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Everything You Need To Know About Notting Hill Carnival

Matt Crisp August 16, 2019

Up to two million people come out to dance, sing, and watch performers at the legendary Notting Hill Carnival every year, with the west London spectacle seeing more than 50,000 entertainers, 40,000 volunteers, and 9,000 police take part in the two-day event.

The second largest carnival in the world first began in the ‘50s and has gone on to become a poignant social, racial and cultural event in British history.

While the majority of the crowds who rock up at the impressive festival every year are from London itself, with only 20 per cent of the attendees being tourists, it is still a huge reason why people from all over the country – and indeed the world – choose to visit the capital on the August bank holiday weekend.

So, if you’re interested in booking coach hire to London for the last weekend of the month, here are some things you should know about Notting Hill Carnival first.


– Its history

Notting Hill Carnival was established by Caribbean migrants, after workers from the islands came over to the UK to start a new life here during the 1950s. However, the reality of their lives in Britain was a far cry from their dreams, as social and racial tension began to rise between migrants and Brits.

This resulted in the race riots of 1958, when white Londoners became violent against the growing Caribbean community, attacking houses, throwing petrol bombs and injuring many of those from the West Indes.

In an attempt to build bridges between white and black people in the area, the Notting Hill carnival was launched. It was the idea of Claudia Jones, a political activist from Trinidad, who wanted to bring local communities together following the disastrous events. Just five months after the riots took place, the first carnival was held on January 30th 1959.

As the years went on, the spectacle became bigger and bolder and was eventually taken outdoors. These days, it still very much retains its traditional Caribbean charm, with the distinct scent of West Indian food filling the air, and the sound and sight of steel pan bands and more than 70 masquerade floats mesmerising those who come to watch.


– What to expect

Every year the carnival seems to get bigger and bigger, and now spectators can expect tens of thousands of performers; an endless parade of live music and dance; floats of elaborately dressed masquerade dancers; and more than 300 food vendors selling tasty traditional Caribbean fare, from rice and peas to plenty of fried chicken.

There are also several stages where they can watch some great live music performances from reggae, salsa, and dub artists, as well as steel bands. Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park and Powis Square typically host the best shows on the Sunday.

This is also the best day to attend for those bringing kids with them, as it is known as Children’s Day. Not only does it have kid-friendly floats that they are more likely to be interested in, but the smaller crowds make it safer and less daunting for little ones.

The Children’s Parade will stroll through west London, featuring young performers in decorative costumes. Seeing kids take to the stage and on the floats tends to really engage children spectators and captivate their interest.

Monday is when the Grande Finale parade takes place, kicking off at 10:00 and offering a loud, lively procession through the capital’s streets. A huge number of colourful floats, dancers, bands and participants will get involved in the Grand Finale parade, walking the 3.5-mile route from great Western Road, along Chepstow Road, Westbourne Grove and through to Ladbroke Grove.


– When?

Notting Hill Carnival takes place on the last bank holiday weekend in August every year, representing the end of summer for many people across the capital. This year, this falls on Sunday August 25th and Monday August 26th, kicking off at 10:30 on the first day and coming to a close around 18:30 the following day.

While many after-parties allow attendees to carry on the fun long after the parade has stopped, there is a strict noise curfew in the area, meaning bands and sound systems have to stop playing by 19:00 and are required to clear the streets entirely an hour and a half later. Therefore, you can feel confident you can attend the festivities without them turning into an all-night party.

Having said that, more than 25,000 bottles of rum and 70,000 litres of carrot juice are consumed during the weekend, presumably to make the infamous Jamaican carrot punch, made with condensed milk, vanilla essence, nutmeg, carrots, water and rum.

Of course, not everyone who heads to W10 and W11 on August bank holiday does so to drink heavily, and more than five million hot and cold drinks are served typically – not all of them alcoholic.


– How to get there?

As the parade takes over many streets in the city, it can be hard to get there on public transport. It is advisable to check the Transport for London website before setting off to avoid disruption.

Many tube stations will be exit only, including Holland Park, Notting Hill Gate, Royal Oak, Westbourne Park and Ladbroke Grove, allowing people to get out of the stations but prohibiting passengers from carrying on their journey from there.

It is also worth noting that many bus routes will be diverted over the weekend, meaning it could be easier to follow the parade throughout west London than trying to take public transport around it.


– Extra information

While tourists might travel far and wide to attend Notting Hill Carnival, the great news is they do not have to spend a fortune once they are there. The festival itself is entirely free, so they can enjoy all the parades, shows and performances without spending a penny.

However, with hundreds of food vendors selling irresistible fare, it is certainly worth bringing some cash to try some delicious Jamaican and Trinidadian food.

Many people – especially those with children – might be wondering where they will be able to go if they need the bathroom during a long day at the carnival. Luckily, there are plenty of toilets situated along the parade route.

Westminster City Council will place public toilets at various points in the Westminster areas of the festival. What’s more, local residents have also been known to allow attendees to use their toilet facilities for a small charge.


– Other things to see and do

Those coming to the capital for the iconic carnival won’t struggle to find other things to see and do during their stay in London. The city is full of exciting historic and cultural sites, whether you want to walk around its famous landmarks or visit one of its many free museums during your stay.

Also in west London is the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, for instance, both of which are located in South Kensington.

The former museum is currently hosting Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork by British artist Luke Jerram; Naturenauts, taking place in its Wildlife Garden; and Investigate for Families, which allows children to experience being a scientist in its own science centre.

The Science Museum is also showcasing the Summer of Space exhibition, celebrating human space exploration to mark the 50th anniversary of walking on the moon. This will close in September, so anyone wishing to get involved in the festival should try and fit it in during their bank holiday trip to London.