Local guide: Discover Notting Hill, one of London's great neighbourhoods
Notting Hill is one of London’s most fascinating areas. Over the years it has been home to rock stars, slum landlords, prime ministers, culture-redefining immigrant communities, hedge-fund managers and iconic writers. Today it is a wealthy neighbourhood revolving around Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road, where its previous identity — louche and lively — still holds sway.
I first visited in 2002 on the day I moved to the city, having caught a Routemaster bus from my new home in south London. On a warm summer’s afternoon Notting Hill, which sits to the northwest of London’s central Hyde Park, seemed to hold all the excitement and possibility that London had to offer. It still feels like that. Here are my favourite spots in the neighbourhood, where the diverse culture that has made it such a cultural lightning rod can be found.
What to do in Notting Hill: Find plenty of fun and enriching things to do for all ages
Seek out culinary inspiration at Books for Cooks
Notting Hill has more than its fair share of book shops but none is as quality-packed and quirky as Books For Cooks. This compact, shelf-lined shop just off Portobello Road offers hundreds of titles on subjects as diverse as Italian food and beer, bread and food fiction.
Like all the best bookshops, it’s a wonderful place to linger: There’s even a kitchen at the back, from which come all sorts of culinary delights. Founded in 1983, Books for Cooks has become as much a part of the Notting Hill scene as Carnival or tourists seeking out locations from the 1999 film.
Find peace in a delightful Japanese garden
Holland Park, which borders Notting Hill to the south-west, is one of London’s most delightful green spaces. Covering more than 50 acres, it boasts children’s playgrounds, multitudinous sporting facilities, squirrel-dominated woodland and, perhaps best of all — the Kyoto Garden.
Installed in 1991 as a gift from the people of Kyoto in Japan, it’s a pocked-sized, peace-filled joy, with peacocks, perfectly manicured grass, trees trussed up like catwalk models and a tiered waterfall which tumbles into a pond full of Koi Carp. Truly a little piece of Japan in the heart of one of London’s liveliest areas.
Discover Britain's cultural history at a unique museum
Notting Hill itself gives a good idea of Britain’s history over the past 150 years, with its magnificent stucco-ed villas, soaring high rises, pubs, restaurants and buzzing streets. To accentuate your understanding of what’s happened to Britain since its Victorian boom, though, head for the Museum of Brands, towards Ladbroke Grove tube station.
The Museum’s Time Tunnel explores how consumer products have evolved in different ways, under the influence of patriotism, product innovation, the rise and fall of all-consuming fashions and passions, foreign influence, sport and much more. It’s a delightful journey through the past that has much to teach about modern Britain.
Take the kids to London's comfiest cinema
Most of Portobello Road’s more appealing attractions can be found towards the top of the street, where the market buzzes with life even on quiet Monday mornings. This is where you’ll find the Electric Cinema, a venue with history to burn. First opened in 1910, it was so named because it was one of the first buildings in the vicinity to be supplied with electricity. Its age, though, doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable: with its wingback chairs and footstools, this is a long way from your average multiplex. It’s a great place to take the kids, particularly on Saturday mornings, when the doors are thrown open for kids movies at 9.30 a.m.
Delve into Notting Hill's history on an award-winning tour
London has more than its fair share of walking tours. That’s an inevitability with a city that boasts so much history, but it does mean quality is variable. You can, however, rely on London Walks, which offers guided tours across the city, from the old Jewish East End to Bohemian Bloomsbury. One of very best walks focuses on Notting Hill and Portobello Road: Led by barrister Tom Hooper, it takes in Jimi Hendrix and Hugh Grant, riots and sex and much more besides.
Flick through the racks at an iconic record shop
Originally opened at the height of punk in 1976, Rough Trade is one of London’s most culturally significant record shops. Now based on Talbot Road, it’s undeniably small but with a selection that spans the genres, taking in quality cuts from across the musical globe.
Vinyl is the star here, although there are CDs, too. There’s something hugely enjoyable experience about being able to browse in a way that has become increasingly alien in the internet age. Rough Trade is also a music label, of course, once home to The Smiths and The Strokes; the shops and the label are now separate but the spirit is similar.
Where to eat: Sample Notting Hill's lively restaurant scene
Get a taste of Carnival all year around
The Tabernacle, a former Romanesque church built in 1887, is five-minutes’ walk east of Portobello Road. It’s at the heart of perhaps Notting Hill’s most historically fascinating enclave, taking in race riots, slums and the home of Mick Jagger’s character in the iconic 1970 film Performance, across Powis Square from the Tabernacle.
Today the square is much calmer, and the Tabernacle is a social centre that bills itself – accurately — as the “Home of Notting Hill Carnival.” This is most obvious in the shows and exhibitions held here, and the food served in the bar and kitchen, which takes in a host of Caribbean classics, including jerk chicken, salt fish fritters and succulent, rich curry goat.
Enjoy London's finest Lebanese food in Notting Hill
As you walk eastwards, Notting Hill bleeds into Bayswater; it’s in this border area that you’ll find Al Waha, one of London’s very best Lebanese restaurants. The food here captures exactly what is so delightful about this little nation’s cuisine: hugely flavoursome, beautifully balanced. Try the halloumi or the mixed grill if it’s reliable classics you want, but don’t miss the Lebanese potatoes or the delightful fool medames, a blend of fava beans, garlic, cumin, olive and onions that is much more than the sum of its parts.
Have Sunday lunch with the locals
Once upon a time, Sunday roasts were eaten at home, over-cooked cabbage and all. In the modern world, where mums have to work twice as hard as dads, they’re just as often eaten outside of the home, in pubs, which were once just for drinking.
If you want to know what Notting Hill enjoys for its weekly slap-up feast, head for the Prince Bonaparte, an elegantly-appointed gastropub where roast rib of beef — the traditionalist’s choice — rubs shoulders with pork, chicken and vegan options. Wash it down with Bordeaux or Best Bitter, England’s traditional beer: Both are equally appropriate.
Nightlife: End the night on a high note at Notting Hill's pubs, venues
Find Britain's best beer at the Mall Tavern
Notting Hill is not, in truth, one of London’s great pub neighbourhoods. It’s a bit short on places where beer is given the same standing as food, where a cosy nook is yours for the price of a few pints. The Mall Tavern is an exception; run by the same people behind the Beer + Burger chain, its bar heaves under the weight of some of the UK’s finest beer, taking in Deja, Howling Hops, Burning Sky and the rest. Located a short walk south of Notting Hill Gate Station, this street-corner pub is beautifully appointed — and don’t worry: There is plenty of good food available if you’re that way inclined.
Drink Notting Hill's local drop at the Ginstitute
The top of Portobello Road is dominated by the lavishly decorated Distillery, incorporating The Ginstitute, where you can learn all you might ever want to know about London’s native spirit. There’s a distillery here, pumping out Portobello Road Gin, which offers any number of events — from The Ginstitute Experience, which takes in gin’s history and a variety of cocktails before culminating in a bottle of your own gin to take home, to a James Bond-themed dinner. Equally importantly, the outside tables at The Distillery catch the sun on a warm day.
Join the indie set at the Notting Hill Arts Club
Notting Hill has a long history of late-night entertainment, from the shebeens opened to cater to the West Indian community in the 1950s and 60s to The Mangrove, which attracted big stars like Jimi Hendrix, Vanessa Redgrave and Nina Simone during the late 1960s and 1970s. At that time, Notting Hill was a genuine cultural melting pot, where youngsters from across London would come to hear the latest sounds. Things have changed a little, to say the least, but it’s still possible to have a good night out in Notting Hill: Try the Notting Hill Arts Club, close to Notting Hill Gate Station, once described in the Guardian as ‘a haven for indie celebs and punk veterans’.
Events: Join the crowds at Notting Hill's signature events
Be a part of London's biggest party
In terms of local events, one towers over all others. The Notting Hill Carnival is a cultural colossus, a happening that began as a celebration to bring together the varied strands of the local community and has become an icon of the city’s diversity and energy. Held every year — except during COVID — since 1966, it attracts 2.5 million people to the streets of Notting Hill, where booming sound systems and remarkable, intricate outfits create an unforgettable spectacle.
This is Europe’s biggest street festival, and it consumes London during its annual reign over the bank holiday weekend at the end of August. The parade runs in a loop, taking in Ladbroke Grove, while sound systems are scattered across the area. It’s a truly unique cultural event, and not to be missed if you happen to be in London when it takes place.
See Britain's best new films for free
Founded in 1996, the Portobello Film Festival has been the launching pad for many of the country’s best new directors — such as Shane Meadows and Guy Ritchie — while showing the cream of independent cinema. All the films at the festival, which takes place in September, are presented free of charge, in venues around the area. More than 700 films are shown each year, with the best in show being awarded the Golden Boot at the festival’s end.