The tradition of high tea, or simply just tea time, throughout England, is a strong one. It's one that has been ongoing for centuries and clearly has no intentions of disappearing, at least, as far as tea houses and those who frequent them are concerned. While some might associate this with a high or regal privilege, it's actually something that can be enjoyed quite easily, especially during a first-time trip to London.

And, furthermore, it's something that absolutely should be enjoyed, if only for the comfort and tranquility it brings. When visiting London, here's a guide on how to enjoy tea time, as well as where to find the best tea houses in the city.


How To Enjoy Tea Time

For many, enjoying a traditional British tea time is something that's been on their bucket lists for quite some time. It's not unusual for a traveler to want to experience something that's so seemingly foreign; sure, many of us have teapots at home, but how many of us have actually experienced a formal tea hour? After all, it's not every day that one has the chance to sit down with a cup of English breakfast and two-bite sandwiches or tiny pastries. According to NPR, it's said that high tea began with the duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell. The story goes that the duchess began feeling hungry between the hours of lunch - 12 PM - and dinner, which was at 7 PM. Thus, small tea cakes and snacks were sent up to her room along with tea, and it became a daily tradition. Once the tradition made its way around the royal social circles, there was simply no stopping it: High tea had been born.

Here are the basics:

  • High tea is enjoyed anywhere from 3 PM to 4 PM in the afternoon - it's meant as a small treat - or a precursor - to dinner later on.
  • Tea time can include any small treat including finger sandwiches, scones, muffins, or biscuits (cookies for those outside of the U.K.).
  • Rather than a formal tea, high tea was originally intended for those in the middle and lower classes - the 'formal' pressure was off, and it was created for the working class following a lunchless workday.
  • When visiting London, don't call it high tea lest one wants to give away their American origins - it's simply called 'afternoon tea.'
  • Avoid trying to keep one's pinky held out because this is another dead giveaway.
  • Rather than feeling formal, bear in mind that afternoon tea is meant to be a relaxing part of the day, not one that's stuffy and entirely proper (this does not mean forgetting one's manners, though).

Related: Curious About British Biscuits? These Are Worth A Cup Of Tea (Skip The Rest)

Top Tea Houses In London

There are many tea houses throughout England and in London, specifically. This means that choosing one can definitely feel overwhelming, but visitors can start with these highly-regarded destinations, first.

Traditional: Afternoon Tea At The Ritz

For those who want a taste of the traditional while visiting London, tea time at The Ritz is a must-do. Not only is Palm Court absolutely classic in its simple, yet elegant, decor, but this hotel is well-versed in its traditional practices. A variety of sandwiches and scones are available (and are unlimited) along with a number of truly delectable pastries. For those seeking extra sweet comfort, small plates can be ordered from the trolley that makes the rounds.

  • Price: Starting at £55 per person, £35 per child
  • Hours:  11:30 AM - 7:30 PM

Tea & A London Tour: B Bakery Bus Tour

Not every tea time needs to be traditional and the bus tours offered at B Bakery certainly aren't - but they are certainly entertaining. These bus tours of London combine elegance and excitement with their onboard tea time while chauffeuring tour-takers around London's most historic locations. There also exist plenty of options for tea and treats, including mini pastrami burgers, traditional finger sandwiches, homemade tarts, cakes, and cupcakes.

  • Price: Starting at £45 (Peppa Pig kid's tours are available, as well as Gin Lovers tours for adults)
  • Hours: 12 PM - 5 PM

This unique space gives the vibe of part art gallery, part tea room, which makes it a great space for downtime. The treats served with afternoon tea are already exquisite and feature a chic twist, but The Gallery also offers an allergen-free patisserie menu, as well. This menu includes options for those who are gluten-free vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, gelatine-free, or may have allergies to nuts or dairy.

  • Price: Starting at £59 per person, £73 with champagne
  • Hours: 11:30 AM - 4 PM

Traditional Bonus: The Bar & Lounge At The Goring

The Goring Hotel is opulent in itself, and its afternoon tea is no exception to its excellence. Served in the lounge, this is the kind of tea room that visitors will want to put a bit more effort into their outfits for. With traditional finger sandwiches (crustless, no less!), scones, and silent refills of steaming hot tea, there's nothing that a local or visitor wouldn't love about this tea room.

  • Price: Starting at £50 per person
  • Hours: Monday - Friday 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM, Saturday 1 PM - 4:30 PM, Sunday 1 PM - 4 PM

Next: Traveling Tea Time: How The Comforting Beverage Is Enjoyed Around The World