It’s too bad that afternoon tea is so often viewed as twee or touristy — something you might do once a year, say, on Mother's Day, or with a friend visiting from out of town. In fact, it’s an elegant, timeless ritual that deserves to be preserved. ‘Ritual’ is the key word here — how many situations in our hectic modern lives truly have that sense of ceremony and occasion?
With so many terrible things going on around the world, afternoon tea might be one of the few times when you can slow down and revert back to a more innocent era, or escape into a fantasy world and indulge in much-needed ‘me time’. There’s nothing like the sweet sanctuary of a leisurely hour or two with friends, complete with voluptuous scones, gorgeous cakes, extravagant pastries, precision-cut finger sandwiches and a steaming pot of fragrant tea. Promise us, though, that you will switch off your mobile phone and really take time to savour every moment.
We’ve rounded up London’s top venues where you can enjoy ‘afternoon tea with a difference’ – the difference being either a quirky theme, unusual location, or global flavour. From tea on a boat or in the Houses of Parliament, to digging for chocolate fossils and conducting magical experiments, there’s something here for everyone.
Quirky Afternoon Teas in London
Children's Fictional Characters
What: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych
Details: See your favourite bits of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ come alive – in an edible sort of way. Frankly, for a story like this, that's the best sort of way. On the enchanting menu here are snozzberry jam scones, home-made candy floss, red velvet cake pops, sandwiches and tarts. Add on a colourful 'fizzy lifting drink' (AKA cocktail) for a little extra.
When: 12.30-3pm daily (12.30-5pm on Sundays)
Cost: £47 or £58 with glass of champagne or cocktail. £37 for children
What: Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at The Sanderson
Details: It’s worth falling down the rabbit hole of your imagination to sample this high-concept tea curated by the design collective Luna & Curious. Surreal victuals include a Queen of Hearts jammy dodger, chocolate and raspberry caterpillar, marshmallow magic mushrooms, ‘drink me’ potion, sandwiches and scones. Much fun is to be had with menus hidden in vintage books, napkins wrapped in riddles, and crockery decorated with characters from the book. Curiouser and curiouser.
When: 12.30-4pm daily (12.30-5pm on Sundays)
Cost: £48 or £58/£65 with a glass of Champagne. £35 for children
What: The Potion Room Afternoon Tea at Cutter & Squidge
Details: Although this pretty bakery with sumptuous cakes is super-duper careful to never drop the H**** P***** bomb, there's no doubt their wizard-themed afternoon tea has huge appeal for Potter-heads. The basement room has been transformed into a magical Potions Room straight out of, um, a wizarding school that-shall-not-be-named. Pull up a pew, listen to your Potions Master and enjoy all manner of enchanting drinks and goodies that tip-toe between traditional and bonkers. Read our full review here.
When: Sittings at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm daily
Cost: £49.50 or £39.50 for children
What: Teddy Bears' Picnic Afternoon Tea at Podium
Details: Especially for children, young feasters will be wide-eyed at the colourful treats on offer at this cuddly afternoon tea. Bite-sized sarnies shaped like teddies, fruity cupcakes, meringue hats, chocolate lollies – it's the picnic of their dreams. Instead of tea, choose between hot chocolate, smoothies, milkshakes and lemonade. You even get a teddy bear to share it with and take home afterwards.
When: 2-5pm weekdays, 12.30-5pm weekends
Cost: £24 per child, £59 when combined with an adult's afternoon tea
Sweets And Chocolate
What: The Original Sweet Shop Afternoon Tea at The Chesterfield Mayfair
Details: Whose mouth hasn't watered upon entering a traditional English sweetshop and marvelling at the endless rows of goodies contained within glass jars? This sweet-toothed afternoon tea is inspired by childhood favourites, so expect the likes of Coca Cola slices, peanut butter cups, cherry bon bon cupcakes and homemade lollipops. You may even encounter a flying saucer or two alongside the more traditional sandwiches and scones.
When: 12.30-5.30pm daily
Cost: £40 or £47 with a glass of Champagne. £21.50 for children
What: Charbonnel et Walker Afternoon Tea at May Fair Kitchen
Details: If you want to take indulgence one step further, this chocolate-themed afternoon tea in London has your name on it. Alongside the scrumptious sandwiches and apricot buttermilk scones is a selection of chocolate-heavy patisserie from master chocolatiers Charbonnel et Walker. There's a decadent, flourless chocolate and orange cake, frivolous donuts with dipping sauce and a selection of chocolate truffles too.
When: 2-4.30pm weekdays and 1-4.30pm weekends
Cost: £35 or £45 with a Champagne cocktail
What: Randy's High Tea at Randy's Wing Bar
Details: Other than being served on a tiered cake stand, there's nothing traditional about this meatilicious afternoon tea. You have burgers, loaded fries and pickles on the bottom tier, your choice of Randy's famous chicken wings (Buffalo, Korean and garlic parmesan among them) in the middle and a pile of gratuitous brownie bites at the top. More carnivorous than cake, this is one for an empty stomach. Read our article.
When: Tuesday to Sunday
Cost: £45 for two
What: Science Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand Hotel
Details: In honour of their South Kensington neighbour, The Science Museum, this majestic hotel serves a science-themed tea that sends your nibbles into the stratosphere. There are jelly petri dishes, planet mousses and milk chocolate fossils to contend with, plus innovative sounds and sights (expect dry ice) to make it an afternoon tea that's distinctly out of this world. Watch our video here.
When: 12.30-9pm daily (12.30-7pm on Sundays)
Cost: £44.50 or £54.50 with a glass of Champagne
What: Fruit and Vegetable Patch Afternoon Tea at Dominique Ansel
Details: Cameras at the ready, as this famous bakery has launched what might be the most picture-perfect afternoon tea in London. It's held in Dominique Ansel's flower-festooned back conservatory, decorated with walls of colourful blooms and the odd watering can. The afternoon tea menu is just as pretty — an English pea and mint mousse that looks like neat little peas in a pod, glorious strawberry cubes and a Caramelia Honeybee that's topped with its own edible bee. Read our full review here.
When: Sittings at 2pm and 4.15pm, Thursday-Sunday
Cost: £36 for the Signature menu, £50 for Sparkling and £70 for Splendid
What: Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley
Details: The uber-trendy, fashion-centric Pret-a-Portea is the favourite of many a fashionista. The cakes and pastries here resemble the latest catwalk designs and the menu changes every six months to keep up with the changing fashion seasons. The edible 2020 Spring/Summer collection includes a Moschino pistachio delice topped with a million dollar bill (edible, not spendable, sadly), as well as an Emilia Wickstead red velvet gown choux bun. You won’t know whether to wear it or eat it.
When: 1-5.30pm daily
Cost: £66 or £70-£110 with glass of Champagne
Vintage And Burlesque
What: Elegant Afternoon Tea at Betty Blythe
Details: Dress up in your most sumptuous Great Gatsby-esque finery to visit this cosy 1920s-style vintage tearoom, and enjoy home-made scones, cakes and finger sandwiches. Don't worry if you don't have the garb at home, there's a dressing up box filled with vintage accessories. Pretend you’re in a movie with Leo (or, okay, just an extra in Downton Abbey) in between stuffing your face.
When: Sittings at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm Monday-Friday, and at 11am, 1.30pm and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday
Men’s Afternoon Teas
What: Gentleman's Afternoon Tea at Reform Social & Grill
Details: The growing trend for ‘men’s afternoon teas’ — more and more venues are offering these now — is truly baffling. Perhaps it’s a way of luring men into a domain that they’d otherwise dismiss as “too girly” with its dainty finger sandwiches and candy-pink frippery. Or maybe men and women really do have different tastes in food and drink. More likely, it’s all just a marketing ploy. Whatever the logic, expect roast beef Yorkshire puddings, mini fish fingers, chicken tikka sarnies and other macho delights alongside the usual patisserie delights.
When: Daily 12-5pm
Cost: £26.50 or £37 with a glass of Champagne
Drag Afternoon Tea
What: What's The Tea at W London's Perception Bar
Details: An afternoon tea in London fit for a queen, What's The Tea takes you inside a drag superstar's make-up bag to nibble on a host of glitzy, glamorous and (most importantly) edible beauty items. Get your glow on with Oreo cheesecake bronzer, defy age with a sugar-dusted pot of creme brulee and smother your scones in clotted night cream.
When: 1-5pm Sunday to Friday
Cost: £39, £44 with a glass of Prosecco or £49 with a cocktail
Around-The-World Afternoon Teas in London
American Afternoon Tea
What: CUTcakes & Tea at 45 Park Lane
Details: It was inevitable: the burger trend was bound to reach the afternoon tea sector sooner or later. The likes of maple and bacon macaron, Wagyu beef slider and truffled mac and cheese are served alongside pecan cake pops, Mississippi mud pie, and a peanut butter and jelly twinkie.
When: 2.30pm and 3pm seatings daily
Cost: £55 or £68-£120 with Champagne
Old English Afternoon Tea
What: Maids of Honour Afternoon Tea at The Original Maids of Honour
Details: ‘Maids of honour’ are delicious puff pastry tarts created during the reign of Henry VIII, made from cheese or milk curds. Located near Kew Gardens, this eighteenth century bakery and café sells tarts made to the original recipe, which remains a closely-guarded secret. They actually offer a variety of afternoon teas here, from simple cream teas to more lavish spreads. But if you want to zone in on this classic then their Maids of Honour Afternoon Tea combines the tart with scones, clotted cream, jam and tea.
When: Daily until 5.30pm
Cost: £11, although other options range from £8 (Cream Tea) to £55 (Champagne High Tea)
Italian Afternoon Tea
What: Afternoon Tea at Baglioni Hotel
Details: Billed as traditional tea with an "Italian twist", this hotel pays homage to its Italian roots by focusing on regional flavours. Enjoy ricotta and orange-stuffed cannolo from Sicily, wild berry panna cotta from Veneto, gorgonzola and walnut sandwiches from Lombardia and caciocavallo cheese brioche buns from Puglia. There's even a map on the menu so you can pretend to be learning while getting your gobble on.
When: 1-5.30pm daily
Spanish Afternoon Tea
What: Afternoon Tea at COMO The Halkin
Details: Basque cuisine takes centre stage and sees sandwiches swapped for delectable tapas bites – a huge bonus for anyone who thinks of sandwiches as a somewhat perfunctory addition to afternoon teas. Iberico ham croquetas are usually the first thing to get snapped up, but the stuffed crab and garlic pintxo usually aren't far behind. For a country famed more for savoury than sweet there's an impressive spread of desserts to finish – pineapple rice pudding, Catalan cream and churros with chocolate.
When: 2.30-5pm daily
Cost: £34 or £40-£69 with Champagne
Chinese Afternoon Tea
What: Chinese Gongfu Cha tea ceremony at the Teanamu Chaya Teahouse
Details: What Chinese tea master Pei Wang doesn’t know about tea isn’t worth knowing. Not only does he host extraordinarily educational (and delicious) tea tastings and master-classes in a secluded private home in Notting Hill, he also runs a weekends-only vegetarian tea-house with a tranquil Zen-like atmosphere. The Chinese Gongfu Cha tea ceremony is offered as part of the 'ichi-go ichi-e' afternoon tea set menu, encompassing home-made patisserie, brown bread wakame seaweed sandwiches and dim sum. Take your time to enjoy such pretty delicacies as lo mai fan lotus leaf rice parcels, and snow skin marzipan with guava. The freshly-brewed teas are truly special — and often very rare. This is hands-down one of the best and most unique afternoon teas we’ve experienced in London.
When: 12-6pm Saturdays and Sundays
Cost: £30 (and cash only)
Indian Afternoon Tea
What: Indian-Inspired Afternoon Tea at Park Grand London Lancaster Gate
Details: A bit of a bargain and fantastic for vegetarians, goodies range from sweet sultana scones and a mini mango tart, to savoury street food favourites. The Bombay aloo bonda pav is a crispy, spiced ball of pure potato croquette yumminess, while the more familiar samosas and onion bhajis are long-standing crowdpleasers.
When: 2.30-5.30pm daily
Cost: £35 for two
Viennese Afternoon Tea
What: Viennese Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay
Details: Filled with old world European grandeur, The Delaunay is a mighty impressive cafe-restaurant and their daily afternoon tea doesn't disappoint. Yes you can opt for fruit scones if you can't bear to part with tradition, but we recommend trying the Austrian poppy seed gugelhupf instead – a pleasingly circular yeast cake served here with apricot jam and whipped cream. To follow? Apple cinnamon strudel, vanilla kipferl and a deliciously indulgent black forest gateau.
When: 3-5.45pm daily
Cost: £19.75 or £29.75 with Champagne
Unusual Locations for Afternoon Teas in London
Afternoon Tea on a Bus
What: B Bakery’s Afternoon Tea London Bus Tour, pick-up from 8 Northumberland Avenue (off Trafalgar Square) or Victoria Coach Station
Details: Hop on a double-decker Routemaster and enjoy the sights of central London for an hour and twenty minutes while partaking in a moveable feast of the sweet variety. There are lemon tarts, choux buns, cupcakes, scones, sandwiches and pretzels — all organised by the beautiful BB Bakery in Covent Garden. Such is this tour's popularity, it now offers special gin, royal, Easter, St Patrick's Day and Thames cruise varieties.
When: 12pm, 12.30pm, 2.30pm, 3pm and 5pm daily
Cost: From £45
London's Highest Afternoon Tea
What: Winter Afternoon Tea at Ting on the 35th Floor of The Shard
Details: London’s highest afternoon tea is located 128 metres above ground level, giving stunning views over the city’s famous landmarks. The contemporary Chinese-style Ting lounge (the word means ‘living room’) serves afternoon tea with a slight Asian lilt. There's smoked salmon and wasabi gougere, coronation chicken on cumin bread, sesame and yuzu choux, plus some more traditional sandwiches and puddings. There are almost 30 teas to choose from, including Shangri-La signatures like white jasmine tea with apricots. The dramatic setting gives new meaning to the phrase ‘high tea’.
Cost: £59 or £69-£84 with glass of Champagne
Afternoon Tea On A Boat
What: Afternoon Tea Cruise by City Cruises
Details: Glide along the Thames past London’s favourite landmarks, while tucking into scones with cream and jam, finger sandwiches and cakes.
When: 3.30-5pm daily
Cost: £32 or £42 with glass of Champagne. £22 for children. Supplements apply for window tables and weekend bookings
Afternoon Tea With Politics
What: Afternoon Tea at the Houses of Parliament
Details: Did you know you could take tea with MPs? Okay, not quite — but you can take a historic tour around the Houses of Parliament, admire the magnificent architecture (not to mention the watertight security) and come within whispering distance of modern-day British politics… and then add on the important job of taking tea in a Thames-side room. You'll enjoy beautiful views over the Thames, while the Parliament chefs enthral with their sweet and savoury creations.
When: Dates are released seasonally in advance, currently booking various weekdays and weekends until 9 October 2020
Cost: £30, plus tour ticket
Afternoon Tea In A Carriage
What: Fairy-Tale Afternoon Tea at The Tea Terrace
Details: Inside House of Fraser's tea rooms (both Oxford Street and Victoria Street branches), you have the opportunity to dine like royalty inside your own Cinderella-style carriage. The traditional afternoon tea menu comes with all the expected sandwiches, sweet treats and scones, while the terms and conditions come with a list of requirements as long as your arm. The 75 minute time limit, usage fee and minimum spend approach can take the shine off booking, but young princes and princesses will probably be too enchanted to know the difference. See our video here.
When: Sitting from 10am-4pm daily
Cost: Usage fee of £12.95 per person plus minimum spend of £21 per person (£10.95 for children)
Afternoon Tea With Prayers
What: Afternoon SereniTea at St-Martin-in-the-Fields church
Details: The Apse of St-Martin-in-the-Fields is being put to good use as a rather intimate setting for afternoon tea in London. Only 12 seats fit within this semicircular recess, which means you'll nibble on mini-sandwiches, gateaux, roulade and the obligatory homemade scones in relative peace.
When: 12-6pm daily
Cost: £19.95 or £24.95 with a glass of sparkling wine
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.