It is one of the biggest street-carnivals in the world. A celebration of Notting Hill’s thriving West-Indian population, who definitely know how to party. More than a million people take to the streets to gather around booming sound-systems and follow the kaleidoscopic parade through the upmarket streets of Notting Hill.
I had only been once as a small child, strapped into my buggy and thrilled by the passing sights. I have fleeting memories of a park, a hot dog and not much else. So, returning as a fully-fledged adult, I was childishly excited to see what awaited me.
Before we chucked ourselves into the madness of the crowds, we left the tube at Bayswater in order to get ourselves sorted. Just a stop away from Notting Hill Gate, Bayswater is still swathed in carnival spirit but avoids the majority of the crowds. The streets are clearly signposted and volunteers are on hand with maps and instructions to guide you towards the carnival route which is only a short stroll away.
We stocked up on Jamaican ‘Red Stripe’ beer- a carnival must- at the local Tesco in order to avoid having to pay the bumped up prices closer in. A pack of 4 was on promotion for only £2.50 whereas a single can goes for £3 minimum along Portobello Road. So buying as much as you can carry is definitely a budget busting idea.
As we bumbled along in search of the party, we were suddenly swept up in the parade itself! Now this was a massive surprise as I expected the parade to be cordoned off with red-tape and guarded by over zealous stewards. The fact that you could actually be a part of the parade yourself was great! Can I just put it out there how much I want one of these costumes?!
After a while we left the parade in search of one of the most famous sound systems, Abi Shanti. On our way we passed hundreds of police officers who kept an eye on the celebrations. Smoking weed is pretty much legal on carnival days, and there’s a really friendly and inclusive atmosphere but the carnival’s previous bad rep does mean that you need to be cautious. Watch out for pick-pockets or those who have had a bit too much to drink.
The streets were rammed and I have never been so envious of the Notting Hill pads which just looked so achingly cool! It is definitely one of my favorite London areas.
After a while we stumbled upon Abi Shanti. I wasn’t massively keen on it as it was overcrowded and the music didn’t incite as much of a party atmosphere. Also, pretty much everyone was white? I don’t know how that happened but I wasn’t keen so we headed out in search of more. One of the best was the Latin Rave Street Jam, where some amazing Latin dancers twirled their partners in the street. It was also great to see how the carnival is branching out to represent other local cultures.
We stopped for lunch at one of the hundreds of food stalls selling traditional Caribbean fare. I’d shop around if I was you, the prices seemed to vary substantially, from £5-£9 for portions of Goat Curry with rice and peas. I tucked into my first ever meal of goat and massively enjoyed it. The meat just fell off the bone and the rice was perfectly cooked. Not bad for street food!
The rest of the afternoon was designated to dancing. Channeling my inner-Beyonce (we all have one), I got down like a local and danced until my feet were ready to drop off.
The carnival shuts itself down at 7pm, prompt. One of the greatest tips I can give you is to get out way before then. As soon as the music stops, the trouble starts. On our way back to the tube we passed ambulances, riot police, fights and incoherent drunks wanting to lash out at anyone who passes. Apart from that, the carnival was an absolute delight and I would recommend it to anyone; families, couples, groups…
If you’re thinking of going next year, here are my top tips to get the most out of your day:
– Wear shoes! Not flip-flops or sandals but proper shoes. People will trample all over your toes and there is wee EVERYWHERE. You do not want to go home with soggy feet.
– Go to the loo! Girls this is mainly aimed at you! Lads are usually ok as they can go anywhere but it’s not as easy when you have to squat… People open up their bathrooms to the public and charge £1-£2 for the privilege. Queues for the toilets can take hours though so not a good idea to have to rely on them if you’re in a big group. Keep yourself hydrated but be warned!
– Bring alcohol with you. Same with soft drinks and snacks. As with most events these things are crazy expensive when you’re there so come stocked up!
– Don’t rise to it. If you’re not good in a crowd then Notting Hill isn’t for you. People are going to drunkenly bump into you or tread on your toes. Most of the fights or disturbances I witnessed began this way. It’s so not worth it.
– Move around. Make the most of your day. Check out a range of sound systems and make sure you get a look at the parade. Be warned though as some floats chuck paint and mud into the crowd. If you’re not willing to walk around covered from head to toe in god-knows-what, then be warned!
– Dance! Get into the spirit of things and have a good ol’ boogie. That’s what carnivals about and you just have to get involved.