Kingston is the largest English-speaking city south of the United States, the capital of Jamaica, and a city I’m proud to call home. Kingston is located on the island’s southeastern coast and is the heartbeat of Jamaica– the home of business, commerce, government and a spirit and culture which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Reggae and dancehall music were born in the deep gritty slums of Kingston as a means by which the city’s most oppressed and impoverished could escape their struggles, and now the entire country, region and world pulsate to these riddims.
For this reason, Kingston was awarded UNESCO Creative City status in 2015. Kingston has famous museums which immortalize the origins of our musical genres but our rich culture does not stop there. Kingston is also home to the finest Jamaican visual and performing arts, expositions, athletic meets, university campuses and delectable cuisine ranging from streetfood to elegant fine dining. However, that does not mean a visit to Kingston has to break the bank and for locals, there’s still something here for you too. Last year I told you where to go if you only have three days to see Kingston, but this time let me show you how to explore the city for free!
1) Admire the 10-foot tall statues at Emancipation Park in New Kingston.
The Emancipation Park was opened to the public in 2002 and serves as an attractive green oasis in the bustling New Kingston metropolis. The park features beautiful water fountains, well-manicured lawns and hedges, numerous benches, shady trees, public restrooms, benches, a jogging trail, stage for occasional events and a walk which pays tribute to our National Heroes. Perhaps its best feature, however, are the commanding 10-foot tall Redemption Song Statues sculpted by Laura Facey in the image of two naked slaves celebrating their freedom with the shackles broken and at their feet. After you’ve walked around and seen all the park has to offer, sit, have a picnic and people-watch.
Bonus Tip: The park is twice as stunning at nights in Christmas when the pepper lights go up!
2) Experience the renaissance of Kingston’s Waterfront.
Downtown Kingston is the home of leading Jamaican business headquarters, government offices and the House of Parliament, but for years has had a bad reputation due to the depressed inner-city communities in and around it. Crime and dilapidated buildings detracted from Downtown and it fell out of favour in lieu of the trendier upscale New Kingston. Nonetheless, the waterfront in Downtown Kingston has been undergoing a renaissance with Andrew Azar’s renovation of the Victoria Pier last year. The Pier features trendy shops and restaurants, live performances, and is the site for boarding the Loose Cannon pleasure boats on weekends which go to and from neighbouring cays. For free, you can admire Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused statue then sit and enjoy the view of Kingston Harbour from shore (the world’s 7th largest natural harbour).
3) See the kaleidoscope of colour on Fleet Street.
Paint Jamaica is the unique social intervention project behind Fleet Street. Launched by Marianna Farag, a French visitor to Jamaica, she was taken aback by the state of Parade Gardens in Downtown when she visited and later realized that the foresaken buildings and zinc fences contributed immensely to the community’s depressed psyche. This inspired her to partner with a group of Jamaican artists in 2014 for a 10-day project to beautify the walls of a large abandoned warehouse on Fleet Street with bold giant murals. Uplifting the visual landscape has helped to reduce crime and littering, fostered a sense of pride in the residents for their community, instilled an appreciation of art and provided an outlet for creative expression. Now, locals and foreigners alike who would never have dreamt of setting foot in the wrong side of town are now piling in daily to take selfies, shoot videos and host photo shoots next to the street art for the ‘Gram. And you can too!
Bonus Tip: If you’re lucky enough, you may show up when some artiste is there filming a music video.
4) Visit the National Gallery of Jamaica for Last Sundays.
The National Gallery of Jamaica is the oldest and largest in the Anglophone Caribbean. It houses a number of important pieces on permanent display from Jamaican artists such as Cecil Baugh, Carl Abrahams, and Edna Manley, and also showcases new temporary exhibits every few weeks from local, regional and international talent. They charge a minimal fee for entry but on the last Sunday of every month, admission is free and the gallery comes alive with an aptly named event combining live performances, tours of the exhibits and children’s activities.
5) Unwind at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Papine.
This 200-acre park and garden is home to wide variety of local and imported flowers, shrubs and trees. Its large lovingly-tended lawns are ideal for picnics or just relaxing and enjoying the beauty of nature. It gets crowded on weekends and with crowd comes noise, but the park is so large you’re bound to find a quiet corner or even a whole gazebo to yourself. The only thing you have to pay for is parking if you drive (JM$150/US$1).
Bonus tip: There’s a free military band concert every month on third Sundays from 4pm sharp till 6pm.
6) Get sunkissed at a free dark sand beach.
On the outskirts of the city lie a few free off-the-beaten-path dark sand beaches. You have a few to choose from such as Cable Hut Beach, Carib Beach, Wickie Wackie Beach and Bob Marley Beach. Free beach equals no amenities like restrooms and changing rooms, so you’re best off wearing your swimsuit under your clothes to the beach and carrying an empty bladder.
7) Beat the heat at a nearby free waterfall.
Well if it isn’t my favourite place to visit? Waterfalls. 😁 There are two free waterfalls on the outskirts of Kingston with the closer one being Penfield Falls in Gordon Town, just fifteen minutes’ drive from Papine. Wash off in the cold water and marvel at the beauty of your surroundings. As usual with free rural watering holes, wear your swimsuit from home. No amenities at this one either.
8) Pose alongside Jamaican greats by the National Stadium.
Kingston may not be the birthplace of many Jamaican sprinting legends, but it’s certainly where most local talents get honed. Meet after meet at the National Stadium in Kingston from as early as high school, many athletes call this stadium and our university sporting complexes home. Thus, the Stadium has statues paying tribute to the immense contribution and source of national pride our athletes have brought us on the international stage and you can pose alongside them for the ‘Gram.
Bonus Tip: Just across the road from the stadium is a statue of Bob Marley, so go pose up with him too!
9) Keep an eye out for free concerts and expos.
Kingston has free concerts and expositions on just about any subject matter you can think of throughout the year. Timing will have to be in your favour, but keep an eye out for these lovely happenings on social media (mainly Instagram). For instance, we have a free Earth Hour concert each year around March featuring a few up-and-coming acts alongside established reggae artistes, Christmas or ‘Emancipendence’ concerts are often held at the Emancipation Park, and I even saw soca artiste Machel Montano perform for free at a pop-up concert in Liguanea earlier this year. Our expositions tend to be aimed at promoting local artists and entrepreneurs, featuring locally-made jewelry, paintings, sculptures, sandals, bags, candles, beauty products, you name it. Most are free to go in and you can look around plus get free samples. The urge to spend can get very powerful so you’d best be able to control your wallet!
10) Take a stroll around the Devon House property.
One of my favourite places in Kingston is the Devon House property! You can learn why here. Touring the mansion comes at a cost but admiring the house, its grounds and the quaint little brick shops can be an entertaining way to pass an hour or two. You can’t come to Devon House and not have the ice cream though! That’d be a darn shame– it’s listed as having the fourth best ice cream in the world. Prices start at $450JMD (US$3) and the portions are huge, so perhaps you’ll forgive me for encouraging you to spend on a list promoting free spots.
There are a few other free things one might find interesting around Kingston such as admiring the historic community of Port Royal (without going inside the fort, $), strolling the streets of Downtown Kingston and taking in its sights, visiting the Coronation Market (known as the stomach of Jamaica) or admiring the shrines of past Jamaican leaders in the National Heroes’ Park. Nonetheless, those were my top ten favourites and I hope you’ve found something enjoyable and free to do in and around Kingston.
Which place/activity was your favourite? Tell me in the comments. Take care!
‘Til next time. ✌🏽
If reading all this made you hungry, check out Jamaica’s top 10 eats (& drinks).