From an outsider’s point of view, the tradition of afternoon tea must seem downright peculiar. Why would you eat a stack of sandwiches, followed by a cream tea, followed by an ungodly amount of cake at 4pm? Because we’re British and that’s what Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, inventor of the afternoon tea, would want us to do.
These days, afternoon tea is an activity we sort of engage in by default, whether it be to show off our Britishness to a friend visiting England for the first time, or for the annual and inevitable catch-up with your godmother. But this guide is here to remind you that we really should be partaking in this activity more frequently - it turns out that afternoon tea is actually quite lovely. So next time you feel like sacking off an afternoon to drink tea and eat a tonne of cake, here’s where to go.
The All time Classics
From £70 per person
We’re pretty sure that the Queen was born in Claridges. That, or, someone comes from the palace to spray the place with royal air once a week. That’s one of the reasons why you’re going to be paying £70 for tea here. Another is the Mayfair location, the live pianist and cellist, and the fact that everything here - from the sandwiches to the scones - tastes just a bit better than it does almost everywhere else. You’re also going to definitely want to spend some time with the pastries. The vanilla bourbon religieuse alone blows the sweet section of every other afternoon tea out of the water.
From £50 per person
If you dream of being fanned and fed grapes in a room that looks like the set of the Princess Diaries, then you should book the afternoon tea at The Goring, a five-star hotel in Belgravia. You’ll get the typical fluffy scones and mini cakes, but you’re not really here for the food. You’re here to have your tea poured for you and your plate changed whenever a crumb gets too close to it. And mostly, you’re here for your temporary guardian angel-cum-server who appears out of nowhere if your smile so much as wavers. Typically, the idea of someone hovering over you, and swooping in to check if everything’s okay every millisecond might be invasive, but at the Goring, you won’t even notice. And it’s that effortlessly excellent service that makes The Goring so popular, meaning you should book well in advance, especially for weekends.
From £60 per person
The Ritz is everything you expect it to be. Assuming that you expect gold detailing, excellent service, and a human tie generator. The afternoon tea is excellent, the pastries and cakes are particularly good, and if you’ve got an extreme sweet tooth, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a cake trolley that’s driven to your table offering whichever cakes they have that day. It’s easy to get carried away and spend a good couple of hours here, and you definitely should. It’s great for a birthday treat, or if you just want to dress up and try one of the best afternoon teas London has to offer. Just some things to keep in mind: it’s usually booked out weeks in advance, and they have a serious dress code.
From £62 per person
If you’ve been around the afternoon tea block, The Langham is the best place to have a chilled out one in London. This isn’t to say that the surroundings are casual - the mirrored, pillared Palm Court room is very fancy, as is the Wedgwood crockery your tea’s served on. That said, this is a place you can feel comfortable hanging for a while with your pals without worrying about disturbing others around you. It’s even a good place to bring kids, which helps if your sister absolutely insists on bringing your constantly-in-motion nephews.
Fortnum & Mason
From £60 per person
Fortnum & Mason is a department store that’s famous for supplying the royals with their tea, and at times can feel like a very posh human zoo - until you sit down for the extremely pleasant tea service. While most tea services are held in whatever old drawing room a hotel could come up with, the entire fifth floor at Fortnum & Mason was clearly designed for the sole purpose of afternoon tea. Come for a classy experience, or if you’re with someone who refuses to eat clotted cream, they’ll accommodate pretty much any dietary requirement here. Don’t turn up expecting a table (remember, this place is a human zoo), but you can usually book online the day before and get a table, so do that.
From £29.75 per person
The Wolseley is excellent at anything you throw at it - a fancy breakfast, a business lunch, a late night dinner, and yes, an afternoon tea. It’s always lively here, and the space, a converted 1920s car showroom with high ceilings and marble columns, would make even a paperclip convention seem like an exciting event. It does get extremely busy and a tad touristy at times, but that’s only because everyone knows The Wolseley is always a good idea.
From £58 per person
The Connaught is the ultimate chic afternoon tea spot. But despite all the five-star formalities, you don’t feel like you’re expected to be serious. It’s lively, there are people having lunch next to you, there are groups enjoying a glass of champagne at half one in the afternoon. And if you ask to be seated by the windows - which you should - there will be people walking down the street with designer shopping bags, while all you’re expected to do is sit back, eat their delicious sandwiches and scones, and have a good time.
Ham Yard Hotel
From £24 per person
We mentioned that you should never do afternoon tea on the cheap, but if you’re tight on the pennies and still want a decent one, The Ham Yard is where you should book. They have a sliding price range, starting at £22 and going up depending on the amount of additional savouries, bubbles, or cocktails you add to your set-up. This is also one of the most flexible afternoon teas in London. Haven’t booked? They can squeeze you in the bar lounge. Need an alternative date idea? Here’s your spot. Allergic to gluten, dairy, sugar, meat, pollen, or politics? They’ve got you.
From £38 per person
Most traditions are pretty rigid and afternoon tea is no exception. But afternoon tea at Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square is more like that fun aunt that accepts that traditions exist but lets you do what you want anyway. Here, rather than offering a single price that gets you everything, you can just pick the parts you want. You want some scones and tea but you’re not interested in little sandwiches? Easy, order the cream tea for a tenner. And it doesn’t hurt that the hotel has majestic pillars, a live singer, and is a five minute walk from the Tower of London.
Café Royal Hotel
From £55 per person
We like to think the design brief for the Oscar Wilde room at Hotel Café Royal went a little like this: ‘Dearest Designer, We have way too much money - please design a room that looks like our wealth threw up in it’. With its gold, velvet, and mirrors, this is by far the most opulent room hosting afternoon tea in London. When you sit down, the high society person inside you just can’t help but click into action - look at you nibbling at excellent savouries and sweets all fancy. You’ll want to keep the champagne flowing. To do otherwise would be sacrilege.
From £75 per person
The Savoy is the best representation of old London glamour in the city, and as you may suspect, having afternoon tea here makes you feel like a real life aristocrat. The Thames Foyer, where you’ll have your tea, is a beautiful space, and it’s easy to get carried away with the whole experience because they look after you so well. There’s no extra charge for refills here, so go ahead and ask for another round of sandwiches and cake.
The Corinthia Hotel
From £55 per person
Despite sounding like a hippy yoga tent at Glasto, The Crystal Moon Lounge, where they serve tea in The Corinthia Hotel, is actually a very elegant spot. The humongous globe-like chandelier that makes the centre of the room would distract you totally from the task at hand if it weren’t for the cakes, which are more ‘diabetes-inducing creative confectionary’ than actual cake. The Corinthia’s also a great place for people watching, and there’s always a high chance of spotting the mum of that celebrity you stalk religiously on Instagram.
THEMED AFTERNOON TEAS
Madhatter's Tea Party
From £48 per person
Yes, we were initially skeptical of the Alice In Wonderland-themed Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel - it sounds like an activity you would be emotionally manipulated into by your five-year-old goddaughter. But this is actually one of our favourites in London. Tea is served in the courtyard of the hotel, making it one of the few afternoon teas you can have outside, and they also objectively serve the best scones in town.
From £65 per person
The afternoon tea at The Rosewood is art-themed and comes in the form of cakes inspired by Pablo Picasso. The whole thing goes down in a beautiful mirror-filled room, so consider bringing the narcissistic, art-loving person in your life. Everyone has one of those.
The Athenaeum Hotel
From £39 per person
The Athenaeum Hotel does a couple of tea menus, most notably a savoury ‘Gentleman’s Tea’ that includes a serving of whiskey on the side. We don’t really believe afternoon tea should be gendered, but there’s a lot to like here regardless: the elegant and laid-back setting, the bonus glass of champagne, and the value for money (£39 all in). They do a ‘normal’ afternoon tea as well, but it’s definitely one to keep in mind if you’re with someone who claims they don’t get down with sugar.