local reggae artists, stick your head into Quad and Asylum, part of a warren of clubs on and around the famous street. If the dancing and decibels become too intense, escape to a more sedate jazz cafe. Visitors who want to go totally local can make their way to a 'dancehall session' - a gritty, sexy ad hoc outdoor party with live bands, startling fashion and open fires cooking up lots of jerk chicken, pork and fish. The hottest nights are 'Bembe Thursdays', on Upper Constant Spring Road, and 'Passa Passa Wednesdays', on Spanish Town Road. No session gets off the ground until after midnight, and all continue until dawn. A cautionary note for the conservative: decorum is in short supply. Quad is at 20 Trinidad Terrace while Asylum can be found at 69 Knutsford Boulevard.
In sharp contrast to the intensity of Kingston, a few minutes north on Old Hope Road the city drops away, the air is cooler and mango, povi povi and poinciana trees hug the sides of the winding road up to the Blue Mountains. The 2,300-metre high peaks provide a lush landscape of fiery flamboyance and delicate giant bamboo. They are also a destination for coffee addicts who want to see how their precious Blue Mountain beans are grown. At the 200-year-old Craighton Estate plantation, Alton Bedward Jnr takes visitors up the mountainside to see heritage coffee seeds grown in the traditional way. A stop for lunch at the elegant Strawberry Hill Resort on the way down entails five-star food and a chance to spot celebrity guests such as Bono, Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell. Craighton Estate is on Newcastle Road, Irish Town, tel: 876 929 8490; www.craightonestate.com. Strawberry Hill Resort is in Irish Town, tel: 876 944 8400; www.islandoutpost.com.
6. Smile Jamaica
Papine and Coronation markets have golden June plums, papaya, mangoes, and famously hot Scotch bonnet peppers stacked high. Here, elderly women who have hauled their produce in from the countryside are happy to give you recipes for steamed fish and red bean soup along with your purchases. More prosaic offerings are running shoes, knitted Rastafarian caps and reggae CDs. Coronation Market is just off West Parade Road, downtown Kingston. Papine Market is in Papine Square.
7. Satisfy my soul
Kingston is the cultural centre of Jamaica and worth a visit for its stunning art museum alone. The collection ranges from artefacts from the Taino (indigenous Caribbean people) to the energetic works of contemporary Jamaican artists. A monumental Edna Manley sculpture celebrates the strength of Jamaican women while the works of visionary artists such as Mallica 'Kapo' Reynolds impart the intense spirituality of the local culture. Especially noteworthy is a collection of musical instruments that merge the country's musical and visual arts. The National Gallery of Jamaica is at 12 Ocean Boulevard, tel: 876 922 1561; www.galleryjamaica.com.
8. Is this love?
Among cricket aficionados, Kingston's Sabina Park is legendary. In the old days, rum bottles in the stands were de rigueur but today, in the recently renovated stadium, spectators have to content themselves with washing down their Jamaican patties with bottles of Red Stripe while musicians play and dance under the scoreboard. To find out more, call the Jamaica Cricket Association, Sabina Park, at 876 922 8423.
9. Stir it up
Some of Kingston's best food is served in roadside kiosks. Fine roast fish is cooked at the Washington Boulevard Fish Hut, just across from the Boulevard Baptist Church. Owners Denise Edwards and Paulette Murray blast old R 'n' B and cook up favourites served with fresh vegetable and fruit juices. Marsha's Crabground is another recommended spot, on the southwest side of Heroes Circle. Cooked among a clutter of grills made from tyre rims and old car seats under a tin roof, Marsha's fresh crabs, roast yam and chicken feet and cow skin stew keep the crowds coming.
10. Roots, rock, reggae
Founded by Marley, the Tuff Gong studio is still operating, and not only records talented Marley offspring Damian and Ziggy, but also industry heavyweights such as Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack. A tour takes visitors through the studio, where fans can see the mixing board with which Marley recorded hits such as No Woman, No Cry. The visit continues through the mastering room and the pressing plant, where vinyl records are still made. The studio is at 220 Marcus Garvey Drive, tel: 876 923 9380; www.tuffgong.com.