Notting Hill Carnival takes over London this bank holiday – August 29 and 30. Here’s your guide to making the most of this colourful festival and ensuring you don’t get pushed around by the crowd without seeing what you came for.

What is Notting Hill Carnival?

Notting Hill Carnival is a celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture in London and is Europe’s biggest street festival. Expect more than 70 parade floats, 5000 performers, over 40 sound systems located throughout Notting Hill, costumes galore and about one million revellers.

“There are world-class costumes and displays at the festival,” festival director Ancil Barclay says.

”The artistic excellence and innovative concepts are a great showcase for what we’ll see in the 2012 London Olympics.”

How did Notting Hill Carnival start?

First organised in 1965 to give people from Trinidad a way to commemorate their background, the festival was also seen as a way of alleviating the capital’s poor race relations between locals and immigrants. The event has grown over the last four decades and is now the second-largest street festival in the world, behind the craziness in Rio every February.

Today, the Notting Hill festival incorporates influences from the whole of the Caribbean and even Latin America.

Notting Hill Carnival

Getting to Notting Hill Carnival

The parade route includes Great Western Road, Westbourne Grove and nearly all of Ladbroke Grove – most of the streets in between are crammed with party people too. Get there early for a good viewing spot – Ladbroke Grove is probably the main place to be, so the top of the hill near Lansdowne Crescent offers one of the best vantage points.

“We strongly advise you to come early and find a good spot – there’s enough entertainment for the entire day,” Ancil says.

The Tube stations around the Notting Hill area close during the festival weekend, and there are limited interchanges to reduce passenger congestion, so it’s essential you know in advance where you’ll meet your mates. Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill Gate and Westbourne Park will all be closed or have restricted access on the day.

See for details.

Notting Hill Carnival eats

A central theme of the festival is traditional Caribbean food, including patties, plantain, curry – goat being the main meat ingredient – and jerk chicken.

Notting Hill Carnival is where now-millionaire entrepreneur Levi Roots (that bloke from Dragon’s Den who actually did alright) first made his name as a chef, making and selling his Jamaican ‘jerk’ barbecue sauce using his grandmother’s recipe.

Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival beats

The parade itself features live music, which is organised into four disciplines: costume masquerade, steel band, calypso and soca – the name comes from either the fusion of soul and calypso genres or is an acronym for Sounds Of the Caribbean and Africa, depending on who you ask.

Also present are the now quintessential sound systems, which are found in the surrounding streets and play anything from Caribbean jazz and calypso to down-and-dirty London drum and bass.

Highlights include the Good Times stage on Southern Row, featuring legendary DJ Norman Jay, and the Rampage system in Colville Square, which has, in the past, been graced by the likes of Dizzee Rascal.

Notting Hill Carnival retreats

It’s going to be nigh on impossible to escape the mayhem and crowds, although if you plan ahead and book a spot in one of the local pubs, you might have somewhere to sit and take a breather.

The after-parties offer some incredible line-ups – even the smaller pubs boast top-of-the-mill DJs.

Have a look for venue guest lists or make sure you book early or you’ll struggle to get in to the weekend’s bigger events.

Notting Hill Carnival essentials

Good shoes: Flip flops mean dirty toes at the very least and more-than-likely trodden on feet. Heels are a bad idea – especially if you’re a bloke.
Comfortable clothing: Be prepared for hot and cold weather.
Cold beers: The offies will be sold out for sure.
Loose change: You can use the local residents’ toilets for a fee if you get caught short in the crowds.
Map: There will be programmes available on the day so you can locate your favourite spot, as well as the safety and medical facilities.
Be aware: Pickpockets have been known to work at the festivals – don’t make it easy for them to target you. Leave unnecessary valuables at home.
Mobile phone: In case you get separated from your crew.
Be smart: Don’t linger around after the parade has finished.
Be clean: police drug searches are frequent and thorough.

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Words: Simon Willmore