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A guide to Europe’s largest street party

From Travel Pulse

Steamy locales like Brazil, Colombia and Trinidad are typically the first spots springing to mind when the topic of Carnival celebrations comes up.

England? Not so much.

Turns out, one of the craziest Carnival gatherings on the planet—and Europe’s largest street party—takes place in the heart of London each year in August.

Heading to London around that time? Here is all you need to know in order to have a blast at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Notting Hill Carnival has its roots in a music festival that honored the Caribbean heritage of the area’s residents in 1959. The soiree bounced around town for a few years before settling in Notting Hill during 1964.

The celebration has steadily grown ever since, paying a more colorful homage to Caribbean culture every year with a combination of kaleidoscopic parades, cracking Caribbean street food and thumping live music.

The street party takes place during the last weekend of August, which is a three-day holiday weekend in England. Don’t show up expecting to see any “official” revelry on Friday or Saturday though, as the parades and liveliest concerts all take place on Sunday and Monday.

Events are based in the Notting Hill neighborhood, with some spilling over into Westbourne Park and Ladbroke Grove.

Can’t Miss Carnival Events

While there is no question that the crowds can get overwhelming—millions of people typically attend—and you are destined to get sidetracked at some point, there are a few things you should make a point not to miss.

Parades should be priority number one, as these colorful processions snake their way through the streets, transporting all onlookers straight to the Caribbean.

The first parade is the Jouvert, which features participants caked in colorful paint and mud, kicking off at 6 a.m. on Sunday. This is promptly followed by the Children’s Parade, which features costumed young people dancing with steel drum bands in the background.

Sunday is dubbed Family Day, and you will certainly find a more family-oriented feel on this day. Monday’s parade is the Grand Finale that kicks off at 9 a.m. with over 60 vibrant bands and raucous mobile sound systems.

In addition to the parades, you have to check out a sound system or two at Notting Hill Carnival. There are dozens of these static sites spread throughout the area, all blasting great music and hosting live concerts throughout Sunday and Monday. Expect to hear reggae, soca, salsa, steel drum and everything in between.

Keep your eyes peeled as you walk the streets for plenty of house parties. If you are lucky you may even get invited into one. (It’s extra special if the house has a balcony overlooking the parade route.)

The other special element of Notting Hill Carnival is a stellar collection of Caribbean food. Expect freshly-grilled jerk chicken and fried plantains in addition to plenty of cool Caribbean beers on ice.

For information regarding transportation to the festival, see Transport for London’s website.

PHOTO: Notting Hill Carnival. (photo via Flickr/David)

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