One of the top things to do in London is to indulge in a delicious afternoon tea. Just imagine sinking your teeth in scrumptious clotted cream scones, cute finger sandwiches and the most delightful cakes. Now, doesn’t that thought just make your mouth water? But with so many tea rooms, hotel restaurants and cafés offering afternoon tea in London, it can be mind-boggling trying to choose where to go. Use this appetizing article listing the 10 best places for afternoon in London to find your perfect match!
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What is afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea is a traditional British tea ceremony invented in the 1840s by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford. Suffering from a late afternoon slump and dinner not served till 8pm, she would call for a pot of tea and a small mid-afternoon snack into her private quarters to tie her over till the next meal.
Excited about her new life hack, Anna started to invite friends over for tea. It didn’t take long for her fellow socialites to pick up this fashionable trend of casually nibbling on decadent finger food together their besties. Without knowing, Anna and her contemporaries had set a long-lasting British tradition that would be copied all over the world and become one of the top things to do in England for tourists.
To some extent, it reminds me of the ‘4 o’clock Cup-a-Soup break’ that became popular in the Netherlands in the late 1990s thanks to a series of funny TV ads. Though a refreshing savoury pick-me-up, I’d never see instant soups become as popular as Anna’s afternoon tea.
Is it afternoon tea, high tea or cream tea?
Outside of the UK, people tend to refer to afternoon tea as ‘high tea’. Growing up in the Netherlands, I didn’t know any better and used to call it high tea too. Not anymore though and after reading this, I’m sure won’t anymore either!
Although high tea indeed did exist in the 19th century, this was significantly different from the lush tea ceremony enjoyed by the socialites. At the time, the upper classes enjoyed their afternoon tea in the sitting room around 4pm. Served on low tables, it was also referred to as low tea.
In contrast, the afternoon tea of the middle and lower classes was a working-class meal served around 5-6pm. Being served at the high dinner table, it was called high tea.
And if we don’t have enough variations now already, there’s also the so-called cream tea! In contrast to afternoon tea which consists of a selection of small sweet treats and savoury snacks, cream tea refers to scones served with clotted cream and jam. It’s therefore a more modest afternoon snack rather than a whole meal.
What is served for afternoon tea?
First of all, there’s of course tea! Besides traditional black teas, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of green teas or even herbal teas. And if you want to truly indulge yourself, pair your special meal with a decadent glass of champagne!
During your afternoon tea, you’ll be served a range of finely cut sandwiches and pastries. Traditional sandwich fillings for your afternoon tea would be egg mayonnaise with watercress, cucumber with cream cheese, smoked salmon and ham and mustard. However, the afternoon tea menu will depend on the café or restaurant of course. Some might offer a more traditional spread, whereas others prefer a more modern take.
The range of pastries and teacakes will also be slightly different everywhere, but you can usually count on having warm scones served with rich clotted cream.
What is the best time for afternoon tea?
Following tradition, the best time for afternoon tea would be around 4pm. However, nowadays most restaurants and hotels serve afternoon tea from noon till early evening.
Originally meant as a small snack before dinner, afternoon tea has become quite a substantial meal. Remember to bear this in mind when planning your lunch and dinner. Perhaps you’d rather have an early afternoon tea instead of lunch. Or, if you’re having a late afternoon tea, you might only have space for a very light dinner later.
The 10 best places for afternoon tea in London
To help you find the best place for afternoon tea in London that matches your personal taste and preferences, I compiled a special list for you, organising options by ten different categories.
1. Traditional British afternoon tea: Fortnum & Mason
Established in 1707, Fortnum & Mason is one of the finest department stores in London. Steeped in British tradition, this is the perfect place if you’re after a classic afternoon tea. Having developed their first royal blend in 1902 at the request of King Edward VII, your cup of tea, served in beautiful china, will be brewed to perfection. Indulge yourself in scrumptious treats, will enjoying a sophisticated British afternoon tea in elegant surroundings.
Click here to book: Fortnum & Mason
Address: 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER
2. Luxury afternoon tea: The Ritz London
The Ritz London is one of London’s most famous hotels. First opened in 1906, it has been a popular place amongst aristocrats and the elite for over a century. It most certainly is one of the poshest places to have afternoon tea in London. All eighteen special loose leaf teas are handpicked by their tea sommelier – The Ritz is the only hotel in the UK to have one!
Afternoon tea is served in the stylish Palm Court. Surrounded by swooping chandeliers, gold ornaments and tall mirror walls, you’ll feel like Cinderella at the ball – or Prince Charming of course. Such a grand venue obviously requires a formal dress code; this means a jacket and tie for men while jeans are a no-go for all visitors.
Click here to book: The Ritz London
Address: 150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR
3. Best affordable afternoon tea in London: The English Rose tea shop
Awarded with the Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice for six years in a row, the independent family-run English Rose tea shop is a real London gem. Offering an affordable afternoon tea priced at £30 for two, the service is excellent while the food is fantastic. Enjoy a delightful selection of finger sandwiches, warm homemade scones and tasty cakes in one of the cutest cafés in London!
Click here to book: The English Rose tea shop
Address: 4 Lower Grosvenor Place, London SW1W 0EJ
4. Afternoon tea in London with kids: The Royal Horseguards Hotel
Make some unforgettable London memories with your family and treat your kids to a ‘Children’s Mini Tea’. Located at a stone’s throw from the Horse Guards and Buckingham Palace, The Royal Horseguards Hotel offers scenic views over the river Thames.
Children’s afternoon tea consists of cute sandwiches, fresh scones and fun treats like chocolate lollies. The complimentary activity pack will keep kids entertained while the whole family enjoy their fabulous food. While the hotel offers a special child-friendly afternoon tea, it is still a special occasion. It might therefore not be the most suitable London activity with very young kids, but it should be fine from 5-6 years and older.
Click here to book: The Royal Horseguards Hotel
Address: 2 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EJ
5. Afternoon tea on a London bus: Brigit’s Bakery
Combine two quintessential things to do in London and have your afternoon tea on an authentic London double-decker bus! While you tuck into the most delectable treats, you’ll be able to enjoy the top iconic London sights from the comfort of your seat.
Depending on traffic, this unique London food tour takes about 1.5 hours and brings you along famous landmarks such as Westminster Palace and The Royal Albert Hall. It’s one of the most decadent and relaxing ways to discover the bustling metropolis!
Click here to book: Brigit’s Bakery
Address: Victoria Coach Station, 164 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9TP
6. Afternoon tea on a cruise: City Cruises
Take the opportunity to discover the city from a whole different perspective on a London Thames cruise. During this 1.5-hour tour you’ll see some of my favourite London landmarks such as the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge and Tate Modern whilst tucking into a range of tasty treats.
While the river cruise and iconic views take centre stage, the food will certainly tickle your taste buds. And to make your afternoon tea cruise in London even more special, try to time it around sunset. Seeing the twinkling lights glittering in the water in the dark will make for a magical sight!
Click here to book: City Cruises
Address: Tower Pier, Lower Thames Street, London EC3N 4DT
7. Afternoon tea with a view: Aqua Shard
Having already listed afternoon tea options on the road and in the water, what about having a literal high tea in London? Located on the 31st floor of one of the tallest buildings in Europe, you’ll get to enjoy spectacular panoramic views of London whilst you tuck into a modern take on the classic afternoon tea.
The menu consists of savoury finger sandwiches with a modern twist, warm scones and a selection of beautifully crafted sweet treats. This is one of the chicest places for afternoon tea in London so do dress up smart!
Click here to book: Aqua Shard
Address: 32 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SG
8. Themed afternoon tea in London: Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at Sanderson Hotel
Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, the Sanderson Hotel serves one of the most fun themed afternoon teas in London. Filled with numerous cute references to the story, the stunning display is a real feast for the eye. The adventure starts with the menu which is hidden inside vintage books, while the Exotic Fruits “Drink Me” potions will invite visitors into tumbling down the rabbit hole. Fortunately, there’s no Cheshire Cat awaiting you there, but a wide range of savoury treats, warm scones and pretty petit fours.
Click here to book: Sanderson Hotel
Address: 50 Berners Street, London W1T3NG
9. Best afternoon tea in London for Instagram: Peggy Porschen at The Lanesborough London
With their bright pink and pretty floral façade, The Peggy Porschen cake shops are extremely popular Instagram spots in London. You can sample their delicious cakes and treats in their striking cafés in Chelsea and Belgravia while their exclusive afternoon tea is served in the elegant Lanesborough Hotel.
Served on 3-tier stands, the dazzling cakes in the shop’s signature pink colour, are almost too beautiful to eat. The Peggy Porschen afternoon tea is perfect for a fun afternoon with your girlfriends or a romantic date with your significant other.
Click here to book: Peggy Porschen at The Lanesborough Hotel
Address: Hyde Park Corner, London SW1X 7TA
10. Vegan afternoon tea in London: Café Forty One
Being London’s only entirely vegan hotel restaurant, Café Forty One does a vegan afternoon tea like no other. Using seasonal farm-to-table ingredients, the menu offers a delightful vegan twist on the classic afternoon tea.
The mouth-watering finger sandwiches are filled with original toppings such as Coronation jackfruit, tofu and cress and red pepper humus. The sandwiches are followed by tasty warm scones served with coconut clotted cream and seasonal fruit compote. Finally, finish your delicious vegan afternoon with a small selection of French patisserie.
For drinks, you can choose from a whole range of rich loose leaf teas and infusions, roasted Italian coffee and even festive non-alcoholic fizz and mocktails. If you’re after a healthy and sustainable yet appetizing meal, then this vegan afternoon tea at Café Forty One is a real must!
Click here to book: Café Forty One
Address: 41-51 Inverness Terrace, London W2 3JN
Choosing from one of these fantastic options, where will you have your afternoon tea in London?
Let me know in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx
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*Photo credit feature image: Peggy Porschen