London's 10 Best Afternoon Teas

Afternoon tea at the Milestone Hotel Red Carnation Hotels
Afternoon tea in London can be an overpriced tourist’s pursuit, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delightful to pass a mid-afternoon by pretending to be fancy. For the uninitiated, cream tea is usually just tea and scones with jam and clotted cream, high tea is an elaborate (and rare) full-on feast that might include roast meats, and just tea can mean anything from dinner to a hot, steaming cuppa.

But afternoon tea is the quintessential visitor's pursuit. Arrive hungry at afternoon tea, and you’ll be served a never-ending banquet of scones, clotted cream, pastry, light sandwiches with the crusts laboriously removed, and a bottomless brewed torrent. Dress up, if you please, and be discreet about photos.

Hundreds of places throw teas, many of them weirdly or frivolously themed, but these are among the most legendary, the most typically English, or the best-located for touring. Most places will add champagne for £5 to £20 more.

(Pictured: Afternoon tea at the Milestone Hotel)
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Brown's Hotel Brown's Hotel
This Mayfair institution, open since 1837 (Rudyard Kipling finished The Jungle Book here, and Stephen King began Misery here), Brown's Hotel offers exacting service in its handsome, paneled The English Tea Room, but it's not overly snooty, and there are three 90-minute seatings a day. “Tea-Tox” is its lower-fat, lower-carb version. It runs longer hours than other services, giving you flexibility: noon–6:30pm daily.
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Fortnum & Mason Hollenbeck Productions
The venerable department store on Piccadilly has sold tea for three centuries. To many, it's synonymous with Britain's tea tradition. At Fortnum & Mason, tea connoisseurs guide you through a tasting menu the way a sommelier coordinates fine wine, helping you choose between 150 types hailing from China to Ceylon, many of which are supplied to the other tea rooms on this list. But its crowning glory is the fourth floor's Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, subtly decorated like a Georgian drawing room. Attesting to its place in London culture, it was opened in 2012 with a visit by a top triumverate of British royals: Camilla, Kate, and HM the Queen Elizabeth herself.
 
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The Goring The Goring
Near Buckingham Palace, its tea is served on its own bespoke canary-yellow china in your choice of the blood-red lounge, the airy conservatory, or the Veranda in the garden. Book at least three months ahead, but sit as long as you want once you’re there. The Goring is no ordinary hotel: Opened in 1910, it is the only hotel that carries Queen Elizabeth's seal of approval (a "Royal warrant") and it was where Princess Kate got into her dress for her wedding to Prince William. 
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BB Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour BB Bakery
In this case, the traditional meets the highly unconventional as you take your tea aboard an antique, double-decker red Routemaster bus (yes, you can sit upstairs) as you ply the sights of the city. BB Bakery's bus tour loops past the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Harrods, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and through the West End. Graciously, it does it without narration—it may be tea on the bus, but it has some class.
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Great Court Restaurant, The British Museum Benugo
You'll definitely be visiting the British Museum anyway, so take your tea without breaking your touring stride. Enjoy sensibly priced scones (under £20) under the courtyard’s undulated glass canopy, which was added to the 18th-century edifice in 2000. The level containing the café, which is tucked behind the world-famous Reading Room, floats in what was once the outdoor courtyard. Head out the back door of the restaurant and you'll be face-to-face with the Museum's legendary collection of Egyptian mummies, and directly beneath you'll find the best gift shop on the premises.
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The only way most of us can afford the gilding, mirrors, and boisterous floral arrangements of The Ritz, on Piccadilly, is if we slip in for tea. There, we submit to the formal attentions of the obsequious waiters in its Palm Court (1906), who handle 400 people daily. It's a tea machine, no doubt about it, and as a consequence can feel a tad hustled, but it's still the Ritz. No jeans or sneakers, please, and a jacket and tie are required for men. Book 6–8 weeks ahead.
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The antique, library-like Park Lounge overlooking Kensington Gardens is your stop if you’re near Kensington Palace. The Milestone, a quintessentially English-style small hotel with top-hatted doormen and all, doles out 11,000 doggy boxes a year for guests who can’t finish—a courtesy that’s uncommon here—but a visit is relaxed enough that you won't feel rushed if you want to sit for hours and keep eating.
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The Houses of Parliament, London UK Parliament
The Houses of Parliament, over which the clock tower containing Big Ben soars, lets visitors roam the building on tours. As part of that excelllent attraction, you have the option of adding on afternoon tea, which is taken overlooking the Thames in the modern Terrace Pavilion rooms behind the House of Commons. The room isn't genteel, the waiters aren't obsessed with detail, but the location and the view are peerless.
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The Fan Museum, Greenwich The Fan Museum
The charming little Fan Museum, located a block from the rich heritage sites in Greenwich, might be visited more for its sweet afternoon tea than its exhibition of hand-held fans—in fact, as with all of Frommer's' choices for best afternoon tea, it's wise to book ahead. Tea in its lovely Orangery is authentic without draining the budget: You get cakes, scones, the requisite clotted cream, and blackcurrant jam made by the museum's owner. All in, it will cost you a quarter of what many other places extract. Also, Greenwich is a little east of London proper, so this is a delightful choice on the day when you're out enjoying the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory, the O2 dome, or the Old Royal Naval College.
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The Langham, London The Langham, London
The grande dame comes last: The first hotel in London to initiate the custom of afternoon tea (in 1865), The Langham is still one of the best, with dazzlingly intricate pastries (chef Cherish Finden calls them "my collection"), but it’s also one of the most commercial, having branded itself with a Wedgewood partnership. This Oxford Circus tradition, held in the historic Palm Court, is particularly popular with Asian visitors, proving how good word travels far.

Now, remember your tea etiquette: Pinkies in, pour the milk before the tea, refrain from dunking your biscuits, and above all, take a moment to relax and be grateful for an unforgettable afternoon that is unrepeatable anywhere except in London.
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