Like any great city, Kingston neighborhoods run the gamut from luxe locales accommodating the gentry, to struggling neighborhoods sheltering the less-fortunate. Kingston’s boundaries are formed by Six Miles to the west, Stony Hill to the north, Papine to the northeast and Harbour View to the east. Jamaica has no zip codes. Kingston, however, is divided into 20 postal zones. Locals can tell someone has money if their address is "Kingston 10" which means that they live in the tony suburb of Half Way Tree. The easiest way to get a handle on Kingston’s neighborhoods is to split the city into Downtown and Uptown Kingston. Downtown roughly flows from the waterfront to bustling Cross Roads. Uptown Kingston is a less-gritty proposition, and here you’ll find the city’s high-end hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as the wealthy suburbs of Jacks Hill and Cherry Gardens. Within these two major demarcations are distinct neighborhoods with their own unique appeal.
Liguanea is part of the parish of St. Andrew. The name Liguanea comes from the Taino Indian word for a unique species of iguana found only in Jamaica. Visitors to Kingston will be interested in touring the Bob Marley Museum here. Linguanea is also where you’ll find Vale Royal, the official residence of the Prime Minister; Jamaica House, the office of the Prime Minister, and King's House the official residence of the Governor-General. The heart of the Liguanea suburbs is Matilda's Corner and the residential areas of Mona, Wellington, Mona Heights, Hope Pastures, Trafalgar Park and Beverly Hills. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during Easter, check out the Jamaica Carnival and join one of the two road marches. The first one goes through the streets of Liguanea, Half Way Tree and New Kingston the Sunday after Easter. The second road march is called Joker's Wild Bacchanal J'ouvert, a march through Liguanea and New Kingston the Friday after Easter.
Who hasn’t heard the Bob Marley lyric, “In a government yard in Trench Town.” This is West Kingston’s most famous neighborhood, a cradle of sorts for reggae legends like The Wailers and Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals fame. Back in the 1930s it was mostly squatter camps; these gave way to housing developments after the area was leveled by Hurricane Charlie in 1951. During the 1970s, organized crime grew and Trench Town became a garrisoned community controlled by warring gangs. While not as dangerous as it once was, it’s not advisable for visitors to wander Trench Town alone, so get a guide or a local you can trust.
Portmore spreads out over a flat plain facing the Kingston Harbour. The neighborhood came into being in the late-1960s as a residential development to alleviate the over-population of Kingston. While you won’t find Portmore in any tourist brochures, the neighborhood does have its share of beaches, hotels and restaurants. On the other side of Hunts Bay Lagoon is the Caymanas Track, where race meets are held every Wednesday and Saturday. Driving into Kingston from Portmore you’ll pass a quintessential Jamaican scene—fishing shacks where women sit tending their stalls and selling to motorists pulling over to the side of the road or gossiping with their fellow vendors. If you want to roam Portmore, hire a guide to show you the ins-and-outs of the neighborhood.
Spanish Town is a bit off the beaten-track, a short drive west from Kingston. Here you’ll find a neighborhood spilling over with street life, Rasta bars and chickens trying to cross the road. Escape the midday sun inside the Cathedral of St. James, which was built around 1520 and is the oldest Anglican Church outside England and the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. You can also take a gander at the Spanish Town Iron Bridge, the oldest cast iron bridge in the Western Hemisphere; the walkway on the bridge was recently restored and is now safe for pedestrians. Little-known fact: Disco diva Grace Jones was born in Spanish Town.
New Kingston is where most visitors center their stay—especially those traveling to Kingston on business. One of the top hotels here is the Courtleigh Hotel & Suites, which is located on a strip of hotels (others include the Jamaica Pegasus and the new Wyndham, which is the reincarnate of the Hilton). This is also the nightlife nexus of the capital, where you can party hard in high-octane clubs, or relax over a cocktail in a quiet hotel piano bar. Shops abound, but you can get it all done in one fell swoop at the New Kingston Shopping Centre. New Kingston is bounded by Half Way Tree Road on the west and Old Hope Road on the east.