Where to go for afternoon tea in London

Tea is a popular British tradition but how did it start and where should you go for the best afternoon tea in London?

Afternoon tea is a ritual, nothing less. In the mind of the enthusiast, there must be certain elements: a tiered stand with cakes and sandwiches elegantly displayed; a choice of teas, served in a pot, preferably with a jug of hot water to top it up. There should be little sandwiches (preferably crustless), savory treats, cakes and scones.

The idea is to choose from small, ladylike bites. Two hefty sandwiches and a wedge of cake on a plate might be an afternoon snack but it is absolutely not afternoon tea! A ‘cream tea’ is different again. This equally happy ritual consists of tea in a pot, accompanied by scones, jam and clotted cream – no sandwiches or cakes.

These days, afternoon tea is often associated with upscale restaurants and hotels. Yes, it can be expensive. It’s part of the whole experience to have tea in opulent surroundings with attentive staff, but there are many other quirky places that will provide a thoroughly British experience.

Plenty of establishments offer themed teas for children too, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at One The Aldwych, to Alice in Wonderland at The Franklin and Peter Pan at The Shard.

Tradition has it that afternoon tea as a meal was started somewhere in the 1840s by Anna Maria Russell,  the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who found herself growing hungry in the long gap between lunch and dinner.

Afternoon tea in London / Shutterstock

In rural areas, people still rose at dawn, lunched at noon, had an early supper and went to bed before the sun set. But in the expanding cities, the upper classes in particular weren’t bound by such restrictions – they had lighting in the evenings for a start – and dinner was shifting towards 9pm, a full nine hours after lunch.

The hungry Duchess asked if some tea, bread and butter, and a slice of cake could be brought to her in the late afternoon, and although the details may be apocryphal (some historians place the meal’s origin back to the late 1700s) a tradition was born.

Tea, as a drink, had arrived in Britain in the 1600s and had for a long time been so expensive that only the very rich could afford to drink it. By the Victorian era, everyone was enjoying their cups of tea with afternoon snacks but, being Britain, little social differences arose.

Just as there is still hot debate – bewildering to visitors – as to whether the jam or the cream is placed first on a scone during a cream tea, there is often even hotter debate over whether the milk goes in the teacup first or afterwards.

There’s a simple explanation: wealthy people tended to use delicate porcelain cups for their tea, and the milk was put in first so the hot tea wouldn’t crack the porcelain. The sturdy china cups of the lower orders did not have that problem, so the milk was added afterwards.

So whether you order afternoon tea in a five-star hotel, on top of a tour bus or sailing down the Thames, it should be a meal to remember – and it won’t ruin your evening dinner!

Here the MCC team has put together a list of the best places in London for afternoon tea.

– If you’re thinking of making a trip, why not let MCC help? Call our Bookings service, or message a member of the team via WhatsApp on +966 533 633 607 for assistance with all your travel plans.

TEA AT TOP HOTELS

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz Hotel, London

The Ritz

There is very little ritzier than tea at The Ritz. The best chefs, opulent surroundings, no fewer than 18 different blends of tea and everything oozing classic luxury. Glorious.
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+44 20 7300 2345
The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR

Claridge’s

They’ve been perfecting the art of serving tea at Claridge’s for the past 150 years. Beautiful pastries and sandwiches served in lovely surroundings.
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+44 20 7107 8886
Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR

Prêt-à-Portea, The Berkeley

The 2022 tea season at the Berkeley is themed on couture fashion with cakes, biscuits and savories based on designers from Chael to Gucci. Very elegant.
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+44 20 7235 6000
Wilton Place, Knightsbridge,  London SW1X 7RL

The Egerton House Hotel

Elegant afternoon tea served in this five-star hotel in Knightsbridge. There’s a doggy version too, for pet lovers.
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+44 20 7589 2412
17-19 Egerton Terrace, Knightsbridge, London, SW3 2BX

The Lanesborough

Afternoon tea is served all year but fans will love the Bridgerton Regency tea being served in the richly decorated dining room, under a domed glass roof (until November 2022).
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+44 20 7259 5599
Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge London SW1X 7TA

The Goring

The very upscale Goring (the Duchess of Cambridge’s family stayed there on the night before Kate’s wedding to Prince William) has been serving afternoon teas for the past century and they do it very well. Lovely surroundings.
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+44 20 7769 4485
15 Beeston Place London, SW1W 0JW

The Savoy

Tea in the foyer under a lovely glass-domed atrium is a feature of this five-star hotel on the edge of the theater district. The Savoy has been serving afternoon tea since 1889 and they have it down to a fine art.
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+44 20 7420 2111
The Strand, London WC2R 0EZ

The Corinthia

Opulent afternoon tea in a five-star hotel that opened in its current form in 2011 in a historic former hotel building near Trafalgar Square.
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+44 20 7321 3150
Whitehall Place, 10a Northumberland Ave, London SW1A 2BD

The Langham

Try a smart, elegant afternoon tea in the Palm Court of the five-star Langham, near the BBC buildings.
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+44 20 7636 1000
1c Portland Place, London W1B 1JA

Browns, The Drawing Room

Browns opened in 1837, the year that Queen Victoria ascended the throne, and in later years she was said to have enjoyed afternoon tea in its discreetly luxurious surroundings. They are still serving their sumptuous teas in their Drawing Room.
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+44 20 7518 4006
Browns Hotel, Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP

The Connaught

Jean-Georges at The Connaught serves an elegant afternoon tea with a few South-Asian twists in this five-star hotel in Mayfair. Sit in the cool, beautifully designed, glass-walled restaurant, or outside on the terrace.
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+44 20 7107 8861
Jean-Georges at The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL

Ham Yard Hotel

Pleasant, cheffy afternoon tea at this five-star hotel in Soho on the borders of Mayfair.
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+44 20 3642 1007
1 Ham Yard, Soho, London W1D 7DT

The Zetter Townhouse

Zetter Townhouses (there’s another in Clerkenwell) are boutique hotels that present themselves as the quirky homes of former wealthy travelers, and are crammed with antiques and curios. Afternoon tea served in ‘Seymour’s Parlour’ aims to create everything the ritual should be.
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+44 20 7324 4567
28-30 Seymour St, Marylebone London, W1H 7JB

Great Scotland Yard Hotel

Sip tea in the Parlour of this elegant hotel, housed in a historic building. There is even a dogs’ tea held every other Sunday!
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+44 20 7925 4700
3-5 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HN

TEA AROUND TOWN

Afternoon tea at Peggy Porschen London

Peggy Porschen

Upscale cake-maker Peggy Porschen bakes for the best and this shows in the lovely cakes for the afternoon teas. Everything tends to be very, very pink.
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+44 20 7730 1316
116 Ebury Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9QQ

Fortnum & Mason

Practically a national institution, Fortnum’s has been importing, blending and serving tea for centuries and is bristling with Royal Warrants in consequence. Afternoon tea in its Diamond Jubilee Lounge is a rewarding experience.
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+44 20 7734 8040
Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1A 1ER

The Lane

Upscale bakery Lili Vanilli has designed the afternoon tea offering in the Grand Saloon of the Theater Royal, Drury Lane. An elegant tea, elegantly done.
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+44 20 7557 7300
Catherine St, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5JF

Helix by Searcy’s at The Gherkin

Even if you can’t manage three tiers of cakes and sandwiches, this restaurant high up in the Gherkin building in the City has panoramic views over London.
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+44 330 107 0816
30 St Mary Axe, City, London EC3A 8EP

Roast

Set above Borough Market at London Bridge, this bang-on traditional afternoon tea will set you up for some excellent artisan shopping.
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+44 20 3371 3120
The Floral Hall, Stoney St, Borough Market, London SE1 1TL

The Ivy Tower Bridge

Reasonably priced tea from the upscale Ivy group, on a riverside terrace with great views of Tower Bridge.
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+44 20 3146 7722
One Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 2AA

The Wolseley

Afternoon tea in the ornate setting of a historic building in the style of the great European grand cafés. Impeccable service and style.
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+44 20 7499 6996
160 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EB

Sketch

Elegant afternoon tea – re-imagined by French chefs – served in an 18th-century townhouse that offers restaurant service from breakfast onwards.
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+44 20 7659 4500
9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG

TEA ON THE MOVE

Brigit's Afternoon Tea Bus Tour / London

Brigit’s Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

Take a sightseeing tour in a London bus while having afternoon tea from this bakery. There are several different types of tea available, including Vegan, halal and a rather jolly Peppa Pig version for the children.
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+44 20 3026 1188
6-7 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4HU

Bateaux London Afternoon Tea River Cruise

Traditional teas on a two-hour sightseeing trip along the Thames.
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Embankment Pier, Victoria Embankment, London, WC2N 6NU

CHILDREN’S TEATIME

Mad Hatter's Tea Party at The Sanderson Hotel / London

Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea, Sanderson Hotel

An elaborately themed, rather glorious Alice-in-Wonderland themed tea in the pleasant surroundings of this five-star hotel in Fitzrovia, suitable for adults and children.
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+44 20 7300 5588
50 Berners Street Fitzrovia, London W1T 3NG

Peter Pan Afternoon Tea at the Aqua Shard

The views from the tallest building in London are of course great fun, but so is the Peter Pan afternoon tea with an imaginative menu children will like. Adults can have a separate afternoon tea menu should they feel like it!
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+44 20 3011 1256
Level 31 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, Southwark, London, UK SE1 9RY

Charlie and the Chocolate factory at One Aldwych

Gorgeously quirky tea at the five-star One Aldwych Hotel on the theme of Roald Dahl’s famous characters – great for children and for accompanying adults releasing their inner child.
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+44 20 7300 0300
1 Aldwych, Covent Garden, London WC2B 4BZ

The Franklin (Alice in Wonderland)

Sumptuous Alice- themed tea at the five-star Franklin Hotel, suitable for adults as well as children.
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+44 20 7584 5533
24 Egerton Gardens, Knightsbridge, London SW3 2DB

The Ampersand Hotel

Set next to the Science Museum, the Ampersand boutique hotel offers two science-themed teas – the science tea oe for adults and the sci-fi tea for children. Even picky eaters will like to bite the heads off ‘fossils’ and have jam served in petri-dishes.
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+44 20 7589 5895
10 Harrington Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 3ER

THE ART OF TEA

National Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery’s lovely rooftop terrace is closed for renovations until 2023, but the National Gallery next door serves a stylish afternoon tea in its Ochre restaurant
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+44 20 7747 2525
Trafalgar Sq, Westminster, London WC2N 5DN

The Wallace Collection

Combining an art collection with afternoon tea – what could be nicer?
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+44 20 7563 9505
Hertford House, Manchester Square, Marylebone,  London W1U 3BN

TEA WITH A TWIST

LaLit Indian afternoon tea / London

LaLit

This elegant Indian restaurant within the boutique hotel of the same name at London Bridge offers its own teatime treat in its gallery, hence the title ‘High Chai’. Good fun for a different experience.
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+44 20 3765 0000
181 Tooley Street, Southwark, London SE1 2JR

Kai Mayfair

This Michelin-starred oriental restaurant offers a Chinese Whispers afternoon tea that’s a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Stunning.
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+44 20 7493 8988
65 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2QU

Inamo

An eastern twist to afternoon tea comes from this pan-Asian restaurant offering a selection of sweet and savory items – including sushi – served with Asiatic precision on tiered display stands.
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+44 20 7484 0500
134-136 Wardour St, London W1F 8ZP

Duo Shoreditch Made in Manhattan Tea

American-themed afternoon tea at an ultra-contemporary restaurant and venue in Shoreditch.
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+44 20 7284 0989
45-47 Hoxton Square, London N1 6PD

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