Your Essential Guide to Notting Hill Carnival!
This is your essential guide to experiencing the best of Notting Hill Carnival! From where to find the best parties, parades and where to stay!
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When is Notting Hill Carnival 2023?
Notting Hill Carnival takes place every year on the last weekend of August and the next Monday, which happens to be a summer bank holiday, so everyone has the day off work.
Notting Hill Carnival officially starts on the Saturday evening before the parade days. It kicks off with a steel band music competition. Sunday is Children’s Carnival which is a family friendly day with a children’s parade. Monday is the big day of partying and features the main parade.
When is the 2023 Notting Hill Carnival? The 2023 Notting Hill Carnival will take place from Saturday 26 August until Monday 28 August, 2023. The children’s Notting Hill Carnival will take place on Sunday 27 August and the Adult Notting Hill Carnival will take place on Monday 28 August, 2023. There are also some events on the Saturday night before carnival.
What time does Notting Hill Carnival start?
On both Sunday and Monday, the parades will kick off around 10:00 am with the judging finishing around 6:30pm. The Notting Hill Carnival ends at 7pm when the music cuts out due to a strict noise curfew (it occurs in a residential area). Once the music cuts off at 7pm you can either head home or find a good after party to keep going at.
What is Notting Hill Carnival?
Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street party in the whole of Europe. Notting Hill Carnival is the most chaotic and colourful event to take place in London. Every year over two million people attend this two-day celebration of Caribbean culture.
Unlike other local festivals Notting Hill Carnival has absolutely nothing to do with English culture. Nor is it a part of the religious carnival season associated with Catholic Lent. Instead Notting Hill Carnival is a Caribbean Carnival that celebrates London’s Afro-Caribbean community.
Notting Hill Carnival first began in 1966 and has been held annually ever since. The carnival is organised by key members of London’s West Indian and Afro-Caribbean community.
Notting Hill Carnival is the time of year when the whole of London comes together and embraces unity and cultural diversity. It doesn’t matter what your age, race, country or culture is, everyone is welcome at Notting Hill Carnival.
Where is Notting Hill Carnival?
Notting Hill Carnival takes place in west London W10. This area covers Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park. The main parade stretches over 30km of west London’s streets.
What is the History of Notting Hill Carnival?
The origins of Notting Hill Carnival can be traced back to the large influx of immigrants mainly from the Caribbean that moved to Britain from former colonies after WW2 to help rebuild the country after the war.
However, in the late 1950s race riots devastated race relations in London. Notting Hill Carnival started because it was a way to bring together the multicultural community of Notting Hill. The carnival was about promoting cultural diversity and was instrumental in helping to bridge racial divides in Britain.
Where is the Notting Hill Carnival Parade Route?
The main parade starts near Westbourne Grove tube station at 9.30am and travels down Great Western Road, slowly winding its way down to Westbourne Grove and then up to Ladbroke Grove.
Here is a Map of the Notting Hill Carnival Parade Route, while this map is from 2019, the parade route tends to be the same every year.
What to expect at the Notting Hill Carnival?
As Europe’s biggest Caribbean Carnival you can expect huge crowds, lots of exotic food, Caribbean music pumping out from every possible speaker, non-stop dancing, and celebration of Caribbean Culture.
The Notting Hill Carnival travels around west London and the streets are filled with colourful costumes, dancers, masquerades, floats, live music and cars with sound systems attached to the back of them. Sizzling food stands line the streets selling delicious traditional Caribbean foods.
Why Go to Notting Hill Carnival?
Notting Hill Carnival is Europe’s biggest street party and one of the biggest carnival celebrations in the world!
In terms of sheer size Notting Hill is second only to Rio Carnival. It´s so big in fact, that it is the equivalent of 11 Glastonbury festivals. Over 30km of west London’s streets are filled with people celebrating Caribbean culture. At the end of all the celebrations London’s economy is about £100 million better off.
Some 50,000 performers will parade in Notting Hill Carnival. Over 70 performing stages are set up to host live music and DJs. 40 static street sound-systems are also set up all over West London. 10 steel pan bands will perform and around 16,000 records will be played during carnival.
Notting Hill Carnival Schedule
- Saturday 26 August, 2023 > Evening
UK National Panorama Steelband Competition
- Sunday 27 August, 2023
J’ouvert Notting Hill Carnival
Carnival Sunday Family Fun Day
- Monday 28 August, 2023
Notting Hill Carnival Grand Parade
UK National Panorama Steelband Competition
Notting Hill Carnival actually kicks off on Saturday evening with a live steel band music competition. It takes place between 6-10pm at Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park. The event costs £10 for entry and is full of Caribbean entertainment and street food.
This event is a must see for all those steel band lovers out there. For an entire year all across the UK steel bands have been rehearsing to enter this competition. Panorama is one of the largest steel band competitions that exists outside of the Caribbean. A total of eight steel bands will play a ten-minute composition, and no sheet music is allowed.
Carnival Sunday – Family Day
Carnival Sunday is family day. Sunday sees the Children’s Parade take place. The Children Parade kicks off at 9am and features young kids dressed in costumes parading through the streets of West London. While family day is not as wild and chaotic as Carnival Monday. Children’s day still attracts large crowds.
At Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park there are plenty of family friendly activities taking place for the whole family to enjoy. Besides the parades there are also live shows, live music, fun family activities and Caribbean food stalls.
J’Ouvert Notting Hill Carnival
J’Ouvert is French for day break and it’s a tradition that originates from the famous Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. If you want to experience how a traditional Caribbean Carnival opens then you must get up early on Sunday morning and experience J’Ouvert at Notting Hill Carnival.
J’Ouvert begins when the sun rises at 6am. The Parade marches through west London with steel bands and African drummers making a lot of noise. You can join the parade or watch on as the revellers throw mud and coloured paint at each other.
Grand Finale – Carnival Monday
Grand Final Monday is the big day! Two million people head to the west London suburb of Notting Hill for a day full of dancing, steel bands, street performances, delicious Caribbean food and drink stalls, and of course the highlight of carnival, the Notting Hill Grand Parade.
The Notting Hill Grand Parade starts at 8am on Great Western Road. The parade route continues along Chepstow Road and Westbourne Grove. The parade then eventually moves to Ladbroke Grove, and finishes at 8.30pm.
The Notting Hill Grand Parade is huge with over 60 bands, 100 elaborately decorated floats, and thousands of costumed dancers roll along the carnival route. Community groups and clubs make up the bands.
Where to Stay for Notting Hill Carnival?
If you have the chance and your budget permits, then it is best to stay in the Notting Hill area and be in the heart of the carnival action. That way you don’t have to worry about getting to and from the event, and you always have a bathroom nearby when needed. Of course, during carnival, the nearby hotels will be inflated because of the high demand. And of course, Notting Hill is one of the best neighbourhoods in London thanks to its local cafes, boutique shops and colourful streets. See accommodation in Notting Hill.
Here are the best accommodation options close to carnival in Notting Hill:
- The Laslett: One minute from the Notting Hill Underground station
- Portobello House: Elegant accommodation in a quieter area in Notting Hill
- Dawsons Place, Juliette’s B&B: Right in the heart of Notting Hill.
- Blue Bells Hotel: Superb location in Notting Hill close to Portobello Road.
- The Distillery: Adult only accommodation close to Portobello Road Market.
If you are not able to find any suitable accommodation in Notting Hill during carnival but you want to stay within walking distance then check out some of the neighbouring suburbs like Kensington, Sheppard’s Bush or even Paddington. See accommodation close in suburbs close to Notting Hill.
Of course, London has such a great transport system you can easily stay anywhere in London and just make your way to carnival. Check out some of the best offers on accommodation for your visit to London check here on Booking.com.
Notting Hill Carnival Sound Systems
Notting Hill Carnival is a sensory overload! Throughout carnival there are 40 static sound stages and about 70 performing stages. Each soundstage is run by a different crew, many of whom have been doing this since the 70s like Volcano Sound.
At these sound systems you can find world class DJs pumping out all sorts of music from soca, hip hop, reggae, disco, soca, dub, dance, pop, R&B, samba, calypso and everything in between. There is a stage to suit everyone’s preference, just check out the Notting Hill Carnival app to discover where you can find these stages.
Beyond the sound systems Notting Hill Carnival has lots of other musical options; you can see Brazilian bands marching in the parade with anywhere from 30-150 drummers in a block. The steelpan bands will also be marching in the sound. All the music blends in with all the other noise to make a loud happy chord that is the bedrock of carnival.
The Best Things to Do at Notting Hill Carnival
Here are 10 essential things to do at Notting Hill Carnival:
- Watch the Grand Parade – The Notting Hill Carnival Parade is one of the biggest and the best parades in the world! The parade is the highlight of carnival. Watch over 60 bands, dressed in the most colourful sequined costumes, dance along to different styles of Caribbean music, along with flamboyant floats and musical groups.
- Party at J’ouvert – J’ouvert is a large sunrise street parade that takes place before carnival. Come join in the celebration and dance along to soca music, while your fellow revellers throw paint and powder over each other. It is a fun and messy event.
- Join in the parade – You can either watch the parade or you can join a mas band and take part in the parade! Why not join a band, get dressed up in pretty costumes, jump, dance, sing, and have the time of your life!
- Watch the Steelband Competition – The Notting Hill Carnival officially kicks off with the UK National Panorama Steelband Competition. This event features the top steelpan bands in the country and you get the chance to vote for your favourite band. In addition to the awesome tunes, there is plenty of delicious food and drinks.
- Party at a soundstage – Head to any of the countless soundstages set up around the carnival route playing everything from hip hop to dub, dance, samba, calypso, disco, jungle, house, r&b and more. There is a soundstage to suit everyone’s preferred party tunes.
- Eat lots of delicious Caribbean Food – There are over 300 food stalls at carnival serving up the most delicious food and drinks from all over the Caribbean Islands. Jerk Chicken is a carnival favourite and you can wash it down with refreshing coconut water.
- Drink responsibly – Notting Hill Carnival is one of the biggest parties in the world, so let loose and have a good time! Enjoy the rum punch, fresh coconut water and tropical drinks you can find around carnival. Of course, remember to drink responsibly and stay hydrated with fresh coconut water. Also, remember toilet queues are unbelievably long.
- Join an after party – For most a full day of drinking and dancing might make them head home. But if you want to keep the party going then there are loads of carnival after parties that you can head too.
- Go on both days – While Sunday is the more laidback and family friendly carnival it is still a great day out with lots of fun carnival activities.
Notting Hill Carnival Caribbean Foods and Drinks
The food at Notting Hill Carnival is to die for! Exotic aromas fill the air and can be smelt all over London. There are over 300 Caribbean and West Indian food and drink vendors who can be found on practically every corner.
Barbecued Jerk Chicken is the one thing that everyone eats during Carnival. Other carnival favourites are curries, goat, rice and peas, fried plantains, roti and fried fish. During Carnival over five tons of chicken will be sold. As well as 30,000 pieces of corn, and one ton of peas and rice.
Five million drinks are also sold during carnival weekend! And of course it wouldn’t be Notting Hill Carnival without lots and lots of rum punch. An impressive 25,000 bottles of rum are consumed over carnival weekend, which is sure to induce a few hangovers. Guinness punch and an abundance of local and Caribbean beers also flow freely.
For anyone craving something more refreshing grab yourself some fresh coconut water straight from its shell. When attending Notting Hill Carnival it’s a must to try a cool glass of carrot juice. A Caribbean specialty and carnival favourite with over 70,000 litres of carrot juice consumed during carnival.
Notting Hill Carnival actually kicks off on Saturday evening with a live steel band music competition. It takes place between 6-10pm at Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park. The event costs £5. Entry guarantees a great night filled with Caribbean entertainment and street food.
This event is a must see for all those steel band lovers out there. For an entire year all across the UK steel bands have been rehearsing to enter this competition. Panorama is one of the largest steel band competitions that exists outside of the Caribbean. A total of eight steel bands will play a ten minute composition, and no sheet music is allowed.
Notting Hill Carnival After Parties
Due to noise constriction The Notting Hill Grand Parade will finish in the early evening. However, there are plenty of Notting Hill Carnival parties being hosted all over London.
Where are the Notting Hill Carnival after parties happening? The Notting Hill Carnival after parties continue on in both west London and beyond. Here are some of the most popular Notting Hill Carnival after parties:
- Ministry of Sound – the biggest after party in town!
- The Macbeth in Hoxton
- Tropicana Beach Club
- Covent Garden
- The Mason Arms in Kensal Green
Join the Notting Hill Carnival Parade
When it comes to celebrating Caribbean Carnival, you can either be a spectator and watch the parades, or you can join in! When you choose to join in it is called playing mas.
What is playing mas? For those not familiar with Carnival in the Caribbean if you want to play mas you have to join a masquerade band. It isn’t possible to just show up in a beautiful home-made carnival costume and join the parade. You must select a mas band you want to be part of, wear their costumes and dance through the streets with your chosen band.
If you want to ‘play mas’ at Notting Hill then remember that most applications close in April. To find out the Mas Bands that will be participating in carnival check out the official website here.
How to choose a Mad Band for Notting Hill Carnival? Well, that’s a difficult decision because you have so many good options. Maybe you will select your band based on their costumes with some groups wearing very sexy costumes, and others being more conservative. Or maybe you base it on price, or theme.
Notting Hill Mas Band Costumes
It is anything but a grey day in London during Notting Hill Carnival. Everywhere you look it is an explosion of vibrant colours. Notting Hill Carnival is all about costumes and they are elaborate masterpieces that take months of preparation.
The Notting Hill Carnival costumes worn by the performers are the traditional Caribbean carnival costumes seen at carnivals in the Caribbean Island carnivals. They are extravagant, head turning showpieces and a huge reason why Notting Hill Carnival is such a visual spectacle.
Over 15,000 costumes are handmade each year just for Notting Hill Carnival. This adds up to about one-million-man hours dedicated to creating these masterpieces by hand. It’s estimated every year that about 30 million sequins, 15,000 plumed feathers and 30 litres of body paint are used to make carnival costumes.
They are sexy, bright coloured, flesh baring, bikini top outfits that usually feature lots of feathers, sequins, diamantes, masks, capes, tassels or streamers. They are usually accompanied by large headdresses, colourful makeup, face paint and lots of glitter and sparkles
What to Wear to Notting Hill?
Wondering what your Notting Hill Carnival outfit should be? Well the parades are colourful AF, with women dressed in colourful Caribbean Carnival outfits with feather headdresses and bejewelled bras. However, unless you are in the parade, you do not need to wear a Caribbean Carnival Costume as your Notting Hill Carnival outfit.
The Notting Hill Carnival Street Style is one of the few occasions when you will see the streets filled with sequins, bright colours, neon, glitter, face paint or something that shows off a lot of skin. Not only is it ok to wear these items, it’s highly encouraged! Make your Notting Hill Carnival Outfit as flamboyant as the floats you’ll see!
However, it’s important to remember that The Notting Hill Carnival is so spread out over West London. It’s likely you will spend the day doing a lot of walking so it is a must that you wear comfortable shoes with your Notting Hill Carnival Outfit.
As for your Notting Hill Carnival Makeup this is the day when you will see a lot of bright colours, pinks, blues, yellow, oranges, purples, all the colours that you can’t wear into work at the office. You will see a lot of people use Glitter in their Notting Hill Carnival Makeup and why not. This is the one day when you can really go all out with your Notting Hill Carnival makeup!
Get a little creative and wacky with your outfit. Why not wear some playful pieces that will help you stand out from the crowds. Choosing your Notting Hill Carnival Outfit is that one time of year when you can let your imagination run wild. and Get creative and wear something fun.
How to get to Notting Hill Carnival?
Getting to Notting Hill Carnival can be a pain. Roads are closed and many of the stations also shut down due to crowd control. Public transport is the best way to travel to the carnival. It is best to check the London Transport website for information before you travel, for the latest Notting Hill Carnival transport information.
By tube: Nearby tube stations are Westbourne Park and Royal Oak, which will be incredibly busy during carnival. Expect it to be busy and that it might take several tubes leaving the platform before you will be able to get on one. Stations may shut down due to crowd control so we advise you to check the Notting Hill App or the Transport for London’s Twitter for updates.
The closest train stations to carnival that are less likely to experience major disruptions are Paddington, Holland Park and Latimer Road. However, you are still advised to check the app or twitter on the day, because you never know how it will go on the day.
Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill Gate tube stops will be closed between 11am – 7pm on both the Sunday and Monday of carnival.
One of the best ways to get to carnival is to walk around 30 minutes from one of the quieter stations outside of Notting Hill like Shepherd’s Bush or Kensington. There will still be loads of carnival action to enjoy during your walk.
By bus: Transport for London will be running additional services during carnival for Route 2 and 37, however no services will enter the carnival area on either day of carnival.
By car: This is a difficult option because a lot of roads will close during carnival weekend, as early as 7am on the Saturday morning, until Tuesday morning. Roads that will be closed include all roads heading north from Notting Hill Gate to Harrow Road. Also, Latimer Road, St Mark’s Road and Clarendon Road heading east. Heading west Porchester Road and Queensway. Kensal Road along with its adjoining roads will shut down on Saturday only.
What should I bring to Notting Hill Carnival?
Always come prepared here is a list of Notting Hill Carnival essentials!
- Water – While there will be plenty of places to purchase water, expect to pay inflated prices. Same can be said for alcohol and snacks.
- Cash – This is an essential item because many of the stalls don’t accept cards and the nearby ATMs run out of cash or have massive queues. Also, some residents rent out their toilets for a fee which is worth paying for.
- Comfy shoes – While your high heels may look gorgeous you are going to be on your feet all day.
- Sunscreen, sunnies, raincoats or a jumper – The weather in London can be unpredictable and it has notoriously rained at many carnivals and a raincoat is smarter than a giant umbrella in big crowds. So, check the weather before you go and be prepared for rain, hail or shine.
- Wet wipes/Antibacterial gel – Trust us you are going to need them! There is no running water and eating carnival foods like jerk chicken can be a recipe for disaster if you have nothing to wipe your hands with.
- Tissues – you are probably going to need to use a portaloo at some stage and if you have ever attended a festival before you will know that toilet paper runs out really quick.
- Ear plugs – Notting Hill Carnival is very LOUD! If you have sensitive ears or just want to avoid that ringing in the ear sound you can have after festivals, pack ear plugs. It is also highly recommended if you have children.
- Carnival Map – Due to the large crowds getting mobile signal can be difficult so it helps to carry a map you can pull out to navigate around the carnival.
Most people, particularly those in the parade wear a cross-body bag or a fanny pack instead of a backpack. We also recommend you leave your valuables at home because theft is very common.
How much does Notting Hill Carnival cost?
Notting Hill Carnival is free to attend! However, we recommend budgeting £50 – £100 for food and drinks. It depends how much you plan on drinking or eating, you can actually spend a lot less than this. If you are on a budget, you can bring your own food and drinks including alcohol (no glass bottles) to cut down on costs.
If you plan on attending a Notting Hill Carnival after party then you will need to pay as they are private events. Also, you will need to purchase a ticket for the Notting Hill Panorama Steelband competition on Saturday evening.
Is Notting Hill Carnival Safe?
While Notting Hill Carnival is a fun positive event it isn’t without its troubles. When you have 2 million people in attendance then you are going to have a few trouble makers. Combine that with the copious amounts of drinking that occurs during carnival and it will cause the odd fight or two.
That being said, on the whole Notting Hill Carnival is very safe and there is a huge police presence around, so if you run into any issues just inform a police officer. We recommend getting there early and leaving early as most reports of trouble happen when the sun goes down.
The main cause for concern is theft which is why we suggest leaving your valuables at home. Whilst at carnival so long as you remain aware of your surroundings, don’t drink too much and are kind to others, then you are bound to stay out of trouble.
Should I take the kids to Notting Carnival?
Yes of course, lots of people take their kids to carnival. That being said you are best to take them to the carnival on Sunday, which is the Notting Hill Carnival Family Day. Sunday is a little calmer than Monday, and a lot more kid-friendly. You can still expect massive crowds and a lot of noise. So, it is worth preparing your little ones to ensure you have an enjoyable stress-free time at carnival.
We highly recommend arriving early to beat the crowds and find a great spot to watch the parades. Also consider packing some travel potties because the queues for the porta potties can be unforgiving. Definitely bring some ear plugs for the kids as the sound systems are loud and it could damage their hearing.
We also recommend making a plan and preparing your kids in case you do get separated from them and because the crowds are so large it can easily happen. Pick a meeting spot where you can find each other if you get lost. For the little ones, write your phone number on their arm and teach them to ask a police officer for help in case they are lost.
Tips For Attending Notting Hill Carnival
What you need to know before you attend Notting Hill Carnival:
- Come with people that match your vibe: Some people want to party, others prefer to just watch the parade and soak up the atmosphere. Come with a crew of people who are wanting to have the same carnival experience as you, so you can really enjoy the day.
- Don’t spend all your time in one place: There is so much going on all over carnival, make sure you walk around, visit different sound systems, venture down different streets to get the most out of carnival.
- Plan your carnival route: Download the Notting Hill Carnival App for the most up to date carnival route. That way you will know to walk towards the fun but also have an idea of what sound systems you want to visit or where the bands are.
- Arrange a meeting place: Honestly it might not even be worth bringing your phone because it is impossible to get reception. Choose a location where your friends can meet because with a crowd of 2 million, it is easy to get lost. Also meet your friends and travel to carnivals together because you might not be lucky enough to find them there.
- Moment of silence for Grenfell Tower: On both days of carnival there is a 72-second silence held at 3pm in memory of those who lost their lives in the devastating fire at nearby Grenfell Tower. Please show respect because this is still very raw and painful for many.
- Plan your journey: One of the most important things to do prior to carnival is to plan how you are going to get there and back again. Use the Notting Hill Carnival app and check Transport for London to make a plan. Otherwise, you could waste a huge chunk of your day just trying to get to carnival.
- Arrive early: If you want a good spot to set up camp and watch the parade, you must get there early to avoid fighting with the crowds, because the good spots are harder to find when the place starts filling up.
- Familiarise yourself with Caribbean music: Notting Hill Carnival is all about music! And because this carnival celebrates Caribbean culture you will hear a lot of Steelpan, calypso and soca music. There are many amazing carnival playlists on Spotify that you can listen to before carnival.
- Dancing Policeman: Look out for dancing policemen and capture it on camera. Dancing policeman have become a carnival tradition and are a big hit on social media.
- Watch out for pickpockets: We’ve said it once and we will say it again but watch your valuables! Unfortunately, Notting Hill, particularly around Portobello Road, is known for pickpockets. Leave your valuables at home and just bring cash.
Things to do London
27 million visitors come to London every single year. It is the most visited city in Europe and there is so much to do in London! You can explore London’s iconic and historic sites like Buckingham Palace, London Bridge and the big ben. Visit its amazing city parks like Hyde Park. There are also great museums, art exhibits, fun pubs, great nightlife, world class entertainment and so much more.
Here are some of the top activities you can do on your visit to London.
- London Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing-Tour (purchase ticket here)
- The London Eye: Standard or Fast-Track Entry Ticket (purchase ticket here)
- Tower of London Early Access Tour with Beefeater (purchase ticket here)
- Windsor Castle Admission Ticket (purchase ticket here)
- Notting Hill Walking Tour (purchase ticket here)
- Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour (purchase ticket here)
Notting Hill Carnival Dictionary
- The road: another name for the parade route
- Playing mas: joining a carnival group and taking part in the parade
- Mas players: the parade participants
- Judging point: the point on the parade route where there is a panel of judges that will mark your mas band
- J’ouvert: a sunrise parade where paint and mud is thrown at each other
- Calypso: A popular type of Afro-Caribbean music
- Soca: he word derives from the words soul and calypso it is a Caribbean music with upbeat tempo
- Jump: to get up and dance in the parade
For further information please contact www.nhcarnival.org