London’s best afternoon teas

CNN  — 

Fancy an afternoon tea while in the British capital? There’s no better place to try this English tradition than in London, which serves up some of the world’s most well-regarded versions.

Reputedly spawned when an English duchess made a simple request for cake and tea before dinner time in the mid-1800’s, afternoon tea has since become a more decadent occasion.

Plush baked scones, assorted finger sandwiches and desserts with a generous pot of tea is now the modern standard. While London’s traditional luxury offerings could easily monopolize this list, we’ve included quirky, novel options for those seeking teas with a twist, including one set on a vintage double-decker bus and a fanciful version inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

Fortnum & Mason

No one knows tea like Fortnum & Mason, London’s premier tea and assorted goods emporium since 1707. Visitors can sample their famous teas and much more in the airy, elegant Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, which is often filled with music from a live pianist.

“Walking into the tea room felt as if I was walking onto a set for a BBC series set in the 19th Century,” says That Adventurer blogger Hannah Kacary.

Tea sommeliers ask guests for taste preferences and recommend the perfect sip from an extensive menu. Also on hand are traditional sommeliers who assist in champagne pairings.

Save room for dessert, however. Fortnum’s signature cake cart allows guests to choose a slice from a range of choices.

Best For: Ultimate tea lovers

Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London; +44 207 734 8040


Sketch: A "candy shop" of cakes

Sketch’s Gallery room – enshrouded in pink and full of artsy flair – is perhaps the city’s most striking venue for afternoon tea.

“You feel like you’re in a candy shop, with the bubblegum pink seats and little cheesy messages at the bottom of your cups and plates,” says Fresh and Fearless blogger Aftab Pathan.

Tea comes with finger sandwiches, such as the addictive comte cheese panini, warm scones and sweets such as cassis cheesecake and citrus meringue. For full-on eccentricity, there’s the Sketch Exotic Tea, where the staff will strain Sketch’s own brand of Champagne over chai, vanilla or Earl Grey tea leaves over ice.

Best for: Avant-garde tea

Sketch, 9 Conduit St, Mayfair, London; +44 20 7659 4500

The Goring

It’s no surprise that The Goring’s afternoon tea is a classic, regal affair, given that the hotel’s been a favorite of the Queen for decades (it’s just two blocks away from Buckingham Palace).

Tea takes place in a lounge with gilded ceilings, velvety red walls and a crackling fireplace, and the selection of cut sandwiches and sweets – salmon sandwiches with creme fraiche, strawberry-pistachio macarons and mini banana cake loaves – change regularly.

Those wanting a premium experience should opt for the Afternoon Tea with Bollinger Rose Champagne, which comes with a plate of fresh-cut strawberries and cream in addition to all the fixings.

Best For: The royal treatment

The Goring Hotel, 15 Beeston Place, London; +44 20 7396 9000

Mad Hatter’s Tea, Sanderson

Alice in Wonderland’s legacy lives on at the trendy Sanderson Hotel, hosting one of the city’s most beloved themed afternoon teas.

Save for the round of savory nibbles, no element of this tea goes untouched without dashes of whimsy – from the five “Alice” character-inspired tea selections to macaroons guised as animated pocket watches.

“The menu is hidden inside an old vintage book, teapots come complete with crowns… we tumbled down the rabbit hole and didn’t want to return to reality,” says Crummbs blogger Stacey Smith.

Those wanting their fantasy tea a bit more grownup can opt for the Mad Hatter’s Tipsy Evening Tea, which includes four cocktail flights and boozy cake bites.

Best for: A whimsical treat

Sanderson Hotel, 50 Berners St., Fitzrovia, London; +44 207 300 5588

B Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, BB Bakery

For an afternoon tea on the move, look no further than BB Bakery’s bus tour.

Tour the top sights of London – including Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus – while enjoying an afternoon tea spread on a 1960s double-decker Routemaster.

“[It’s] an enjoyable idea for both tourists and Londoners who want to see their city differently – I’d definitely recommend spending a sunny afternoon aboard,” says Mini Adventures blogger Milly Youngman.

The 90-minute tea-tour departs from Victoria or Trafalgar Square and provides scones, sandwiches, cupcakes and French sweets, in addition to live or recorded tour commentary.

It’s best to book in advance to reserve a table on the top deck for the best views.

Best for: London newbies

BB Afternoon Tea, 24 Raymouth Rd, London; +44 020 3026 1188

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

The Bea’s bakery brand hosts the most casual and affordable afternoon teas on this list, costing around half as much as other top-rated teas in the capital.

The tea menu is kept short and sweet with seven loose leaf selections, and sandwiches are replaced with an assortment of mini-brioches such as Parma ham with mascarpone and avocado with spiced yogurt.

Naturally, the bakery’s strongest suit is the dessert selection, which includes dainty meringues and marshmallows, brownies and cupcakes. Bea’s has expanded to multiple locations in the capital, but afternoon tea is only available in St. Paul’s, Marylebone and the original cafe in Bloomsbury.

Best for: Keeping it casual

Bea’s of Bloomsbury, 44 Theobalds Rd, London; +44 20 7242 8330

Pret a Portea, The Berkeley

Edible fashion: Pret-a-Portea.

Know anyone who salivates over Lanvin heels as much as desserts? Pret-a-Portea is for them. The Berkeley delivers fashion from the catwalk to the cake stand with sweets inspired by the Fashion Week season of the moment.

The recent 10th Anniversary collection features the famous McDonald’s-inspired Moschino bag – Pret-a-