I’m a casual person. I love simple picnics and quiet evenings with a book. But occasionally I love indulging in the elegance of afternoon tea. Especially when I travel. I don’t know if it’s the sense of luxury, the delicious treats, or the gorgeous venue, but when I’m planning a trip, I look for special places for afternoon tea. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful teas over the years but am always longing for more. So I’ve asked some of the top travel writers for their recommendations for Best Afternoon Tea in the World.
Afternoon Tea? or High Tea?
In the U.S. these terms are interchangeable. Both indicate a mid to late afternoon tea service with classic scones and delicate finger sandwiches. But in British tradition they are quite different. Historically in England, high tea was the evening meal – supper – for working class people. Afternoon tea was for the wealthy, taken luxuriously in comfortable chairs by low tables or on the lawn.
Today, anyone can enjoy afternoon tea. For most of us it’s an opportunity to dress up and enjoy a few hours of luxury. An afternoon tea party is a great way to celebrate special occasions with friends and family. And for many of us, enjoying afternoon tea in a famous hotel or tea house is a highlight of our travel.
What to Expect at Afternoon Tea
If you’re just looking to enjoy a cup of tea with a raisin scone, there are many choices. There are quaint tea shops or coffee houses that will be just fine. But if you’re looking for “afternoon tea” you are expecting traditional foods served in the traditional way.
Most teas have a fixed food menu but offer lots of options for your choice of tea. After the tea is served (loose leaf teas in individual pots), a three-tiered tray will be brought to the table. The bottom tier features biscuits and warm scones, usually accompanied by clotted cream. The savory course in on the middle tier; English cucumber finger sandwiches and egg sandwiches are traditional favorites. And finally, the sweet treats, beautifully presented, are on the top tier.
Now it’s time to indulge. Enjoy!
The Best Afternoon Teas in the World According to Top Travel Writers
The Balmoral, Edinburgh, UK
by Gemma, Everything Edinburgh
One of the most exquisite afternoon tea experiences in Europe takes place at The Balmoral, a historic hotel in Edinburgh.
Afternoon tea is served in Palm Court, a large light and airy room with a glass dome which is decorated with a chandelier, cherry blossom trees and fairy lights. Delightful!
Live music from a harp player accompanies a very fancy delivery of the afternoon platter which includes a starter of cold soup, trays of sandwiches and savory pastries then cakes for those with a sweet.
But that’s not all! You also get chocolate to take home.
Let’s spill the tea on the tea. The Balmoral offers a variety of loose leaf tea and it is served with a very elaborate pour. You can also pimp up your menu with a glass or two of fizz.
No request is too much to ask. Vegetarian? Vegan? Picky eater? No problem for The Balmoral catering and hospitality team.
Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE
by Angela of Where Angie Wanders
Afternoon tea at the luxurious 7-star Burj Al Arab Hotel is one of the best things to do in Dubai. After all who doesn’t want to enjoy the finer things in life.
On one of my visits, we booked afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab to celebrate my wedding anniversary and as a way of having a peek inside this world-famous property. Once upon a time anyone could pop inside to revel at the over-the-top grandeur of the hotel but nowadays only guests and restaurant users are granted the privilege.
Afternoon tea is served on the 27th floor in the Skyview Bar giving guests a bird’s eye view of the coast and city. It also happens to be one floor below the helipad, so we got the chance to see choppers taking off and landing as we sipped our tea and ate our sandwiches and cakes.
Like everything in Dubai, the afternoon tea we had was delicious and was served on a glass three-tiered stand in the iconic sail shape of the hotel. The spread consisted of finger sandwiches and small rolls, strawberry and clotted cream scones, and a selection of pastries based on a traditional British afternoon tea. The one thing different was that there were different flavors of yoghurt as well – not the norm with afternoon tea! We chose rooibos tea (without milk) and a Burj special tea (with milk) to accompany our food and, of course, a glass of champagne to finish off the most perfect afternoon tea in the Middle East!
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, AB, Canada
by Sam of My Flying Leap
Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies is full of some incredibly historic and picturesque places. If you’re seeking a mix of both, head to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for High Tea.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888. It was one of the first grand railway hotels built in all of Canada. Its massive footprint has the majesty of a castle, with rich wood decor inside making it cozy and welcoming.
The “afternoon tea” is a tradition at this stately old hotel, and it’s a popular thing to do in Banff National Park. Enjoy the incredible view of the mountains while sipping a cup of hot tea.
High tea consists of your choice of over 20 different kinds of tea. Choose your favorite tea or try something new and interesting. The tea is joined by a lovely tiered tray of finger sandwiches and tasty small cakes and cookies. You won’t leave hungry, and you’ll linger over the incredible aroma of tea and the views!
If you’re looking for an incredible fine dining experience with some pampering and breathtaking views, then High Tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel should be on your must-do list.
Four Seasons Hotel, Tokyo, Japan
by Kate of passportsandplaygrounds.com
Afternoon tea at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi is the perfect marriage of traditional Japanese confections and French patisserie.
The hotel is located close to glamorous stores, art galleries, and fashion houses in nearby Ginza. A stunning view of Mount Fuji and the greater Tokyo area greet you upon entering the lounge. Feel regal as you view the splendor of the Imperial Palace and its alluring gardens.
The award-winning team, led by Executive Pastry Chef Yusuke Aoki, creates culinary delights based on fresh produce and delicate techniques. In springtime, diners can indulge in a cherry blossom afternoon tea set,; the summertime menu features tropical fruits such as mango and yuzu.
My husband and I went on a date here in early December. We were enchanted by the soft glow of the illuminations, designer-decorated evergreens, and other traditional winter designs. Some of the exquisite holiday treats included gingerbread scone with fig jam and Edo miso foie gras confit with apple compote and honey cream. We could pair out tasing with Japanese green tea, yuzu-persimmon herbal tea, or even earl gray. What is really nice is that you can purchase their stollen-perfect for holiday parties or gifts.
Sip and savory true elegance at afternoon tea at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi.
Harrods Tea Room, London, UK
by Marcie of Marcie in Mommyland
When we planned our kid-friendly London itinerary, one of the first things I booked was afternoon tea at Harrods. I’d heard rave reviews about it for years and we were so excited to try it for ourselves. Spoiler: it did not disappoint! It’s a set menu but you can choose which type of tea you’d like. Each person at the table can choose their own tea. The first course is an amuse-bouche that’s quite tasty. Then it goes into the main course of finger sandwiches and miniature desserts. The final course is scones with clotted cream and jam.
They even have a kids afternoon tea where they can order caffeine-free tea or hot chocolate. My kids declared it the “best day ever” as they devoured the tiny treats on their teddy bear serving tray. The food was incredible, and the ambiance made us all feel like royalty. After you finish your tea, you can head to the Harrods gift shop to purchase your favorite tea, jam, or other items to bring home as souvenirs. I highly recommend the Harrods afternoon tea to families, couples, or friends looking for a memorable experience in London. It’s definitely a London bucket list item!
Hotel Fairmont Empress, Victoria, BC, Canada
by Mayuri from Canada Crossroads
Afternoon tea is a must-do while visiting Victoria, BC – and there’s no better place to enjoy it than at the Fairmont Empress. This iconic hotel has been serving up afternoon tea since 1908, making it one of the longest-running traditions in the city.
As soon as you step into the lobby, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time. The grandiose setting is the perfect backdrop for an elegant afternoon tea service.
When you book an afternoon tea session, you will be provided with a menu of tea selections to choose from. You’ll start by enjoying a pot of tea from the hotel’s signature blend, which has been specially crafted to pair perfectly with the food.
Then, it’s time to indulge in an array of delicious finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and pastries.
The Fairmont Empress is the perfect place to enjoy a classic afternoon tea service. Plus as the hotel faces the harbor it makes for a lovely sight or a date option.
Prior reservation is recommended to avoid disappointments.
Hydro Majestic Hotel, NSW, Australia
by Linda of Muy Linda Travels
The perfect way to discover the stunning scenery and old-world charm of the beautiful Blue Mountains in Australia is to visit the Hydro Majestic Hotel for High Tea. It’s an afternoon tea experience that you’re sure to enjoy served with a piece of Australian history and the elegance of a bygone era.
The grand old Hydro Majestic Hotel is one of Australia’s most iconic hotels and sits on the edge of a cliff in the quaint village of Medlow Bath. High up in the mountains, the Hydro Majestic enjoys a panoramic outlook across the Megalong Valley and serves a traditional English afternoon High Tea with a superb view from the luxurious Wintergarden dining room.
Finger sandwiches, pastries, freshly baked scones, and sweets are presented on a three-tiered silver stand along with a wide choice of teas from fragrant Earl Grey, and classic English Breakfast to a variety of herbal teas. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available at no extra cost.
High Tea at the Hydro Majestic Hotel is very popular so make sure you book ahead. Consider booking a room at the hotel and staying a while to make the most of your visit to the beautiful Blue Mountains.
Jenolan Caves House Hotel, NSW, Australia
by Margarita of The Wildlife Diaries
Located some 200km west of Sydney, Jenolan caves are the largest, most spectacular, and most famous crystal-studded caves in Australia, and the most ancient open underground caves in the world. The unexpected perk is that you can combine a visit to one of the caves with a decadent High Tea experience at the historic Chilsom’s Restaurant at the stately Jenolan Caves House hotel.
The tea is served in a beautifully presented 3-tier tower to be shared by two people and includes a selection of chef’s hand-made sweet treats, cakes, scones with jam and cream, finger sandwiches, savories, and tea or coffee. The treats are mouthwatering. Fresh, light, and very diverse they are the perfect way to refuel after exploring the caves.
Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong
by Kenny of KNYCX Journeying
Hong Kong has long been known around the world as a culinary paradise. Many tourists visit Hong Kong on a food tour, and one of the best places for afternoon tea is at the Peninsula.
The Peninsula is a luxury hotel chain based in Hong Kong. Its first hotel is located at the waterfront of Tsim Sha Tsui, for being the oldest hotel in the city, it began in 1928. The colonial-style apple green building has been a landmark for decades and has been a social place for local celebrities for a long time.
While the culture of afternoon tea became more and more popular, more and more locals come to Peninsula for their gatherings. The afternoon tea set is served in the lobby lounge, including the classic finger sandwiches, tartlets, English raisin scones, cakes, and macrons. There’s an impressive range of tea selections on their menu; the grand lobby with natural lighting, and the live quartet music have truly enriched the entire experience.
The tables are frequently fully booked, especially on the weekends. One great way to have a full experience of Peninsula is to purchase a promotion staycation package, while afternoon tea is included, plus a dining experience at any one of the awarded restaurants or a spa treatment at a discounted price.
The Plaza Hotel, New York City, USA
by Amy of Traveling Tulls
The Plaza Hotel is located on Fifth Avenue directly across from Central Park. It is the epitome of elegance with a French Renaissance inspired exterior and lushly decorated interior. Afternoon tea is served in the Palm Court, an airy room with palm trees, potted plants and a glass dome ceiling.
There are three choices for Afternoon Tea at the Plaza: the Manhattan Tea, the Plaza Signature Tea, and the Grand Imperial Tea. All three include sandwiches, savories, scones, and sweets topped with fresh flowers. I opted for the lowest price tea, the Manhattan Tea, and it was more than enough! I chose my favorite, earl grey tea, and a glass of champagne. [Note: herbal teas and gluten free sandwiches are available on request.]
Having afternoon tea at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue was top of my tea bucket list. (don’t you have a tea bucket list??) But only recently did I have the opportunity to get there when I joined my daughters’ families for afternoon tea. The Plaza was as wonderful as I’d imagined.
But having afternoon tea with my young granddaughters brought the event up a notch. You see, the Plaza is the setting for the Eloise children’s books (and movie) by Kay Thompson. The Plaza has embraced this connection and serves the kids an Eloise tea complete with custom tableware and cotton candy. Our girls were enchanted!
Victoria Falls Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
by Amy of Traveling Tulls
Afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel is an extraordinary event.
First there’s the hotel. It’s a five-star, colonial era, grand hotel sitting on acres of green lawn overlooking the second gorge of the Zambezi River and the iconic Victoria Falls bridge. It’s a bit of a shock to encounter this elegance while on an African safari.
The hotel is only 10-minute walk from Victoria Falls and is very popular with tourists. It’s advisable to make a reservation well in advance. Though most of the guests were in tea attire, we wore our safari clothing. The staff welcomed us as we were.
Afternoon tea is served on the patio overlooking the lawn and manicured gardens. It is a traditional afternoon tea with a wide selection of teas to choose from. We both ordered rooibos tea, made from the leaves of the rooibos plant native to South Africa. The selection of sandwiches and fresh pastries were delicious, but what made this tea truly memorable was listening to the resident pianist as we relaxed in this perfect setting. After tea we strolled around the grounds for a while, absorbing the elegance of the hotel, before heading back to our safari camp.
Tea and Touring: A Fun Option in London
Brigit’s Bakery Classic Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, London, UK
by Fiona from Travelling Thirties
England’s capital is famous for a few things, the Royal Family, bad weather, the Beatles (just to name a few).
But, London is also famous for afternoon tea and red double decker buses. What could be more perfecting than putting a classic English afternoon tea together with a vintage routemaster bus?
This is where Brigit’s Bakery Classic Afternoon Tea Bus Tour comes in.
The vintage route master red bus departs from Victoria Bus Station and embarks on a traditional bus tour of Central London.
Passing some of the most famous Landmarks in London including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Nottinghill, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park and many other London bucket list items.
While learning about the history of the sites you are passing by you will be enjoying a fancy English (with a French twist) high tea.
Sandwiches, small pies and quiches, cakes and more cakes and tea, coffee or hot chocolate. You will think you couldn’t possibly eat any more when the delicious homemade scones are brought out. Luckily, you can take home a wee box of leftover cakes.
Tours depart from either Victoria Bus station or Trafalgar Square, every half an hour from 12pm until 5pm every day.
The tours last approximately one and a half hours depending on traffic and if you know London traffic, then prepare for it to last a little longer – not that you will complain!!
Thanks to all the amazing writers who shared their recommendations for the best afternoon teas. I greatly enjoyed learning about the special spots and have added them to my list for when a trip-of-a-lifetime takes me to one of these destinations. Until then I’ll enjoy tea at one of my favorite Massachusetts spots, the Courtyard Tea Room at the Boston Public Library.
I’d love to add YOUR favorite place to my afternoon tea list! Share in comments!