You may know Notting Hill as the backdrop for the heartthrob Hugh Grant movie. But Londoners know Notting Hill for a different reason: Notting Hill Carnival – aka the biggest street party in Europe. Here’s why it should be on the top of your UK bucket list…
1. You’ll experience London’s Afro Caribbean culture
While Carnival has been a longstanding Caribbean tradition following the abolition of slavery, Notting Hill Carnival has its own flavour and backstory unique to London. Buckle down for a super fast history lesson folks: at the time when it was established, Notting Hill had one of the most concentrated populations of West Indians in the country. The first Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1966, aiming to showcase the beauty of Caribbean culture at a time when racial tensions were rife. Since then, it’s evolved into a celebration of Caribbean traditions married with London’s charm, and one of the UK’s most beloved and important multicultural events in the city.
2. It’s when the whole of London comes together
London is friggin’ huge. Every borough of London is its own village, and every larger area its own town. Proud South Londoners like myself rarely venture North, the sole exception being the annual pilgrimage to Notting Hill Carnival. It’s the one event of the year that brings the entire city together in a celebration of the cities Caribbean communities – the same communities that helped make the city what it is today. No matter what age, colour or creed, everyone who is anyone (2 million people to be exact) goes to Notting Hill to party it up!
3. The food is to die for
The mouth-watering aromas from Notting Hill Carnival extravaganza can pretty much be smelt over the whole of London. The one thing everyone eats at Carnival is Jerk Chicken. There’ll be a Jerk stall at every corner, so no need to look far to find it. Curry goat, BBQ and other West Indian specialities are consumed at mass, as well as rum, Guinness punch and local beer in abundance. If you’re feeling peckish, opt for a Jamaican patty or a festival dumpling to keep you fueled while you dance to the sweet sounds of Soca. Yum!
4. The costumes will captivate you
You’ll have never seen more vibrant colours and enthralling designs than with the costumes at Carnival. The extravagant costumes of the traditional dancers is part of the thrilling spectacle of the whole event, and it will definitely have you thinking it’s time to up your game with your own wardrobe. Feathers, diamantes, masks and capes are just a few of the elaborate things you’ll see as Samba, Dancehall and Soca dancers make their way down the streets in an exciting display, alongside huge, vivid floats. Just make sure your camera has enough memory on it…
5. The music is the highlight
The hero of Notting Hill Carnival is the music. Traditional carnival music is Calypso and Soca, but it’s the reggae and dancehall sound systems that pull the crowds. More recently, Dub, Funk and House music have made their way into the Carnival music hall of fame, so there really is something for everyone. True Londoners will know exactly what sound systems they want to go to, and will have done their research to know exactly who’s playing, when, and in what location – and will make their way there super early to get a good spot. If you’re heading to Carnival for the first time, try to get an eclectic mix of everything that’s on offer, spending roughly half an hour at each spot to get the true Carnival music cocktail experience.