London Notting Hill Carnival: A Brief Guide

Every year, I watch the London Notting Hill Carnival celebrations on TV and I wish I was there. Second only in size to Rio, this is the biggest street party in Europe, and carnival-goers from all over the world flock to this West London district to celebrate Caribbean culture every August Bank Holiday. Since spending three months in Jamaica a few years ago, I am very fond of Caribbean culture and, in particular, the friendly, upbeat nature of Caribbean people, so London Notting Hill Carnival has been on my bucket list for a while now.

History of Notting Hill Carnival

The first ever London Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1966, following a series of carnival-style Caribbean cabaret acts and beauty contests organised by civil rights activist, Claudia Jones. When Claudia died in 1964, a former Social Worker who ran the Voluntary Neighbourhood Service (VNS), Rhuanne Laslett, took over and, in 1966, she relaunched the Carnival in Notting Hill in an attempt to “take to the streets using song and dance to ventilate all the pent-up frustrations born out of the slum conditions”. Find out more about Carnival’s roots on the official website.

This year, I was overjoyed to be one of those people with thanks to Travelodge, who kindly put me up for two nights in Travelodge Covent Garden so I could attend Carnival. Notting Hill Gate is only a 10-15 minute tube ride from Covent Garden via Holborn station, so the hotel was ideally located for travelling to Notting Hill.

Me at Notting Hill Carnival

Remembering Grenfell 

This year, London Notting Hill Carnival remembered those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington on 14th June. The 24-storey tower block was engulfed in flames, while local residents and firefighters watched on helplessly. It took over 24 hours to bring the blaze under control and in video footage, you could see people jumping out of their windows to escape the fire.

At present, 80 people have been confirmed dead but with many tenants still ‘missing’ and many unidentified, the official death toll is expected to rise considerably. Meanwhile, the majority of the families and individuals who lost their homes in the fire are still waiting to be re-housed. Sadly, 20 survivors have attempted suicide according to charity, Silence of Suicide. What makes matters even worse was that the spread of the fire was completely unavoidable; after the fire, it emerged that the cladding placed around Grenfell Tower in 2015 had contributed to the spread of the fire.

Grenfell Tower is located along the carnival route and seeing the charred remains of this inner city tower block left me feeling numb, and angry at our government for failing to prevent this tragedy. A minute’s silence was held at 3pm on both days of the carnival in honour of the Grenfell Tower victims, while many people wore green to show their support for the campaign. Hearing the sound systems, bands and carnival goers fall deadly silent sent shivers down my spine and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end; it was one of the most emotionally moving experiences I’ve ever had.

Grenfell Tower remembered at Notting Hill Carnival 2017

Carnival kick-off

On the evening of Saturday 26th August, London Notting Hill Carnival kicked off at 6pm with the Panorama in Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park, Bosworth Road. This free, family friendly open-air event featured a range of entertainment, including national steel band performances.

Meanwhile, from 8pm until 10pm, the Association of The British Calypsonians hosted performances from UK Calypsonians and visiting international artists in the London Calypso Tent in the Carnival Village at the Tabernacle in Powis Square, just off Portobello Road.

Family day

The first full day of Notting Hill Carnival takes place on Sunday and is commonly referred to as ‘Family day’ because the atmosphere is generally a little tamer than on Bank Holiday Monday.

The festivities got off to a very early start at 6am with Jouvert, when carnival-goers celebrated the opening of the carnival by dancing and performing in the streets, and throwing paint over each other, to the sound of steel and riddim bands, and African drummers. The three-hour long procession started and finished at Canal Way, Ladbroke Grove.

Later on, the Children’s’ Parade saw kids show off their colourful costumes on the carnival floats.

Grenfell Tower remembered at Notting Hill Carnival 2017 Children's Parade

As usual, lots of static sound systems were also set up throughout Notting Hill for the Carnival;  this year, no less than 38 sound systems lined the side streets, blasting out all kinds of music, from reggae, soca and dancehall, to ska, rap and hip hop. It can be tricky to navigate your way to and from the different sound systems, so I recommend printing off a copy of Time Out’s Notting Hill Carnival route map, or if you can get signal on your phone, use the interactive version on the day.

I couldn’t believe the scale of Notting Hill Carnival; I knew it was big, but I was surprised at how big it was. No matter where I turned, I saw a sea of people standing in front of me.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

Local residents opened up their toilets to the public in return for a fee of around £2-3, while some sold food and drink to passers-by.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

To eat, you could take your pick from authentic Caribbean food like jerk chicken, goat curry, rice n’ peas and festival dumplings or choose from a range of alternative cuisines.

Jerk chicken and goat curry at Notting Hill Carnival
The prices are fairly reasonable and I managed to get goat curry, rice n’peas, coleslaw and a festival dumpling for just £8, while we paid just £3 for a carton of Thai noodles and fries.

The first day of the carnival drew to a close at around 8.30pm. If you’re going next year, I recommend leaving early if you want to avoid the crowds at the tube stations!

Monday Parade – ‘The Grand Finale’

Notting Hill Carnival peaked on Bank Holiday Monday, as the main carnival parade took to the streets from around 9am onwards, continuing on loop throughout the day.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

A seemingly never-ending line of floats and open-top buses carried musicians, performers and hosts along the carnival route.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

They were followed by the flamboyantly dressed dancers that Carnival is so well-known for.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

Think feathers, sequins, glitter and lots of bling, teamed with infectious smiles, singing and laughter.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017
Notting Hill Carnival 2017
Notting Hill Carnival 2017

Not to mention a whole lot of booty-shaking!

Notting Hill Carnival 2017
Notting Hill Carnival 2017

The dancers were incredibly friendly, happily posing with me for a photo or two.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

As well as soaking up the atmosphere at many of the different sound systems, we took some time to appreciate the musical and cultural performances taking place on the World Music Stage in Powis Square, including UK Calypsonians, soca artists, visiting international artists and aspiring new acts.

Notting Hill Carnival 2017

Monday definitely seemed to be the busier day of London Notting Hill Carnival and some of the sound systems attracted big, boisterous crowds. While everyone seemed as though they were just out to have a good time, it was overwhelming at times – probably not helped by the fact that I’m only 4ft 11, so I felt a little claustrophobic surrounded by lots of people taller than me!

If you’re thinking of attending London Notting Hill Carnival next year, do it! It was one of the happiest, funnest experiences I’ve ever had and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time at Carnival:

  • Wear a comfy pair of trainers, as you’ll be on your feet for a while – we walked around 20 miles over two days!
  • Take a bottle of water to stay hydrated
  • If you’ll be drinking alcohol, save money by buying your booze from a shop and taking it with you in a carrier bag
  • Agree upon a meeting place with your friends, in case you get separated (as there are so many people at Carnival, it’s often difficult to get phone signal)
  • Consider carrying any cash and valuables in a bum bag for safe-keeping
  • Dress bright and bold – anything goes! Check the weather forecast and dress appropriately
  • Don’t forget to print the carnival route map to take with you
  • Bring a portable, folding chair if you struggle with being on your feet for too long
  • Take some wet wipes or hand sanitising gel with you
  • Bring some cash for food, drinks and (if you don’t want to brave the Portaloos!) residents’ toilets

Roll on London Notting Hill Carnival 2018!

Have you ever been to London Notting Hill Carnival and, if so, how was your experience? If you haven’t been, would you like to go?

Travelodge provided me with two nights' complimentary accommodation and paid for my travel expenses in return for my honest coverage of Notting Hill Carnival. All of the images in this post are taken by fellow blogger and friend, Skye Class, who writes Skye Travels and takes much better photos than I do!

38 Comments

  1. September 5, 2017 / 5:50 pm

    I have never been to Notting Hill Carnival, I remember having a pen pal who used to live near the area though and we would talk about going. It sounds like you had a great time yourself.

    • September 6, 2017 / 9:33 am

      I had a fantastic time and I can’t recommend it enough!

    • September 6, 2017 / 9:33 am

      I’ve heard it was good, but didn’t know what to expect. It was awesome – loved every minute!

  2. September 5, 2017 / 8:06 pm

    This has the look of our Mardi Gras except it looks a LOT more safer and family friendly. Great pictures as well…maybe next year you’ll wear some feathers!

    • September 6, 2017 / 9:32 am

      Yes – next year I am totally thinking of going more dressed up! 😀

  3. September 5, 2017 / 10:25 pm

    Oh I love this! It’s great to see London enjoying something so positive together after recent months, looks like such a fab event!

    • September 6, 2017 / 9:31 am

      Definitely! It made me proud to be British to be honest.

  4. September 6, 2017 / 12:04 am

    Looks like a very fun lively event with great costumes, food, drinks and a fab atmosphere. Never been but would love to go.Great to see that tribute was paid too 🙂 x

    • September 6, 2017 / 9:31 am

      I loved it 😀 Can’t wait for next year!

  5. September 6, 2017 / 9:47 am

    That’s so nice that they did a silence to remember the tragedy at grenfell tower, I still can’t believe it happened. I’ve never been to Notting Hill carnival but I will make it one year x

    • September 6, 2017 / 4:25 pm

      It really put things into perspective actually seeing the Tower in person! Definitely – can’t recommend it enough 😀

  6. Emma White
    September 6, 2017 / 10:31 am

    oh wow it looks and sounds as if you had an amazing time, the pictures are beautiful so much colour

    • September 6, 2017 / 4:23 pm

      I loved the dancer’s outfits. I am considering getting more dressed up myself next year.

  7. Emily (@amummytoo)
    September 6, 2017 / 10:40 am

    Great list! I managed to visit Carnival on Sunday morning and had a great time, but it’s definitely something that’s best to prepare for!

    • September 6, 2017 / 4:20 pm

      Oh lovely, did you manage to catch Jouvert? That was way too early for me >.<

  8. thatmarketingpunk
    September 6, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    I’ve been wanting to go to the Notting Hill carnival for years, but never got the chance… It looks like so much fun!

    • September 6, 2017 / 3:27 pm

      It certainly is. The atmosphere was just so friendly and welcoming. You hear these horror stories in the news, and from what I saw, it just doesn’t add up. All events involve some level of trouble, whether its alcohol-related violence or whatever – but the experience I had really doesn’t tally with the usual headlines on Notting Hill Carnival.

  9. September 6, 2017 / 1:42 pm

    I didn’t go to the carnival this year, but it looked like you had a great time enjoying the atmosphere! x

    • September 6, 2017 / 3:25 pm

      I had the best time I’ve had in ages 🙂

  10. September 6, 2017 / 2:43 pm

    I have wanted to go to the carnival at Notting Hill for as long as I can remember. I think it was a fantastic tribute to Grenfell Towers, and to get that many people silent for a minute shows the respect that was felt by everyone xx

    • September 6, 2017 / 3:25 pm

      Me too. I can’t believe I left it so long. There were little kids there! To think I wasted all these years just wanting to go, without actually going – I can’t urge you enough to go next year 😀

  11. September 6, 2017 / 7:03 pm

    brilliant that it was raising money for Grenfell, I’ve never been to Nottinghill Carnival but it always looks amazing x

    • September 9, 2017 / 3:15 pm

      I can’t recommend it enough – just follow my tips and you’ll be sure to have a great day!

  12. September 6, 2017 / 8:47 pm

    I am touched that they dedicated this years Carnival to Grenfell Tower and while it saddens me how many lives were lost, to see the people come together as a community is a beautiful sight to behold x

    • September 9, 2017 / 3:15 pm

      I know exactly what you mean. Too often, when people talk about Notting Hill Carnival you only hear about the bad stuff – the violence, the stabbings, etc – but being here this year, after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and seeing everyone come together to remember those who lost their lives – it truly made me feel proud to be a part of it.

  13. September 6, 2017 / 8:49 pm

    Looks like you had a wonderful time! A great tribute to the Grenfell tragedy

    • September 9, 2017 / 3:14 pm

      Best time I’ve had in ages 🙂 I was really glad to find out they were holding a tribute.

  14. Healthy and Psyched
    September 6, 2017 / 9:00 pm

    Looks like so much fun. I think it’s so powerful to have the silence for the victims of Grenfell.

    • September 9, 2017 / 3:13 pm

      It was really moving!

  15. September 6, 2017 / 11:59 pm

    I loved living through your post about Nottinghill. I don’t live in England anymore but when I did, I attended this carnival twice and both times were heaps of fun. Although I am not a fan of crowds, I participated in this carnival for 2 hrs max. Then I exited back to Finsbury Park where I used to live. The food was always my favourite bit. 🙂

    • September 9, 2017 / 3:13 pm

      Aww I’m glad to hear that I helped you to re-live your time at Carnival! I hope to go along next year too.

  16. September 7, 2017 / 9:08 am

    Notting Hill Carnival is an amazing event! It was a wonderful tribute to the Grenfell tower victims too. Fab tips 🙂

    • September 9, 2017 / 3:12 pm

      I loved it. The tribute was a special part of it and such a thoughtful gesture 🙂

  17. September 11, 2017 / 1:44 am

    I’ve never been to NHC before but I would love to go to experience the atmosphere xxx

    • September 11, 2017 / 8:46 am

      If you enjoy festivals or a good party atmosphere, you’ll love it. If you’re more of a quiet person, I think it could be overwhelming. Either way, worth experiencing at least once I think!

  18. Rachel
    September 12, 2017 / 11:35 am

    I’d definitely love to go to Notting Hill Carnival one day, it looks amazing! xo

    • September 15, 2017 / 10:23 am

      I highly recommend it!

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