Notting Hill Carnival: A visitor's guide

Woman dressed in Carnival costume

The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every August, and it’s that special time of the year when West London sips coconut water, eats jerk chicken and dances all day long to Caribbean tunes to celebrate over the carnival weekend. Welcome to London's biggest open-air carnival, and arguably the world's best street party!

Five facts about the Notting Hill Carnival

1. The Notting Hill Carnival has been taking place on the August bank holiday weekend since the 1960s
2. In 2016 the carnival will take place for the 52nd time
3. There are 5 different aspects of the carnival - masquerade, sound systems, steel pan bands, calypso and soca
4. 2.5 million people come to Notting Hill to celebrate the Carnival
5. The Notting Hill Carnival is the second largest carnival in the world

What to expect at the carnival

Warm up

The best way to get in the mood for the carnival is the Panorama steel band competition, which precedes the official carnival start. The best steel bands from across the UK prepare a music piece lasting up to 10 minutes and compete for the title of “National Champions of Steel.”

On carnival Sunday the official opening of the carnival is marked by a procession of steel. Carnival revellers smear mud and paint on themselves as a way of driving away demons.

Parades

Children's parade

Sunday is the day of the children’s parade. The parade starts at 9am and marks the beginning of the carnival parades. It is perfect for all those who want to enjoy the street party in a less busy environment. Sunday is also the day when the costume prizes are awarded.

Main parade

The main parade takes place on bank holiday Monday, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 8.30pm. Expect to see flamboyant costumes decorated with feathers, sequins and tassels, stunningly ornate floats and hundreds of food stalls selling delicious cuisine from around the world. Also, get ready to dance to the sunny and uplifiting tunes of the many sound systems filling the streets with Caribbean music.

Food

During the carnival weekend there are more than 300 stalls lining the streets, with the majority selling delicious authentic Caribbean food. Caribbean cuisine has many influences including French, Spanish, Dutch, British and African. This diversity is reflected by the range of dishes available including roti, an Indo-Caribbean dish served with meat or vegetables, jerked meats such as chicken and pork seasoned with a hot marinade, rice and peas or curried goat. The list of delicious foods is endless, so be adventurous!

Sound systems

As well as the spectacular parades, there is plenty of fun to be had at the 40+ sound systems placed around the Notting Hill area. You will find sound systems playing everything from reggae, hip hop, jazz, swing and blues to drum ‘n’ bass. The carnival officially ends at 8.30pm on both days, but there are lots of after parties throughout London to help you keep the party going late into the night.

Travel plans and getting around the Notting Hill Carnival

Some Underground stations and bus routes will be affected over the whole weekend. Use the map on the left to help you plan your journey to the carnival and find your way around.

nhfestival music_live trolley underground
Parties and events Live music and sound systems Lost property Underground stations
first-aid-point parade-line pedestrian_zones  
First aid point Parade route Pedestrian area  

 View Notting Hill Carnival Guide in a larger map

With Tube closures and diversions, using stations such as Kensal Green, Queensway, Bayswater, Royal Oak or Paddington and walking may be easier.

Should I get a London Travelcard or a London Visitor Oyster card?

Visitors to London have two choices of ticket for getting around - a London Travelcard or Visitor Oyster card.

The Travelcard is a paper ticket that gives you unlimited journeys on all public transport for either one day or a whole week.

The Visitor Oyster card is a contactless smart card that is pre-loaded with credit, and credit is deducted for each journey. You can top up your credit at thousands of locations across London. The card caps your daily spend so, if you make lots of journeys, you will never pay more than the equivalent Travelcard.

An Oyster card may be cheaper if you won't be making many journeys, if you’re in London for between 3 and 5 days, or if you won't be travelling every day. If you're travelling to or from Zones 7 to 9 in north London you will need an Oyster card.

If you are in London for fewer than three days or for a whole week and plan to make a lot of journeys daily, a Travelcard is recommended. Under 16s will usually get better value with a Child Travelcard too, as there are no child rates on Oyster cards.

Enjoy a stress-free Carnival:

  • There probably won’t be a steady phone signal, so make sure to agree on a meeting point with your friends
  • Arrange an easy meeting spot in case your group gets separated
  • Try to go with the flow and walk in the same direction as the crowd if possible
  • Be aware of pick pockets and don´t bring any valuable items with you
  • Consider bringing a disposable camera to the Carnival
  • Arrive and leave early as the roads leading to the Carnival area will get busy
  • Stay hydrated, especially if it is a hot day

For more events in London, see VisitLondon.com

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