With Notting Hill Carnival just around the corner, we at MouthLondon decided to compile a list of Carnival know-how. You’ll find below an all-inclusive guide to, well, pretty much everything, from what you should wear to what you should bring. So without further ado, we present to you the A Beginner’s Guide to Carnival.
Notting Hill Carnival is London’s biggest, maddest street party. The carnival parade provides a good opportunity to dance along to some quality Soca and Reggae music while viewing the amazing costumes on display; however the density of the crowds makes it very difficult to travel alongside any floats that are pumping out all your favourite tunes.
If – for you – Carnival is all about the music, a safer bet is to find a stationary Sound System. There are literally dozens of these dotted throughout the Notting Hill/Ladbroke Grove area, so it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before the big weekend, as this saves you wandering around aimlessly on the off chance that you’ll find one that caters to your exact tastes. Whether you’re into Reggae, Bashment, Dubstep or Soca, there’s a Sound System for you, and a quick Google search can tell you exactly where to find it.
DesignMyNight lists a handful of the bigger Carnival Sound Systems, but there are plenty more out there, so don’t necessarily limit yourself to these:
So, you know where you’re going, but what to wear?
Fellas – there’s a lot of fancy footwear and head gear to be seen at Carnival, so dust off your best pair of hi-tops and rock up in your snazziest cap. New Era has a great London Underground collection at the moment, which features a host of caps with different station symbols on the front, so why not wear a Notting Hill Gate cap on the day to show your Carnival spirit?
Ladies – remember that thing Cady says in Mean Girls about Hallowe’en in the Girl World? Carnival is kind of like that, so feel free to turn up wearing your skimpiest shorts and a crop top: everyone else does! Just remember, you want to be able to dance all day, so the height of your shoes should also be minimal… Comfortable footwear is a must.
If you’re super keen, bright eye shadow and face-paint is advised, and if you’re into your nails then now is the time to show off some flashy nail art. If a manicure is a bit too pricey and your hands aren’t steady enough to do your own designs, Models Own have a great range of nail wraps (or, as they put it, “Nail art for lazy people”).
Hopefully the sun will grace us with its presence for the whole of the Bank Holiday weekend, but just in case it doesn’t, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Luckily, backpacks are once more in vogue, so you don’t have to feel like a geek towing around a rucksack containing a hoodie or other suitable rain protection. Route One do a really good canvas rucksack, which comes in several colours and is pretty pick-pocket-proof (an unfortunate downside to Carnival is that crime can go up in the area over the weekend, though in recent years the police presence has been phenomenal).
Though Carnival has become a whole lot safer in recent years, it’s still not a great idea to wave around your valuables. If you’re anxious about your possessions, there are a few things you can do for peace of mind. For example, it might be a good idea to invest in a disposable camera: you’re sure to want to take pictures, and a £6.00 camera isn’t exactly worth mugging.
Likewise, be sensible with your money – it’s not necessary to bring wads of cash, and it’s better to keep a handful of £5 notes so you don’t have to walk around with buckets of change after purchasing a drink or a snack (more on this later).
Another piece of practical advice is to bring along some hand sanitizer or wet wipes: there are Portaloos dotted around, but with such huge crowds they can run out of soap pretty early on. Trust us: it’s better to risk looking like a hypochondriac than to walk around all day with grubby hands.
Finally, even if the skies are overcast, chances are it will still be very warm and muggy, so if you suffer from the heat, be sure to bring one of those battery-operated hand-held fans. Plenty of water is also advisable. To avoid getting ripped off, buy a bottle or two at your local supermarket on the way there.
Now, having dealt with the negligible negatives, let’s not forget that Carnival is all about positive vibes. London’s biggest street party is unapologetically loud, with plenty of shouts, plenty of foghorns… and whistles. At Carnival, your whistle is basically an extension of your body. Don’t get caught without one, but don’t necessarily buy one on the day: hawkers often bump up the prices, so you can end up paying £5 for what is essentially a piddly bit of plastic.
Carnival is about community spirit and bringing people together. Whilst it is true that most Carnival raves will be attended by a younger crowd, the Carnival parade is very family-friendly. In fact, the Sunday parade is specifically aimed at kids, so if you have any younger relatives then don’t be scared to bring them along with you. Ageism is a no-no: you’ll be surprised to see how many grannies there are shaking their derrieres along the street in true Carnival style!
Carnival is famous – among other things – for the variety of cuisines on offer to the general public (at pretty competitive prices, might we add). West Indian food is a firm favourite, and there’s nothing quite like jerk chicken and some juicy corn on the cob; and if authenticity’s what you’re after, wash it all down with some fresh coconut water, served inside a green coconut – you can even ask the stall-owner to add a cheeky dash of rum!
Of course, you don’t have to east West Indian food. Chinese, Indian, Italian and West African food is also available, among other cuisines. Our one piece of advice would be: if a stall looks pretty empty, there’s probably a reason for that. Just like the Sound Systems at Carnival, if the stall draws in a big crowd, it’s probably going to serve you up something extra-special, so don’t be scared of the queues: it’ll be worth the wait… Remember though, it’s not a Man vs. Food competition – you want to be able to dance around afterwards!
That concludes our comprehensive guide to all things Carnival-related… All that’s left to say, really, is “happy partying!”