Outside the capital, it’s a whole other country, and no-where is this more true than in London. While many cities have established a unique identity, sometimes far unlike their neighbouring towns, London has taken this to the extreme with its huge melting pot of cultures, identities, styles and flavours.
This is a city that means very different things to different people; which is what makes it such an amazing, and sometimes frustrating, place to visit. As a tourist, trying to see beyond the postcard clichés of big clocks and black cabs to the London you read about in books or see on screen can be a challenge.
Despite what you may think, you can get around a lot of central London on foot in a day. Taking the tube can be fun (this sentence is reserved only for tourists), but limits you to a subterranean view of the city, coming up only for air at sightseer hotspots. The best way to see London is to get out and about on the streets. So what better time to visit than this weekend, during the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the biggest street parties in the world (second only after Rio), where you can experience another side of London.
What is the Notthing Hill Carnival?
The Notting Hill Carnival is a celebration of the Caribbean culture and communities of London that pulls in an incredible 2 million people every year. The 2 day event is plays host to parades, food, music plenty of sequins.
The original carnival began as a concert in London in 1959, as a televised cabaret-style indoor event with a beauty contest and dance troupe. In 1966, community activist Rhaune Laslett took over the idea and arranged a street party for the local neighbourhood children, with the aim of uniting the local population in their fight for better living conditions, or a ‘celebration of poverty’ as she called it. The street party turned into a carnival procession, the community joined in, and the Notting Hill Carnival was born.
When and where?
August bank holiday weekend (the last weekend in August, the following Monday is a national holiday in the UK). The first parade begins on the Sunday at 9am and the second and final parade ends at 7pm on the Monday.
Spread out over W10 (a London postcode area in North Kensington), the main parade starts on Great Western Road and winds its way around to Ladbroke Grove, with food stalls and soundsystems dotted around in between.
Can I take my kids?
Absolutely, but you may want to stick to the Sunday parade, otherwise known as ‘Family Day’ (in keeping with the festival’s original children’s event). Sunday is a more relaxed day, although still with plenty of busy crowds, just make sure you’re prepared. Tired children and long waits for the toilet/snacks/anything do not mix.
Carnival Survival Tips:
As with any big festival, it pays to be prepared (if only so you spend less time queuing and more time having fun). Here are our top tips for enjoying the carnival:
Arrange a meeting place
2 million-odd people means you might as well leave your phone at home. Even if you manage to find some reception, the chances of you being able to hear your mate’s obscure directions to meet him at the curried goat stand over the sound of the calypso rhythms is remote, at best. Choose a location to meet at if you get lost, brush up on your map reading skills (Google maps won’t save you now) and write your number on your kid’s arm.
Once the streets start to fill with people it will get gradually harder to get around. Arrive early to nab a good spot to set up camp and watch the parade go by, or head to where the music interests you most. You won’t want to spend the day fighting through the crowds to get to the other side of the carnival.
Plan your route
Getting to and from the carnival will be a hassle as nearby tube stations may be closed and bus timetables altered. Work out the best way to get there in advance and decide what time you want to leave; it’s best to avoid the hoards all trying to get home at the same time.
Take enough money
Break into your small change pot. Cash will be your friend today, as you can expect some hefty queues for the ATM (that’s if you can find one that hasn’t run out of money). Make sure you bring enough to cover the whole day but keep it secure, there will be a lot of people after all. Coins will make buying anything easier, including food, drinks and luxury toilet breaks (see below).
Be prepared for the toilets
Portaloos. Stationed at locations around the event but be warned that they can be hard to get to and the queues are long. Some local residents may be offering up their toilets (comparative luxury) for cash, so it might be an idea to keep some in reserve in case of emergencies! Bring your own toilet roll and try not to break the seal.
Dress for the occasion
Think festival footwear. Boots, trainers, no open-toed shoes like sandals and certainly no heels. This is Britain so you may want to take a waterproof even if it’s not raining when you leave the house. Don’t wear your favourite clothes as you may end up getting dirty (some floats have been known to thrown melted chocolate over anyone standing nearby).
Wet wipes – a festival favourite. 30 million sequins, 30 tons of body paint, 5 million drinks floating about and a lot of melted chocolate (see above) means things might get messy. At some point you may want to clean up.
Bottled water and snacks are ideal to have at hand to keep hydrated and reduce further queuing.
Go on both days
As already mentioned, you’ll struggle to get around much on the day due to the crowds so consider going to both days to get the most out of it. Sunday is more laid-back and family-friendly (although still crowded) while the Monday is when the real party starts.