Afternoon tea has been a British institution since the 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, decided to take tea and a light snack to overcome “that sinking feeling” in the middle of the afternoon.
The concept grew in fashion and has had a resurgence in popularity courtesy of the critically acclaimed TV series, “Downton Abbey.”
Here are 7 beautiful British tearooms where you can enjoy afternoon tea just like the Crawleys.
1) The Ritz, London
The Ritz is synonymous with afternoon tea, and one of the most popular spots to engage in the tradition. Tea is served in the decadent Palm Court, and there are several menus to choose from as well as 17 types of tea.
The English Tea menu includes a selection of sandwiches (smoked salmon, cucumber, egg mayonnaise, roast ham, cheddar cheese) served on the classic three-tier stand and accompanied by scones, cakes and pastries.
A dress code applies—ladies dress elegantly, gents require a jacket and tie; no jeans allowed. Although there are five sittings per day, you may need to book up to 12 weeks in advance.
Tea at the Ritz, a British institution. Photo by wewerlacy.
2) Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire
Woburn Abbey was the tea-drinking choice of Duchess Anna, who would reputedly invite her friends to Woburn Abbey’s Blue Drawing Room for an afternoon treat.
In homage to the Duchess’ tradition, Woburn Abbey offers afternoon tea in The Duchess’ Tearoom, which comprises of a selection of sandwiches and freshly baked scones served with jam and clotted cream.
The menu is complemented by award-winning Suki Tea, known for its big leaf and big flavor. Post tea, take a stroll through the Abbey Gardens and Deer Park for a decadent end to your afternoon.
Woburn Abbey, the original afternoon tea venue. Photo by jimbowen0306.
3) Prestonfield House, Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Lord Provost was the first owner of Prestonfield House when it was built in 1687.
Today, Prestonfield is a hotel of dramatic opulence adorned with art and antiques, and its central role in the city’s social, artistic, political and business life continues in the same manner it has for the past four centuries.
Afternoon tea is served throughout the hotel, in the rose garden when weather permits or in the gothic teahouse. Sandwiches and a selection of home baking complement the inviting range of loose-leaf teas and, if the mood takes, a hat or two is on hand to transform your attire.
Experience opulence in Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House. Photo by Leith_al.
4) Middlethorpe Hall, York
Take a step back in time for tea at Middlethorpe Hall. A William and Mary Country House (so called after the style depicting the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II), the hall was built in 1699 for Thomas Barlow, Sheffield’s master cutler.
Following a period of decline, the property transferred to the National Trust and has been restored to exacting historical standards complete with 18th century furnishings and antiques.
Tea at Middlethorpe Hall is exemplary not least due to the hall’s local connection with premium established tea merchants, Taylors of Harrogate. The tea ceremony occurs in the 18th century Drawing Room and features a divinely rich fruitcake alongside a serving of sandwiches and scones.
Tea is served with a rich fruitcake, sandwiches and scones. Photo by b0rr0de11.
5) Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire
A 1767 mansion house from neo-classical famed architect Robert Adam, Luton Hoo has associations with a plethora of famous names from Winston Churchill and Faberge to the present day Queen.
The Luton Hoo hotel underwent eight years of refurbishment to restore it to its previous glory days. Afternoon tea is every bit as luxurious as the surroundings with weighty silver cutlery, starch-like white linen and delicate bone china.
Fine ingredients are used such as roast Casterbridge beef and Croxton Manor mild cheddar. Add a choice of Champagnes or a glass of perfectly British Pimm’s for true indulgence.
Only the finest will do at Luton Hoo. Photo by Abi Skipp.
6) Great Fosters, Surrey
Close to Windsor, Great Fosters has 50 acres of lush gardens and a past as a Royal hunting lodge. Built in 1550, the present-day hotel, with its Tithe Barn, Drawing Room and terrace, has perfectly preserved the feel of the building’s historic stately grandeur.
Afternoon tea at Great Fosters has been attributed similarly in prestige to the Ritz, both of which have much-coveted memberships to the Tea Guild. Tea can be taken in a choice of the Cocktail Bar, Main Hall and the Anne Boleyn Drawing Room, besides the fireplace.
The menu comprises finger sandwiches, scones and cakes as well as a selection of teas that runs to two pages on the menu. During the warmer days, you can enjoy your tea on the terrace overlooking the lawns and imagine the past imbued in the Great Fosters’ estate.
The tea menu at Great Fosters runs for two pages. Photo by hannahtucker.
Take a stroll through the 50 acre gardens. Photo by wimbledonian.
7) Bovey Castle, Devon
William Henry Smith purchased the land that is home to Bovey Castle, but it was his son, Frederick, that built the manor house, which was completed in 1907 and stands within Dartmoor National Park.
In its history, the house has functioned as a convalescence home and military hospital during the First and Second World Wars. Today, more uplifting events are on the menu, including one of Bovey Castle’s most-civilized and underrated treats, afternoon tea.
Whether by a roaring fire or taking in the view from the terrace, the choice ranges from a cream tea complete with scones, a full afternoon tea that includes sandwiches or a Champagne tea with added sparkle.
Just like Downton Abbey, Bovey Castle served as a Convalescence home during the First World War. Photo by liquidworld.
Have you indulged in afternoon tea in a spot befitting Downton Abbey? Let me know in the comments below.
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Main photo: Downton Abbey, also known as Highclere Castle by JBUK_Planet.