Taking afternoon tea is one of the most English activities you can do when visiting London. As one song says ‘everything stops for tea’.
While it’s no longer true that the British all down tools at 4pm to eat a delicate and refined meal with a cup of tea, it’s pretty clear they still have a passion for tea.
Afternoon tea is mostly between 3pm and 5 pm. If you’re a tourist and have been pounding the streets shopping, visiting museums and escaping people trying to get you to sign up as patrons of charities, you’ll have earned yourself a good sit down and a nice cup of restorative tea.
There are no set rules for what constitutes afternoon tea, but traditionally you’ll be offered
- a selection of teas, of course;
- some small sandwiches, perhaps with their crusts cut off to make them more delicate;
- warm scones with clotted cream and jam;
- a choice of cakes, biscuits or pastries;
- and most importantly, a chance to stop for a few minutes and relax
The best place in London to take tea is at Buckingham Palace, but getting an invite to one of the annual summer garden parties is pretty hard work.
The major London hotels are famous for their afternoon teas – the Ritz, the Savoy, the Waldorf – but these are often incredibly overpriced. And once you’ve had tea, champagne and cucumber sandwiches in one glitzy hotel, you’ve had it in them all.
So, here’s a guide to the more affordable, and unique, ways to enjoy afternoon tea in London:
Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A is the national museum of art and design, so this is definitely one of the most aesthetically pleasing venues in which to enjoy afternoon tea.
Everything here is beautifully crafted, from the cups and saucers to the amazing tiles on the walls. And it’s completely unique – the V&A tea rooms were the first café in any museum in the world, ever.
Address: Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
Underground: South Kensington
Fortnum and Mason
Fortnum’s is perhaps most famous as the store where Queen Elizabeth II does her grocery shopping. Of course, she doesn’t walk round picking up vegetables and bread herself, but this is where they come from for her personal catering.
The shop was founded in1705 and is still on the same site. The building itself is worth a visit, even if you’re not having afternoon tea. From the moment you walk in, it’s English class all the way.
There are four restaurants, all of which have recently been refurbished. Afternoon tea is available in St James’ restaurant from 2pm until 7pm.
The dress code is smart-casual, with no beachwear, and no shorts or open toe sandals for men.
It gets busy at Fortnum’s. If you’re thinking of heading there for tea on a weekday, it’s advisable to book the day before. If you want a slot on a Saturday, you’d better call them a few weeks in advance. +44 (0)845 602 5694
Address: 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER
Underground: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park
The largest book store in Europe is a great place to meet up in the centre of town. And it’s a perfect place to escape for afternoon tea if you’ve been visiting the Royal Academy of Arts, Fortnum and Mason, St James’ or the shops of Bond Street.
The view from the 5th floor bar over London is amazing, with views over the London skyline – the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
Sitting in Art Deco surroundings you can enjoy delicious teas and cakes, or sample their enormous collection of European beers or their extensive cocktail list.
And as this is a book store visitors to the café can take in any book before making a purchase and flick through the pages. They also have a book club for those who want to discuss the literary world in beautiful surroundings.
Address: 5th view bar, Waterstones, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE
Underground: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park
In the heart of Soho, you’ll find this hidden gem of chic coffee and gelato, popular with the locals for its grand, edible window displays.
In stark contrast to other classically English afternoon tea venues Patisserie Valerie is as much like being in a French café as you can get without going to France. Sipping your espresso – or tea – here, you can almost feel starving bohemians and creative minds of the past – it’s all very Toulouse-Lautrec.
If your time in London has seen too many afternoon teas already and you can’t take any more caffeine and saturated fat in the mid-afternoon, then leave your appetite behind and give your eyes a treat. Stop off at Patisserie Valerie and just gawp through the window at the amazing concoctions and creations before your eyes.
From sumptuous cakes and gateaux and speciality decorated mousses to hand-crafted chocolates, mountains of home-made gelato and marzipan animals
The original Patisserie Valerie first opened its doors in 1926, in Frith Street, when Belgian born Madam Valerie decided to introduce a taste of the continent to the English. Following recent expansion there are now a dozen stores across London, all with the same trademark quality.
Address: 44 Old Compton Street, Soho W1D 4TY
Underground: Tottenham Court Road
Photo of afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, London originally posted by yisris