Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Tue November 24 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | November 24, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    Top 5 Things to Do in Kingston, Jamaica

    Top 5 Things to Do in Kingston, Jamaica

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Jamaica's stunning beaches and resort towns grab most of the attention from travelers, but Kingston is really the heart of this vibrant island — a bustling city that contains a quarter of the country’s population.

    Kingston has gained a bad rap for violence and crime, but let’s be real: is there a major urban center that doesn't attract some level of law-breaking? I'd say this is a weak reason not to see Jamaica's capital.

    Unfolding on the Southeast coast of the island and surrounded by the Blue Mountains and a beautiful natural harbor, Kingston offers natural beauty as well as the excitement of city life.

    Divided into a downtown area that holds the courts, banks and historic buildings and an uptown business district called New Kingston, where most attractions and restaurants are located, this sprawling, noisy destination is a must-see. Here are my top five things to do in Kingston:

    1. Bob Marley Museum

    It's no shocker that this is Kingston's most visited site. Bob Marley is the official ambassador of Jamaica for most people around the world and this museum is in his former home, where he wrote and recorded most of his songs. The house is surrounded by murals and photos that give a good introduction to Bob's music and Jamaican history. Inside, clippings, records and artifacts tell the story of  how a poor Jamaican boy grew into an international superstar. Don't miss a stop by the One Love Cafe for traditional Jamaican dishes and drinks.

    2. Devon House

    A local fave, noted for gourmet quality ice cream as much as for historic 19th century architecture, the sprawling 11-acre estate is the landmark home of George Stiebel, Jamaica's first black millionaire. The Devon House guided tour is fascinating not just for history buffs — who will get glimpses of Italian glass chandeliers, canopied beds and 18th century spinning wheels — but also for a dose of Jamaican traditions. Our guide, Barbara, gave an interactive patois lesson as well as a performance of a poem by revered Jamaican poet Louise Bennett.

    The lush grounds outside Devon House are just as striking as the inside and you'll spot locals reading and sampling delicacies from the stores on the grounds. A visit to the I-Scream shop is essential. Although Guinness is the popular pick, I recommend the guava flavor.

    3. Trenchtown Culture Yard

    One of Kingston's poorest neighborhoods, immortalized in Bob Marley's songs, “No Woman No Cry” and “Trenchtown Rock,” this cultural space displays the history and artifacts that made it famous. Although Bob moved to the community with his mother in the '50s, it was already noted for producing ska and rock steady stars including Alton Ellis, Dean Fraser and The Abyssinians. The museum showcases how government yards were formed in the '40s and displays the tiny shack where Bob lived as well as his first car. Local musicians still play and record in the area and if you're lucky, you'll catch a live performance from Ziggy Soul, one of Bob's proteges.

    4. Redbones Blues Cafe

    Since I live in Chicago, the home of the blues, I was a little taken aback by a Jamaican blues cafe. But I quickly discovered that it's all about a Jamaican take on the music. Classic blues and jazz tunes play as guests enjoy an eclectic menu of international plates with Jamaican touches. It's worth a visit for the food alone, which includes lamb chops in guava sauce and coconut curry shrimp. The restaurant is located on a patio with twinkling lights and splashes of greenery. Each night the restaurant hosts live entertainment including singers and spoken word artists. I heard a series of poets who referenced current Jamaican events, which gave me a deeper understanding of contemporary Jamaican culture.

    5. Live Theater

    Like any big city, Kingston holds various theater events, but for an authentic taste of Jamaican culture, check out a local play. I caught “The Baby Scam” at the Centerstage Theatre in New Kingston. Locals packed both floors of the venue to see this two-hour comedy. Filled with broad humor, in the vein of Tyler Perry's “Madea” plays, the tale followed a man who thinks he's been set up by a team of conniving women. You need some understanding of patois to follow everything but the acting is so over the top that you'll be able to understand the general points. I laughed at the soap opera situations and was happy to experience an unexpected part of Kingston.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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