Guide to Taking Afternoon Tea in London

An Age-Old Tradition

So what is Afternoon Tea, exactly? Well, it is real loose-leaf tea—Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Ceylon, Darjeeling, or Assam—brewed in a silver or porcelain pot and served with fine bone china cups and saucers, milk or lemon, and silver spoons, taken between noon and 6 pm. For the traditional full English experience, there should be elegant finger foods on a three-tier silver cake stand: finely cut crustless finger sandwiches on the bottom; scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve in the middle; and rich English fruitcake, shortbread, patisseries, macarons, and dainty petits gateaux on top.

Classic Choices

The Savoy on the Strand offers one of the most beautiful settings for Afternoon Tea. The Thames Foyer, a symphony of grays and golds centered on a winter garden wrought-iron gazebo and great glass cupola, is just the place for the house pianist to accompany you as you enjoy 72 rare house teas along with finger sandwiches, homemade scones, and pastries. A traditional Afternoon Tea here is £65.

Setting the standard in its English Tea Room for some of London's best-known traditional teas, Brown's Hotel in Mayfair offers Afternoon Tea for £55 in an Agatha Christie–esque wood-paneled salon or, if you wish to splurge, Champagne Afternoon Tea for £65.

If you seek timeless chic, the art deco dining room at The Delaunay grand café at the Aldwych remains a deeply fashionable hangout. The silver service teas here—light Cream Tea is £9.50, Viennese Tea is £19.75, and Champagne Tea, £29.75—come with wheat-free poppyseed Gugelhupf cakes and are among the best in town.

Something Different

Add spice to your tea time by trying a popular Moroccan-style Afternoon Tea (£32 or £42) at the souk-chic tearoom at Momo off Regent Street, where you’ll enjoy sweet mint tea plus scones with fig jam, Maghrebian pastries, Moroccan chicken wraps, and honey-and-nut-rich Berber-style crepes.

Camp it up amid India Mahdavi's shocking pink walls and David Shrigley's quirky artwork in the high-ceilinged Gallery at Sketch, where Afternoon Tea (£58) is tweaked with malt, pumpernickel, and white bread finger sandwiches, from Scottish smoked salmon topped with dill and roe to Norfolk goose egg and mayo with quail's egg on top, as well as warm scones and petits gateaux such as lemon and Mara des Bois strawberry Battenberg cake.

Alternatively, you can sample finger sandwiches and sip fine English sparkling wine while looking out onto the immaculate lawns of The Kensington Palace Pavilion, the sight of William and Kate’s marriage proposal within resplendent Kensington Gardens. Afternoon Tea is £34, and a suitably Royal Afternoon Tea (with a glass of English sparkling wine) is £45.

Covent Garden's grand French brasserie Balthazar has a fabulous New York City-inspired Afternoon Tea, for those who want to instill a little Americana into the British custom. Inspired by the Big Apple, the tea menu features pastrami buns and mustard, baked cheesecake, and cookies 'n' cream tarts for a twist on the classic; prices start at £30.

An Edwardian Escape

For some gilt-edged Rococo grandeur, few can compete with Afternoon Tea at The Ritz on Piccadilly. It’s served in the stunning Palm Court, replete with linen-draped tables, Louis XIV chaise longues, sparkling chandeliers, resplendent bouquets, and discrete musical accompaniment; it's a true taste of Edwardian London in the 21st century. Afternoon Tea is £58, and Celebration Champagne Tea is £88. There are five sittings from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm; be sure to book three months ahead, and men should wear a jacket and tie.

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