Afternoon tea: a guide to London's best cuppas
Afternoon tea is the best meal of the day. None of the others guarantee a selection of cake, so it wins immediately. It's also the most relaxed and welcoming meal as most venues allow you to stay for hours.
And it's not just tea and cake – we're talking a 3-tier cake stand adorned with sandwiches, scones and sweet treats. That's a full 3-course meal, so you won't need dinner plans. If you do decide to make a day, a night or even a weekend of it, however, there are plenty of inviting London breaks on offer.
Writer Laura Porter has been enjoying afternoon tea in London for over a decade. Here she shares some of her top tea-taking venues.
Best for sightseeing
In at #10 on the Travelzoo's list of 101 Things to Do in London is the B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. If you want to combine your tea and cakes with some London sightseeing, this is the one. The bus is a vintage double-decker Routemaster and the interior has been transformed so you can dine at tables for two or four people. The one-hour-20-minute tour follows a great route taking in lots of sights (Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Harrods, etc) and the afternoon tea is rather lovely too. The ride can be a bit bumpy at times but you soon get used to it and enjoy waving at people on the street who admire the bus and wish they were on board. (My review.)
I can also recommend the Bateaux London Afternoon Tea Cruise, which is another wonderful way to see London while dining. The one-hour-15-minute cruise has a pianist on board to provide background music while you cruise past the Tower of London and under Tower Bridge. You'll see St Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare's Globe, the Tate Modern and more while enjoying a very stable cruise along the Thames.
Best for taking the kids
My daughter (now 11 years old) has been brought up enjoying afternoon tea with me so these are her favourites. The B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour has to get another mention as the bus ride is fantastic for families. We also really like the Royal Horseguards Hotel (which features at #12 on the Travelzoo 101 Things to Do in London list). The Lounge is a lovely venue and we've been many times as staff treat younger guests so well. It's not overtly "family-friendly" so is never full of kids but the few who get taken seem to understand that they have been brought somewhere special.
Another luxury hotel to recommend is the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane. Afternoon tea is served in The Park Room and younger guests can enjoy the well-priced Grover's Children's Tea, which includes a cuddly bulldog to bring home. Chesterfield Mayfair is also really good for families and not just because they have a "Charles and the Chesterfield"-themed afternoon tea for chocolate and sweet lovers. Staff make younger guests feel welcome to ensure they enjoy their visit too.
Best for chocolate lovers
The Podium Restaurant at Hilton Park Lane has a Confessions of a Chocoholic afternoon tea. You start with traditional sandwiches then you'll get freshly baked chocolate-chip scones served with chocolate praline spread (as well as the "standard" clotted cream and strawberry jam), followed by miniature chocolate fancies on an edible chocolate plate.
You can't eat the crockery at Kensington's Baglioni Hotel, but you will get a sumptuous Italian-themed afternoon tea. The Sicilian cannoli are off-the-scale amazing and you get Nutella with your scones. (My review.)
Best afternoon tea for vegans
Most afternoon tea venues can make their menu vegetarian, but vegan cakes are an artform so not widely available. But fear not as Egerton House Hotel has got it right. Their elegant Drawing Room is a small-but-perfect venue in Knightsbridge, close to Harrods. Here they serve Coronation Chickpea sandwiches that were so good I asked for more. And the clotted cream is a clever coconut-based "cream" that works exceedingly well with scones. (My review.)
Best for gluten-free afternoon tea
Many venues now offer gluten-free afternoon tea options (including the Egerton House Hotel mentioned above), but the best one I've tried is at 108 Pantry at the Marylebone Hotel. The real test for me is the quality of the scones as you want them to be soft but not spongy and be able to cut them in half with ease. Here the gluten-free buttermilk scones were a different shape, more to ensure there was no confusion for guests with real allergies, and they opened with no effort. The bread for the sandwiches was also soft and delicious.
Best on a budget
You would expect an afternoon tea for under £20 to be in a less-than-lovely location but The Wallace Restaurant proves that isn't the case. It's in the covered courtyard cafe of The Wallace Collection art gallery and the beautiful surroundings feel like alfresco dining without the London chill. The restaurant reminds me of The Winter Garden at The Landmark Hotel but with afternoon tea at less that half the price. (My review.) Don't forget to see The Laughing Cavalier before you leave.
Best for literature lovers
Brown's Hotel is steeped in history. For starters, this Mayfair establishment is London's oldest hotel. It's from here that Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever phone call. Afternoon tea is served in The English Tea Room and this is where Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book.
The most popular Alice in Wonderland themed afternoon tea in London is the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson London. This contemporary luxury hotel is an excellent venue for this theatrical tea. There are Alice-inspired teas and and a colourful wonderland of cakes so you'll have no problem with "drink me" and "eat me" suggestions.
There's also an Alice Tea Party in Wonderland afternoon tea at the Kona restaurant at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate. It includes white chocolate mousse teacups and pocket watch macarons. But the one I want to try is the Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea, also at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate. It looks great! I expect the mystery involves the case of the missing cakes but I suspect I could solve that one quite quickly.
Best for fashionistas
If this season's style is important to you then you can dine on it too at The Berkeley in Knightsbridge. Their legendary designer afternoon tea, Prêt-à-Portea, is inspired by the world of fashion. The menu of couture cakes gets a makeover every six months to reflect the latest catwalk trends, colours and designs. I've tried this tea and the miniature handbags, shoes and biscuit dresses are exquisite.
Best for music fans
If cool music is more your thing then you need the Festival Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at the K West Hotel in Shepherd’s Bush. The hotel was previously a BBC building that hosted Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse and David Bowie so the afternoon tea reflects that musical heritage. The menu always makes me smile (the cakes are listed under "Oh, Sweet Child of Mine") and there are afternoon tea cocktails such as the "Mad Donna" and the "Born to Boogie". And yes, you'll enjoy "rolling scones" too. Sorry, couldn't resist.
I asked friends and social media followers for their tips.
@AlpanaDeshmukh recommended Mandarin Oriental and The Connaught as she had been to both recently. Alpana's sense of style is immaculate and her photos are always stunning (do follow her on Instagram) so I know these are tips we can trust.
See our full range of London dining deals
Laura Porter writes AboutLondonLaura.com and contributes to many other publications while maintaining an impressive afternoon tea addiction. You can find Laura on Twitter as @AboutLondon and on Facebook as @AboutLondonLaura