It’s estimated around two million people attend the Notting Hill Carnival each year, so no question then, the event s deserving of its well-founded boast of being the largest street festival in the whole of Europe. Indeed, this annual event’s an utterly vivid, fluid, thrilling spectacle that always celebrates and showcases London’s delightfully diverse and marvellously multicultural past, present and – you might even argue – future(!).
So, don’t doubt it; for party lovers of all stripes local to the capital, it’s a major date in their summer itinerary – reason indeed then, to add it to yours if you’ll be in the capital at the end of August, perhaps staying nearby at the likes of the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate hotel.
All that said, though, the simple size, scale and electric atmosphere of ‘Carnival’ (as it’s colloquially referred to) can prove a little overwhelming for newcomers; not least if you’re not sure of exactly what’s going on and what’s expected of you (are you supposed to be curious onlooker, a jolly reveller or a full-blooded participant?). In which case, to ensure you’re ready to throw yourself into the celebrations, don’t think of attending without reading the following guide…
So, just what is the Notting Hill Carnival exactly?
Traditionally, it’s an annual celebration of (West) London’s Caribbean communities – their cultures and traditions – ever since the very first over a half-century ago in 1966. It takes place across two full days and comprises a bold and dynamic parade with live music (the likes of reggae, dub and salsa), in addition to nearly 40 static soundsystems, soca floats, steel bands and many, many stalls and so on serving delectable Caribbean food.
Where does the carnival happen?
It spreads throughout the W10 postcode in West London; its celebrations literally taking over the elegant yet richly diverse districts that are Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Wesbourne Park. The carnival’s principal parade kicks-off on Great Western Road, then winds its way along Chepstow Road, before turning on to Westbourne Grove and then snaking down Ladbroke Grove.
When does the carnival occur – and how long’s it on for?
Again, tradition dictates that ‘Carnival’ is held on the long, bank holiday weekend at the end of August (this year then, Sunday 25th-Monday 26th August). Check for official Carnival for exact timings of events and festivities taking place, not least the main parade itself, the centrepiece of the entire carnival every year.
How should I travel there
As you may imagine, because of the nature of what takes place at ‘Carnival’ and the vast numbers of revellers in attendance, local and private travel tends to become very disrupted in the wider Notting Hill area. Your best bet, however, is probably not to rely on road-based transport (either bus or taxi of some description) as the road’s inevitably become clogged up, but the London Underground network – check a handy Tube map to work out how to get from your accommodation (like, say, the Lancaster Gate hotel London) and the stations ideal for the carnival.
Is the carnival suitable for kids?
The first day of the 48-hour event is nowadays branded as, referred to and organised as ‘Family Day’, so the answer is – on the Sunday – yes, very much so, ‘Carnival’ is suitable for taking along the family. That said, there’s nothing like being prepared; it’s inevitably a bustling, reveller-packed occasion, so you might want to try to arrive early to beat the crush of all the crowds and don’t for a second forget to bring with you travel potties (if your little ones are really little); sadly, but inevitably, the toilet queues are not kid-friendly or, well, adult-friendly much either. Plus, pack snacks and carry with you bottles of water – both for obvious, sensible reasons. Most of all, though, make sure you and your family go along with an open mind and be prepared to revel as much as the next man, woman or child!