In 1840, the Duchess of Bedford shared her guilty secret of enjoying tea and snacks a few hours before dinner, starting a trend that later evolved into a national tradition and a new set of rules for afternoon tea etiquette. Today, afternoon tea enjoys celebratory status in London. Flute champagne and pretty pastries are a given, while exotic snacks and potent cocktails mean that what now constitutes this most elegant of confections may come as a shock to the Duchess of Bedford. We sat down to countless cups of tea, finger sandwiches, scones and macaroons to bring you our editor’s review of the best afternoon teas in London – from traditional snacks to modern interpretations incorporated into evening drinks.

What is the best time for afternoon tea in London?

While traditionalists prefer to be seated at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., some afternoon teas in London are so plentiful (think multi-course platters and unlimited sandwiches) that lunch can be skipped altogether and a reservation at 12 noon or 1 p.m. is all that’s needed. Check service times often, as some of London’s best restaurants and most elegant hotels may squeeze afternoon tea in between lunch and dinner – and for other venues, this can be the busiest time of the day.

This is our pick of the best afternoon tea in London

1. Fortnum & Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon

Best for: a classic afternoon tea – and still one of the best

Fortnum & Mason’s Tea Salon, decked out in its signature eau de vie, all the way down to the tea tray, is an oasis of tranquility off Piccadilly (accessible via a lovely parquet elevator). An oasis of tea and cake! It seems to have remained unchanged for decades in a wonderful old world way, but was actually renovated and subsequently reopened by the Queen in 2012. It’s still a traditional affair, located on the fourth floor of the iconic Fortnum & Mason shop (which has been serving London afternoon tea for almost 100 years) and is a great place to spend the afternoon.

Who knew there were so many different types of tea? If Willy Wonka had ever swapped chocolate for tea, the menu might resemble that of a Tea Salon, listing some 45 oddly named brews such as Jasmine Dragon Pearls, Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe and Hattialli, which takes its name from the Hathi” Alli’ in Assamese, which means ‘elephant road’. Knowledgeable “Tearistas” are always available to help narrow down the choices.

Soft, warm scones with plenty of Somerset clotted cream and the most delicious raspberry, strawberry and wild blueberry jam had us scraping the bottom of the jar clean. (Luckily, these are available in the store downstairs.) The cake cart was a feast for the eyes, with mini chocolate mousse tarts and melt-in-your-mouth salted caramel puff pastries. Finger sandwiches are a welcome savory intervention to the sweet tooth.

Address: 4th Floor, Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1A 1ER
Price from: £70

2. The Dorchester Afternoon Tea

Best for: losing track of time

Everything at The Dorchester is on an expanded scale. The lobby is filled with bouquets the size of hot air balloons, quilted brocade sofas dwarf the noblest of guests and marble-effect pillars tower over tables in the promenade serving afternoon tea. While your surroundings can make you feel small and insignificant, the discreet and charming staff will have the opposite effect – you’ll be treated as the waiter’s most important (and preferably favorite) guest.

At a hotel like The Dorchester, service inevitably comes with an element of performance. Between the savory and sweet courses, you’ll savor a refreshing taste buds green tea with lilies and jasmine wrapped in silver needles and infused with mango. As the usher explains with a smile and a wave of his arm, ‘There’s a theater! This is the stage.’ In the first act, sandwiches of chicken sandwiched with ginger, lime, garlic, mayonnaise and green onions or poached wild salmon with traditional tomatoes and other fillings were served on carefully cut rectangles of white, mixed grain and whole wheat bread. Creative vegetarian alternates included delicious truffle tofu and vegan mayonnaise, but the salt-crusted golden beet sandwich was a surprising scene stealer, with portions of food complementing the oversized decor.

The Promenade is magnificent and comfortable. These Chesterfields are inviting, with the high-ceilinged ballroom-sized space carefully designed so that each table is positioned with privacy at the forefront. If afternoon tea is a matinee performance, you may find yourself tempted to stay for the evening show as well; it’s easy to turn tea into an evening drink as the pianist plays a soft medley on the Steinway grand piano next to the bar.

Address: 53 Park Ln, London W1K 1QA
Price from: £75

3. Coronation Afternoon Tea at Westminster Abbey Cellarium

Wherever you spend your Coronation weekend, Westminster Abbey will make sure no one misses out on this quintessentially British event. The Cellarium, a sun-drenched café accessed through the Abbey’s stunning medieval convent, offers Coronation afternoon tea from March to the end of July. The hospitality is in keeping with King Charles’ passion for sustainability, using fresh British ingredients wherever possible. Expect sandwiches with smoked chicken, apple and celery salad and Old Cotswold Legbar mayonnaise, followed by Earl Grey tea scones spread with Cornish clotted cream and Tiptree jam, and colourful cakes and pies.

Address: Cellarium Cafe and Terrace, Westminster Abbey, Dean’s Yard, The Sanctuary, London SW1P 3PA
Dates: Thursday 23 March – Monday 31 July

4. The Rosebery Coronation Afternoon Tea, Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, London

The Rosebery’s limited edition afternoon teas are inspired by the best of British traditions and ingredients – many of which are served at the royal table. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park and Highgrove have teamed up to create the ultimate luxury experience; Clarence Court egg truffle sandwiches, King’s Coronation chicken and preserves made from Highgrove’s succulent organic strawberries. Quench your thirst with a few pots of Earl Grey and English Breakfast teas, or explore the caffeinated (and decaffeinated) possibilities in Moonlight White and Mango Black teas.

Address: The Rosebery, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA London, United Kingdom
Price: £95 per person
Dates: Monday 17 April – Sunday 14 May 2023

5. The Goring Hotel Afternoon Tea

Best for: royalists and traditionalists

The royals make no secret of their love for The Goring Hotel. It’s where the Duchess of Cambridge spent the night before her wedding; it’s where the Queen holds her annual staff Christmas lunch, and it’s the only hotel in the world to hold a Royal Warrant. Tucked away on an unassuming side street in Belgravia, there are even rumors of a secret tunnel between the hotel and Buckingham Palace so that the Queen and her colleagues can sneak in. What makes this place extra special is the private garden behind it – almost unheard of in central London – where you can have tea and a game of croquet on a nice day. It’s an English institution.

Book your afternoon tea in advance to guarantee a seat in the quiet, old-fashioned gilded dining room, decorated with thick gold curtains, whimsical tree-like Swarovski chandeliers and a roaring winter fire. The hotel has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1910, and they take their role seriously: CEO Jeremy Goring himself is the hotel’s tea master, personally selecting and tasting every blend on the menu. Start with The Goring’s own afternoon tea, a refreshing and subtle blend of Assam and Darjeeling, before trying some of the more ambitious-sounding options (such as Dragon Well or Organic Mao Jian) or herbal infusions.

Before the carbs, a plate of strawberries came up – which paired perfectly with the pink Bollinger poured on the table in a magnum. After a delicate appetizer of pecan pumpkin and savory granola, a rustic finger sandwich filled with smoked salmon, pastrami or cheese and pickles. But don’t fill these, because it’s the cake that steals the show: a white chocolate bomb cracks open to reveal fluffy apple mousse, a thick layer of custard tart topped with miniature cone-shaped pink meringue, and a puff pastry bun oozing with caramel cream The Pastry Chef. Then top your scone with The Goring’s homemade jam, filled with strawberries and raspberries picked from their farm in Suffolk. Come hungry – everything is quickly replenished as soon as there’s room on the plate – but if you get too full, the staff will happily pack you away in a doggy bag. It’s worth noting that this tea can also be completely gluten-free.

Address: 15 Beeston Place, London, SW1W 0JW
Price: From £60 per person; from £70 with a glass of Bollinger

6. Coronation Afternoon Tea, The Goring Hotel

Soak up the sun and enjoy a themed afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel before the ceremony on Saturday, May 6. Enjoy afternoon tea on the elegant sun-drenched terrace, away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby capital’s streets, overlooking the manicured Goring Gardens, where some of the late Queen’s favorite plants and flowers grow from the soil. King Charles’ favorite hospitality appears on the limited edition menu, including sandwiches filled with ingredients from Royal Warrant suppliers such as Dukeshire ham. Whichever order you choose, the hot scones can be topped with clotted cream, strawberries and elderflower jam. Or, Chef Graham Squire has crafted an exquisite a la carte menu and a six-course tasting menu – available for the first week of May only.

Address: The Goring Hotel, 15 Beeston Place, London SW1W 0JW
Price: £75 per person with a glass of Bollinger Champagne
Dates: Monday 24 April – Sunday 28 May

7. Royal Afternoon Tea at Covent Garden Hotel

The Coronation Afternoon Tea at the Covent Garden Hotel is one of the best ways to get ahead or continue the historic celebrations in the capital this summer. So indulge in a coronation chicken sandwich, strawberry tart, lemon cream and then slather the classic condiments on a warm scone. Bar manager Flavio Carvalho has created a cocktail for the occasion; inspired by the king’s love of whisky and Darjeeling, the spirit is a blend of Cointreau, lemon and English sparkling wine.

Address: Covent Garden Hotel, 10 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9HB
Price: From £40 per person
Dates: Until Thursday 31 August

8. The Lane Coronation Regency Afternoon Tea

Who better to prepare afternoon tea for the new king than dessert vet Lily Vanilli? Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the only theatre in the world still operating under a royal charter, has invited culinary creators to join the updated coronation menu in time for the event. Expect all the usual sides, such as hot scones with cream, homemade jam and salted cream, and delicious finger sandwiches and other tasty snacks. However, the cakes steal the spotlight, adorned with golden crowns and edible royal tributes. The Rare Tea Company’s drinks are perfect for cleansing the palate – as is the champagne – for a particularly indulgent afternoon. Afterwards, shake off your sugar addiction on one of the daily guided tours; they run daily (except Tuesdays) and cost £22.50 per person.

Address: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JF
Price: From £59 per person
Dates: Until Wednesday 10th May

9. Afternoon Tea at The Coral Room, Bloomsbury Hotel

Best for: interior decor lovers

There’s no need to guess where the Bloomsury Hotel’s Coral Room gets its name from – the entire space is painted head to toe in this color. Beveled mirrors and gold-framed illustrations hang on the tall walls; huge chandeliers cascade over the lounge area and marble-topped bar. Choose to sit by a roaring fire or under a raised window that fills a nearby table with light.

Do you sit comfortably in blue velvet or patterned fabric chairs? Start with your drink of choice. Dozens of drinks are available with unlimited refills – including iced coffee, matcha and turmeric lattes, jasmine silver tip and lemon verbena tea – all served in sturdy silverware and poured into fine china with gold trim (obviously) and gray and white stripes. You’ll soon notice that the color scheme of the pottery matches the Art Deco interior perfectly.

Indulge in one of the delicious sandwiches at the bottom of the stall; the Guinness bread variety is outstanding, filled with smoked salmon and lemon whipped cream. Next up are four warm herb scones – it wouldn’t be afternoon tea without them. Each was cut in half and then frothed over clotted cream – always before – fresh raspberry jam. Topping the display are miniature creations that are so elegant you’ll feel guilty for taking them down so soon. The bright yellow mango and cilantro tart with pink pepper meringue is an instant eye-catcher, while the rich chocolate mousse sprinkled with cashew praline and prune preserves lingers on the tongue. And, if you’re feeling extra bold, Coral House will replenish your choice of grade for free. Still thirsty? As one of London’s best bars, there’s no need to move to a second location – the cocktails here are fantastic.

Address: 16-22 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3NN
Price: £40 per person; £48 with a glass of sparkling wine


10. Corinthia Afternoon Tea

Best for: a relaxing Sunday afternoon followed by a stroll along the river

Corinthia’s illuminated Crystal Moon Lounge is a magnificent setting for the hotel’s recently relaunched afternoon tea, offering a wide range of options. Silver-plated carts are stocked with an extensive selection of food, and guests can choose their own, or choose to indulge in all of them. Tea has its own dedicated station where a sommelier weighs and steeps your choice of tea for optimal flavor. No.2 Mellow Custom Blend is a medium strength, fruity refresher. For something light, Chinese Milk Oolong is exquisite and one of those rare finds that tastes as fragrant as it smells.

When it comes to food, this experience is no slouch either. Sandwiches come with flavors like mayonnaise and truffle, and you’ll seriously consider giving up cake, along with tandoori-style coronation chicken. The scones come like prized possessions in their own wooden box, filled with clotted cream and a surprisingly delicious rhubarb and zero-lime spiced bean sauce. Be sure to save room for the French canelé – a fluffy doughy cake with a chewy caramel crust from the pastry chef’s native Bordeaux.

This is not a place to come in a hurry. Service relaxes at a measured pace. After the tour, take a seat among the trendy youngsters and then stroll across the river along the south bank.

Address: 10 Whitehall Pl, London SW1A 2BD
Price: £65 per person, from £75 with champagne