What is Notting Hill Carnival all about?
Notting Hill Carnival is an annual celebration of all things Caribbean, led by members of London’s West Indian community. Drawing around a million people each year, it’s one of the world’s largest street parties and the biggest in Europe—in fact, only Rio has a larger carnival. The carnival’s roots lie in the race riots of the 1950s, designed to bridge inter-racial gaps and bring Londoners together through a celebration of the rich culture, music, food and drink of the Caribbean. If you want to learn more, check out our guide to the carnival’s fascinating history.
Notting Hill Carnival runs on both Sunday and Monday, with Sunday designated as the Children’s Day—there’s not a million miles between the two, but the Sunday proceedings aim to be more family friendly overall, with a special children’s parade. The main parade takes place on Monday, and it’s here that you can see the best of the magnificent and colourful costumes—60 bands in total form the procession.
The celebrations revolve around the vibrant central parades, and the famed costumes of the Mas bands— every year there are around 15,000 costumes on show, using 30 million sequins, 15,000 feathers and 30 litres of body paint. As well as roaming steel and calypso groups, the carnival area is filled with 40 static sound systems and 70 performing stages playing a wide range of music to groups of revellers, and 300 food stalls serving up classic dishes from across the Caribbean islands.
Complementing the parades on both Sunday and Monday will be the World Music Stage over at Powis Square, which will be hosting a vivid line-up of calypso and soca performance by the Association of British Calypsonians and international calypsonians to boot, as well as artists from a variety of other genres.
Of course, before the Sunday and Monday Parades comes the official warm up— Panorama. Taking place in Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park, Bosworth Road, from 6pm to 10pm, Panorama is a family-friendly, open air evening of steel performances, including a competitive performance by national steel bands.
What time should I get there?
The parades on both days kick off from 9-10am, and won’t be done until around 8:30, with the procession snaking its way around Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park. It’s a good idea to get there early anyway, particularly if you’re meeting friends (though this is not advisable, given the size of the crowds), but on Sunday morning early risers should head over to Canal Way, Ladbroke Grove, for 6am to catch the Jouvert procession. With plenty of paint-powder-throwing fun, steel bands and African drumming, this procession is a great way to kick off the day. It should get back to Canal Way for around 9am.
Where should I go?
The floats tend to marshal along Kensal Road by Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance, Golborne Road and Elkstone Road towards the Great Western Road, where the parade begins just before Westbourne Park Underground Station. But, for the love of God, don’t take the tube to Westbourne Park, unless you’re in the mood for one hell of a crush. Make like the smart people you are and take the tube to the outskirts of the carnival zone (Holland Park, Queen’s Park, Shepherd’s Bush and Paddington are the safest bets if you want to avoid both disruptions and the biggest crowds), where you’ll be able to join the throng heading for the parade. Word of advice: London bus drivers are threatening to strike in West London on Bank Holiday Monday, so it’s worth checking if your route will be affected here.
Warm Up and After Parties
The fun doesn’t just start and end with the main event, of course, with parties popping up right across the city before and afterwards. Good picks for pre-carnival revelry include an official bash at Styx Bar in Tottenham on Saturday night, or the Cirque du Soul Carnival Special at East London’s Troxy on Friday and Saturday night. On Sunday night, there are carnival specials at Camden’s Jazz Cafe and Brixton Jamm on Sunday night— alternatively, just pop into one of the many pubs, clubs and bars in Notting Hill and the surrounding area.