Scones, cakes, sandwiches...but where is the UK's best afternoon tea?

·5 min read
Top view of afternoon tea, cakes and snacks with a teapot in the background.
This looks like a light snack to keep us going till teatime. (Getty Images)

The past 18 months have been tough and we all deserve a treat. It's hard to think of anything more cheering, as the autumn chill sets in, than a cosy nook, a white-clothed table and a lavish afternoon tea.

Since the 1840s, when the Duchess of Bedfordshire found herself hungry around 4pm, afternoon tea has been considered an aristocratic meal, with tiny sandwiches and delicate little cakes.

Scones were added later to offer a bit more substance to the meal. Now, cafes, restaurants and hotels across the UK offer their own versions of the traditional afternoon tea.

Watch: A New Princess Diana-inspired Hotel Package Lets You Eat, Sleep, and Drink Exactly Like She Did While in Chicago

And according to a new survey, the best of it is found in the South, which has been named the best place for afternoon tea spots, beating the North, in a a travel study from Dorset Coastal Cottages based on TripAdvisor reviews and local menus. 

Top afternoon tea venues in the South were located in Cornwall, Dorset (surprise!), London and Cardiff.

The study found that tea rooms serving afternoon tea in the South garner a better popularity and quality score, as determined by TripAdvisor data, than those up North.

Venues praised in the survey included the Garden Gate Tea Room in Dorset, The Garden in Cornwall, Pencil Cottage in the Isle of Wight, Corinthia London in the capital, and Honeybee House Tearoom in Cardiff.

London, England - April 07, 2018 - The Corinthia Hotel was opened in 2007 after being used as another hotel in the past and also as a government building.
The Corinthia Hotel in London, home of an excellent afternoon tea. (Getty Images)

But while the South triumphed overall, based on reviews, the UK's most popular tearoom was in Whitby, Yorkshire where the W Hamond Tea Rooms scored 4.5/5 across 103 customer reviews

Other Northern venues which shone include Cup Merchant City in Glasgow, Tea on the Green in York, Harvey Nichols Bar & Brasserie in Manchester, and the Tea House in Liverpool.

The study also looked at available price data across the top tea rooms, and found that the average price for an afternoon tea in the UK is £27 per person. In the North, it was higher at £28, while the South matched the average at £27.

In central London venues, prices can spiral upwards of £80 per head - particular if champagne is added. What makes a proper afternoon tea, however, remains up for debate. 

According to the survey, which ranked items by how often they appear on menus, the top most important afternoon tea items included scones (with clotted cream and jam), cups of tea and cakes.

English afternoon tea set including hot tea, pastry, scones, sandwiches and mini pies on marble top table.
Scones: Vitally important to an afternoon tea's success. (Getty Images)

With the nation once again venturing out, however, there's plenty of variety for those who fancy something a bit... fancier. 

At London's Farmacy restaurant in Notting Hill, the 'high tea' includes gluten-free charcoal bread and CBD-infused homemade chocolates, and the Rennie Mackintosh-inspired Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow currently serve pink hummus, to highlight breast cancer awareness month. 

Read more: Best afternoon tea in London for 2021

Meanwhile, iconic teashop Betty's of Harrogate includes a prawn cocktail with afternoon tea, followed by a Yorkshire pork and Bramely apple pie. At Cloud 23 in Manchester, along with views across the North West, visitors can enjoy candied pineapple scones and a Mission To Manchester cocktail - gin mixed with sake, genmaicha tea syrup, yuzu and rose water. 

At Cliveden in Berkshire, afternoon tea might feature an almond financier (cake, not date) with rhubarb and white chocolate or beetroot cake with bergamot buttercream.

A general view of Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms in Harrogate Town.
Betty's - home of the Fat Rascal and a fine afternoon tea. (Getty Images)
HARROGATE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12:  Afternoon tea for two at Bettys Tea Room, Harlow Carr on February 12, 2009 in Harrogate, England. The family owned company Taylors of Harrogate have been producing it's blends of teas and coffee since 1886 and serving it's products at the famous and traditional Bettys Tea Shops. Despite recent increases in the price of tea and the surge of coffee shops, the 'cuppa' is proving to be as popular as ever with bookings in Britain's discerning tea rooms being made weeks in advance. Consumption also increases during a recession as tea lovers take solace drinking tea.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Betty's full afternoon tea, You be mother. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It's even possible to take tea on a train.

The British Pullman offers a three hour journey, serving guests with goat’s cheese tarts with caramelised onion, finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, pastries and macarons. 

But with the average afternoon tea now packing well over 1000 calories per person, it should probably remain an occasional treat.

Read more: Best afternoon tea hampers 2021

"Traditionally, afternoon tea was quite simple and consisted of a slice of cake, a scone, and a few sandwiches," says The Afternoon Tea Expert, Eileen Donaghey, who advises top venues on afternoon tea.

"As it began to be served in hotels, it has evolved into a larger meal with finger sandwiches, usually two types of scones and a selection of delicate pastries.

"Quirky and themed afternoon teas are becoming more popular due to the competition of London hotels who want to attract customers to try their offering," she adds. "This means more unusual items are appearing on the menu and I have seen everything through to caviar and candyfloss."

- PHOTO TAKEN 17APR06 - Afternoon tea is seen at the Palm Court at The Ritz hotel in London during its 100th anniversary year, April 17, 2006. Guests can choose from 17 types of tea to go with a plethora of sandwiches, cakes and pastries prepared each day in the hotel's kitchen. Much of the silver-plated tea service from the original set used in 1906, and is polished every day to maintain its shine. Picture taken April 17, 2006.
The traditional top treat: Tea at The Ritz (Getty Images)

"Once more substantial items such as burgers or sausage rolls are added it starts to move into the high tea territory and becomes less afternoon tea."

Donaghey agrees that afternoon tea is still a treat, adding, "afternoon tea isn't something you do every week (unless you're me!) so it is normally reserved for a special occasion. 

"It's become a popular way to celebrate significant birthdays, baby showers and bridal parties.

Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, enjoy afternoon tea on the terrace beside a life-sized statue of a playwright Noel Coward during a visit to Theatre Royal in London, Britain June 23, 2021. Tim P. Whitby/Pool via REUTERS
Charles and Camilla enjoy afternoon tea on the terrace of The Theatre Royal this summer,. (REUTERS)

"It's a great excuse to get dress up and sit for hours with friends and family over endless cups of tea and treats. It's also become more expensive - so it isn't something that is done regularly!"

Watch: This afternoon tea is so magical

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting