Open countryside, quaint villages and cute tea rooms — what could be better? Kent knows its way around a cup of tea and a slice of cake, so we're sharing our pick of the best tea rooms in the Garden of England, from gorgeous riverside retreats to town centre pit stops.
We realise that not everyone's as tea-and-cake obsessed as we are, so we've included some suggestions for things to do nearby with each one, and make a full day of it.
The Tulip Tree Tea Rooms, Chiddingstone Village
If it's bucolic you're after, you can't do much better than a traditional tea room which is linked to the oldest functioning shop in England (once owned by Anne Boleyn's father...), located in an entire National Trust village.
That's Chiddingstone for you — a tiny, quaint hamlet, all Tudor gables and blossom trees. The village shop is the main draw, but head underneath the arch to the left of the shop and follow the cobbled alleyway to the end for The Tulip Tree. That alleyway is often lined with bicycles, as cyclists travel for miles for a Tulip Tree pit stop.
The outside seating area has a few tables, though they fill up quickly on a summer's day. Inside, place your order at the cake-laden counter then head through the archway for the indoor seating area, below bunting, fairy lights and wooden beams. The menu flows from a full English breakfast to sandwiches and soups for lunch, to towering slices of cakes, plus scones and cookies.
A word of warning; Chiddingstone Village wasn't designed for modern day traffic, and as a result, parking is non-existent. Your best bet is to head to Chiddingstone Castle, right next door, which allows people to use its car park in exchange for a donation in the honesty box. From here, it's a five-minute stroll past the front of the castle, across the lake and through a small forest to the village centre — or the castle has its own tea room, located in a Victorian courtyard around the back of the castle building, open in the summer months.
The Tulip Tree, 3 The Village, Chiddingstone, Kent, TN8 7AH.
Getting there: The nearest railway stations, Hever and Penshurst, are each a few miles away across fields. Confusingly, Penshurst station is located in Chiddingstone Causeway, which is not the same place as Chiddingstone Village. Driving is your best bet.
Riverside Tea Room, Eynsford
Regularly voted as one of the most picturesque villages in Kent, thanks to its functioning ford and historic stone bridge over the River Darent, Eynsford is also home to a delightful tea room.
The Riverside Tea Room is, as you'd expect, next to said river. The pink doors, multiple chalk boards outside and, more often that not, bicycles leaning against the side of petite redbrick building, let you know you're in the right place. Throw in colourful hanging baskets, pastel bunting and a hanging sign in the shape of a teapot and you've got yourself a charming place to tuck into breakfast, brunch, lunch, light snacks, or just a drink as you pass through — and there's a special children's menu too.
If you're there for breakfast, do yourself a favour and order the pancake stack. Otherwise, if the weather's on your side, get a slice of cake or a sandwich to take away, and walk the few steps to the water's edge, take a seat, and make the most of being in the Kent countryside.
Riverside Tea Room, 2a Riverside, Eynsford, Kent, DA4 OAE.
Getting there: Eynsford station is a 10 minute walk away — direct trains to Victoria and Blackfriars take about 45 minutes. There is a public car park next to the tea room, but it gets busy very quickly.
The Honey Pot, Shoreham
So tiny you could easily miss it, The Honey Pot appears, on first glance, to be someone's garage — in fact, the building probably was once someone's garage. These days, a handful of tables are squeezed inside, with a couple of benches in the tiny outdoor space too. The menu is typical tea room fare — hot and cold drinks, cakes, milkshakes, afternoon tea, sausage rolls, jacket potatoes, soups and the like.
Visit in May to enjoy the roses and wisteria in full bloom on the cottage directly opposite.
The Honey Pot, 4 High Street, Shoreham, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 7TD.
Getting there: Shoreham station is about a 15-minute walk away, but be aware that it's along a busy country road. If you're driving, Filston Lane Car Park is a couple of minutes' walk away.
The Earl Grey Tea Rooms, Southborough, near Tunbridge Wells
The A26 main road between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells is not where you'd expect to find a delightful vintage-themed tea room, but that's exactly what the Earl Grey is. As the traffic chugs past outside, it's like stepping back in time, with well-thought out decor including a vintage typewriter window display, roses and vintage teacups strung from the ceiling, and tea served in charmingly mismatched pots and cups.
The menu weaves from light breakfasts and brunches to toasted sandwiches and jacket potatoes, with many of the ingredients and products sourced from other local businesses. However, we recommend leaving room for dessert — towering, multi-layered sponge cakes sit temptingly on the countertop (think salted caramel & banana, red velvet, white chocolate & raspberry...) alongside rocky road, brownies and other less lofty sweet treats. Pair with a milkshake or hot chocolate, either of which can be topped with cream and marshmallows, for a decadent refuelling session.
There's something of a local vibe to the place — it's not unusual to see parents bringing their kids in for a milkshake after school, alongside groups sharing a celebratory afternoon tea. It's not huge though, and we recommend booking a table.
The Earl Grey Tea Rooms, 66 London Road, Southborough, Kent, TN4 OPR. Note, it doesn't open Sundays or bank holidays.
Getting there: Nearest station is High Brooms, about a 20-minute (uphill!) walk away. Alternatively, get a train to Tonbridge and hop on a bus towards Tunbridge Wells - the 402 and 7 routes go this way. Southborough car park is just a few minutes' walk away on Yew Tree Road, and there's another public car park on Pennington Road, a few minutes in the other direction.
Alice and the Hatter, Herne Bay
All self-respecting tea room guides contain at least a passing mention to Alice in Wonderland, and Kent's comes in the form of Alice and the Hatter. Since the sad demise of the Mad Hatter Tea Room in Chester, it might be the best spot for Alice fans in the UK (though the New Forest also lays claim to that accolade).
Back to Kent, and our pitstop is made unmissable by its bright red frontage as you wander back a couple of blocks from the seafront. A few tables line the pavement outside in fair weather, but head inside for the full Alice experience — think chequerboard floors, tablecloths and walls, oversized tea cup decorations, Lewis Carroll quotes on the walls, and chintzy tableware, with plenty of Alice characters throughout.
You could just pop in for a slice of cake or a toasted sandwich, but for the full Alice experience, book the afternoon tea. It's served on the traditional three-tiered stand, with sandwiches, scones, and trippily-decorated cakes, all to be washed down with a 'Drink Me' potion. A wooden table in the centre of the tea room is laden with Wonderland-themed merch for sale.
Alice And The Hatter, 24 William Street, Herne Bay, Kent, CT6 5EQ.
Getting there: Herne Bay station is about a 20-minute walk away. Trains take about 1 hour 20 minutes to St Pancras, and 1 hour 30 minutes to London Victoria.
Peggotty's Tea Shoppe, Tenterden
With its bay-style window and white Kentish weatherboarding, Peggotty's Tea Shoppe — like much of Tenterden — is a charmer before you even get through the mint-green door, and wouldn't look out of place in a Dickens novel. Inside, things have a formal air, all dark-wood chairs, wooden beams and white tablecloths, and the best seat in the house is, undoubtedly, one of the tables for two in that protruding window, from where you can watch the comings and goings of this sleepy town. However, if you're visiting in summer, it's worth knowing about the leafy, rose-filled tea garden out the back.
Wherever you perch, the menu's the same — sandwiches made fresh to order, jacket potatoes and soups. The display of homemade cakes is refreshed daily, with choices such as Victoria sponge, coffee & walnut, and Kentish apple. Scones, toasted tea cakes and crumpets are available for those with a less sweet tooth, and for a special treat, there are cream teas and afternoon tea.
Peggotty's Tea Shoppe, 122 High Street, Tenterden, Kent, TN30 6HT.
Getting there: Tenterden does have a station, but it's a heritage station on the Kent & East Sussex Railway — so no chance of a train to London. Driving is your best bet — there's a pay and display car park in the town.
The Moat Tea Rooms, Canterbury
This 500 year-old, half-timbered building gives Chiddingstone a run for its money in the dripping-in-history stakes — it's all exposed beams and wooden floors, located just inside Canterbury's city walls.
Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea is served, but you're equally welcome if you're just after a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Tea lovers are well catered for, with a lengthy menu of speciality blends and knowledgable staff always happy to offer a recommendation, and one wall lined with caddies of the stuff. Cakes err on the side of the traditional with the likes of Victoria sponge, carrot, and lemon drizzle, and if you get there early enough you might be in time to try one of the day's Gypsy Tarts, a sweet treat which originated in Kent.
Oh, and there's a lovely courtyard garden out the back, though naturally, it's in high demand on warm days.
The Moat Tea Rooms, 67 Burgate, Canterbury, CT1 2HJ.
Getting there: Walking distance of both Canterbury East and Canterbury West stations, both with direct trains to London Victoria and St Pancras.
Fleur de Thé, Rochester
If this place sounds familiar to Londoners, it's because there's another branch in Danson Park, Bexleyheath. But today, we're all about the Rochester outpost, a traditional English vintage-style tea room that doubles up as a homewares and gifts shop.
The vibe is a calming — if chintzy — one, helped by the light pouring in from floor to ceiling windows on two sides. Pop in for brunch or lunch, or book for afternoon tea which includes sandwiches, scones, cakes, and tea or coffee. Seasonal afternoon tea menus are often available — check the website for current offerings.
Fleur de Thé, 132-134 High Street, Rochester, ME1 1JT.
Getting there: It's a five-minute walk from Rochester station, which has direct trains to St Pancras and London Victoria in under 45 minutes.
Also worth a mention:
- Fir Tree House Tea Rooms, close to Penshurst Place and the original Leicester Square, is within a building that was once part of the Penshurst Estate. These tea rooms have limited and erratic opening hours, so do check with them directly before making a special journey.
- The Old Dairy Tea Room at Great Comp Gardens, between Maidstone and Sevenoaks, is a quaint experience, located within a historic barn. The tea room is only open to visitors to Great Comp, so you'll need to pay garden admission to access the tea room.
- Though not strictly a tea room, The Bakehouse at 124 in Tonbridge High Street is a top-notch spot for a hot drink and incredible baked goods (two words: Cruffin Fridays). It helps that it's in a beautiful gabled building, right next to Tonbridge Castle.