Living in Notting Hill

Notting Hill is a cosmopolitan district known around the world for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, colourful Portobello Market and 1999 film Notting Hill. It's a London version of Montmartre in Paris: a bubbling, vital artistic paradise stretching from Kensington Gardens on one end to Chelsea and Holland Park. Over the years it has built a fine reputation as a fashionable and posh area with its attractive white Victorian townhouses, terraces, front yards and top-notch shopping.

It didn't used to be like this. For example in the 19th century Notting Hill was a working class area. They made bricks here, dug clay and raised pigs. In the beginning of 20th Notting Hill was all about art and alternative culture and little about money, success and high-class. In fact it was "one of the worst areas in London". In 1950's it was a destination for Caribbean immigrants and a decade later the scene for the Notting Hill race riots.

Housing

Today living in Notting Hill is a privilege not many can afford. It's one of the London's most desirable areas. Sharing a flat is the cheapest way to go - prices start from £140 pw for one bedroom. House and room prices are high; expect to pay £400 per week for a one bedroom studio flat, £750 pw for two bedrooms, £1200 pw for three bedrooms and £2000 pw and up for a house.

Is it worth it? Definitely. The houses in Notting Hill differ from rest of the London. Notting Hill has room. When you arrive here it feels like a fresh breeze after sitting hours in a cramped Tube. You can find stunning, naturally light and spacious houses, nice and cosy attic rooms with views to Kensington Gardens, and there are back yards with actual grass and room to stroll around after you wheel in the bike.

It's a safe and quiet neighbourhood with a strong community of young families and successful professionals. The moment you leave noisy Notting Hill Gate Road and get lost on the tidy back alleys and streets you realise how tranquil it is - not at all like London, but closer to some tiny town in the countryside.

Community

There are four tube stations in the area: Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove, Latimer Road and Notting Hill Gate. It is a walking distance from beautiful Kensington Gardens, touristic Bayswater, shoppers paradise High Street Kensington and even more lavish area Holland Park.

Notting Hill Gate is not itself an attractive street but the leafy avenues south are; so is Pembridge Road, to the north, leading to the boutique-filled streets of Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road and more notably to Portobello Road and its market. Under the Westway - the elevated section of the M40 motorway - is a small but busy Portobello Green Market. To see Notting Hill grandest houses stroll over to Lansdowne Road, Lansdowne Crescent and Lansdowne Square.

North of the Westway, Portobello's vitality fizzles out. It sparkles back to life at Golborne Road, the heart of London's North African community and the address of the excellent no-frills Moroccan Tagine Cafe. Westbourne Grove is a retail road running across Notting Hill from Kensington Park Road in the west to Queensway in the east, crossing over Portobello Road. It contains a mixture of independent and chain retailers, and has been termed both "fashionable" and "up-and-coming".

North Kensington is the key region of Notting Hill. It is where most of the violence of the race riots occurred, where the Notting Hill carnival started and where most of the scenes in the film, Notting Hill were shot. Once well-known for its slum housing, property prices have now reached dizzying heights as hordes of international investment bankers buy up the stuccoed Victorian houses. Estate agents now call the super-rich area to the south Notting Hill when referring to Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park. However, North Kensington still has a high level of poverty and unemployment and a high-proportion of social housing for rent. This means that it retains the cultural and class mix that has always made it a vigourous, exciting and, at times, dangerous neighbourhood.

Shopping

In Notting Hill shopping is absolutely stellar. Notting Hill is the area for second hand books, used CDs and posters, retro outlets and antiques. The area is very diverse; one hand you can find plenty of grand restaurants and lounges but there are also quite a few cheap pubs and takeaways inviting you to step in. You can spend £4000 on a designer coat, then a few doors down find a second-hand boutique where everything is £5.

• Books - Halfway down, Blenheim Crescent boasts three notable independent booksellers. The Travel Bookshop is the shop on which Hugh Grant's bookshop was based in the movie Notting Hill. Another well-known and well stocked bookshop is Blenheim Books.

• Clothes - Fiorentini + Baker London has quite a few celebrity fans, from Sarah Jessica Parker to Jennifer Anniston. The store stocks each latest collection, as well as a selection of accessories, jewellery and vintage clothing from other designers. Heidi Klein in Westbourne Grove stocks beautiful bikinis, swimsuits, sandals, kaftans and sarongs from various designers. The Jackson's is a place to go for accessories: hats, bags, shoes - and even furry beanbags. Nakedly Nothing on Portobello Road sells own-label women's clothing and accessories. Cath Kidston has delightful products from the Cath Kidston range - homeware, clothing, accessories, kids' items and fabrics.

• Flowers - Wild at Heart is the place to go. Although high prices are the order of the day here, the flowers are gorgeous and the actual design of the building that houses this florist is simply stunning.

• Music and Film - Music and Video Exchange on Pembridge Road sells second-hand records, tapes, CDs and videos including rock, pop, soul, reggae and jazz. Rough Trade on Talbot Road has 12" and 7" singles, LPs and CDs. It's also the place to pick up flyers to club nights and put up notices to find like-minded musicians to start bands with.

• Other Notable Shops - African Escape on Portobello Road has great selection of African goods, and at good prices too. Wong Singh Jones sells glow in the dark stuff, beaded curtains, 70's goodies, general kitsch pieces and lots more.

• Portobello Market - There has been a market here since 1837. These days the southern end consists exclusively of stalls that sell antiques, jewellery, souvenirs and other collectibles. It's very popular with tourists and is crammed at summer weekends. Its buzzing and cheery atmosphere is worth a visit even when you don't intend to buy anything.

Eating Out

The Tea and Coffee Plant on Portobello Road is the nearest you can get for a "true village cafe". Popular with locals, it makes a great coffee and has reasonable prices. Ping Pong on Westbourne Grove is a stylish Chinese and Japanese restaurant; a good place to go if you look an inexpensive evening out. The scallop and dumplings alone are worth the visit. Mediterreano is the sister restaurant of the Italian restaurant Osteria Basilico and is predominantly fish-orientated. Expect to spend £20 per person for an evening meal. Nicole Fahri's Westbourne Grove cafe/restaurant/shop is a perfect place to have brunch, lunch or even just a coffee to regain your strength after a shopping spree. Alpha fish and chips on Ladbroke Grove offers traditional fish and chip with great prices.

Pubs & Nightlife

Bagclub Ladbroke Grove is a bar that serves a variety of beers, wines, spirits and cocktails as well as a selection of modern European and vegetarian dishes. Also has a DJ playing on Fridays and Saturdays. Prince Albert on Pembridge Road has wide selection of draught beers and other drinks, good food and a beer garden at the back. Quite trendy, too. The Cow's a perennially popular pub, only a few minutes' walk from Portobello Road. It's an Irish pub with good, reasonably priced food, especially the fish and oysters. The Elbow Room is part of a chain of pool bars around London that concentrates on playing pool and not so much on drinking. Finally, the Notting Hill Arts Club is one of the hippest places in trendy Notting Hill. DJs are there on most evenings, and there is also live music.

Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival is the second largest street festival in the world (after Rio). It takes place over the Sunday and Monday of the last weekend in August. The carnival emerged as a response to the race riots in 1959 as an indoor event; in 1965 it took to the streets and has evolved into the massive event we know today. Part of the carnival is the parade which stretches out over a route roughly three miles in length. Numerous sound systems and stages are set up proving typically Caribbean music, as well as that more pop-chart orientated. You'll also find many stalls selling food and drink to help get you in the spirit.

Eeva Kaun