The Best Afternoon Tea in London


In the household of Mrs. Anna Russell, seventh Duchess of Bedford, dinner was served late as was the fashion in the mid-eighteen-hundreds. The wait between breakfast and dinner would have been considered a fast by our current-day standards, and with snack foods still seen as unhygienic street food served to the lower-classes, Lady Russell had nothing to satisfy her late afternoon hunger pangs.  

It was around the same time that another aristocrat, the Earl of Sandwich, came up with the ingenious idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread. The Duchess was ‘in’ on all the latest food fads and she asked that a tray of tea, two slices of bread and butter, and cake be secretly brought to her room at 4 o’clock. Teatime became a ritual for Mrs. Russel, and eventually, she invited her friends to join her. Word spread and it didn’t take long for the ladies of Bedford to start a trend that spread across the country. By the 1880s, afternoon tea was a must for any upper-class lady. Women changed into their best gowns, wore high hats and silk gloves just for the occasion.

Today you can still find places that serve afternoon tea at 4; finger sandwiches, cake, scones, strawberries, and cream. The tea room at The Ritz requires people to dress up for the occasion, while other places encourage you to loosen your tie. Book your stay around central London and you’ll have a wonderful selection of tea houses to choose from. Here are some of our favorites where you can find the best afternoon tea in London.

Afternoon TĪNG

LONDON, UK - SEPTEMBER 17, 2015: City of London aerial view, Shard and river Thames. London panorama form 32 floor of Walkie-Talkie building

City of London aerial view, Shard and River Thames.

Stopping for afternoon tea is more than just a break to rest weary feet after a busy day of city-hopping; afternoon tea is a truly British experience. If you want to do it right, then your teatime environment should be suitably fashionable, like say tea atop London’s tallest tower, the Shard. For an incredible view of the city, go to TĪNG. You’ll be served a full platter of teatime classics. There’s also an Asian inspired menu which includes a peanut Mochi, and a matcha tea layer cake for a modern take on a classic.

Tea at the Ritz since 1906

LONDON, UK - CIRCA NOVEMBER 2011: The Ritz hotel at night.

The Ritz hotel at night.

While Lady Ann may never have imagined spending an afternoon atop London’s tallest tower, tea at the Ritz would have seemed very familiar to the Duchess. The tea room at the Ritz is one of the earliest, and the hotel takes pride in keeping with tradition. There is a dress code if you’re planning a visit be sure you’ve packed your best formal attire. Tea at the Ritz is a real occasion and should be experienced by everyone at least once.

A Victorian Detox at Brown’s Hotel

A serving bowl with sweets and cookies for a high tea ** Note: Shallow depth of field

A serving bowl with sweets and cookies for a high tea.

Do buttered scones, sugar, and strawberries dipped in heavy cream clash with your diet? Brown’s Hotel prepares a low carb, diet-friendly afternoon tea, and despite its omission of scones, the selection is scrumptious. Queen Victoria took her tea here, and in keeping with tradition, the afternoon selection is a feast fit for royalty, albeit a low-carb one.

There’s no shortage of snacks that will tide you over until your next meal, but there’s still something special about taking your time and really enjoying the moment. Most of us suffer an energy lump around 4, and while you’re in London it’s the perfect opportunity to recharge and experience a truly British tradition. Book a vacation apartment in Knightsbridge or Chelsea and you’ll find yourself near to some of the most beautiful tea rooms in London.

>>Watch before you go: Best London movies to feed your wanderlust.<<

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