Afternoon Tea in London
Is there a more English thing to do than afternoon tea in London? I don’t think so! I recently realized that I have never written about this, but it is just so much fun I couldn’t leave it any long.
On my last trip, I decided to go out in search of the best afternoon tea in London. This time I’d go with the intent of writing about it on the blog so I could remember to give you all the best tips.
I ate my way through mountains of scones, cake, and finger sandwiches and discovered something new to add to my ongoing list things to do in London. What a hard job, right?! I only fear that my pants will not close anymore :-).
What’s the different between high tea and afternoon tea in London?
You may be a bit confused when you see the terms high tea and afternoon tea being used interchangeably. Initially, “Afternoon Tea” is the version consumed by aristocratic families, starting at 3 p.m. The “high tea” was eaten by workers, and was only served from 5 p.m.
In the meantime, there is actually little difference left. In England the term “Afternoon Tea” is more common, and in the Netherlands the term “High Tea” is used more often. I use the terms in this article interchangeably, but in principle I mean the same thing — afternoon tea.
What exactly is afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea usually consists of an appetizer tray. You start from the bottom, which is more savory, and end at the top, which is sweeter.
Usually, the bottom layer holds the more savory sandwiches without crusts (with toppings like cucumber, salmon, ham, or egg). The middle layer consists of scones, normal or with raisins.
They are served warm with jam and clotted cream. There is considerable discussion about how you eat them, but I eat them like this: cut them in half horizontally, and first spread a layer of jam and then a layer of clotted cream.
The top layer is then the dessert. Here you will find sweet snacks such as cake, macarons, cookies, or bonbons. Afternoon tea is, of course, served with a pot of tea, but often you can also order a glass of champagne or prosecco if you really want a treat.
What is the best time for afternoon tea?
The best time to order a high tea is between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. It can easily replace a meal. If I have afternoon tea at 3 p.m., I’ll make sure that I do not have breakfast until late in the morning (around 10/11). If I have afternoon tea at 5 p.m., I will just skip dinner.
How much does high tea cost?
The costs of an afternoon tea in London can vary considerably. In some places you can already get a simple and cheap high tea for £15. But if, for example, you are going to enjoy a luxurious afternoon tea in a chic hotel, it will quickly cost you £60 or more.
My Favorite Places to Afternoon Tea in London
Bea’s of Bloomsbury
The Best Casual Places for Afternoon Tea
Are you looking for a nice casual high tea? One in which it doesn’t matter what you wear, and you can enjoy delicious snacks with your friends in a nice little cafe with a pretty interior? Then I recommend Bea’s of Bloomsbury.
The cozy Bea’s has three locations in London, at Russel Square, St. Paul’s, and in Marylebone. I’ve been to the first one myself. A fairly simple-looking building from the outside, but inside it is nicely decorated with cool art, blue velvet sofas, and marble tables.
Bea’s serves a delicious breakfast and lunch, but is perhaps best known for its great cakes. When you enter, the cupcakes decorate the bar.
The afternoon tea menu consists of an etagère with three layers. I describe my menu below (not gluten free / not vegetarian), but you can see the most recent menu here for all three versions.
The bottom layer consists of “finger sandwiches” with:
- Smoked salmon & dill cream cheese
- Pastrami & dijon mayonnaise
- Egg mayonnaise & smoked bell pepper
- Dukkah yogurt, avocado & pistachio
The middle layer consists of scones (normal or with raisins) with:
- Fruit jam
- Clotted Cream
The top layer consists of all kinds of sweet treats (the content varies according to me at a time, but we had):
- Red velvet cake
- Chocolate Cupcake like something
You can book a standard afternoon tea, a gluten-free or a vegetarian afternoon tea from £30 per person. This is served with tea. If you want an afternoon tea with prosecco, you pay £37 per person. An afternoon tea with a mini bottle of champagne costs £45. There is a 12.5% tip on all versions, which is quite common.
What did I think of Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury?
I found this a very relaxed high tea. We were nicely left alone, had a nice chat, and were served if we wanted to order something (extra). You don’t have to show up in your neat coffee here. I didn’t like the sandwiches, but I found the scones delicious and the cakes really DE-LIC-IOUS (the tastiest of all afternoon tea locations in this article!). With me this one wins the prize for “best cake in London” anyway.
Ting in Shangri-La
The Tea with the Best View
How about a high tea in one of the most striking buildings in London? The Shangri-La Hotel is in The Shard, and that hotel has the Ting restaurant. This restaurant is on the 52nd floor, 128 meters above ground (I hope you don’t have any fear of heights ;-)).
Not only is this one of the best places to eat in London, you also get some FANTASTIC views here. Yes, of course you can buy tickets for the viewing platform from The Shard, but isn’t it much more fun to treat yourself to a high tea with the same view?
At its opening in 2012, the Shard was the tallest building in Europe. It is (along with the St Paul) my favorite building in the London skyline, if only because I visited it almost daily when I was still living in London (about a 15-minute walk). The name is reflected in the design of Renzo Piano, the architect of Center Pompiduo in Paris. The building is located in Southwark, on the south side of the Thames. Next to it you will find London Bridge metro and train station, making it super easy to reach.
But anyway, afternoon tea. Enter at the entrance for Shangri-La, and not the one for “restaurants” (those are the restaurants of the Shard, and not the Shangri-La .. confusing, right?).
Ting is the signature restaurant. The name of the restaurant comes from the Chinese word for “living room”. And that immediately gives away the Asian twist of the menu. You can come here for breakfast with sunrise, good lunch, luxury afternoon tea with sunset, and of course dinner!
This afternoon tea also consists of a three-layered etagère. My menu is below, but you can find the most recent menu here so you always know what you are getting.
On the bottom layer were the ‘finger sandwiches’ with:
- Smoked salmon
- Honey glazed Ham
- Egg mayonnaise
On the middle layer you will find the scones (one classic and one with raisins) with:
- Strawberry jelly
- Clotted Cream
On the top layer you will find all cakes, cookies and such! I think we had:
- Raspberry and Rose Water Macaron
- A Green Apple Pie
- Matcha cake
- Chocolate mousse
Hereby you drink tea that you choose from a real tea menu. You can choose from a selection of 30 tea variations. And your waiter will be happy to advise you on which tea matches which floor of your storehouse.
A standard Afternoon Tea at Shangri-La costs £52 per person. If you want a glass of champagne, you pay (depending on the champagne) about 8 to 12 extra pounds. You can indicate dietary requirements with your waiter. Dress code is smart casual.
What did I think of Afternoon Tea at Shangri-La?
I was invited by Shangri-La to try their Afternoon Tea. But that doesn’t affect my opinion. I found the most amazing thing about this experience to be the fantastic view. That is really … wow. Stunning! I saw the sun go down and all the lights come on. How romantic. And I found the scones at Shangri-La the tastiest I have had of all the afternoon teas I have tried. I also loved the sandwiches, and you can replenish your tray without limits.
I myself was less a fan of the cakes. They were more experimental than I would have expected, and had Asian twists, for example. I am not a big fan of Asian sweets myself. On the other hand, I enjoyed the tea menu and the extensive advice we received about choosing the right tea. It is solid at the price, but well, you know that in advance. It is a luxury option, with enchanting views and great service.
And if you were planning to buy tickets for the viewpoint of the Shard, this is a much nicer option! I was really full after this tea and didn’t eat anything for the rest of the day, haha. And to think that my friend still used the option to supplement the sandwiches :-).
B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus
The most unique place for tea
Are you really looking for something unique? Then I highly recommend the Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus. In about an hour and a half, you will be driving through a vintage red double-decker bus through the center of London, passing all the major sights. There is a tape with an explanation, so you’ll also get a bit of a tour.
The Afternoon Tea Bus is an initiative of B Bakery, which is called Brigits Bakery. B Bakery specializes in afternoon teas (with all kinds of themes) and has its own branch in Covent Garden. But the bus that drives around is even more fun. Did you know that they also have a Thames Cruise Afternoon Tea where you sail over the river Thames and enjoy all kinds of goodies? How fun!
I chose (at the invitation of B Bakery) that version for my trip. There are a number of time slots to book, and we chose an early departure at 12:30 pm. It could also be your lunch. You can choose where you want to sit on the bus, and we chose the top with a nice view.
Afternoon Tea Bus Menu
You can choose from a number of different afternoon teas. So you have the traditional version, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and halal afternoon tea. The vegan and gluten-free version costs £3 extra. We had the traditional version. This was a two-day etagère with all kinds of snacks.
The bottom layer has savory snacks:
- Spinach, feta and sun-dried tomato muffin
- Smoked salmon pretzel with cream cheese, chives, and cucumber
- Cucumber and cream cheese sandwich on beet bread
- Pastrami burger with tomatoes, salad, and mustard mayonnaise
- Ham & cheese sandwich with mustard mayonnaise on multigrain bread
The top layer has cupcakes and other sweets:
- Lemon meringue pie
- Vanilla & raspberry puffs
- Shortbread cookie with cream cheese mousse
- Mini chocolate cupcake
We also received an extra dish with a scone, jam and clotted cream.
You get standard tea or coffee, but you can also book a glass of wine or champagne in advance. If you are wondering how all this remains in the canister: there is a special cup holder for the tea and the plates are all secured with a kind of tape so that they don’t slide.
Afternoon Tea Bus B Bakery Costs
A traditional afternoon tea at the B Bakery Bus costs £45 per person. That may seem expensive, but if you compare it with other options it is not so bad, especially with the unique concept. If you plan it well, you no longer need lunch or dinner, because you will be full after this afternoon tea ;-).
What did I think of the Afternoon Tea Bus?
I loved these so much. Of the three afternoon teas that I tried, I thought this was the coolest concept. And I also thought the overall quality of the sandwiches and cakes was delicious. I liked the scones to be the least of all three places that I tried for this article. So all-round a very good food option and a super fun concept. Really nice to do if you are in London for a few days with some friends or family. Would definitely recommend it!
And there you have it – my best tips and recommendations for afternoon tea in London. Each time I return, I’ll have to try a new place to add to this article!
What’s your favorite place for afternoon tea in London?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe.