Afternoon tea is a British tradition dating back to the 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford started inviting her friends to join her for 4pm tea and cake to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. London is known for having some of the best places in the world to enjoy this afternoon meal of tea, sandwiches, cakes, and scones. If you’re taking a trip to the capital make sure you take time to experience traditional afternoon tea.
We’ve rounded up some of the best places to go for afternoon tea in London from traditional hotels to some more unique locations. Whether you’re planning on celebrating a special occasion, or just want to give yourself a little treat, you won’t be disappointed at the spread on offer at these top five venues.
1. The Ritz
Afternoon tea has been served at The Ritz hotel since 1906, and it’s still the classic option, popular with foreign tourists and London socialites alike.
Tea is served five times a day in the Palm Court – a spectacular salon set between two palm trees and decked out with ornate mirrors, golden statues, and opulent chandeliers. A pianist, harpist, or string quintet adds to the ambience, and a soprano singer performs every Tuesday and Thursday evening.
As the only hotel in the UK to have a certified Tea Sommelier, the Ritz offers 18 types of loose-leaf tea, and there’s the option of champagne too. The food selection includes sandwiches with a variety of fillings, freshly baked raisin and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, and a selection of teacakes and pastries. Birthday cakes are available on request.
There is a formal dress code, and men must wear a jacket and tie. Jeans and sportswear are prohibited. You must reserve a table in advance and afternoon tea at The Ritz is usually booked up as much as 12 weeks in advance.
Sittings start from 11.30am and the last sitting is 7.30pm.
Price: from £58
The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London, W1J 9BR
2. Sketch London
If you’d prefer afternoon tea in a more contemporary setting, perhaps a venue that lends itself well to photo backdrops, Sketch in Mayfair is a must-visit.
With over 60 thousand Instagram posts tagged to the restaurant (that’s decorated appropriately in millennium pink), it’s clear that this is a place to see and be seen. But the food doesn’t disappoint either, and Sketch has earned its reputation as being one of the best places in London to have afternoon tea.
Matching its quirky interior design, the afternoon tea at Sketch is far from traditional. The food selection includes foie gras tartlettes, scones with clotted cream and strawberry and poppy jam, rhubarb and raspberry cheesecake, and Malabar marshmallow. There’s a selection of 20 teas available as well as sparkling wine, Champagne, cocktails, and alcohol-free sparkling grape juice.
There is no official dress code but Sketch asks that guests “dress with a sense of style and character.” Shorts are not permitted.
Afternoon tea is served from 1pm to 6pm
Price: from £58
Sketch, 9 Conduit St, Mayfair, London, W1S 2XG
3. Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea at The Shard
For afternoon tea with a literary twist, and one of the best views of the city, head to level 31 of The Shard for their Mary Poppins afternoon tea.
With a menu presented on a gilt gold framed mirror, an umbrella-topped tea stand, crockery adorned with Mary Shepard’s original Mary Poppins illustrations, and cocktails poured from retro “medicine liqueur” bottles, the experience is a treat for anyone fond of P.L. Travers’ much-loved tale.
The food selection includes finger sandwiches with fillings such as Cackleberry farm egg and truffle, and Devon crab and cucumber; miniature crumpets with smoked salmon and cream cheese; scones with jam and clotted cream; a “Strike Me Pink” sponge cake; “Cherry Tree Lane” mousse; and candy floss served from a fairground-inspired stand.
Two themed blended teas are on offer – “Mary’s Tea”, which blends Darjeeling, Ceylon, Keemun, and rose petals; and “Bert’s Tea”, combining Souchong, Keemun, Ceylon, vanilla, and cornflower. Champagne and homemade liqueurs are also available.
Dress code is smart casual and those wearing shorts, flip-flops, sports clothing or shoes will not be permitted to enter.
The Mary Poppins afternoon tea is available until Sunday 3 November 2019, and served every day from 1 – 5pm.
Price: from £49
Level 31 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY
4. Afternoon Tea at Petersham Covent Garden
Petersham Nurseries opened their Covent Garden restaurant, deli, and florist in 2018, and it’s quickly become one of the most popular spots in London for afternoon tea. Al fresco dining in the ridiculously photogenic Floral Court and the Italian-inspired menu is undoubtedly a winning combination, and this is definitely one of the best places to escape the city streets and enjoy afternoon tea in the summer months.
The food selection is served from a hand-blown Florentine cake stand, topped with an arrangement of seasonal flowers. Delicacies on offer include focaccia with mozzarella and broad beans, warn Italian bombolini doughnuts, and Amalfi lemon and vanilla choux. Don’t worry – the traditional English scones with clotted cream and jam haven’t been forgotten.
As well as an impressive tea list, there’s a menu of botanical cocktails, which are infused with tea combinations such as elderflower and chamomile, and cardamom and rose.
Afternoon tea is served every Thursday to Sunday, from 3 – 4.30pm.
Price: from £45
Petersham Nurseries, 31 King St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8JD
5. BRIGIT’S BAKERY AFTERNOON TEA BUS TOUR
If you’re visiting London and want to combine sightseeing with your afternoon tea experience, the Afternoon Tea Bus Tour allows you to take in some of the city’s most famous landmarks while enjoying tea, sandwiches, and sweet treats.
The bus tours Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St James’s Park, Hyde Park, The Royal Albert Hall, Marble Arch, Nelson’s Column, and Downing Street, and takes approximately 90 minutes.
The afternoon tea menu includes finger sandwiches with fillings such as cucumber and mint, and pastrami and mustard mayonnaise; savoury muffins; smoked salmon pretzels; freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam; lemon meringue tart; and mini chocolate cupcakes. There is a selection of teas on offer as well as coffee and hot chocolate, Champagne, and sparkling wine. Vegan, vegetarian, Halal, and gluten-free menus are also available.
The bus departs daily from 12.30pm and 3pm at 8 Northumberland Avenue; and 12.30pm, 2pm and 5pm from Victoria Coach Station
Price: from £45