For three Carnival-less years, the streets of west London have stayed conspicuously quiet over the August bank holiday weekend. From tomorrow, that’s all set to change, as Europe’s biggest street party welcomes millions of revellers back to Notting Hill for the first time since 2019.
This will be the 54th edition of Carnival since it first hit the streets in 1966 as a celebratory balm to soothe racial and cultural tensions in the area. Deeply rooted in British-Caribbean culture, it has now grown into something that attracts hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists and generates around £120million for the London economy — but still holds those values of togetherness at its core.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the big weekend; with all that’s come before it, it’s bound to be a Carnival like no other.
The party gets going tomorrow with Panorama, a UK steel band competition, which takes over Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park from 6pm to 11pm (£20 adults, £7 kids, W10, ticketsource.co.uk), but the real action kicks off early on Sunday. The traditional J’Ouvert celebration starts at 6am outside the big Sainsbury’s on Canal Way, with crowds of people and booming tunes giving everyone a lively wake-up call. The official opening ceremony is at 10am, located at the judging zone on Great Western Road, before the Children’s Day Parade and Carnival get into their rhythm from 10.30am until 5pm.
Sunday is the more relaxed day — best if you’re planning on taking young kids along — while Monday is the big one, with the Adults’ Day Parade marching along the route from 10.30am to 8.30pm. The famous sound systems (more on them below) play tunes from midday to 7pm on both Sunday and Monday, while street traders sell their wares from 10am to 8pm (though in Kensington and Chelsea, they have to shut at 7pm as the western area of Carnival is covered by Westminster council).
Getting a bus or a taxi into the thick of the action isn’t an option, and the local Tube stations will be heaving on Sunday and Monday. Ladbroke Grove station will be closed altogether, while Latimer Road might close temporarily throughout the day to manage congestion. Notting Hill Gate is open from 11am to 7pm for exit only (District and Circle lines won’t stop there) and Westbourne Park is exit-only from 11am to 6pm, before closing at 11.30pm. Holland Park shuts at 3pm, and Royal Oak is exit-only from 11am to 6pm, when it shuts for the day.
Your best bet is to head to stations slightly out of the way — Shepherd’s Bush, Bayswater, Paddington, High Street Kensington, Kensal Green, Queen’s Park, Queensway — and walk the rest of the journey.
The Carnival parade works its way along a 3.5-mile route. It’s a big loop, with its most south-easterly point at the intersection of Westbourne Grove and Chepstow Road. From there, it heads west to Ladbroke Grove, and north along that road until it meets with Kensal Road. It moves onto Kensal Road, following it towards Westbourne Park station. Once on Great Western Road, it turns onto Westbourne Park Road before joining up again with Chepstow Road.
The judging zone is by Westbourne Park station, where there is also a seated area, but this will fill up quickly. After a good spot to watch the parade go by? Try somewhere other than Ladbroke Grove, as this is usually the busiest place.
Sound systems — crews of DJs, MCs and engineers responsible for blasting tunes through hulking speaker stacks all day long — are the beating heart of Carnival, and there will be almost 40 doing their thing in 2022.
Some sound systems have been Carnival stalwarts for generations. Aba Shanti-I (located on the intersection of East Row and Southern Row) has been playing roots and dub since 1993; reggae legends Channel One (where Leamington Road Villas meets Westbourne Park Road) have been there since 1983; the Sir Lloyd sound system (corner of Leamington Road Villas and Tavistock Road) has been delivering RnB and reggae since 1979.
Once you’ve paid tribute to the veterans, check out some newer players. The likes of Triple S (Southern Row corner of Bosworth Road) shell out genre-hopping tracks, while Disco Hustlers (Powis Square) do very much what they say on the tin. This year will also see Carnival’s first ever sound system dedicated to amapiano, the South African dance music genre that’s been sweeping the global scene over the last couple of years — catch that on Sunday at Rough But Sweet (Hazlewood Crescent).
And it’s not just the sound systems, with seven Brazilians bands, 14 steel bands and more than 100 live stages at Carnival in 2022. To plot your must-see list, download the official Notting Hill Carnival app and check out the interactive map.
Notting Hill through the years - in pictures
Seeing as the sound systems have to call it a day by 7pm, scouting a good after-party in advance is a must. If you want to keep things local on Sunday, head to the Royal Oak in Harlesden (from £14.50, NW10, royaloaknw10.com), which is putting on a multi-room extravaganza — house music upstairs, carnival classics downstairs with smatterings of funk, disco, rap and more, plus some reggae out in the yard — while Paradise by way of Kensal Green (from £15, W10, theparadise.co.uk) is hosting the So Fresh So Clean crew for a night of hip-hop and RnB. Farther afield, highlights include Carnival icons Rampage Sound at Fire and Lightbox in Vauxhall (from £8, SW8, firelondon.net), a day-to-night marathon at Brixton Jamm (from £6, SW9, brixtonjamm.org) and a three-floor party at the Prince of Peckham boozer (from £8, SE15, princeofpeckham.co.uk).
On Monday, nearby Paradise will again welcome Carnival-goers, this time for a Rinse FM takeover (from £10). Expect back-to-back club bangers. Notting Hill Arts Club is also throwing a bash, with DJs including David Harness and Neil Pierce spinning house, garage, soul and more (£15, W11, nottinghillartsclub.com). Ministry of Sound in Elephant and Castle will put on the official after-party (from £9.20, SE1, ministryofsound.com), with the likes of Kenny Allstar and Crazy Cousinz playing across five rooms of music. It runs until 6am; tell your boss you might be a little late into work on Tuesday.
Five tonnes of chicken, 30,000 corn cobs and a tonne of rice and peas are cooked up each year at Carnival, washed down by five million drinks served over two days (including 25,000 bottles of rum and 70,000 litres of carrot juice, no less). Some 300 food traders are on hand to dish up the dancing fuel — from the timeless favourite, jerk chicken, to Trinidadian roti and Guyanese pepperpot stews — and are evenly spread throughout the site, meaning you’re never too far away from some good grub. Check the app for a rundown of who’s serving where.
Without sounding too much like your mum, it’s a good idea to take some commonsense steps before plunging into the Carnival throng. Wear comfortable shoes (blisters are bad for dancing) and pick a pair you don’t mind getting dirty, not pristine white trainers. The weather is looking decent, with sun and temperature in the mid-20s, so take sun cream, a refillable water bottle (anda raincoat). Keep valuables in secure pockets, too; the vast majority are there for a good time, but pickpockets do operate.
With hundreds of thousands of people in a small corner of west London, things get busy — very busy. Phone signal is basically non-existent, and picking a face from the crowd is nigh on impossible, so if there’s a gang of you, meet up before the main Carnival area and stick together. Going with kids? Take a photo of them to show others what they look like if they get lost, and write your phone number on their arm in marker pen and cover it with a liquid or spray plaster (from Boots or Superdrug) to stop it running when wet. Make sure they know who to speak to if they do get separated from you: the stewards or police, no-one else.
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