Spilling the Afternoon Tea: A Guide to London’s Tasty Tradition

Pinkies up! Afternoon tea is an absolute must-do experience when you’re visiting London.

I’m not very good at many things like drawing and yoga and cooking (to name a few). However, I’m an expert when it comes to taking part in one of England’s top hobbies: afternoon tea.

During many trips across the pond, I’ve found London’s best places to drink tea, eat scones and finger sandwiches and immerse yourself in the British lifestyle.

Royalty and Tea

I can’t say no to the opportunity to enjoy afternoon tea on the grounds of a real castle. That’s why I absolutely love going to the Kensington Palace Pavilion at Kensington Palace. If I ever spotted William and Kate and Harry and Meghan while sipping tea here, I’d die happy. Alas, I’ve never spotted any royals, but I’m still hopeful that one day I will.

In the meantime, I enjoy the Kensington Palace Pavilion for its quintessential British loveliness. The beautiful restaurant overlooks the famous Sunken Garden; being there feels like you’ve been transported to a place far away from the hustle and bustle of busy London. You can order from the standard tea menu, and even add wine or a Pimm’s Cup for a reasonable price. If you’re bringing kids, there’s a children’s afternoon tea menu, too, so no one is left out. Cheers!

Quick Tip: 

Prior to arrival, check the dress code of the tea room you’re planning to visit. Some are fancier than others!

Shopping and Tea

A great way to kill two birds with one stone is to have afternoon tea at Harrods. Why not get in some shopping and sipping at this London retail hotspot? Located on the fourth floor of the famous department store, the elegant tea room features a wide range of teas selected by their “Tea Tailor.” Ooh la la! The menu also features finger sandwiches and a delicious patisserie selection — but my favorite is the puff pastry with beef and Welsh rarebit. Yum!

While pricier than other places, the Harrods Tea Room provides an authentic English afternoon tea experience and will make you feel like a true Brit. Make sure to check out the rest of Harrods, too; it’s a shopping adventure you won’t soon forget. And if you’re still hungry, hit up some of the store’s other tasty restaurants, like the ice cream parlor on the second floor or the extensive food hall on the ground floor.

Quick Tip:

Remember to buy an Oyster card so you can make your way around London via the wonderful and easy-to-use Tube.

Tradition and Tea

Planning to visit the Piccadilly Circus area of London? Then stop at The Wolseley. With high beam ceilings and chandeliers throughout, this former Barclays bank building offers a stunning setting for afternoon tea. One of my favorite parts about The Wolseley is that if you’re not hungry for a full afternoon tea spread — or if you’re on a budget —you can just order a cream tea with a few scones. However, you can also treat yourself to sandwiches, pastries and the works.

During the holiday season, The Wolseley is especially enticing. Decorated to the nines for Christmas with a massive tree, wreaths and twinkle lights, the festive atmosphere will fill you with holiday cheer. And you’ll probably want to order an eggnog while you’re at it!

Ambiance and Tea

If old school, traditional afternoon teas aren’t for you, then you should definitely check out Sketch London. The all-you-can eat tea and food are amazing, but it’s the atmosphere that really sets this place apart. Located in Mayfair, the Instagrammable pink palace was built in 1779 as the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Nowadays, 239 pieces of artist David Shrigley’s work covers the walls of the townhouse. Sketch also hosts a live instrumental trio that plays while you dine and drink. Not to mention, the futurist egg-shaped bathroom pods are spectacular! Who knew bathrooms could be so cool?

On the fancier and more expensive side, Sketch features an exquisite menu and a new take on finger sandwiches, with options like quail egg and caviar, and ricotta and asparagus.

Quick Tip: 

Many tea rooms get crowded — always make a reservation ahead of time.


Where to Stay:

47 Park Street℠—Grand Residences by Marriott®


Jeanne L. is a writer living in Los Angeles, California.