With its eclectic fashion scene, selection of indie-chic watering holes and picture-perfect architecture, Notting Hill has long been one of London’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. Both visually and culturally.
The area’s cultural composition began to shift at pace in the early-mid 20th Century. Properties damaged during the Second World War were split up into smaller, multiple occupancy residences with comparatively more affordable rent, which led to the arrival of Caribbean migrants.
Faced with hostility from the area’s existing residents, tensions in the area ran high for a number of years, culminating in a series of neighbourhood riots. Eager to celebrate their backgrounds and culture, the Caribbean community arranged a children’s fayre in response to the violence between the two groups. The fayre featured music courtesy of steel bands who played in Earl’s Court and was held at St. Pancras Town Hall in Euston. This was the first of what, 60 years later, would come to be the largest street festival in Europe; the Notting Hill Carnival.
Indeed, the carnival can be seen as a key part in developing the relationship between Notting Hill and the arts. During the 1960s, the area was home to a number of underground (and often illegal) music venues. This, along with famous residents like the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and music legend, Eric Clapton, made Notting Hill ‘cool’ and it quickly grew in popularity and fame.
Today, the area continues to be favourited by the artistic and the famous. On a Saturday, tourists visit in their hundreds, eager to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the weekend crowd, to catch a glimpse of a local celebrity or to simply stroll along the peaceful, cobbled side streets.Ask any fashion student, art lover or budding photographer, and they’ll tell you that the W11 postcode is a spring of inspiration and a hub of cultural fusion. And never is this mix of cultures more evident than the last weekend in August when the Notting Hill Carnival comes to town, bringing with it Calypso music, tantalising food stalls and one million visitors.
Though it might be easy to get ‘lost’ amongst the floats and the dancing, local resident of 15 years and Airbnb host, Carla Williams, has provided the inside view on where to go and what to do while you’re in one of London’s most famous areas.
Carla: Whenever I mention ‘Notting Hill’ to people, no matter where they’re from, they think of two things; the film and the carnival. But the neighbourhood itself is much more personal than that. It’s hugely friendly, not to mention eccentric; that’s just what this mix of wealth and kooky Notting Hill locals has created. It’s also what makes it such good fun to go exploring in. Or you can just sit and people watch, and there’s no better place to people watch than Portobello Road market.
Carla: The market is my all time favourite place to hang out, even as a local. I like to take a walk there on a Friday. It’s sort of known as ‘locals day’ which is generally a bit more relaxed than the Saturday and Sunday when a lot of the tourists pay a visit. If you are going to go to the market though, make sure you see the market. All of it. Don’t stop when you get to the Westway bridge; that’s where local life starts!
If you carry on underneath the bridge and carry straight on, you’ll find some of the area’s best features. Delicious street food, a couple of really nice coffee shops – including one pretty special Lebanese place and a handful of artsy-craftsy stalls further up towards Golborne road. There’s also a stall that sells and cooks the freshest fish right in front of you and it tastes fantastic! But if seafood isn’t your thing, then Pizza East is a superb restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating so if you’re there in the afternoon or early evening, it’s pretty perfect.
When it comes to Carnival weekend, it gets busy pretty early on so if you get there earlier, you should be able to choose your spot. Don’t try and drive in though. The organisers close off the roads and there’s no parking either so just meander around the area and see what interests you.
And while you’re here, there are a few places that are ‘must-see’s.
You’ve got BBB (Beach Blanket Babylon) which is on Ledbury road and has an amazing interior style! it’s a good place to go for a glass of wine and music before dinner. Then there’s Portobello Pizzeria which is at the top of Notting Hill Gate on Kensington Park Road. It has the nicest food in the area, although it’s kind of a strange name seeing as they mainly do seafood and pasta dishes.
Then if you’re just out for a coffee – perhaps with a new read from one of the area’s book shops – then Bill Granger is worth a look. There’s often a queue but it’s worth it. 202 (on Westbourne Grove) is also a nice spot for coffee or lunch. In fact, all this talk of good food has got me hungry – why isn’t it the market open yet??
For times and travel information on the Notting Hill Carnival, click here: www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com.