The quintessentially British pastime of taking tea in the afternoon is as popular as ever. We’ve scoured the UK for some of the country’s best, and most accessible, places for an indulgent treat. They 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
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 – among them 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, plus rich fancies, such as a chocolate pot with salted caramel, and 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, and accessible toilets and induction loops are available.
Tea with views of Trafalgar Square at London’s National Portrait Gallery Restaurant
2. Christchurch Harbour Hotel
You can’t beat the views over Christchurch harbour from the dining room at Christchurch Harbour Hotel. If the weather’s good, you can sit outside on the large terrace overlooking the gardens. The afternoon tea here includes sandwiches, scones and cream, and a selection of delicious cakes. Add an optional glass of fizz to sip while you watch the paddle-boarders, windsurfers, kayakers and birds pottering about on the water. There are four steps up to the hotel entrance, but those with limited mobility can use the spa entrance. There’s disabled parking directly outside the hotel and access to the restaurant via a short lift.
3. Tate St Ives café
St Ives, Cornwall
The newly refurbished Tate St Ives specialises in Cornish-themed exhibitions, with large-scale paintings by Jessica Warboys, plus ceramic exhibitions, such as Simon Bayliss’s ceramic pasty paintings: a further new extension with gallery and exhibition space opens in the autumn. 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 even eat out on the roof-terrace in warm weather. There’s accessible parking near the museum with a ramp leading up to the entrance of the gallery, and lift access to all floors: guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcome.
4. 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.
A fine tea at St David’s Hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay
5. St David’s Hotel
For an upmarket affair, the swanky St David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay serves an afternoon tea to suit everyone. The Magical Marvellous children’s tea includes mini pizzas, popping candy cupcakes, gingerbread biscuits and hot chocolate with marshmallows. Then there’s the hearty Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea, which comes with a steak and Yorkshire pudding wrap, pork pie, Welsh rarebit and a glass of Reverend James ale. Of course, if you prefer a more traditional version, that’s 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.
6. 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, moveable chairs and helpful staff. Here, you can 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 it may well include the malteser slice, chocolate oreo cake or banana caramel cupcake. And if you can’t wait till 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 1919, 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.
Game of Thrones afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
TEA WITH A TWIST
8. 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 lounge overlooking the Irish Sea, but sometimes it may be in the garden restaurant. If you call in advance, staff will ensure you get a table in the lower section of the restaurant, with level access.
9. 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 duck spring roll. There are no fondant fancies here – sweets include the likes of ginger and green tea cheesecake and lemongrass and lime posset. As it’s a fusion restaurant, there is a traditional British dessert option though, so you can have fruit scones with jam and cream if you prefer, plus, of course, a selection of teas. It’s all beautifully presented and is served either in the hotel bar area, with level access, or in the Fusion Restaurant, with Asian decor, which is accessed by a ramp.
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We would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs:
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