Most visitors to London have Notting Hill at the top of their wish list. With a vibrant mix of artists, working families and celebrity residents, this fashionable neighbourhood is truly one of London's icons. Having taken many guises over the decades, Notting Hill is presently a largely gentrified area of Victorian townhouses and private gardens, which retains the dynamism of its working-class roots. Best known as host to the world’s second biggest carnival (after Rio’s Mardi Gras) and home to the famous Portobello Road markets, Notting Hill is also a serious destination for culture buffs and those on the hunt for a quintessential London experience.
Over two days in late August each year, the Notting Hill Carnival draws up to two million revellers in a celebration of West Indian and Asian cultures. Local streets are jam-packed with costumed party-goers, steel pan bands, sound systems blasting reggae, soca and calypso, and food stalls serving jerk chicken, rice and peas, and curries. From its humble and chequered beginnings in the 1950s, the carnival has since grown into one of the world’s top outdoor street festivals, featuring a Children’s Day event and impressive floats in the Main Parade.
The carnival atmosphere extends to Saturdays, when crowds stroll the two-mile stretch of the Portobello Road Markets. Colourful terraces are interspersed with antiques shops, local buskers, historic pubs and clothing stalls. Straddling the antiques and fashion markets are the equally old-fashioned and charming produce markets, exuding a Dickensian vibe as fruit and veg sellers call out in market-speak. There is street food of all kinds, from paella and bratwurst to crepes and churros. The markets adopt a ‘grungier’ feel past the Westway sports centre, but it is worth persevering for the people-watching and to admire the 100m long Portobello Wall, which features public artworks commissioned by the local council.
A variety of interesting shops can be found just off Portobello Road, including antique shops, a classic music store whose walls are covered with original posters and album sleeves, book shops and food and spice stores. Fashionistas should head to Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road, which are littered with higher-end boutiques and children’s shops.
Notting Hill’s credentials as a filming location are well known and fans of that Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie should make a beeline for the following spots – the renamed Notting Hill Bookshop on Blenheim Crescent, Hotel Hempel in Craven Hill Gardens (take a peek at the immaculate gardens across the road), and 280 Westbourne Park Road (though the blue door is now painted black).
It’s an area of sophisticated dining, high-class shopping and some of London’s most desirable properties, which range from the quaint to the grand.
With more garden squares than most other parts of London, and Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park nudging its south-eastern corner, Notting Hill’s leafiness is a major draw for families and young professionals looking for glamour and homeliness.