Dancers sashaying in sequins and feathers; the smoky-sweet smells of barbecued jerk chicken and booming sound systems you feel in your chest. It's the most wonderful time of the year (in London). No, not Christmas; Notting Hill Carnival is just days away. It's Europe's biggest street festival, as well as the world's second-largest Carnival, after Rio De Janeiro, and a two-year COVID hiatus means this year is even more special.
Notting Hill Carnival was first started by London's West Indian communities in 1966 and now sees around two million people attend. It takes place every August bank holiday and this year's parades officially start at 10 am on Sunday, August 28 and at 10:30 am on Bank Holiday Monday, August 29.
The event—a celebration of Caribbean culture, arts, and heritage—includes a huge parade of floats, performers and music, with sounds of steel drum bands blasting through west London and incredible food to replenish your energy with. Londoners revel in the chance to dance together and let loose in the name of community.
Why did Carnival start?
The seeds of Carnival were sown in 1959 when Trinidadian human rights activist Claudia Jones created an event at St Pancras Town Hall to celebrate Caribbean culture and ease racial tensions within the local community. It is also connected to the death of Kelso Cochrane, a 32-year-old Antiguan-born carpenter and aspiring lawyer who was killed in a racially motivated attack in 1959. His death sparked protests, and activists campaigned for better race relations, particularly in the Notting Hill area, which was then home to the largest Caribbean community in the UK.
The first outdoor festival took place in Notting Hill in 1966 and since then the vibrant community-led event has grown to become the biggest street festival in Europe and the closest experience to Mardi Gras outside of the US.
What is the schedule for Notting Hill Festival 2022?
Sunday, August 28, is known as family day. Festivities kick off with the traditional celebration of J'Ouvert from 6am to 9am before the official start of Carnival. If you're up early enough to catch the celebration, it starts at Sainsbury's, Canal Way, Ladbroke Grove, W10 5AA.
Don't worry if you miss J'Ouvert, as the official opening ceremony takes place from 10am to 10:30am on Great Western Road, before the children's day parade and Carnival parade starts and goes on until 5pm.
On both Carnival days (Sunday and Monday), the 36 static sound systems will go from 12-7pm across west London.
Where will I find the parades?
On Sunday and Monday, the main parades start on Great Western Road, then head south towards Westbourne Park. Dancers take a right through Ladbroke Gardens and turn north up Ladbroke Grove until the parade ends by Kensal Green Cemetery.
How do I get to Carnival?
Tube strikes have been ongoing this summer. There are no plans for strikes across Carnival weekend, so for now, everyday transport advice applies. Carnival takes place on the streets of London W10 and W11, around Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Grove, Westbourne Park and Kensal Road.
The Central Line will be open the whole weekend for Queensway, Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park, and the Circle and Hammersmith and City lines will be serving Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove and Latimer Road.
Streets around Notting Hill will all be pedestrianized, meaning that buses can be rerouted and could terminate earlier than expected.
I can only attend for one day. Should I go on Sunday or Monday?
It depends on the vibe you're looking for. Sunday is family day and offers a slightly more chilled experience but you'll still find plenty of dancing and celebrations from people of all ages.
Monday is more of a full-on party vibe. You probably won't see many children there but it will be busier with more crowds.
But both days have afterparties lined up across the city, so just because the event ends at a particular time doesn't mean you have to.
Do I need a ticket for Notting Hill Carnival?
The Carnival parade is free for anyone to attend, and everyone is welcome.
But anyone who wants to be part of the parade has to be part of an authorized group or pay to join the procession.
Where do I find accommodations?
Accommodation around west London is still available, with options going from £110 a night to £400. Prices will be higher in this area, but since you're closer to the event, you can simply walk there and back. Options such as this west London Hilton are cheap and cheerful at around £150, while the five-star The Kensington Hotel will set you back at £450 for the dates. Other affordable options include The Caesar Hotel and K+K Hotel George, while The Portobello Hotel and The Laslett have more splash-out choices.
How do I go to an after-party?
So the event has ended, and you're not finished with the night. What do you do? Thankfully the city has countless night-out options connected to the Carnival so you don't have to go home early. We recommend getting a ticket to an event beforehand as prices will undoubtedly go up over time, and venues will likely sell out closer to the date.
Resident Advisor, Skiddle and XX are the primary sources. Some afterparty options for this year are this Faded Carnival Afterparty which starts on Sunday and goes on until 4am; the Hot Wuk Carnival Afterparty (taking place at the same time) and the Soca Nation - Nottinghill Carnival After Party which takes place on Monday 10pm-3am.
What's new at Notting Hill Carnival for 2022?
The festival is greening up. In a first for the Carnival, the event will feature its first-ever eco-friendly electric float. The green vehicle, fitted with an outstanding sound system, was successfully trialed at this year's Glastonbury Festival. In partnership with Spotify, organizers pioneered the float as part of an ongoing mission to make Notting Hill Carnival greener. The plan is to eventually replace the original petrol and diesel float trucks with these greener e-floats.
What are essential tips for first-timers at Notting Hill Carnival in 2022?
It's unclear whether card machines will be a new feature of carnival post-COVID, but if prior years are anything to go by: bring cash. Drinks, food and even some toilets often require actual money (notes or coins), and local ATMs will likely have large queues, so better to be safe than cash-strapped and sorry.
Carnival is often blessed with scorching temperatures, so sunscreen and water are necessary. You can bring a bag in with you, so a big bottle of water is absolutely a good idea. Also, if you are going to drink alcohol at the event, many people choose to bring pre-mixed cocktails or multipacks of beer (a.k.a tinnies) to the event. Since it's a street party, there aren't any problems with carrying in food or drink. Many Carnival stalls and local corner shops will sell these, too, if you don't fancy the extra weight or responsibility.
Another must for newbies and old-timers: consult the parade map route before you go and see what sound systems you want to visit and where they are. Because the event attracts massive crowds, it can take a long time to move from one corner to another. It's good to know in advance where you want to go instead of aimlessly following the crowds for hours (unless that's your thing). The Notting Hill Carnival route usually remains the same every year and can be found on the official Notting Hill Carnival app, which features a handy map.
If you are meeting up with friends at the event, make sure to establish a meeting point before you go in. As mentioned, the crowds can be nuts, so it makes it easier if you keep that as a designated spot to assemble if a group member is lost during the day.
Also, be mindful that Carnival is a community event. Sunday is technically family day, which means lots of families choose to take young children to see the parade and party. While attendees still use the opportunity to celebrate, be respectful of the people around you.
Most importantly, get into the carnival spirit!