The regal promenade that is the Royal Mile certainly brings out sophistication in any visitor… so it’s no surprise a refined afternoon tea is something Edinburgh knows how to do rather well.
Dozens of tip-top venues, some posh and others less so, now subscribe to this typically British phenomenon – a post-lunch, pre-dinner ‘meal’ revolving around dainty cakes and sandwiches served on silver platters – and that’s why we thought we better let you in on our favourites. From highfalutin hotel experiences to more down-to-earth offerings at some of the city’s best cafés, this is where to head for the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh. Salad for dinner, anyone?
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Edinburgh
Best afternoon teas in Edinburgh
What is it? A sumptuous oasis in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Why go? Housed within the Signet Library – home of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, a prestigious legal association – the open-to-the-public Colonnades boasts ‘Edinburgh’s finest afternoon tea’ amid serene and elegant surroundings. Sandwiches made with seasonal ingredients, as well as a selection of cakes and amuse-bouches, are served from silver stands, and the extensive tea list is topped by the Colonnades’ own Signet Blend.
What is it? A mini-chain of cosy Edinburgh bakeries.
Why go? Mimi’s is famous first and foremost for its cakes, so bear that in mind when you’re considering an afternoon tea here. In other words, don’t fill up purely on the scones, sandwiches and savouries (no, not even Mimi’s own pork, apple and leek sausage rolls) – though why not add a glass of champers or even a cocktail if you’re splashing out? Vegetarian and gluten-free menus are also available.
What is it? A real work of afternoon tea art.
Why go? In the lofty setting of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Café Portrait is a bright, airy spot in which to enjoy a delightful (and generous) afternoon tea. Once you’ve admired the collections of world-class paintings and photographs, retire to this ground-floor cafe with Gothic windows and high ceilings and raid a stand laden with neat finger sandwiches, mini-cakes and scones loaded with clotted cream and jam.
What is it? An ostentatious landmark in Edinburgh’s New Town.
Why go? The Dome is famous in Edinburgh for its OTT Christmas-time décor, including massive, tinsel-wrapped columns and a towering indoor tree, but it’s still pretty impressive at other times of year. Their afternoon tea menu – served in the crystal-chandeliered Georgian Tea Room amid ebony dining chairs and dazzling white linen – features finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and nine varieties of loose-leaf tea.
What is it? A friendly tea-lovers’ boutique.
Why go? Opened in 2008, eteaket was at the cutting edge of tea’s revival as something you could enthusiastically geek out about in Edinburgh (see also: coffee, craft beer, gin). The Tea Room on Frederick Street is far less about extravagant surroundings than enjoying a quality cuppa with friends, accompanied by sandwiches, scones and pastries (and maybe some fizz if you’re feeling fancy). At £15.95, it’s also far more affordable than some of the swankier joints on this list.
What is it? Afternoon tea at the top of the famed department store.
Why go? While there’s no shortage of places to take tea in Edinburgh, very few have views that can rival Harvey Nicks’. Dining in the Forth Floor Restaurant that overlooks St Andrew Square, the New Town and has north Edinburgh spread out below to the River Forth, you can indulge in the likes of duck spring rolls, traditional fruit scones and rosé champagne.
What is it? As if you couldn’t guess, it’s afternoon tea on a vintage bus.
Why go? Since you’re a fan of afternoon tea, you’re probably into vintage things in general, and what’s more vintage than a classic red bus? While nibbling your sandwiches and sipping your Earl Grey (or a teapot-based gin cocktail should you fancy an upgrade), the bus will take you around some of Edinburgh’s historic highlights including Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament.
What is it? A touch of old-style glamour in the heart of the city.
Why go? A glass-domed, light-filled space fringed with exotic trees and cream-coloured frescoes, Palm Court at the Balmoral revives the notion of afternoon tea as a cool respite from inhospitable tropics – think khaki-clad aristos sweltering under lazy ceiling fans in one of the farther-flung Poirot stories. While Palm Court can’t promise that climate, it does offer sweets, sandwiches and a very respectable tea selection, plus occasional live harp accompaniment.
What is it? Sister restaurant to the famed London celeb hangout.
Why go? This is one of a crop of London luminaries that have pitched up on St Andrew Square in recent years (it’s just a few doors along from the wonderful Dishoom). The Ivy on the Square offers sophisticated dining both indoors and out on its Parisian-style terrace. For afternoon tea, sample savouries such as truffled chicken brioche or sweet treats like crème brûlée doughnuts while sipping your favourite fruit infusion.
What is it? A vintage tea room and patisserie.
Why go? Just off the foot of Broughton Street – a haven of trendy indie shopping boutiques – Casa Angelina is the perfect pit stop following a few hours of retail therapy. The tea room triumphs with an afternoon tea experience that includes a decent selection of sweet and savoury treats, plentiful tea (or coffee) and, for those that way inclined, everything can be done vegan.
What is it? A modern bistro where you can pair tea and scones with spa treatments.
Why go? Set just seconds from Teviot Row, afternoon tea at Bistro du Vin is perfectly placed if you’re visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. The hotel dining room is flanked by big windows and the walls are emblazoned with quaint framed pictures – a traditional setting for a traditional tea. As well as your usual sandwiches and scones, you can’t miss the rhubarb and custard tarts or tutti frutti macarons. If you want to fell truly relaxed, local wellness clinic Zen Lifestyle also offers ‘spa and afternoon tea’ deals at the hotel.
What is it? Incongruously enough, it’s tea and scones at a popular nightlife spot.
Why go? Far from the down-and-dirty rave caves on the Cowgate, the upmarket bars on George Street cater to night owls sporting only the finest threads on a Saturday night. It might seem odd that a boutique hotel, restaurant and bar would also offer an afternoon tea, but you’ve got to do something in the daytime – and with delicate sandwiches and sweet treats, plus drinks by Eteaket, Tigerlily’s doing it well.
Stocked up? Walk it off at one of these...
The simple act of strolling around Edinburgh can be something of a history trip – from the ancient volcanoes of Arthur’s Seat and Castle Rock, to the medieval wynds and closes of the Grassmarket and Royal Mile, to the neo-classical splendour of the New Town. But Edinburgh is also home to an array of brilliant museums. Here’s our list of the best.