The quintessentially British pastime of taking tea in the afternoon is as popular as ever. To celebrate National Tea Day on 21 April 2018, Rough Guides’ writer Mandy Tomlin has scoured the UK for some of the country’s best, and most accessible places for an indulgent treat. These include award-winning cafés and venues with fantastic views; some offer a generous dash of luxury while others are far from traditional. How about tea on a cruise, an Asian afternoon tea or a Game of Thrones-themed experience? Some venues may require advance booking so be sure to check ahead.
Tea with a view
Tea with views of Trafalgar Square at London’s National Portrait Gallery Restaurant
1. National Portrait Gallery Restaurant
Trafalgar Square, London
Not only can you see the world’s best collection of portraits for free on your way up to the rooftop Portrait Restaurant at the National Gallery, but you can also enjoy splendid views of Trafalgar Square while you eat. Once you’ve looked around the gallery’s collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and photos of eminent people such as Prince William and Kate Middleton, Olympic diver Tom Daley, singer Amy Winehouse and supermodel Kate Moss – you’ll have earned your afternoon tea. So, settle down to sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, and rich fancies. Look out for Big Ben and the London Eye rising up from behind the rooftops. There’s lift access to all floors of the museum (via Orange Street for the list to the Portrait Café lift) and accessible toilets and induction loops are available.
2. Tate St Ives café
St Ives, Cornwall
The Tate St Ives specializes in Cornish-themed exhibitions, including large-scale paintings by the artists of the St Ives School, a modern British art movement that’s centred around this seaside town. A major refurbishment was completed in October 2017, with a four-storey extension that doubles the exhibition space. Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Piet Mondrian are among the featured artists. However, the art plays second fiddle to the fantastic views over Porthmeor Beach and the Atlantic Ocean from the top-floor café, where you can enjoy a proper Cornish cream tea with fruit scones, local jam and of course Cornish clotted cream. You can also eat out on the roof terrace in warm weather if you’d like. There’s accessible parking and a ramp at the entrance of the gallery, lift access to all floors and seating in the galleries. Guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcome too.
3. Bateaux London cruises
Embankment Pier, London
There’s nothing quite as genteel as taking an afternoon tea on the river. While you nibble cucumber sandwiches and sip champagne, you’ll drift past some of London’s best-loved sights, including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the London Eye. Bateaux London cruises runs a variety of trips on its fleet of modern boats with large full-length glass windows. On the 1hr 15min afternoon tea cruise, a live pianist plays while you’re served a selection of sandwiches, cakes, pastries and teas. The Harmony is the best boat for people with limited mobility, with all its facilities on one level – there’s a large outdoor observation deck, accessible bathrooms, and step-free access from Embankment Pier onto the boat. Check the access statement for more information.
A fine tea at St David’s Hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay
4. St David’s Hotel
For an upmarket affair, the swanky St David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay serves an afternoon tea to suit everyone in the Admiral St David restaurant. The children’s tea includes mini pizzas, strawberry jam finger sandwiches and teapots of milkshakes. Then there’s the hearty Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea, which features a char siu pork belly bao bun and a pork pie with onion chutney. Vegetarian, vegan, and traditional British afternoon tea menus are available too. All are served in the restaurant with full-length glass windows that make the most of the great views over Cardiff Bay. The restaurant is on the ground floor with level access from the hotel entrance.
5. Mimi’s Tearoom
Mimi’s award-winning family-run bakery is renowned throughout Edinburgh for its indulgent cakes, traybakes, brownies and scones. The Leith Shore branch sits right by the waterfront with a wide ramp to the front door, and if you book in advance you can let them know your requirements and they can reserve the most suitable table for you. Take a delicious, and very reasonably priced afternoon tea of homemade scones, sandwiches, sausage rolls and a selection of sweet goodies that are baked daily. The cake selection changes regularly but there’s usually at least one gluten-free option. If you can’t wait until the afternoon you can feast on a Beforenoon Tea, with cheese scones, yoghurt with granola and fruit compote, bacon rolls, Belgian waffles and cinnamon swirls.
Betty’s famous tearooms in Harrogate
The original Betty’s in Harrogate town centre has been serving up traditional afternoon teas since the 1920s, but the Harlow Carr branch a couple of miles outside the town is particularly good for those with limited mobility. From the tearoom, there are wonderful views over the beautiful 58-acre RHS Gardens of Harlow Carr. The traditional tea, which is served all-day, includes Scottish smoked salmon and Yorkshire ham sandwiches, fruit scones and cream, lemon macaroons and fruit tarts. For an extra treat, you can add a glass of pink champagne. The café is all on one level, with no steps, and there’s accessible and disabled parking near the entrance. See the RHS access statement for more information.
Game of Thrones afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
Tea with a twist
7. Game of Thrones afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
Ballygally, Northern Ireland
Any Game of Thrones® fan will know that many scenes from the popular Medieval fantasy series were filmed in Northern Ireland, at locations such as Cairncastle, the Cushendun Caves and the village of Glenarm. All are near the beautiful seventeenth-century Ballygally Castle, which serves a themed Game of Thrones afternoon tea featuring morsels fit for any battle-hardened knight. Take your pick from Hodor’s pulled pork brioche, Dothraki trifle with mini dragon’s eggs, Winterfell Jaffa cake and Sansa Stark’s lemon cakes. The tea is usually served in the cocktail bar/lounge overlooking the Irish Sea or in the garden restaurant, which has upper and lower levels. All have level access but staff can advise the best entrance to use.
8. Asian afternoon tea at Ramside Hall
For something a bit different, head to Ramside Hall, just outside Durham. Here, you can sample an Asian afternoon tea in the Fusion Restaurant. The menu features delicious savoury delicacies, such as steamed Asian dim sum and bang bang chicken and vegetable wrap. There are no fondant fancies here – sweets include the likes of ginger and green tea cheesecake and lemongrass and lime posset. If you’re a traditionalist, you can take a British afternoon tea with scones, jam and cream in the the Rib Room. The hotel entrance is accessible via a ramp and both dining areas have level access. It is a good idea to phone in advance to discuss your access requirements.
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Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):
Header image: National Portrait Gallery, London
National Portrait Gallery afternoon tea: National Portrait Gallery, London
St David’s Hotel & Spa afternoon tea: Principal Hotel Company Ltd.
Bettys Harrogate exterior: Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate
Game of thrones afternoon tea: Hastings Ballygally Castle