There’s no greater pleasure in life than indulging in something completely and utterly unnecessary. Afternoon tea (in Edinburgh specifically, in this case) falls firmly into this happy camp of all out opulence. What could be more luxurious than a whole other meal dedicated to satisfying your sweet tooth between lunch and dinner that is essentially everything you were told you weren’t allowed to eat before your tea growing up. Welcome, cakes, our old friends.
We have Anna the Duchess of Bedford to thank for this pleasant British pastime, who invented the concept which would later catch on across the country. Anna, who seems to have been very wise as far as we can tell, would often get a little hungry between midday and dinner (hers being served fashionably late at 8pm, no less). The answer? Three tiers of treats served around 4pm of course. Anna’s liking for finger sandwiches, dainty pastries and scones have now all become essential components of an afternoon tea and a holy trilogy that we’re not willing to compromise on. Each and every one of the places we’ve picked to go on our list of the best afternoon tea Edinburgh has to offer has been carefully vetted to make sure it’s presenting the full package. We can’t and won’t stand for being short-changed on sugar.
The afternoon tea Edinburgh offers up is a mix of striking modern serves alongside more traditional, luxurious spreads. Whichever option you end up picking you’ll be treated to wonderful service, expertly made teatime treats and sumptuous surrounds. Once you’ve managed to polish off all your pastries you have the city to explore, the perfect place to walk off any over-indulgence.
The best afternoon tea in Edinburgh
Ready to take your pick of the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh? Below we’ve detailed 19 of our favourite places, along with notes on where to find them and why we like them so much.
The Colonnades at the Signet Library
Why: The menu at The Colonnades changes seasonally, to allow the chefs to create serves that use the best ingredients (which also means you have a valid excuse to visit every couple of months in our eyes). The welcoming library room is surrounded by lines of bookshelves and is flanked by wonderfully grand pillars. The space has undergone a recent refurbishment to make it feel even more luxurious, and the menu includes an amuse bouche, savouries, sweets and scones.
Where: The Signet Library, Parliament Square, EH1 1RF
How much: £40 per person
Why: For all our five-star luxury you don’t get much more glamorous than Prestonfield in Edinburgh. These guys take their offering so seriously that they’ve even created their own bespoke tea blends. Pick from a handful of different rooms to suit your mood, with options during the summer including a spot with beautiful outdoor views or a seat in the rose garden itself, while throughout the colder month you can plump for a spot beside a real fire.
Where: Priestfield Road, EH16 5UT
How much: £35
Cannonball Restaurant & Bar
Why: Found at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Cannonball serves a classic afternoon tea in a contemporary setting. Expect the three tiers of treats as well as additional Isle of Mull scones with Belhaven smoked salmon, for a little taste of local life. Scottish loose-leaf tea and the option to include a dram of whisky completes the offering for a spread that’s well worth the £25 price tag.
Where: 356 Castlehill, EH1 2NF
How much: £25
Why: With far less fuss than many traditional tea spreads, Café Portrait is a popular spot with Edinburgh’s art-loving crowd thanks to its position in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Yes, it gets busy and yes, it’s at-counter service, but the generous portions and good honest fare are what keeps it perennially popular. Depending on the day your savouries might include sandwiches, scones or soup, and there is always a handful of sweets to work your way through too.
Where: 1 Queen Street, EH2 1JD
How much: £15
Why: If you’re planning your afternoon tea in Edinburgh with a mixed crowd then The Dome could be just what you’re looking for. The team here offer up a regular line-up as well as a vegan version, a gluten-free option and a special child-friendly spread so that all guests should be kept content. Organic, loose-leaf tea play supporting act to the main stars of the show where you’ll find creations like an egg mayonnaise filled vol-au-vent, handmade macaroons and warm, crumbly scones.
Where: 14 George Street, EH2 2PF
How much: £19.50
Why: If part of your love of afternoon tea comes down to its picture-perfect credentials, then you’re going to love the Grand Café in Edinburgh. Seemingly purpose built for the ‘gram, the space is decked out with verdant foliage, velvet sofas and chairs in clashing colours and elaborate crystal chandeliers. The standard tea spread includes all the usual suspects, while the Club 43 menu features a flight of whiskies and includes meat-heavy savouries like pork pies, chicken liver pate on toast and mini beef burgers.
Where: 20 North Bridge, EH1 1TR
How much: From £21.95
Why: One Square take the quintessentially English tradition of afternoon tea and give it a good Scottish twist in line with its position in the capital. Regional produce is used in creations like a caramelised onion and Arran mustard croquette and a Loch Fyne smoked salmon savoury with lemon compressed cucumber. There’s a cheese course which includes Scottish cheeses and local raspberries are used in a lychee-scented mousse and served with a hint of rose for a wonderfully perfumed pud.
Where: 1 Festival Square, EH3 9SR
How much: £28
Why: Fingal offers an afternoon tea affair in Edinburgh that is truly unique given that it’s on a ship. Moored up in Leith, a trendy small town on the outskirts of the city, this is a truly unique experience for the adventurous visitor. Guests are treated to tea in the art deco surrounds of the bar space and unique serves – like tomato arancini, blood orange meringue tarts and pear mini loaf cakes – seal the deal for this being perfect for a special occasion.
Where: Alexandra Dock, EH6 7DX
How much: £40
Why: Coming in at well under £20, afternoon tea at Elliot’s is pretty good value without sacrificing on quality. If you have the little ones in tow they can enjoy a smaller version of your tea stand for just £9.50 too, which means treating the whole gang happily shouldn’t break the bank. Traditional finger sandwiches are filled with things like brie and apricot jam or smoked salmon with dill cream cheese, while sweets see a chocolate sandwich cookie with a mint cream filling and mini lemon meringues take up their spot on the top tier.
Where: 23-27 Waterloo Place, EH1 3BH
How much: £16.95
The Ivy On The Square Edinburgh
Why: Fancy a failsafe? With years of experience under its belt The Ivy chain know a thing or two about serving a solid, crowd-pleasing afternoon tea. If you prefer you can plump for a cream team – a scone, cream and jam with your choice of hot drink - for £7.95 or go all in on three tiers of teatime pleasures. The latter option includes things like blackberry and Champagne trifle and a truffled chicken brioche roll, all served in the decadent surrounds of the restaurant’s main dining room.
Where: 6 St Andrew Square, EH2 2BD
How much: £19.75
The Tea Rooms at Edinburgh Castle
Why: You might suspect The Team Rooms at Edinburgh Castle to be a tourist trap, and while there is no denying that they are typically packed with site-seers, this isn’t your typical cheap canteen-style affair. The Team Rooms are comfortably decorated with soft furnishings and a range of potted plants to give them a sophisticated yet homey feel. Castle admission is included in the price and each guest is treated to an individual stand of homemade delights.
Where: Castle Terrace, EH1 2JY
How much: £40
Palm Court at The Balmoral
Why: For traditionalists with a taste for all things classical the Palm Court at The Balmoral is the ultimate in luxury. Palms sweep the ceiling, while a huge glass dome floods the comfortable space with daylight. Teas are poured tableside, and award-winning pastries come out in abundance to be enjoyed alongside the lulling background sound of the resident harpist.
Where: 1 Princes Street, EH2 2EQ
How much: £45 per person
Why: Served each day between 3-5pm, Browns’ afternoon tea menu reads like a lesson in how best to present this perfectly posh pastime. Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches join a prawn cocktail brioche roll on the savoury front while home baked scones are served with clotted cream and black cherry jam. We’re not opposed to a chain and the joy of Browns is that you get a consistent level of service whichever time of day of day you visit - perfect if you’re taking out a pernickety relative. A whole gluten free menu is available too, with other dietary requirements being catered to if notice is given.
Where: 131-133 George Street, EH2 4JS
How much: £17.95
Why: Tigerlily’s boutique vibes are popular with – dare we say it – posers, who revel in the pretty interiors and take full advantage of the many photo opportunities the hotel presents. Its afternoon tea offering is no less pretty, with three tiers of teatime dainties served on a rose gold stand. All the sandwiches, scones and cakes you could want are accompanied by a choice of teas from an independent Edinburgh tea company called Eteaket for something a little different. At £15 it’s also one of the best value spreads in our round up, which means all the more wiggle room to treat yourself to some Champagne with it if you fancy a few bubbles.
Where: 125 George Street, EH2 4JN
How much: £15
The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh - The Caledonian Hotel
Why: Afternoon tea at The Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh is a relaxed but refined affair in line with the hotel’s five-star level. You’ll be served your afternoon spread in Peacock Alley, the hotel’s lobby lounge. This grand space is flanked with red sandstone walls and filled with various comfortable seating options that are perfect for curling up on with a cuppa and a cake. If you plump for the Champagne option you can request the bottle to be opened with by Sabrage, with a sword. Pure theatre.
Where: Princes Street, EH1 2AB
How much: £35
Why: If you’re only in Scotland or Edinburgh for a short time you might want to extract as much of the Scottish atmosphere as possible, and The Glasshouse is one of the best places to get a taste of local life. The Snug, where afternoon tea is served, is a cosy space decked out with tartan cushions and fresh thistles everywhere, while the menu makes use of many local ingredients for a twist on the traditional serves. The rest of this five-star hotel is worth an explore post-tea too, with beautiful gardens and (you guessed it) a glasshouse to discover.
Where: 2 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
How much: £22
The Dunstane Houses
Why: Despite afternoon tea being an English tradition The Dunstane Houses team isn’t afraid to challenge heritage in some of the standout elements of their spread. Expect rifts on classics using Scottish ingredients as well as locally made jam and rich cream brought in from just a few miles away. Drinks wise, choose between a selection of teas, a glass of fizz or a G&T.
Where: The Dunstane Houses, 4 W Coates, EH12 5JQ
How much: £24
Staying more than a day? Why not make your way through some of Edinburgh’s best brunches while you’re in town.