Best afternoon tea in Edinburgh
From five-star hotels to feasts on ships and buses, these are the 10 best afternoon teas to try in Edinburgh.
It’s time to take afternoon tea in Edinburgh. Scotland’s capital has the footfall and flair to offer a vast range of tea experiences, from the magical to the opulent, onboard ships, in decadent five-star hotels and even on a moving bus. There’s something for every taste and budget. Seeking a gift? Buy afternoon tea vouchers direct from the venues for a special treat. Or, if you’re seeking a bargain, browse afternoon tea vouchers in and around Edinburgh at sites such as Itison. Let the tea temptation begin.
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The best afternoon tea in Edinburgh
The opulent one – best for a luxurious escape, but children are welcome.
Afternoon tea at Edinburgh’s Balmoral hotel is a transportive experience. The serene Palm Court welcomes guests to dine beneath the green palm trees, basking in the light from the handsome glass dome overhead. Hand-painted de Gourney wallpaper and gentle harp music are subtle highlights as guests dine from specially commissioned William Edwards fine bone china.
Having chosen from over 80 teas, the attentive waiting staff pour the first cup in an impressive tea-pouring ceremony, lifting the teapots high above their heads while never spilling a drop. The food begins with an amuse bouche of white bean and fennel velouté. The savouries swiftly follow: goat's cheese mousse with green olive tapenade, parmesan sablé with asparagus and egg yolk, and a selection of sandwiches. The scones are accompanied by homemade Balmoral jam crafted by Heather Hills Farm. Delicate sweets include a light strawberry & chamomile choux. Plus, you can add a glass of Charles Heidsiec champagne to the experience. A children’s afternoon tea menu is also available. A wonderful finishing touch is a small tin of loose tea to take home – the perfect memento. Stay the night at The Balmoral, which was recently announced the 2022-23 AA Hotel of the Year Scotland.
Palm Court at the Balmoral, 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
The spellbinding one – best for kids, big kids and quirky date nights.
If you fancy something magically different, descend into the dark bowels of The Cauldron to don capes, wave wands, mix brews, discover secret compartments and dine from a magically illuminated dragon’s nest afternoon tea platter. Once diners have broken a code to open a magic tea chest, it’s time to choose and mix up teas using a pestle and mortar. Jasmine and peppermint work well together, or consider breakfast tea, lavender, nettle, chamomile or lemon and ginger. The hot water is, of course, ’heated by dragons’. The food offering includes ‘sand-witches’ of brie & spinach, and soft cheese, dill & salmon. Sweet treats feature a trio of macarons, raspberry bakewell tart, and a chunk of rocky road. This experience is memorable for all ages, channelling fun Harry Potter vibes. It’s all about creativi-tea.
The Cauldron, 57a Frederick St, Edinburgh EH2 1LH
The Lighthouse Restaurant, Fingal
The nautical one – best for luxury in a unique setting.
Docked in Leith, Fingal is a stunning setting for afternoon tea. The ship’s 2-star AA Rosette Lighthouse restaurant has elegant art deco interiors, with subtle nautical touches and a shimmering ceiling reminiscent of rippling waves. Try the ship’s own Fingal Blend tea, hand-crafted by Pekoe Tea Edinburgh. The food sets sail with an amuse bouche of sweet potato velouté, followed by delicate savouries such as hot smoked salmon potato pancake and Wye Valley asparagus & chorizo tart. Sandwiches range from duck egg mayonnaise & cress, to smoked salmon with avocado & radish, all served on angular art deco platters.
The scones are accompanied by Perthshire Preserves strawberry jam before the grand finale of sweets are consumed. Look out for the rich amaretto & raspberry white chocolate bar, then freshen the palate with a lemon & poppy seed macaron. Enhance the afternoon tea experience with a drink from a menu of champagne upgrades. An added bonus? Indulgence is guilt-free, as Fingal’s part of the not-for-profit Britannia Trust. After a glamorous £5 million conversion, luxury cabins and suites can be booked aboard this floating hotel.
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Fingal, Alexandra Dock, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 7DX, 0131 357 5000
The informal one – best for tea aficionados.
For those who believe the tea should be the star of the show, head to Eteaket’s informal Frederick Street café to choose between 35 leaf teas, as well as seasonal small-batch blends. Select between black, oolong, white, rooibos and green teas, tea lattes and infusions. There are lovely Scottish touches, too. ‘Keep the Heid’ combines Assam and Darjeeling teas with heather flowers and meadowsweet. The alcohol- and caffeine-free Isle of Harris Gin tea includes the same botanicals that give the gin its flavour, such as hand-harvested sugar kelp from the Outer Hebrides. Combine these imaginative infusions with a simple afternoon tea featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, a scone with jam and Cornish clotted cream, and a selection of mini patisseries, plus an Earl Grey panna cotta. High tea and cream teas are also available, plus a range of vegan options, a bubbly afternoon tea and a ‘Little Brewers’ menu for children.
Eteaket, 41 Frederick Street, Edinburgh EH2 1EP
The literary one – best for double the treats.
Surrounded by elegant Corinthian columns in a library used by the Society of Writers to His Majesty’s Signet, take tea in the calming interiors of this elegant A-listed building. Don't expect one glorious bespoke silver cake stand – here, visitors await two. The savoury stand arrives first, and the culinary creations look as beautiful as any sweet confection. From miniature smoked haddock tacos and sweetcorn brûlée with chorizo jam, to inventive goat’s cheese ice cream served in a vibrant red cone, each savoury aims to be a mini dish in each bite. The sweets are visually captivating, too. A vibrant watermelon macaron with an injection of margarita adds fun to the rich flavours, then nibble on a tiny toadstool-shaped roasted strawberry, pomegranate & sumac pavlova, before indulging in a honeycomb lollipop. Add bubbles by choosing between Sumarocca Cava brut or Monopole Silver Top champagne. Vegetarian and gluten-free menus have also been carefully curated.
The Signet Library, Parliament Square, Edinburgh EH1 1RF
The Gothic one – best for renowned food and dramatic decor.
The Witchery prides itself on atmospheric dining in baroque surroundings. Take tea either in the original candlelit oak-panelled dining room, or within the Secret Garden with its hand-painted ceiling and outdoor terrace for Edinburgh’s sunnier days. Savouries include Findlay's of Portobello haggis with pineapple chutney & asparagus, and spinach & tarragon quiche. Sweet highlights feature a 'Dragon' tea cake, and Valhrona Ariaga chocolate tart with a cocoa nib tuille. Add bubbles by ordering a glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne, and, to make a night of it, book into sumptuous accommodation. Nine individual suites offer varying degrees of the dark, dramatic, romantic and gothic.
The Witchery, 352 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NF
The animal-friendly one – best for vegans and vegetarians.
Holy Cow offers animal-friendly, guilt-free indulgence, and it’s gluten-free, too. Look out for colourful beetroot wraps with wasabi & green pea hummus, and a carrot wrap stuffed with carrot lox, cashew soft cheese, capers and fresh dill. Sandwiches include ‘no fish’ mackerel made with tofu and nori. Sweet desserts provide vegan alternatives to clotted cream with scones, Victoria sponge and chocolate & coffee cake. There are a few Holy Cow venues in Scotland’s capital, but afternoon tea is only served at its Dundee Street property, and must be pre-booked. The cafés have an airy, laidback and informal atmosphere, with a loyal vegan following.
Holy Cow, Castle Mills, 1 Dundee Street, EH3 9FP
The trendy one – best for a dash of Great Gatsby theatrical style.
The Ivy is the place to meet and greet, see and be seen in gregarious and bold surroundings, with lush greenery and rich furnishings. Its very reasonably priced ‘Dream afternoon tea’ has the wow-factor, as dry ice cascades from a pink flower topper down the yellow cake stand. Start with a grilled chicken & truffle mayonnaise brioche, or perhaps sample The Ivy 1917 cure smoked salmon & soft cheese finger sandwich. The sweet treats are super-cute, featuring edible flowers or served in dinky flower pots to channel a flamboyant ‘back to nature’ vibe. Dig into a honeycomb & dark chocolate plant pot, or slurp an Alice in Wonderland-esque ‘Drink Me’ mango & coconut smoothie. Upgrade by adding a glass of Nyetimber English sparkling wine.
The Ivy, 6 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2BD
The one on the move – best for sightseeing as you dine.
If you’re big on fun and/or short on time, see the sights of Edinburgh on a vintage Routemaster or Leyland Titan bus while tucking into afternoon tea. Try the Gin Tour, which includes prosecco, full afternoon tea and the bistro’s gin ‘pot-tails’: a variety of flavoured Scottish gins mixed with aromatic herbs and topped with edible flowers. The food includes traditional scones with whipped cream and jam; a selection of finger sandwiches, mini rolls and wraps; mini quiches; a selection of petit fours and cakes. The route leaves St Andrew Square, taking in the Scott Monument, Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriar’s Bobby, the Elephant House Cafe (where JK Rowling put pen to paper), the Grassmarket, Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. Children aged eight and over are welcome to hop aboard, too.
Red Bus Bistro. Pick up at St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 2AD.
The one for lounging – best for glamorous train spotters.
Relax in Peacock Alley, a smart lounge in the hotel’s former railway station concourse with exposed sandstone brickwork. The vibe aims to emulate its original namesake, Peacock Alley of the Waldorf Astoria, New York from 1897. Savouries include the rum-cured salmon with yuzu aïoli & caviar, or Cropwell Bishop stilton with plum chutney. After scones, guests indulge in a pastry selection, including the iconic Victoria sponge with buttercream & strawberries, and ‘The Royal Gala’, a sticky apple pudding with toffee sauce. Vegan and gluten-free menus are available, too. There is also a special menu designed for children. This grand railway hotel offers over 240 rooms, with a spa and pool too, so it’s possible to make a weekend of it.
Waldorf Astoria, Princes St, Edinburgh EH1 2AB.
And there’s more…
If you’re seeking an all-rounder, head to The Dome, renowned for its Christmas afternoon teas and array of afternoon tea menus, including children’s, gluten-free and vegan, plus a morning tea with bacon and sausage rolls. If cakes made by the Scottish Baker of the Year sound tempting, plump for Mimi’s Bakehouse, offering afternoon tea at its Leith and Corstorphine branches. Finally, if it’s a case of location, location, location, head to the country seat of Prestonfield House, dine in the former Scotsman newspaper HQ, or look up the afternoon teas dished up at the historic Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse.