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Discover London’s Diverse Caribbean Communities

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Sep 17, 2021

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Courtesy of Unsplash/Bethany Opler

You only need to scratch the surface to uncover London’s close relationship with the Caribbean islands.

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Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your current—and future—adventures.

With one in three citizens born outside Britain, it comes as no surprise that London hosts several vibrant, multicultural neighborhoods that continuously shape and redefine this brilliant city. Among the most influential: Caribbean districts like Hackney, Shepherds Bush, Peckham, and Brixton, where more than 24 percent of the population is descended from African or Caribbean nations. Packed with authentic restaurants, reggae clubs, and street markets, each of these areas provide a taste of Caribbean heritage, diversity—and for tourists—personal enrichment. In other parts of London, such as Notting Hill and Canary Wharf, you’ll find powerful, lasting reminders of Caribbean immigrants’ impact on the urban landscape.

Explore the heart of Caribbean London

Hotel Xenia, Autograph Collection

After arriving, settle into Hotel Xenia. Centrally located in Kensington, this boutique property—housed in a charming building dating back to 1870—lies within walking distance of popular attractions like the Victoria & Albert Museum, Hyde Park, and Harrod’s, and provides easy access to public transportation. Just jump on the Underground or bus and you’re a quick ride away from off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods rich in Caribbean culture.

On day one head to Brixton—the city’s unofficial capital of the British African-Caribbean community since 1948 when the Windrush Generation (immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other Caribbean islands who came to Britain to help fill post-war labor shortages) settled here. Today, this South London community has become more well-known among tourists, but it remains tight-knit and shows evidence of its heritage everywhere you look. Start at the Black Cultural Archives in Windrush Square, the only heritage center dedicated to preserving and celebrating the stories of African and Caribbean people in Great Britain. Past exhibits have featured the Rastafari movement and pioneers of Black British music. 

Grab lunch around the corner at Fish, Wings & Tings, a casual Trinidadian spot that serves locally sourced street food like cod fish fritters and curried chicken roti as well as homemade rum punch. It’s just one restaurant at the bustling Brixton Market and Village Row, an area that was given protection from the government for its historical importance. (One road, Electric Avenue, was the first market street in the world to be lit by electricity). Here, vendors from around the world hawk everything from Jamaican yams and Indian tea leaves to vibrant African fabrics.

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Before you leave, make sure to check out Brixton’s prominent street murals, many of which date back to the 1970s and 1980s, such as “Big Splash'' on Strathleven Road and the ones in Brixton station. For dinner, treat yourself to a West African feast at Chishuru. From ingredients like black-eyed peas and okra to intensive slow-cooking techniques, its impact on Caribbean cuisine will be unmistakable. 

Brixton Market and Village Row

Wander further afield in Hackney

Cricket persists as a beloved sport in both the West Indies and England. In fact, the two countries have been rivals since the 1970s when the Windies began a two-decade reign as one of the world’s most successful, celebrated teams. West Indians living in London still show their support at Lord’s cricket ground—join them at a match or attend a tour of the property and museum which dates to 1787.

Next, make a stop at New Beacon Books, the UK’s first black publisher and bookshop. Founded by activist John La Rose in 1966, it specializes in Black British, Caribbean, African, and African American literature.

Spend the rest of the day in Hackney, a diverse borough in East London with a large African-Caribbean population. Kingsland Road, right in the middle of the action, is dotted with Jamaican bakers and restaurants like Rudie’s Jerk Shack, known for its charcoal-grilled chicken, lamb, and pork. Walk off lunch along the western edge of Victoria Park to Regent’s Canal, one of the most scenic strolls in the city.

In recent years, Hackney has earned the nickname “Hipster Hackney” for its up-and-coming status as a cool neighborhood and rapidly rising property prices. Nowhere is this more evident than Broadway Market, a collection of trendy coffee shops, chic boutiques, and specialty grocery stores juxtaposed with local kebab stands and hairdressers. Explore this modern corner of the city and sit down for a leisurely pint at the Cat + Mutton gastropub.

Back in the direction of your hotel, pause for dinner at the Soho location of Rum Kitchen, a funky mini chain that celebrates the spirit of carnival year-round through live DJs blasting Soca music and a menu packed with Caribbean staples like fried plantains with mango jam, pepper prawns, and roti wraps loaded with jackfruit or BBQ pork.

Regent’s Canal

See a different side of Notting Hill

Most people think of Notting Hill as one of London’s poshest districts, filled with high-end restaurants, designer clothing stores, and Portobello Road’s famous antique market. Every August Bank Holiday, it’s also the site of one of Europe’s biggest street festivals, the Notting Hill Carnival, a massive celebration of Caribbean culture complete with dancing, steel bands, and colorful parades. If you’re lucky enough to be in town, it can’t be missed.

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But that’s not Notting Hill’s only tie to the African-Caribbean community. For a deeper understanding of how the two connect, sign up for a tour with Black History Walks. You’ll visit the scene of one of London’s most significant race riots, the church that Bob Marley’s Island Records turned into a recording studio, and the restaurant (now closed) that became a hot spot for Black intellectuals and artists like Jimi Hendrix and Nina Simone when the 1970s Black movement in London started. 

Today, scattered Caribbean businesses have maintained their footing here despite gentrification. Tuck into saltfish and beef and cheese patties at Jay Dee’s before turning the corner for shopping at People’s Sound Records. Specializing in rare reggae discs, the store is one of a handful left over from Notting Hill’s musical golden age. Located in a refurbished Victorian church, Tabernacle Arts Center hosts reggae and rap gigs as well as steel pan lessons. Come dinnertime, they serve up favorites like jerk wings, macaroni pie, and fish burgers.

Wrap up the evening at the Globe, a tiny but influential basement club that has been spinning reggae, Soca, hip hop, and house since 1960. Started by Roy Stewart, a Jamaican actor and bodybuilder who appeared in movies like Live and Let Die, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Mick Jones of The Clash partied here in its heyday.

Travel back in history

In the morning, board the River Bus for Canary Wharf, the former site of the West India Docks. Once among the busiest docks in the world, they were built to import and export large quantities of sugar, rum, copper, and spices from the West Indies, as well as to transport passengers. Bombed heavily during the Blitz, the dilapidated warehouses were restored and are now the site of luxury apartments, bars, and the Museum of London Docklands. For a narrated version of this experience, meet up once again with Black History Walks for their three-hour cruise.

When you dock, stroll over to Ayanna’s, one of London’s few Caribbean fine dining restaurants where you can indulge in specialties like braised oxtail, lobster marinated in spring onion and coconut sauce, and pone, Jamaica sweet potato pudding. 

No trip to Canary Wharf is complete without seeing the Museum of London Docklands, a hidden gem among the city’s many excellent institutions. In the permanent exhibits, you’ll discover “Sugar & Slavery,” an important look at how African-Caribbeans’ ancestors were enslaved by the British empire, as well as oral histories from the African-Caribbean community.

For your final evening, cross the Thames to dine at Buster Mantis, a cocktail bar, restaurant, and event space underneath the train tracks of southeast London’s Deptford station that, on any given night, may be hosting an art class or an African-jazz jam session. No matter the entertainment, don’t leave without trying the pineapple upside-down cake.

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