The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the largest street festivals in the world. This lively event is held in the Notting Hill area of London, which is part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but the cultural tone of the carnival is anything but British restraint. An annual event, it has taken place since the 1960s, and leading the way in creating the bright atmosphere are members of the city’s West Indian community.
The carnival in Notting Hill is quite similar to the carnival celebrations that are held in Brazil and the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. In other words, it is big, bold, and colorful. Many Notting Hill parade participants wear audacious costumes, and ferrying their way through the tight Notting Hill streets are a series of dazzling floats. Adding to the lively atmosphere is the constant stream of music, whether it’s live or played through sound systems, and common musical genres include calypso, reggae, and soul.
The traditional carnival season around the world is right before Lent, with the event usually in February or early March, but this isn’t the case with the Notting Hill carnival: It’s held in August instead. That hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm, however, as the carnival has drawn up to 2 million people in past years, making it the second-largest street festival in the world, after the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The event has been held each August Bank Holiday since 1964, when it combined with a January carnival as part of a move to promote cultural unity in London. Since its inception, the Notting Hill Carnival has continued to grow. Beginning at Ladbroke Grove, the parade heads through the neighborhood in a blend of bright colors, music, and movement.
When the Carnival festivities are under way, thousands upon thousands line Ladbroke Grove, and the crowds alone are an impressive a sight to see. Along with the hundreds of thousands who come to see the festivities, the volunteers for the 2021 Notting Hill Carnival number 40,000, and this biggest street festival in Europe brings a distinctly Caribbean flavor to the center of London. There are five “artistic arenas” that make up the carnival: Mas (masquerade) bands, known for their vibrant costumes; steel pans (also known as steel drums); Calypso music; and both mobile and static sound systems, which refers to the resident DJs who blast the carnival’s lively music for all to hear.
Vibrant costumes, colorful floats, and dance-inspiring music aren’t the only things that make the Notting Hill Carnival such a fun and popular event. There’s also the food. Literally hundreds of food stalls are on hand, and many specialize in Caribbean food. You can certainly get your fair share of jerk chicken, which you might choose to wash down with some Jamaican rum punch or a similar drink.
If you’re in London when the Notting Hill Carnival is taking place and you are wondering how to make your way over to the main celebration area, public transportation is the way to go, and taking the Tube is a simple option. The tube station that many people use is the Notting Hill Gate station. Also an option is the Ladbroke Grove station, which is coincidentally the closest underground station to the tourist popular Portobello Road Market, and there are bus stops in the area as well.
Image: hashmil (flickr)