Top picks for a perfectly English afternoon tea in London

English afternoon tea in London

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When it comes to British food traditions, is there anything more perfectly English than the institution of afternoon tea?

Possibly fish and chips or a roast dinner but they are not nearly as exciting or filled with ritual as a proper English afternoon tea with all the trimmings and ceremony.

Whether you are visiting London for the first time or are a frequent visitor, afternoon tea must be on your London itinerary. Even if, like me, you don’t really like drinking tea yourself (more on that later).

The English afternoon tea tradition

English afternoon tea

The tradition of afternoon tea began in the 19th century. Originally a light meal eaten between 3.30pm and 5.00pm,  tea was taken by the upper classes although it quickly became popular with the upper middle classes and evolved into the extravagance we know it today.

Today, tea is often an elaborate meal of sandwiches, scones and sweet pastries offered by London’s finest hotels and restaurants.

It is served on a tiered cake stand with beautifully arranged sandwiches, small cakes and other treats and petits fours such as macarons and chocolates.

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Of course afternoon tea is always served with a choice of many different varieties of tea served in a teapot. Not a teabag in sight!

For those of you who, like me, really don’t enjoy the taste of traditional and aromatic black teas, there will usually be peppermint tea or other herbal varieties available. Or you could just stick to champagne!

Where to take afternoon tea in London

Dorchester afternoon tea spread

You can try more humble versions of tea that focus on scones and tea at cafes and teahouses across the country. But in my mind, there is nothing more exciting than getting dressed up to enjoy the ceremony of tea in London.

You have my permission to indulge and enjoy this perfectly English institution but be prepared to skip dinner – it’s quite a feast.

Here are some favourites and recommendations

Tea with Big Ben

London houses of parliament afternoon tea

If afternoon tea is one of Britain’s famous dining institutions, surely it must be matched with one of world’s most iconic buildings. Did you know that you can take afternoon tea at the Houses of Parliament?

One of my all time favourite London experiences, the tea rooms are on the banks of the Thames under the shade of the Elizabeth Tower so you can hear Big Ben’s bells tolling as you spread some jam on your scone.

Afterwards, take a tour of Parliament and learn about this most famous building and its historic past – more information

A royal afternoon tea

Afternoon tea in the Orangery Kensington Palace

After a visit to Kensington Palace or exploring one of the nearby London gardens, I highly recommend stopping at the Orangery at Kensington Palace for afternoon tea. It is a beautiful venue in summer looking out over the gardens and extremely cosy during those cold London winters.

One of the best value teas in London, you can’t beat the regal atmosphere of the Orangery, complete with elegant high ceilings, ornate crockery and little royal touches throughout. The relaxed and professional service means it is an enjoyable day out even with kids in tow.

The Orangery at Kensington Palace serves tea between 12:00 and 18:00 daily – more information.

Traditional luxury champagne afternoon tea

Scones at the Dorchester

Since it opened its doors in 1931 the Dorchester has been serving one of the poshest afternoon teas in London. In the luxurious surroundings of The Promenade lobby, elegant sandwiches and delicate cakes are served while your tea is taken from the finest china.

Even the scones are refined at the Dorchester. Their bite sized version is made to a 50 year old recipe and are quite delicious. Apart from the scones, this experience is for tea lovers with blends sourced from the Scotland’s Dalreoch estate.

The Dorchester has several sittings for tea daily from 13:30pm to 17:30pm daily – more information

Afternoon tea with cocktails

Cocktail afternoon tea

After a long day of sightseeing or shopping in London, head to the Quarter Bar at the London Bridge Hotel and relax with one of their signature cocktails and a delicious afternoon tea.

Traditional finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats are served in an informal environment. Grab a booth with your girlfriends and linger over your tea before embarking on your next London adventure.

Tea is served between 14:30pm and 17:00pm Monday to Friday and from 13:00pm to 17:00pm on weekends – more information

Family afternoon tea

Family afternoon tea at St Ermins

It might surprise you that  the grand surrounds of St Ermin’s hotel in St James’s was the perfect introduction to high tea for our young children.

Tea is served in the large Tea Lounge and library or outside on the terrace if the weather is fine and the staff are friendly and used to accommodating little people.

St Ermin’s offers a special Buzzy Bees afternoon tea for children that includes child friendly favourites like ham sandwiches and strawberry jelly.

After enjoying tea, take the family to see the hotel’s famous beehives where over 350,000 bees make the honey enjoyed in elements of your afternoon tea.

You can visit St Ermin’s for afternoon tea between 12:00 and 18:00pm – more information

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea

If you are a fan of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or simply love chocolate you will love the attention to detail at The Chesterfield’s themed afternoon tea.

With nods to the books throughout the different tea courses,  it’s an exciting experience and there are sure to be many oohs and ahs as the food and drinks arrive at your table. There is even a chocolate scented tea to try making this possibly the best chocolate afternoon tea in London.

The staff are brilliant with children and birthdays too. We left our tea with a “Wonka” chocolate bar and even a golden ticket!

Be quick though, you can only book the tea until 20th November 2017 – more information

Take tea at the one of the spiritual homes of London tea

London teapots

Fortnum and Mason is a British institution when it comes to tea. Famous royal providores based on Piccadilly, they stock over 100 tea blends from around the world. Fortnum’s even created the Royal Blend for Edward VII in 1902.

Tea is served in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon where you are treated to classic cucumber, smoked salmon and coronation chicken sandwiches followed by scones, tea cakes and patisserie.

After your meal, pop downstairs and pick up your favourite blend of tea from their magnificent shop.

At Fortnum’s tea is served 11:30am to 19:00pm from Monday to Saturday and 11:30am to 18:00pm on Sunday – more information

Where will you be taking tea in London? And do you have a favourite?

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38 thoughts on “Top picks for a perfectly English afternoon tea in London

  1. Marina says:

    I’ve never had a traditional afternoon tea. I’ll have to see if there’s somewhere that does it here. But now I really want fish & chips. And I have had that in a little restaurant under a bridge in Glasgow.

  2. Marina says:

    I actually just looked it up and found at least one place that does it here. Denver used to be quite an old west town of people looking for gold. I heard a story about this hotel downtown called the Brown Palace. The owner was very wealthy and built this hotel because he wasn’t allowed into another one while he was wearing jeans and cowboy boots or something like that. I bet it’s just pure fancy now, though. Maybe I will wear my denim dress. 😉

    So if you ever make a trip to the US and have a layover in Denver, they have a great train that comes straight from the airport to downtown.

    P.S. Can I ask what blogging platform you use? I like the comment form. Is that something that came with it or did you install it separately? I apologize if I’ve asked already. I’ve been asking around a bit. I need to upgrade from Blogger.

    • Katy says:

      I like your thinking Marina! The Brown Palace sounds like a lot of fun. I’d love to visit Denver one day as part of a big American road trip. My blog is on self hosted WordPress using a theme by Pipdig.

  3. annette @ A French Collection says:

    So many places to choose from in your post. I haven’t enjoyed High Tea in London as I have filled my time with so many other things, but next trip I think I’ll put it on the list. I really enjoyed my Marie Antoinette high tea earlier this year at the National Art Gallery of Australia in Canberra – such a lovely institution.

    • Katy says:

      You really should, it’s such a treat Annette. I also think it is the meal the Brits do best. We Aussies tend to borrow the best bits dont we?

  4. Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields says:

    High Tea (how did afternoon tea get such a posh name) at the Repulse Bay Hotel in Hong Kong is one of my most treasured memories. We lived in HK for four years and loved the ritual of afternoon tea. I have never had afternoon tea in London but there is always a first time for everything.

  5. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    I’m so tempted by all of these – Big Ben, cocktails, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – all sound delicious. I went years ago to The Ritz but more recently had some gorgeous treats at The Milestone Hotel in Kensington and The Royal Horseguards with a group of BritMums travel bloggers. Would love to do it properly though, with friends or family.

    • Katy says:

      The Ritz is definitely on the list Trish. Maybe you could extend the graduation celebrations for one last hurrah for tea.. we did Aqua Shard on the weekend – also very good 🙂

  6. Esther says:

    I should not have read this post at 4pm, feeling a little hungry. I want scones and jam now, and chocolates, and cake!!!!

  7. Lolo says:

    I’ve totally got so many posts pinned about places to have afternoon tea in London. I’ve been to England a hundred times and my family never ever told me about going out for an afternoon tea. Only the last time we went, my friend took us to one in Matlock Bath and ever since I have been hooked. Sooo, I’ll be pinning this one too! haha #FarawayFiles

  8. Keri | Ladies What Travel says:

    I’m an afternoon tea fanatic – hence the GLobal Afternoon Tea Challenge on my blog! 😉 I’ve done 3 of those on your list, most recently the Parliament one, which I think is just super special! Next on my london list is either the rock n roll afternoon tea in Shepherd’s Bush or the Aladdin one. Decisions, decisions! 😉 #FarawayFiles

  9. Catherine (Cultural Wednesday) says:

    You don’t like tea! Back in the distant past I found that lunches with PR’s took up too much of the day as every lunch involved a return journey to and from Television Centre and so struck on the idea of the 4.30 afternoon tea instead. My favourite was the Ritz but I also very fond of Fortnum’s and I quite fancy trying out the new Cafe Royal.

  10. Lydia C. Lee says:

    Lovely! We didn’t actually get time for tea, tho it had been on my plans…I was looking at an art gallery that had one. I want to say Gunner’s but I think I’m just making that up.

  11. Ruth | Tanama Tales says:

    I am not the biggest fan of tea but I have found out the stuff sold in stores can be a big miss. Hope the varieties served at afternoon tea are of better quality (and better taste). Anyway, I will like to experience tea because of the vibe, setting and finger food. I have never had the experience. Your photos are great! #FarawayFiles

  12. Kat says:

    Afternoon tea is so quintessentially English and I LOVE it! We have afternoon tea packages at Ritz Carlton Hotel and Majestic Hotel in KL – scones with jam and cream, small sandwiches, cakes and others on a tiered cake stand. Really nice! I would love to try the afternoon tea in London and will take your advice to try the one in Parliament House 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Sometimes I think that in SE Asia the hotels try to out-British the British. I have had tea at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore and there is only one word for that – OUTRAGEOUS! (in a good way). The Parliament House tea is very special and probably my top recommendation for visitors to London.

  13. Allison says:

    I love the sound of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea. What a clever and unique variation of a long standing tradition. #FarawayFiles

  14. Louise says:

    You can’t beat a great afternoon tea! I’ve been lucky enough to have afternoon tea at the Dorchester and the Kensington. How great does the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea look! That has definitely gone on the must do list! #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      I have to confess to booking Aqua at The Shard while I was writing this post – oops! Bit of an afternoon tea obsessive here! Hope you make it to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea – it’s wonderful

  15. Katherine says:

    I’m so jealous! I love afternoon tea, I had one in the Blue Mountains for my 30th birthday. I was in London on my own so I didn’t do proper English Afternoon Teas in any of those places but I did stop in at a few for tea and scones. I felt very upper classy and refined 😉 #FarawayFiles

  16. Dave McClane says:

    Believe it or not I have never been for afternoon tea despite living in England all of my life. I really shouldn’t have read this before eating! I’m not one for dressing up so I think the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea is more my style – I’d love to go home with a Wonka bar!

  17. Sol Solntze says:

    I had afternoon tea in a little boutique hotel in London for my *coughsplutterhack* significant birthday *cough*. It was perfect. I keep meaning to have another one, but I upped the ante too quickly. I quite like the look of some of these though.

  18. Carolyn Eddie says:

    Thanks. Heading to London soon and can’t decide if I want Big Ben (which is under repair so no chimes) or the orangery. When i was catering in CT, Afternoon Tea was my speciality. Keep wondering if I could do something here in Copenhagen. I brought 36 of my best cups and sauces with me. www,

  19. Hilary says:

    Love love love this! We always have tea when in the UK, a few favorites were the Corinthia Hotel in London and The Westbury in Dublin. I’m regretting that I didn’t include tea with our Parliament tour, next time… Would have loved that Charlie And The Chocolate Factory themed tea, but seems like we’ll just miss it. #farawayfiles

  20. Ahila says:

    Afternoon teas are indeed a decadent speciality of England and my benchmark usually is the scone. I am very picky about the scone being delicious, moist and melt in the mouth kind. Enjoyed your recommended places, Katy, and would love to try out the Dorchester during my next visit to London. #FarawayFiles

  21. Chiera says:

    I’ve never gone for a full afternoon tea, but I’m partial to a scone with cream and jam, but only in my living room! It would be so cool to have one in London, these places look so fancy 🙂 #farawayfiles

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