The ultimate guide to the Notting Hill carnival
My first ever carnival experience was the Notting Hill carnival in London, which, with over a million carnival goers over a two day period is Europe’s biggest carnival and second only to the Rio carnival. For over two decades I have raved, partied, danced and gawped at “interesting” things and happenings with my fellow revellers in what is now one of the plushest districts of London – Notting Hill.
Notting Hill of course, was not always plush. It was a Caribbean neighbourhood that had suffered from social ills and problems that seem to be the preserve of “new comers”.
Those ills of course included racism and social ostracisation. The roots of the carnival lay in this ostracisation and poor race relations.
Two important historical figures Claudia Jones and Rhaune Laslett, however, seeded the idea of the Notting Hill carnival way back in the early 1950s with the aim of fostering social and racial unity. The first couple of carnivals were broadcasted by the BBC.
A short history of Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival Artistic Traditions
Even though the roots of the Notting Hill carnival are permanently etched in history, the flavour and character of the carnival has somewhat changed over the decades. Every generation has stamped its own unique cultural imprint on it to reflect their own reality.
It does still have a strong Carribean flavour but as the founders desired when they first started it , the carnival has now become a carnival for Londoners of all races, creeds and class with a significant tourist contingent.
The loud music, thousands of performances, procession of floats, bands, costumes, food and drinks and of course the after parties are what makes this carnival special.
Date and Times
Every year without fail the Notting Hill carnival is held on the bank holiday weekend in August. Both days get going between 10:00 to 8:30pm.
The streets around W10 in West London.
How to get there
Parking is severely restricted and most raods in and around the carnival area are closed to vehilcles so public transport is the best way to travel. The nearest tube stations to the Carnival are Notting Hill Gate (Central Line), Lartimer Road (Metropolitan Line), Bayswater (District/Circle Line) Royal Oak and Westbourne Park. Some of these stations especially Royal Oak and Westbourne Road tend to be exit only during the busiest times of the carnival. Buses do not operate within the perimeter of the carnival area.
What happens on the first day?
The first days at the Notting Hill carnival are “family days”. Notably the Jouvert procession which involves revellers throwing colourful powder paint at each other happens in the mornings between 6 and 9am. The rest of the day is filled with a colourful parade for children. This in my experience is the more relaxed and less busy carnival day. As usual food, drink and music is available for all to enjoy.
What happens on the second day?
The second day is the main carnival day. The start time is at 10:00 to 8.30pm.The main parade has as many as 60-70 bands, just under 40 soundsystems and a sizeable number of dancers on floats. Streets nearby are filled with revellers enjoying other music, street performances and food and drink
I had jollof rice at my last carnival.
What’s the music like?
Historically the carnival had been almost exclusively characterised by the various genres of Caribbean-influenced sounds such as reggae, dub, dancehall, soca and calypso. Funk, drum “n” base, dubstep and jungle were more predominant when I started going to the carnival. Steel bands have always been a mainstay but there are now a potpourri of musical forms such as Afrobeats and mainstream pop.
What do I wear to Carnival?
This is England. The rain is never too far away so do bring something that will shield or cover you if need be. The Notting Hill carnival is where the most conservative of fashionistas should be bold enough to wear something colourful and eye catching. Footwear, however, need to be strictly perhaps less stylish and more practical. Certainly no flip flops and open-toed footwear as other revellers are likely to inadvertently use your toes as a doormat as it gets crowded.
Do I have to pay?
The carnival is free, but after parties mostly in indoor clubs are not. Do bear in mind that there are usually extremely long queues for cash machines which also often run out of cash.
What are some of my fondest memories
Gyrating London bobbies (policemen) who should really be keeping an eye on policing matters, but I guess are just as human as we are and get carried away with the rest of us. Perhaps my only pet hate is the astonishingly exhorbitant prices of anything decent worth drinking or eating. Expect to pay at least double the price for a can of coke and a whopping fortune to use a resident’s toilet. I’m conviced some of these residents become millionaires overnight courtesy of the carnival. In the last few years, it seems as though every white kid (who knows perhaps farmers from the countryside) make it a point of coming down to “represent”. You can easily spot them in their Bob Marley paraphernalia and hesitant and awkward approach to buying weed (or what they are made to think is weed). The music and food especially the jerk chicken (which at the carnival is done properly and authentically in a jerk pan) is always unforgettable.