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The Traveller's Magazine
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It’s that time of the year again… Carnival time! Notting Hill Carnival is the party weekend of the summer for Londoners who love to dance, get glittered up and tuck into some delicious Cajun cooking. Never been to this iconic Notting Hill festival before? Here’s our guide to doing it right.

You’ve never seen crowds like the ones in Notting Hill on carnival weekend. There’s just something about it that gets everyone moving. Its Caribbean roots are certainly at the heart the festival, but it’s the influences from London that really make this party something special, with reggae and D&B blasting from walls of speakers, mounted onto the backs of trucks, shaking the windows of the poshest of posh villas in London’s popular western neighbourhood.

It’s a sensory overload and if you don’t do well in crowds, this is certainly not the place to be!

carnival-boy

While you can catch glimpses of all the usual stereotypes of Notting Hill Carnival (aka dancing police men and extravagant feathered dancers), it’s a lot more than just that. If you’re catching flights to London for the Carnival for the first time, here are some tips to help you have the best possible experience.

The Carnival is all weekend, not just on Monday

It may be a total shock if you only go to the Carnival on Monday. Ease your way into the party by checking it out on Sunday too. It’s a lot easier to get around and see everything, plus the queue for the loos are significantly shorter. Saturday night is the best for seeing steel bands play.

Go early in the day

The main parade starts at 10am on Monday morning, and the streets are practically empty at this time. It’s a perfect time to see dancers and performers getting ready for their big debut, and a great time to snap photos of their costumes without getting someones head in your shot.

carnival dancer

carnival-dancer

Ditch the map

Don’t worry about wondering where to go and for when once you get into Notting Hill. Just follow the crowds and wander your way around. It’s also a pretty impossible task to try and meet up with friends once you arrive, so pick a spot outside of the area to meet. The mobile networks are overloaded on Monday, so you can forget about getting a signal.

Pack the essentials

It’s true, you kind of need a carnival survival kit which should include tissues (you can bet the paper in the porta-loos won’t last long), wet wipes for after you’ve scoffed down a whole plate of jerk chicken, a bottle of water (or two), sunscreen and  sunglasses (weather permitting of course). Remember to wear comfortable shoes too, ideally closed-toe.

carnival-monkey

Join an after-party

Whether it’s at a club, pub or in a local’s living room, there’s no point in stopping the party at 8:30pm (Carnival curfew). For DJ sets and concerts on Monday night, it’s essential to book your tickets in advance. If you’re not that organised, you can also try to crash a house party, there’s always plenty of them going on.

Have you been to London’s Notting Hill Carnival? What tips would you give first-timers?

Imgs: onourtravels, rogamuffin / Flickr cc.

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One response to “How to do Notting Hill Carnival right

  1. All good advice. But don’t forget that Carnival activities really kick off with the Calypso Monarch competition finals at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, on Thursday evening, there are lots of soca parties (known as fetes) on Friday and Saturday (check the Soca News website for details), on Saturday there’s the steelband competition, Panorama, and Carnival proper opens with Jouvert at 6am at the junction of Ladbroke Grove and Kensal Road. Jouvert is great fun if you don’t mind getting covered in flour, water and mud – so wear your oldest clothes! There are just steelbands, maybe some rum to keep you warm and a really nice vibe with no barriers, tourists and hardly any police.

    Travel as light as possible – it’s amazing what you can do without. I don’t take a watch (why worry about time at Carnival?) or phone (you can’t hear anyone even if you can get a signal) and carry only my travelcard and about £20 max. You might add a few plasters to the survival kit in case of blisters and maybe a tiny notepad and pencil in case you want to swap phone numbers.

    After dark, watch out for bottles and broken glass by the side of the road – easily missed, but lethal when your dancing, so keep to the centre of the road if poss.

    Don’t mix in with the costumed masqueraders – each group is a kind of private party on the move, because they’ve paid a lot of money for their costumes and the music. Sometimes you can join in behind them, though it’s not so easy these days.

    If you get stuck in a jam, just chill, smile and wait – it will clear eventually. And talk to people – it’s about the only time of the year in London when complete strangers don’t mind you chatting to them!

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