“I live in Notting Hill. You live in Beverly Hills. Everyone in the world knows who you are, my mother has trouble remembering my name.”
– William in Notting Hill (1999)
Despite the heavy rain and occasional thunderstorms promised by Friday’s weather forecast, last Saturday turned out to be a beautiful and sunny spring day in London. And since my legs are still miraculously attached to my hips (despite the sore muscles), it’s time to head out and enjoy the fantastic weather in one of my favourite places in town: Notting Hill.
Undoubtedly, Notting Hill has always been one of the liveliest and most exuberant boroughs in London, but since the release of the film Notting Hill in 1999, it has become hopelessly overcrowded. Nonetheless, if you have never walked down Portobello Road on a busy Saturday morning, you have certainly missed out on something.
After exiting the tube station at Ladbroke Grove, we head down the street carrying the same name. Eventually, we turn to our right into Westbourne Park Road until we reach the infamous Portobello Road. On Saturdays, many merchants and salesmen have vintage jewellery, accessories, and delicacies on display. But while admiring the broad range of possible souvenirs, make sure to keep an eye on your bag or rucksack since this is, like all crowded places in London, a popular spot with pickpockets. And all street art fans should look out for an artwork protected behind glass by the infamous Banksy.
We continue our walk down Portobello Road. Glancing into the shop windows to your right and left reveals a whole new world of fashion, food, and accessories. I still refuse to believe that there are actual occasions where these kind of shoe designs would be an appropriate choice, but then again, this is London and I’ve already walked past a woman in her pajamas and a bathrobe, carrying grocery bags at two o’clock in the afternoon.
The Portobello Garden Arcade lies now behind us and I encourage you to take a closer look at the houses alongside the street. Just like Camden, Notting Hill is also famous for its many street art paintings and, of course, the colourful houses. Following the Empire Windrush in 1948, many Caribbean immigrants settled down in Notting Hill and integrated their vibrant colours and culture into the grey and dusty city life of post-war London. To this day, the residents of this borough are still celebrating the Notting Hill Carnival every year at the end of August. Sadly, I’ve never experienced it myself, but if you’ve got the chance to go and see it – please do so, it is highly recommended by Londoners!
By now, we have reached a rather innocent looking white façade and only the switched off neon lights – marking the building as the “Electric cinema” – imply that there might be a whole different world hidden behind the insignificant windows. And what a different world it is for this is not just a cinema. On the inside, there are red velvet arm chairs instead of uncomfortable cinema seats and small lanterns illuminate the theatre in an atmosphere that beams you right into the 1960s Hollywood glamour. If you’re not keen on booking tickets right this instant, maybe this trailer might convince you to do otherwise?
Anyway, today is far too beautiful a day for it to be spent in a cinema, so we walk even further down (or rather up) Portobello Road an arrive at Alice’s. This little antiques shop has seen clients such as Taylor Swift and it’s (sadly) no longer and insider among London lovers. In this little shop, you’ll find old telephones, magnifying glasses, globes, etc.
Until 2015, there was a great bakery, Gail’s bakery, located here on Portobello Road which was selling the best scones I’ve ever eaten. Therefore, I was very disappointed to find another bakery in its place when I visited Notting Hill last Saturday. If you’re just as hungry as I am by now, I recommend waiting for lunch until you’re back in the city centre. Since its cometlike rise to London’s hippest borough, life in Notting Hill has become rather expensive and even a small cup of ice cream is at ₤4.40.
Before you leave trendy Notting Hill and enter the borough of posh Kensington, there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss: the blue door. Those who have seen Notting Hill, the film I mentioned at the start of our little tour, will probably wonder if William’s house with the blue door exists. Yes, it does. It’s carefully hidden in between little shops and all kind of trashy goods, so well that I’ve walked past it three times until I eventually realised that it’s indeed the same door as in the film.
And now here we stand, at the end of Portobello Road in the very heart of Notting Hill on a wonderful sunny afternoon in spring. And we didn’t run into any movie star and didn’t dump our drinks on their shirt. Tough luck, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.