London is a massive melting pot with people from all corners of the globe calling the big smoke their home. This magnificent mashup of cultures is what makes London so special and no event better signifies and celebrates this fact than the iconic Notting Hill Carnival. Every year since 1966 the streets of West London are transformed into a sea of colours, sounds and smells, celebrating all things the Caribbean. This year is set to be bigger and better than ever before, but with so much going on it can be quite difficult to navigate through the noise. Not a problem, this Ultimate Guide to the Notting Hill Carnival will help you make the most of what promises to be a flipping awesome few days of fun.
From Violence Came Unity
Notting Hill Carnival is now a major part of London culture, with people coming from all over to whine and dine to Caribbean vibes. However, it all began under very different circumstances, at a time when the racial division was the norm and unity between communities was a pipe dream. To find out the origins we have to rewind back to 1950s Britain, a period where immigration was on the up, especially from the Caribbean and Latin America. However, on arrival, the people were met with animosity and persecution, as racial tensions were at a boiling point. This was manifested in violent riots, such as the Notting Hill Riots of 1958. However, in 1959, an activist and trailblazer called Claudia Jones organised the Caribbean Carnival, a precursor to the modern Notting Hill Carnival. Held at St Pancras town hall, this event was held to promote unity in response to the violence and unrest of the era and showcased food, music and all things awesome from the Caribbean culture.
Fast forward to 1966, a community activist called Rhaune Laslett had the idea of hosting the Notting Hill Fayre. An event to help raise awareness and understanding between people of the different communities about each other’s customs and culture. It was a huge success with everyone from English, Ukranian, Portuguese, Irish and many other backgrounds taking part. It was from this small event which was attended by 1000 people, that the massive Notting Hill Carnival we know today was born.
The route for Notting Hill Carnival is around 3.5 miles, starting off at Great Western Road, heading South towards Westbourne Park. Once at Westbourne Park, the parade goes right down Westbourne Park Road, through Ladbroke Park, north up Ladbroke Grove before turning right into Kensal Road, down through Elkstone Road back to the starting point. Notting Hill Carnival is the largest in Europe, with approximately 1.5 million people in attendance. So we’d advise beating the rush and getting down early to get a good spot. Also, there will be alot of changes to the travel schedule so be prepared.
Carnival fever is already in full swing, with awesome events taking place across London in its lead up. However, the official festival begins on Saturday 24th August, finishing off on the 26th August. The three-day schedule is stacked full of activities, so be prepared to have one helluva good time.
Saturday 24th August
Kicking off the carnival vibes on Saturday is the annual UK National Steelband Panorama Competition. Every year the best steel bands serenade people with their sounds, going head to head to see who can steal the top spot. This year, the 2018 winners Mangrove will go up against, Croydon Steel Orchestra, Ebony, Metronomes, Pan Nation and Phase One. This is a super awesome event that you cannot miss, with steel sounds, amazing food, drink and good vibes all-round. A great event to go along with your kids and family, or if you just want to chill out to some good tunes.
Details: 24th August 2019 | Location: Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park
Sunday 25th August
J’Ouvert Celebration – In french, “Jour ouvert” means the opening of the day, and this celebration is exactly that. In line with tradition, this parade involves people covering themselves in paint powder and even chocolate. This ceremony actually holds ancestral significance in the Caribbean, symbolising the need for humans to let go and be free of all worries. Location: Canal Way | Time: 6AM – 9AM
Opening Ceremony – The opening ceremony kicks of the Carnival in style, this is stationary, before we begin moving with the crowds for the main parade.
Location: Judging Zone | 10am–10.30am
Children’s Day Parade and Carnival – If you think that because you have kids you can’t attend, well think again. The carnival has a children’s day parade, where you can take your young ones along to enjoy the festivities and get a real cultural experience. There are also lots of other activities such as face painting and more if you want to get involved. Location: Parade Route | 10.30am–5pm
Adults ‘Dutty Mas’ – This is the main event of the day for adults, following on from the J’Ouvert theme earlier on in the day. There will be steel bands, colourful dresses, Mas bands and much much more. Location: Parade Route |10.30am–8.30pm.
Monday 26th August
The second day of carnival is always the busiest, with party in full swing. Starting slightly later than Sunday, it’s more of an adults day. Plenty of dancing, singing, drinking and eating. With the costumes and floats being, even more, bigger, intriguing and insane. There are sound systems, live stages and much more dotted around the carnival area. So grab yourself a drink, get ready to get your groove on and party to exotic sounds. Location: Parade Route | 10:30AM – 8:30PM
Silence for Grenfell
On both Sunday and Monday, there will be a 2-minute silence to commemorate the people who sadly lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. This will take place at 3pm, keep your ears open as there will be an announcement just before.
Alongside the food and fantastic outfits, the focal point of the carnival is the banging music which is blasted throughout the day. Dotted along the streets of the carnival route you’ll find live music, steel bands and the famous sound systems scratching beats that will get your body rocking. From Jungle, reggae, calypso to samba, Latino vibes, dancehall and much much more. The selection of sounds that will serenade you are extensive, but our top picks are:
- Tambores Livres – This musical collective is a cultural collaboration between Afro-Brazilian music groups who will be parading at the carnival to celebrate unity and raise awareness for democracy, human and environmental rights, justice and equality in Brazil.
- Saxon Sound System – is a reggae sound system from London, who pioneered the Fast Chat style, inspiring artists like Maxi Preist and Massive attack.
- Aba Shanti-I – This sound system is synonymous with Notting Hill Carnival, shelling dubs and shutting down the dance with roots and reggae since 1993.
- KCC and the Rocking Crew – Keith and the crew are bonafide legends of NHC, with the sound system drawing massive crowds to skank to the sounds of house.
- Channel One – The brainchild of Mikey Dread and MC Ras Kayleb, this sound system scratches a unique selection of conscious reggae, exclusive dubplates, and uplifting steppa.
Please Note: The sound systems are dotted around in the carnival area and will start at around 12PM – 7PM.
Food and Drink
NHC is all-round awesomeness, but one of the best things you can look forward to is the fantastic food and drink on offer. The streets are lined with vendors serving all kinds of exotic, tasty bites and sips for you to sample. Here are our top picks for must-try things at NHC:
- Food: Jerk Chicken, Curried Goat, Rice and Peas, Ackee and Saltfish, Jackfruit Curry and much more.
- Drink: Fresh Coconut water, Rum Punch, Guinness Punch, Red Stripe, Wray and Nephew cocktails, Sexy Juice and Caipirinha.
The carnival is all about exploring and experiencing new cultures, and what better way to do this than the fantastic food and drink. It’s bloody good, so be prepared to take your tastebuds on an adventure across the Caribbean and Latin America.
Additional Top Tips
- Meet Your Freinds Before Carnival – This is super important as the carnival gets packed and you’ll most likely have no signal. The last thing you want to be doing is wading through the crowds to find your friends.
- Plan Your Journey – Alot of bus and train routes will be closed, so make sure you check out the TFL website for more info.
- Flats not heels – You will be on your feet all day and walking long distances, so to have maximum comfort and fun, ditch the heels and step into something comfortable.
- Bring Cash – We live in a “tap and go” age, but be sure to carry cash as alot vendors only accept cash.
- Get down early – The carnival gets crowded, so it’s important to get down early and find yourself a good spot before the masses join the parade.
- Bring Your Flag – One of the best things is seeing all the amazing countries people are from, so bring your flag and represent where you are from. It’s a great conversation starter as well.
- Check The Weather – We all know the British weather can be volatile, so this is a must. I mean you don’t want to be dressed for the sun and get drenched by the rain.
- Make Sure You Cleanup – The carnival takes place in the residential area, so be sure to respect this and throw any rubbish you have in a bin, not on the street. Yes, it may seem obvious but it’s one people often neglect.
We hope you find this guide to Notting Hill Carnival useful and have a blast this weekend. A special shoutout goes to NHC veteran Ola Okunniwa, who provided some great insights and allowed us to use his awesome pics. Finally the Like Locals Ultimate Notting Hill Carnival guide is dedicated to Claudia Jones and Rhaune Laslett, the trailblazers whose forward-thinking and vision over 50 years ago started off a tradition which has become a phenomenon.
Can’t make the carnival, don’t sweat, there are so many amazing events taking place in London this August. Oh, and if you are looking to uncover the hidden gems of London whilst you’re in town, be sure to try the Like Locals app, available on both iOS and Android devices. Happy travels.