Notting Hill Carnival – London

How had Europe’s biggest street party not registered on my radar? Elaborate floats, AMAZING costumed performers, steel bands, calypso music, and the flavors – what rock had I been living under? 

Notting Hill Carnival, second only to Rio Carnival on sheer numbers, takes over the streets of west London for a couple for days in late August and celebrates all things Afro-Caribbean.

My Londoner friend had two rules for today’s outing:

Get in early and get the good spot

Saucy dancing would be required…. Ooookkkay – what do you mean? Just act as un-English as possible – No tension, awkwardness or over-politeness!

We arrived before the masses (Rule # 1 - check) but already it was apparent we should have had a third rule – dress up!  Let me tell you, normally I am the first person yanking on wigs and tutus so I can strut around like a peacock, but we just didn’t know!  I felt like a middle-aged frump amongst all of the magical, colorful creations everyone else was wearing. The joy of watching passionate performers, combined with a few delicious rum punches, helped me get my strut on.  Was pulled out of the onlookers that lined the streets and somehow managed to attach myself to a Jamaican Mas Band (costume troupe, ‘Mas’ meaning masquerade).  It might have looked awkward and very English, but in my mind, saucy dance moves were positively flowing out of me – Rule # 2, check.

The delicious smells of a smoking barbecue drew us off the main parade route. Sitting on the footpath we enjoyed jerk chicken and I hesitantly tried my first goat curry – am now a big fan!  Our mealtime entertainment was courtesy of a guy with a beat up sound system, strapped into a shopping cart blasting out absolute bangers.  People stopped and danced, fellow footpath dinners joined in. I just love seeing spontaneous joy break out! Official programs are great, but don’t be a slave to them – magic moments happen from the most unlikely sources. 

Venturing off the parade route is not all just about glorious food.  There is another side to this carnival. We got a mere sample of these wonders, from the static sound systems – basically, pop-up parties with sound systems, heaving masses with electrifying atmosphere, to the more chilled steel pan bands and the amazing performers dotted around on various stages.  There is SO much more to this Carnival than just a kick-ass parade.

My only regret; I didn’t make it to one of the many after parties around London.

Heading to Notting Hill Carnival?  Some things to remember:

  • At any big event, my arch nemesis is the portaloo – honestly,how has everything in the world managed to move forward with breathing taking advances in all areas except for this one.  FFS there are people in space orbiting the planet, yet Portaloos are still anchored in their original grimy state! This scourge plagues all major events. 
  • Right, rant done! Don’t drink beer, stick to short drinks or better yet jello shots – means less trips to the medieval torture chambers (pun intended).
  • Bring tissues and hand sanitizer.
  • Bring Cash – you won’t be able to use you credit card
  • Or Phone for that matter – simply to many people and can never get a signal
  • Don’t even think about driving there
  • Ditch your heels – comfort is key
  • Go with the flow
  • And remember rule #3: Dress Up! Bring the colour – anything goes.


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