Immortalized on film as the setting for Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts’ frolics in the 1999 eponymous rom-com, Notting Hill (an area encompassing Ladbroke Grove, Portobello Road and parts of North Kensington) has lingered on to-do lists ever since, but there’s far more to this cosmopolitan hub than its sojourn on the big screen suggests.
Sandwiched in-between the affluent dwellings of Knightsbridge and Kensington, Notting Hill boasts the same stately elegance, with its rows of Victorian townhouses and cobbled side streets. Arguably the hippest district in West London, it’s here that the slick and stylish meet downtown cool, with vintage stores jostling for space next to designer boutiques and art students ducking into dimly lit bars, while designer-decked hipsters dine on sushi platters next door.
There’s little excuse for spending a day in Notting Hill without paying a visit to the world famous Portobello market right on its doorstep. Still one of the biggest antique markets in the world, the market today is an artful muddle of stores selling everything from vintage and alternative clothing to handmade crafts and jewellery, music (legendary record store and label Rough Trade is in these parts), fruits and vegetables. The food market is open every day except for Sunday, but head there on Saturday (8am-6:30pm) for the main market (including the antiques market) and follow the swooping crowds as they pass down the mile-long Portobello Road. While you’re there, pay a visit to the quirky Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising, for a journey through the history of British consumerism. The wacky, weird and wonderful line the cluttered shelves here and the British nostalgia items will resonate with locals and tourists alike.
Post-shopping, you’ll find a myriad of choices for eating and drinking in Notting Hill with a vibrant Café culture and dozens of bake-houses and coffee-huts lining the shopping streets (the Hummingbird Bakery is a particular favorite, where American-style cupcakes are served up with British decadence). If you’re after something more traditionally British, head to the Electric Brasserie for one of their hearty English breakfasts or to Cockney’s Pie and Mash for some of the best steak & kidney pies in the capital. For after-hour eateries, lovers of international cuisine are spoilt for choice with excellent Japanese, Jamaican, Mexican and Asian cuisine.
Notting Hill’s nightlife, far classier than the East-London scene but with its finger still firmly on the pulse, is one of the area’s big draws – the Notting Hill Arts Club (free entry before 8pm) hosts a number of live bands and DJs; The Castle, Prince Albert and The Cow are popular local pubs in addition to dozens of trendy bars on and around Portobello Road. Alternatively, catch a movie at one of the area’s many art house cinemas – there’s the funky Electric cinema with its plush leather sofas and an in-house bar; the small yet luxurious Gate cinema or the grand Coronet cinema, London’s oldest operating cinema, which has been showing movies since 1916.
The crowning glory of the Notting Hill summer has to be the annual Notting Hill Carnival that was held on the final bank holiday weekend of August in celebration of the area’s rich Caribbean population. For two days, the streets were awash with color as gyrating dancers, marching bands and performers twisted and twirled through the streets in a series of parades and live music shows.
- Zoe Smith