Ultimate Notting Hill Carnival Guide
Vibrant; vivacious; venereal – London’s reputation spreads far and wide. The streets are paved with gold, the black cabs run on digestive biscuits, and everybody wears a bowler hat.
There’s always a lot going here because, whatever the weather, London loves to party. One of the best examples of this is the world famous Notting Hill Carnival. Known for its attractive Georgian townhouses and dreary rom-coms, once a year the usually placid district of Notting Hill comes alive in an explosion of colour and music. Strip off your clothes and strap on your dancing shoes for Europe’s largest free carnival.
Each August Bank Holiday, 20 miles of streets close themselves off to traffic in order to host a Caribbean-themed festival of fantastic proportions. Visitors from all over the world are drawn to the area to witness the spectacle and join in the revelry.
Notting Hill Carnival was primarily initiated as a way for local Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their culture. The Caribbean carnival tradition has its roots in celebrating the abolition of slavery, with costumes originally used to mimic the European fashions of former slave owners. Notting Hill Carnival originated from the performance of steel drum bands in Earl’s Court that was followed by a procession through the streets of the local area. The carnival in its current form has been held each August Bank Holiday since 1966.
Music lies at the heart of the carnival celebrations, and has developed from traditional forms to accommodate contemporary genres and performance as the event continues to evolve. Calypso and Soca performances can be heard alongside more modern genres including reggae, dubstep, funk and R&B. Around 40 static sound systems pump out tuneful tunes, while the main stage hosts live performances from world stars. Wyclef Jean, Jamiroquai and Eddie Grant are amongst the names having previously appeared at Notting Hill Carnival.
Complementing the sounds of the carnival, an array of amazing sights and smells can also be enjoyed simultaneously. A series of colourful processions is comprised of beautifully decorated floats and spectacularly costumed dancers. This is an excellent opportunity to join in with some awesome fancy dress and to witness stunning choreography in live street dances.
Whilst you’re watching all of this, you might well become intoxicated by the delightful smells in the air. Notting Hill Carnival is also a great place to tuck into some fantastic Caribbean grub. Favourite dishes include Jerk Chicken, Goat Curry and Rice and Peas. You can also pick up some fried plantain or patties whilst you’re browsing the food stalls. Why not wash it all down with a cup of rum punch?
- If you’re looking for the parade, it generally begins on Great Western Road, moving to Chepstow Road, then Westbourne Grove and then Ladbroke Grove. The parade should begin around 09:00 on Sunday and Monday.
- It should come as no surprise that the carnival presents a great opportunity for pickpockets. Be careful in the crowds, and only bring what you need.
- For those taking families to the carnival, Sunday is Children’s Day; the parade route is shorter and costume prizes are awarded.
- If you bring a baby (or equivalent) you’ll probably find it easier to carry your mini-me around in a sling rather than try to manoeuvre a pushchair through the crowds.
- You’ll be on your feet a lot, so wear comfortable shoes. If you prefer to take a break and chill out on the grass, head to either the World Music Stage at Powis Square or to Horniman’s Pleasance.
- Even London sometimes has sun, so dress according to the conditions. Light clothes are advised, and sunscreen might be appropriate if Helios is showing his cheeky face.
- Over a million people descend on Notting Hill for Carnival. Check out local transportation options before you travel: many roads in Notting Hill are closed, surrounding stations are stretched and some may be exit-only. Be prepared for this, as London transport can be chaotic at the best of times.
- Local ATMs are likely to be overloaded. Bring cash with you, but be sensible and keep it safe.
- You can also bring food and drinks with you if you’re strapped for cash, so you might be grateful for this option.
- Try to arrive early to get your bearings before the crowds really hit.
- When nature calls, make sure you know how to answer. Some residents charge a small price for use of their facilities. Just in case, you might want to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
- Get a map of the area to help you with where you’re heading and where you want to be.
- If you’re with friends there’s always a chance you might get separated. It’s wise to have a preordained meeting place in case anyone gets lost.
- Besides the delicious food, you might smell something funky in the carnival air. Remember that, like in most countries, soft drugs are illegal in the UK; possession and use can carry penalties.
- If you’re looking for a hotel during Notting Hill Carnival, book early.
Speaking of hotels…
The Caesar Hotel is a wonderful four-star accommodation stood on an elegant avenue near Hyde Park. Close to Queensway and Bayswater tube stations, you can walk into Notting Hill from here. The Caesar has a private open garden, a fitness centre and a sauna. You can get a 25% discount on 3-night bookings.
Here’s a fabulous self-catering option, if you can afford it: 4-star Grand Plaza Serviced Apartments. These gorgeous apartments come with a range of modern amenities and are also within walking distance of Notting Hill.
If you’re looking for budget accommodation for Notting Hill Carnival, Central Hostel London is a short walk from the parade route and offers cheap dormitory accommodation. You can get an 8% discount on a 3-night booking.
Alternatively, try the 2-star Palace Court Hotel, where you can get an en-suite double room, plus breakfast, for a great rate.
There’s loads more cheap hotels near Notting Hill Carnival listed on our website, so browse away and happy hunting. We hope everybody has an amazing carnival this year.