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Afternoon tea at Bistro du Vin in Edinburgh
Photograph: Hotel du Vin

The 10 best afternoon teas in Edinburgh

Feeling swish in this soigné city? Treat yourself after lockdown by filling up on cakes and sarnies at one of the best afternoon tea spots in Edinburgh

By Niki Boyle and Kirstyn Smith
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After months in lockdown we all deserve a treat, and what better way is there to indulge after restrictions are lifted than sitting down to a sophisticated afternoon tea? The regal promenade that is Edinburgh’s Royal Mile certainly brings out sophistication in any visitor… so it’s no surprise that dainty cakes and sandwiches served on silver platters is something the city knows how to do rather well. 

Dozens of tip-top venues, some posh and others less so, now subscribe to this typically British phenomenon – and it’s not long until they’ll be able to open again. Under the Scottish government’s roadmap out of lockdown, a return to Level 3 restrictions has been earmarked for April 21, meaning hospitality venues can open until 6pm. Level 2 restrictions, letting hospitality venues serve food and drink until 8pm indoors and 10.30pm outdoors, should be possible by mid-May. 

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? 

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Best afternoon teas in Edinburgh

1. Colonnades at the Signet Library

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.

£40pp. Thu to Sun, 12noon–4pm. The Signet Library West Parliament Square, EH1 1RF. 

2. Mimi’s Bakehouse

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. While the cafes aree closed, their mail-order afternoon tea means you can get a delectable array of treats delivered straight to your door. 

£18-£26pp. Weekdays from 11am, weekends from 12noon. Various locations in Edinburgh. 

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Afternoon tea at Café Portrait in Edinburgh
Photograph: Café Portrait

3. Café Portrait

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.

£30 for two. Daily, 2.30pm–4.30pm. 1 Queen St, EH2 1JD.

the dome afternoon tea edinburgh
Photographer: Eleni Laparidou

4. The Dome

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.

£22pp. Daily, 11am-4.30pm. 14 George Street, EH2 2PF.

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5. Eteaket

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). It’s also far more affordable than some of the swankier joints on this list. Get your cream cake fix even while the cafe’s closed with their local afternoon tea delivery service. 

£16.95pp. Daily, 11am-4pm. 41 Frederick St, EH2 1EP.

6. Harvey Nichols

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.

From £22pp. Tue to Fri 3pm-4pm, Sun & Mon 12noon-4pm. 30-34 St Andrew Square, EH2 2AD.

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7. Red Bus Bistro

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.

From £35pp. Tue to Sun, 12noon & 3pm. Departs from Stance ZE, Waterloo Place, EH1 3BQ.

The Balmoral Hotel, Hotels, Edinburgh
© Adrian Houston

8. Palm Court at The Balmoral

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.

From £45pp. Daily, from 12noon. 1 Princes Street, EH2 2EQ.

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Afternoon tea at Bistro du Vin in Edinburgh
Photograph: Hotel du Vin

9. Bistro du Vin

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 feel truly relaxed, local wellness clinic Zen Lifestyle also offers ‘spa and afternoon tea’ deals at the hotel. 

From £25pp. Daily, 12noon to 6pm. 11 Bristo Pl, EH1 1EZ. 

10. Tigerlily

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.

From £17.50pp. 125 George Street, EH2 4JN.

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