A First-Timer’s Guide To Slaying London’s Notting Hill Carnival
By Kelsey Marie
Monday was definitely a vibe in London as everyone came out and partied as one at the Notting Hill Carnival.
I didn’t know what to expect being a first-timer at the carnival, but I underestimated the enormity of it all. More than one million people attended the carnival on one of the hottest recorded days in west London’s history.
Arriving at the carnival was like an extreme sport of its own. The closer you get to west London, the more difficult it is to use the Underground Stations. It was so packed that we had to let three trains go by before getting on a train that was still packed.
My advice would be to get off a few stops before Notting Hill and walk. A lot of the streets are blocked off, so walking there isn’t difficult. If you take the train to the nearest stop, you’ll end up spending loads of time trying to get through the crowds of other carnival go-ers in transit.
Transport for London’s Twitter account gives live updates of which stations are closed or delayed during carnival weekend.
What To Bring
Once there, you’ll see vendors everywhere selling items such as t-shirts, Caribbean food, flags, drinks, etc. These places don’t take cards so it’s important to bring cash with you. A lot of residents of the area rent out their bathrooms to carnival go-ers in need — another reason why cash is important.
Wet wipes are essential for when you’re eating jerk chicken or curry and have no place to wash your hands afterward.
Bring a roll of toilet paper just in case the bathroom you find doesn’t have any.
WATER! You’ll be out in the heat for hours so staying hydrated is key. We don’t want you falling out on the streets. You’re allowed to bring your own food and water to the carnival as long as it’s not made out of glass.
Dress For Comfort
The Notting Hill Carnival is HUGE which means lots and lots of walking. Since it’s so crowded, be mindful to wear close-toed shoes (preferably sneakers you don’t mind getting dirty) and comfortable clothing. I even made sure not to wear too much jewelry because I didn’t want anything to get lost or fall off.
The vibe is very carefree and welcoming, so wear something colorful, breezy, and easy to whine in.
A fanny pack or small crossbody bag is also ideal to ensure your belongings are kept safe.
Also, please lather on the SPF! It’s summer in London and being out in the sun for hours can do major damage to your skin — even if you’re melanated.
Which Day To Go?
Notting Hill Carnival is a two-day event.
Sunday is J’Ouvert, the first day, and more of a chill vibe. It is the day where lots of families and children come out to enjoy the festivities. The opening ceremony starts at 10 a.m. and the parade starts at 10:30 a.m.
Monday is the real deal. This is where you’ll be whining to soca amongst floats, trucks and booming sound systems. The parade starts at 10 a.m. on Monday.
There is a strict noise curfew of 7 p.m. on both days which gives everyone time to clear the streets before 8:30 p.m.
Of course with festivals like these, it’s important to stay vigilant and make it back home safely. The Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street festival in Europe which attracts pickpocketers.
To stay safe, avoid bringing large backpacks and never put your phone or bag down anywhere unattended — not even for a second. Keep your money and belongings in a bag to the front of your body at all times.
Because of the large number of people, cell phone service can become unreliable. Go with a small group of friends and make sure to stay with each other the entire time. You can even share your location beforehand via WhatsApp or iMessage to make sure no one gets lost.
What Can I Expect As A First-Timer?
To me, Notting Hill Carnival is unlike any other I’ve been to before. Expect large crowds of people dancing behind floats and trucks and sound systems blast soca, reggae, dancehall, calypso and afrobeat music. Everyone is happy, carefree and just there for a good time.
Women are playing mas dressed in beautiful front-line costumes decked out in feathers, sequins, and jewels. There is melanin glowing everywhere as sweat glistens off of everyone’s skin.
Food vendors are selling jerk chicken, curry goat, roti, callaloo, peas and rice, plantains and basically every Caribbean dish you can think of ready to give you that added energy to make it through the streets. I also so a Nigerian food truck selling jollof rice! There’s rum punch, Caribbean beers, smoothies, coconut water and plain water to keep everyone hydrated through the heat.
Overall, it felt so good to see people from all the Caribbean countries waving their flags and representing their islands while in Europe. It was my first time seeing so many black people in one place since I’ve been in London (and I’ve been here for a month) — it definitely made the experience worthwhile.
People across the Caribbean and African diasporas showed up and slayed their carnival looks.
Here are some looks I loved from this year’s Notting Hill Carnival.
Read more about Notting Hill Carnival here.
Kelsey-Marie is an NYC girl who currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.