Everyone loves a party, and one of the best reasons to travel is to experience the many ways that different cultures and regions celebrate their various traditions and holidays. It’s a great way to learn more about a place and to get an insight into what is important to other cultures.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and the Songkran festival in Thailand all draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Travelers are eager to take part in these traditions, and to have a bit of raucous fun in the process.
What is arguably London’s biggest party of the year, the Notting Hill Festival, is a spectacle not to be missed. If you’re planning a trip to England, be sure to schedule your plans around this one of a kind display of the best that London’s diverse culture has to offer.
A Bit of History
Known around the continent as the largest street festival in Europe, the Notting Hill Carnival began in 1964 as a way for London’s Caribbean residents to celebrate the traditions of their culture. Steel drum players walked the streets of Notting Hill and curious residents emerged from their homes to investigate.
With its roots in the Afro-Caribbean festival of Carnival, Notting Hill is the second largest celebration of its kind. Only the legendary Carnival in Rio de Janiero, Brazil is larger. The Notting Hill Festival continues to expand each year, and may one day surpass its famous South American cousin in size, scope, and number of attendees.
When and Where
The Notting Hill Carnival always takes place over the August bank holiday weekend, and in 2015 those dates are Sunday, August 30 and Monday, August 31. Sunday is generally known as Family Day, as families bring their young children to enjoy the show, and vendors and entertainers cater specifically to them. The steel bands hit the streets to play from 6 a.m. and the children’s parade starts at 9 a.m.
Monday is the day that sees the largest crowds and features the main parade. Be prepared for a very long day, however, as the party starts at dawn and continues into the wee hours.
What to Eat
Obviously Caribbean food is the star of the show at the Carnival, and you absolutely should feast on dishes like jerk chicken and curried goat, and wash it all down with a cold bottle of Red Stripe. Also try the fried plantains and the many versions of rum punch that are on offer.
Many other types of food are available as well. You can try tasty treats from some of the best street food stalls in the city, and these feature dishes such as German sausages, Indian pani puri, Spanish tapas, and more. The Notting Hill Carnival is truly one of the best places and times to try all of the fantastically eclectic food and drink that London has to offer.
The Soundstages and the After-Parties
The parades, with their fantastically intricate costumes and Caribbean bands, are not to be missed, but just a few steps off the parade route are the amazing soundstages. These impromptu parties feature some of the world’s best DJs in the reggaeton, calypso, dance, and house music. You can easily visit many of these soundstages over the course of the day.
On Monday night, once the parade is over, the after-parties get into full swing. Almost all of the restaurants and clubs in the area stay open late and everyone is able to party until dawn. Just make sure that you don’t have anything scheduled too early the next morning. The Carnival should also be enjoyed in the companies of others, and if you’re traveling alone, you can easily find someone to join you.
What to Wear and What to Bring
The weather in London during August can be warm so be sure to dress accordingly. Also, comfortable shoes are a must as you’ll likely be on your feet, dancing and walking for several hours. However, if you want to attend some of the after-parties, you might want to carry an extra outfit, one that is more suitable for London’s poshest clubs.
Be sure to bring sunscreen, tissue for the toilets, sunglasses, a map of the parade route, plenty of water, and a bag to carry it all. However, be sure to keep an eye on your bag and carry cash and credit cards in a secure place. The carnival is crowded and raucous, and pickpockets will take advantage if they can.
Not only is the Notting Hill Festival one of the best parties that the world has to offer, but it’s also a great way to experience the wild and crazy side of London. If you plan to be in the area during late August, make sure that you put this festival on your itinerary.
Notting Hill Carnival 2011 image by Valters Krontals from Foter.com
Notting Hill Carnival Monday image by Cristiano Betta from Foter.com