It simply would not make sense to visit the British capital and forego the quintessential English experience that is afternoon tea. Although almost every hotel not just in the capital but the country nowadays serves a variation of afternoon tea, trust me when I say that, arguably, not all are created equal. Here are my eight favourites places for afternoon teas in London, from ultra affordable to super chic.
What is afternoon tea anyway?
For the uninitiated, afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 4 and 6pm; the definition of “light”, however, varies wildly from one establishment to another, and although it is still eaten in the afternoon very few people will have the stomach for anything resembling dinner later on in the day.
The custom of afternoon tea is largely credited to Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and BFF to Queen Victoria, as she simply could not wait until dinner was served at 8pm, which was the fashionable time for the evening meal in the 1840s. This was about 200 years tea became a popular beverage in Britain as well as immediately following the culinary experiments of the Earl of Sandwich with bread and butter, which we are well accustomed to today. The Duchess requested that a tray of bite-size sandwiches and cakes, as well as tea, was brought up to her room at around 4pm.
As it turned out, Duchess Anna wasn’t the only one to become hungry mid-afternoon and soon, her closest friends joined her for a bite, too. Fast-forward a few decades later and afternoon tea was all anyone could talk about, as it had become quite the event. In fact, 1880s high society women would change into extravagant outfits — including long gowns, feathery hats and long gloves — before they went into the drawing-room, where afternoon tea was hereafter served.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, what are the great places for afternoon teas in London?
83 Watling Street, city of london / £26.50
Casual tea — also, one of the least expensive — with a side of cake extravaganza including uncommon brioche tea sandwiches. Finish off your experience with a visit to the building’s free rooftop terrace for unique views of St. Pauls and London. Reservations compulsory.
1 Suffolk Place, Soho / £22
Refreshingly colourful afternoon tea in a bright conservatory filled with modern art that only feels super expensive, as it is really quite affordable in reality. Expect traditional fare like scones, sandwiches and decadent bite-size cakes as well as a vast range of speciality teas and infusions.
Brook Street, Mayfair / £58
If it’s chic enough for Gwyneth Paltrow and her contemporaries, it’s chic enough for me. Admittedly, this is the highest priced and most iconic afternoon tea in London but I find that these kinds of experiences — which are characterised by unparalleled quality both in terms of food and service — are entirely worth the price for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
9 Conduit Street, Mayfair / £45
Is this real life? I couldn’t believe how stunning sketch looked; it felt like I had entered a parallel universe. And the food? Scrumptious and flawless. My absolute favourite afternoon tea; well worth the rather steep price. It’s been a few months since I was there and I simply haven’t gotten over it yet.
Kensington Palace, Kensington / £27.50
This is the closest you’ll get to Kate and the kids — who cares for William anymore, right? — at this surprisingly low price point! This is your chance to have tea with pinkie finger up on the grounds of the royal palace where Lady Diana, amongst others, lived for the longest time. Tea is served in a lovely 18th-century, light-filled room surrounded by the formal Kensington Gardens.
32 London Bridge Street, Southwark / £54
Expectedly, the 360-degree view from The Shard’s 35th floor — making it one of the highest afternoon teas in London — comes at a premium price but it’s all forgotten when the enticing, refined afternoon tea and its selection of 30+ teas are served. If this isn’t your first time having tea, opt for the Asian version, a classic of the Shangri-La brand.
£45 for bus tour / £85 for boat tour
For an original and active afternoon tea, why not book a bus or boat tour of London? Famed Brigit’s Bakery serves a mean French-inspired equivalent with macarons and mini-quiches while you zip through some of London’s most iconic sights. A truly unique experience!