In London for the August bank holiday? Or maybe you’re a Londoner yet to go Notting Hill Carnival. Either way, our guide has you covered. With an estimated crowd of 2 million people in 2017, plus 40, 000 volunteers and 9,000 police, Carnival retains its feathered crown as the biggest street party in Europe. In fact, in scale it’s second only to Rio de Janeiro in the world.
But heading out into a party that big is pretty chaotic, so you’ll need to know a few things before you go. Here’s all you’ll need to know before visiting Notting Hill Carnival 2018.
The Story of Notting Hill Carnival
The streets of the west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea have been hosting an annual street festival since 1966 when it was known as The Notting Hill Street Festival, founded by local activist Rhuane Laslett-O’Brien, to promote cultural diversity in the area. The event evolved into Notting Hill Carnival and has been led by the British West Indian community since 1976. It’s always on during the August bank holiday weekend (Sunday and Monday—August 26-27, 2018), with a massive parade, live music including reggae, dub and salsa, as well as 37 static sound systems and steel bands. Plus lots of Caribbean food, hot and cold drinks, rum and beer.
There is also a Saturday carnival warm-up with a competitive steel band event called Panorama at Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park from 6pm-10pm.
What is the Carnival route?
It’s worth noting that Notting Hill Carnival takes over several neighbourhoods around W10 as well as Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park. The main parade goes from Great Western Road, along Chepstow Road, Westbourne Grove and finishing at the north end of Ladbroke Grove.
You can also download the app for the most up to date info, including the locations of toilets, first aid stations and venues.
Do I need a ticket?
The main carnival is free and unticketed, but you’ll need to pay to go to an after party.
What time is it on?
The parade will kick off a 9:30am on both Sunday and Monday, with judging at 6:30pm with a strict noise curfew of 7 pm (it is a residential area, after all). Then you can decide whether to go home, or carry on to one of the after parties—more on those later.
How do I get there?
By now it’s fairly obvious it’s going to be very, very busy. However, how you get there depends where you’re coming from, but in any case, make sure you plan ahead and check TFL (Transport for London) for regular updates.
Some local stations may be closed or exit only for crowd control, and buses will be diverted.
Main stations for Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Gate: Exit only, 11am-7pm both Sunday and Monday. District and Circle line trains will not be stopping at the station.
Ladbroke Grove: Closed all day Sunday and Monday.
Latimer Road: Closed after 11:30pm Sunday and Monday.
Royal Oak: Exit only after 11am Sunday and Monday, and closes at 6pm on both days.
Westbourne Park: Exit only from 11am-6pm Sunday and Monday, closing at 11:30pm both days.
Queen’s Park, Shepherd’s Bush, Holland Park, High Street Kensington, Bayswater and Paddington will be open—but may be busier than usual.
It’s also worth noting that if a station is too crowded, you might not be able to touch out on your Oyster card or contactless—but your fare should be auto-corrected after, you can claim a refund if not.
For more travel information and a map with local stations check the TFL page.
Can I take kids to Carnival?
Yes, but go on Sunday as that’s the ‘Family Day’. You’ll still need to expect massive crowds and a whole lot of noise, but it’ll be much safer and more kid-friendly than Monday. Head down as early as possible to find a decent spot.
Bring all the usual stuff you’ll need for a day with the kids, water, snacks, etc. Plus travel potties for tiny ones are advised to avoid painful portaloo queues, and ear defenders as the drums and sound systems are very loud.
What can I bring to Carnival
Avoid large backpacks, they get in the way and unfortunately make for a pick-pocketing risk. Be as hands-free as you can, money and phones in pockets or money belts, small bags etc. Take plenty of cash, apart from the refreshments you’ll want to buy—you may need to barter with a friendly local for the use of their bathroom as portaloo queues can take a long time. You can bring your own food and drinks—just no glass!
Will I need a costume?
Nope, you can leave that to the parade or ‘Mas bands’ (as in masquerade). But consider glitter, face paint, colourful clothes, whistles and footwear that you don’t mind getting beer spilt on. Breathable fabrics too, it’s going to be a sweaty time all round.
Where are after parties happening?
The party vibes continue both in west London and beyond. The official Carnival after-party kicks off from 10pm at Ministry of Sound in Elephant & Castle and goes till 6 am! If you’re not a 24-hour party person, there are smaller events like A Night of Reggae in Soho at 100 Wardour St (7pm-3am, £15.00–£25.00) or see what’s happening in local bars and clubs like Rum Kitchen and Trailer Happiness.
Anything else to know?
With that many people, meeting points and mobile signal can become redundant, so go with a small group of friends and stick together! No carnival comrade gets left behind!