Europe's Largest Street Festival: A Microcosm of the World

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Sun September 30, 2012 | 00:00 AM

While Carnival is usually interpreted as a tropical, vibrant festival seen in places like Rio or the Caribbean, London puts on one of the biggest shows in the world but they’re smart enough to do so in the warmer, late summer as opposed to traditional February. I happened upon this festival in the fashionable neighborhood of Notting Hill a few years ago and was amazed by the cultural bouillabaisse that I witnessed in what used to be such a stodgy, “white bread” city.

The roots of Notting Hill Carnival come from a time when race relations in London were rotten and Notting Hill was more washed up than up-and-coming. Started about 50 years ago, by the mid-70s, the festival had become decidedly Caribbean in its flavor but it attracted a diverse audience, albeit with the occasional violence that came from an event that can attract two million people annually. Notting Hill has narrow streets so it can feel a little intense and claustrophobic during peak times of the fair.

The festival lasts two days (a Sunday and bank holiday Monday) with the colorful main parade – everything you’d expect to see in Rio – taking a three-mile route along the Great West Road, Chepstow Road, Westbourne Gove, and Ladbroke Grove. All I can say is London has come a long way since I spent a college semester there in 1981, when the only spice in town was at the very occasional Indian restaurant down a back alley.