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It’s Europe’s biggest street party, where the vibrant sights, sounds and delectable smells of west London’s multicultural community are celebrated by a million-plus happy revellers on the bank holiday weekend.

Or, it’s a loud sea of vomit, garbage and, in worst case scenarios, blood, that’s near impossible to get home from. The Notting Hill Carnival is a divisive beast, but for the majority it’s among the most anticipated parties on London’s fest calendar.

The festival that’s run in some form since 1964, first as a peaceful rally for race relations organised by the West Indian community, boasts 300 stalls, steel drum and sound system music blaring, and an epic parade through the streets of Richard Curtis’s favourite hood. Here’s what you need to know about the eats, drinks, tunes and more…


Booze

What haters say: Lukewarm lager and dodgy rum punch drunk with reckless abandon by vomiting dickheads.

Why they're wrong: It doesn’t have to be this way. While jammed pubs serve other stuff, Carnival is all about imbibing one of two things – cans of Jamaica’s fave lager Red Stripe from an offie, convenience store or enterprising local (not exactly legal) or fruity rum punch out of a plastic garbage bin from a street vendor. Beware the punch. Some vendors are stingy on the alcohol but the 25,000 bottles of the dark stuff drunk during the day has to go somewhere, so be careful.

Food

What haters say: Dirty chicken sitting out all day – a great way to get Tuesday off work with an acute case of salmonella.

Why they're wrong: While the many stalls at Carnival with barbies look a bit rough and ready, they have to have been approved for a permit and have paid to be there. And if they’re especially dodgy, they’re shut down, fined or lose their right to be there next year.

More importantly, they’re cranking out seriously tasty, spicy, Caribbean goodness that’s more than worth the risk and kicks a kebab’s butt every time – jerk chicken with rice and peas or curried goat are the must-haves, and make awesome stomach lining for that punch.

Parade

What haters say: A motley rabble of bodily protuberances and indistinguishable cleavages performing a bad parody of Brazil’s Carnival and clogging the roads up. 

Why they're wrong: Primarily, such grievances are bollocks, plain and simple. London’s streets are morbidly grey almost all year round, so when Notting Hill turns London’s depressing colonial history into a celebration of its encouraging multicultural present, in a fashion more glorious and honest than any state-organised inclusivityfest, it should be applauded. The parade is the centrepiece of the whole shebang – a trail of energy, music and Londoners. As with most parade advice, get there early to get a good spot.  


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Survival guide to Notting Hill Carnival: How to enjoy, not endure, London's craziest streetfest
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