Elegant tea in a historic setting at the Grand Cafe

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From extravagant high teas to cosy cafes with scones and jam, we explored them all in search of the the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh. Read on for our recommendations.

It’s no secret that baked goods put us in our “happy place.” And if there was ever a (sort of) meal where baked goods are the star performers, it’s afternoon tea. Therefore it was a delight to sample some of the Edinburg’s best afternoon teas during our extended stay in the city.

Afternoon tea in Edinburgh can mean different things. It can be a gloves-on, pinky out affair with delicate pastry and finger sandwiches. Or it can be simpler mid-afternoon break with a traditional cream tea: a pot of tea and a scone with butter and jam or cream. (If you’ve read our post about finding the best scones in Edinburgh, you know we take our tea time seriously!) It’s even possible to have afternoon tea on a double-decker bus! Whatever your preference, you can to spend an enjoyable hour in the afternoon at any one of these spots.

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: best spots for high tea

When it comes to high tea, Edinburgh has got more than it’s fair share of spots for a three-tiered extravaganza (often with optional champagne!). Certainly most major hotels have something on offer, no surprise there. We’ve sought out some spots that might not be that obvious, but still offer that great “special event” feel . . . in all price ranges.

Elegant high tea at the Colonnades in EdinburghIf you’re looking for a swanky, special-event-type-of-tea, this is the place. The Signet Library is an elegant early 19th century building owned by a prestigious Scottish legal society known as The Writers of the Signet. The majority of the building is private, but its lower library, “the Colonnades,” is open for lunch and afternoon tea. Nibble delicate sandwiches, cakes and freshly baked scones served on silver stands amid a hushed setting just off the Royal Mile. Great selection of teas, including the Colonnades’ own Signet Blend. Booking ahead recommended.

What we love: The beautiful setting and ultra-high-quality food.

Drawbacks: The price. At £38 (approx. $48 US) per person, it’s an expensive afternoon. We think the 2- or 3-course lunch, at £24 or £30 respectively, is a better value.

Elegant tea in a historic setting at the Grand CafeThe Grand Cafe offers a traditional afternoon tea with an old-world feel. Both the cafe and the hotel are located just off the Royal Mile in the former headquarters of The Scotsman newspaper. The soaring ceiling and marble-bedecked columns of the cafe began life as the Advertising & Notices department of The Scotsman. It’s easy to imagine a copy boy running through the room shouting “stop the presses!” At £21.95 (approx. $28 US) per person, it’s a good-value indulgence. There are options for enhancing your tea with a glass of Prosecco or Champagne as well. It’s a good idea to make reservations.

What we love: The Grand Cafe also offers a Children’s Tea, with treats geared to a more youthful palate, for £9.95 (approx. $12.50 US); great for traveling families.

Drawbacks: The genteel atmosphere can get a little boisterous as the adjacent bar fills up for early evening drinks.

  • House of Fraser/Jenners Department Store

High tea EdinburghThe cafe in this venerable old Edinburgh department store offers up a respectably traditional afternoon tea. The service is more casual than most three-tiered afternoon teas: you order at the counter and the food is brought to your table. But we can forgive that small service lapse due to the price. At £12.95 (approx. $16.25 US) it’s an excellent value. Don’t have a big appetite? Jenners also offers a simple cream tea for even less. [NOTE: During the month of August, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe Festival, Jenners offers a special “Tea with Mr. Jenner” event for £29 (approx. $36.50 US). It’s super-swanky, held in the shop’s historic boardroom, and includes tales of the legendary retailers’ history. Reservations mandatory.]

What we love: The view. Located on the 3rd floor above Princes Street, the cafe offers a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town.

Drawbacks: The savory sandwiches are a bit mundane (tuna, egg salad, etc.). But the scones and pastries are excellent–and isn’t that really why you’re out for afternoon tea anyway? 😉

best afternoon tea EdinburghEataket sells teas and tea-making accessories at a cluster of shops throughout Edinburgh, so you know their tea is top-notch. Their Tea Room on Frederick Street in the city’s New Town is a cozy, casual spot where you can sample their brews accompanied by the traditional afternoon tea accoutrements. For £15.95 (approx. $20 US) you get a choice of sandwich, a scone with cream and jam, and a selection of mini-pastries along with your tea.

What we love: For £8.95 (approx $11.25 US) Eataket offers a “High Tea,” which is a mini-version of their Afternoon Tea. (A half-sandwich, scone, and one pastry, plus tea.) This is a great value, and terrific for lighter appetites.

Drawbacks: While the tea was excellent, and the sandwiches and pastries tasty, we found the scones uninspired.

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: best spots for cream tea

Ah, the simplicity of a cream tea! Edinburgh has more than its fair share of spots that offer a scone with a cuppa. Most cream teas in Edinburgh offer an option of either butter or cream (whipped or clotted) along with jam to top your scone. We’ve rounded up a few where the scones are a worth a special trip.

Blueberry scone, cream tea EdinburghThis cafe/gallery in the New Town is beautifully decorated with an ever-changing display of original art, managing to feel homey and sophisticated at the same time. Co-owner Stuart Allan bakes the best scones in Edinburgh—and you have a choice 6 varieties fresh-baked daily (4 sweet, 2 savory). They’re massive (about 4″ around), buttery, crumbly . . . and Stuart warms them to order. No need for the fancy stuff with a scone this good! (Although Stuart also bakes a selection of cakes daily if you’re seeking something sweeter.)

What we love: The blueberry scone, chock-full of fresh berries. Also, the cheese or sun-dried tomato & herb scones, which are served with butter and an onion jam or pickle, which make a great savory tea.

Drawbacks: Bon Papillon is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. But I guess Stuart and his partner Ingrid Nilsson are entitled to some time off!

We almost missed this tiny cafe, run by Tom and Elaine Courtney tucked into the Royal Mile just west of the Museum of Edinburgh. But then we saw Elaine’s delectable scones displayed in the window, and knew we had to try them. Our eyes did not deceive us; they were crisp on the outside, crumbly and tender on the inside. We were particularly taken with their triangular shape, which gave them lots of crunchy bits.

What we love: The strawberry scones, which are plain sweet scones filled with strawberry jam, fresh whipped cream AND fresh strawberries. A real summer treat.

Drawbacks: The cafe only has about 12 seats, so you might not get a table during busy periods.

Cream tea in Edinburgh at Mimi's BakehouseMimi’s is an Edinburgh mini-chain, with 4 locations in the city, two of which are right in the Old Town and handy for visitors. In addition to rib-sticking sandwiches (called “sarnies”), Mimi’s bakes some hefty cakes and traybakes (bar cookies), plus whopping scones. The cafe offers both an afternoon tea (and a unique “beforenoon tea”), which includes a selection of all three. But the portions are so large, we opted to stick with the cream tea version, simply enjoying our scone.

What we love: The cafe on Market Street, just opposite the south exit of the train station, is a quiet oasis in the midst of the Royal Mile frenzy.

Drawbacks: The scones are popular and often sold out by noon or 1pm (according to the cafe worker we spoke to). This makes having an afternoon cream tea difficult. So, um, maybe they should make a few more?

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: fun and unusual spots

Sometimes the atmosphere is half the fun! Below are two unique afternoon teas in Edinburgh, based on some quirky locations:

Best afternoon tea EdinburghOn top of being a great way to multi-task when visiting a city, this afternoon tea/bus tour is just plain FUN! Climb on board a vintage double-decker bus, sip tea/coffee and nibble on tasty treats while the vintage Routemaster bus drives by all the major sights in Edinburgh. During the 90-minute experience you’ll taste a selection of sandwiches and mini-quiches, pastries, and (we’re still not sure how they managed this one), freshly baked scones.

What we love: This beats any plain old bus tour, hands down. And it’s a great way to experience a lot of Edinburgh in a short period of time.

Drawbacks: The bus doesn’t drive particularly quickly, but it is a moving vehicle. So it might not be a good choice for clumsy sorts.😯

NOTE: This tea must be reserved in advance. Click here to book the Edinburgh Afternoon Tea Bus Tour on Viator. (This is an affiliate link, which means we earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.)

  • Royal Yacht Britannia Afternoon Tea

Tea with the Queen? Not exactly, but this may be as close as most of us will ever get. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the former yacht of the British royal family, is open to visitors in Edinburg’s port of Leith. The Royal Deck Tea Room serves tea, cakes and light meals where the royal family once entertained. You can simply order a pot of tea with a scone for about £8 (about $10 US) or give yourself the royal treatment with the “Cream Tea special for one,” which adds a sandwich, slice of cake and a glass of sparkling wine to your tea and scone. Veddy posh!

What we love: Having tea on the yacht where Princess Diana spent her honeymoon is pretty awesome.

Drawbacks: The Royal Deck Tea Room is only open to those who have purchased a ticket to visit the yacht (approx. $20 US). But it’s a pretty fascinating self-guided tour—you can read about my visit to Royal Yacht Britannia here.

Want to enjoy more of the area? Explore the gorgeous New Town neighborhood in search of sites the 44 Scotland Street novels. Climb on board a Concorde at The National Museum of Flight, just outside of Edinburgh. Or go farther afield and take a Scotland road trip to see film locations for the movie Local Hero. You’ll find charming villages and one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.

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Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our free travel newsletter here.