Afternoon Tea High Above London
Tea with aerial London views from the 42nd floor at Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar
Update November 2021: It appears that Vertigo 42 is now closed, either permanently or temporarily. There are a couple of other places in London to enjoy afternoon with a fantastic view of the city: Aqua Shard on the 31st floor of The Shard and OXO Tower Restaurant on the 8th floor of the OXO Tower.
Afternoon tea is a “must-do” for many travellers to England. In my recent, very busy trip to England and Wales, I almost didn’t squeeze in time for afternoon tea. Until my friend took me for tea at Vertigo 42, in the heart of the City of London.
Vertigo 42 is a champagne bar located 590 feet up on the 42nd floor of Tower 42. It offers an almost 360 degree view of London from its counters along windows spanning the bar. It serves champagne, wine, and a tapa-style menu. And afternoon tea.
First came the glasses of champagne. Followed by a tiered tray of tea sandwiches (cucumber and watercress, ham and mustard, smoked salmon), pastries, and scones with clotted cream and jam. We finished with tea and coffee.
Outside of the United Kingdom, many people refer to afternoon tea as “high tea”, but afternoon tea and high tea are actually two very different things. The English began drinking tea in the 18th century and sometime during the 19th century, afternoon tea became popular with the upper class. It was the bridge between meals. The evening meal was often not eaten until 8 pm or later and afternoon tea became a “mini-meal.” It was also known as “low tea”, because the food was served on low tables next to sofas, or “cream tea”, because of the scones and clotted cream that were often served. It was a different situation with the working classes. When the workers returned home at 6 pm, they were famished and ate their evening meals at that time. Their evening meals became known as “high tea” or “meat tea.” Neither the upper classes nor the working classes experienced their versions of tea as high up as my afternoon tea at Vertigo 42.
Tower 42 was originally built between 1971 and 1980 as the National Westminster Tower to house National Westminster Bank’s international division. It was the first skyscraper in the City and remained the City’s tallest building until 2009. Today it is the third-tallest building in the city and the eighth-tallest in greater London. Seen from above, its shape resembles the NatWest logo, three chevrons in a hexagonal arrangement.
As I enjoyed my afternoon tea and took in the views of London, I was struck by how many tall cranes dotted the landscape. More towers are being built.
Afternoon tea is an event on its own. Add in the views of London and it is nothing short of spectacular.
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Glad you enjoy my old home town. London is a beautiful city but for decades it has been foreigners like me living in the center. In Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Mayfair and so forth you have a truly cosmopolitan poputation. Because it’s educated people on a high level all the problems multiculturalism normally entails do not exist.
Catarina, I’ve never lived in London but have visited many times. I love the city.
Wow. Sign me up! What an incredible view…
Tam – the views are definitely worth it.
High tea indeed! Thanks for explaining the differences between afternoon,high and low teas – very interesting. And what a spectacular view! Anita
Thanks so much for this–fascinating background to England’s tea heritage, along with great views of London!
Thanks Anita – the views were wonderful.
I just added this to my list of things to do when I visit in January. Thanks for sharing! (And I had no idea about the difference between high tea and afternoon tea. Love learning new things!)
Janice, I hope you enjoy your visit.
Last year we had High Tea at the Ritz last year. Then this year, we had went to the Sky Garden which opened last January. This latter event offered us the same views of London you had. Those two experiences together equal yours! And I will write about it in the near future!
Carol, I’m looking forward to reading about your experience.
Ah I would never miss hight tea when I was in London, but tended to go to the old standards. Wow what a view! Have to add another when I get to Lonon thing to my list:)
Jacquie, the view certainly was spectacular. It was a nice clear day when I visited.
Thank you for noting the difference between afternoon and high tea- drives me crazy that people think they are the same thing. I love afternoon tea- the crustless sandwiches, the scones, the Devonshire cream. a true treat. The spread at Vertigo 42 looks delicious.
Billie, I agree that afternoon tea is a real treat.
I adore tea – and high tea is really, really special especially if you can take it in London. I loved the view and the tea party at Vertigo 42. I’ll have to try it next time we’re in London. Thanks!
Sue, the view was great.
What lovely pictures of London! I have never been but would love to go.
Here in the colonies we also used to call dinner, tea. I love afternoon tea, high afternoon tea and tea.
Paula, here in the other colonies I think we are often confused by the many uses of the term tea – but still most of us consider afternoon tea a real treat.
I love the juxtaposition of English tradition in this very contemporary space. What a memorable treat! I would love to have this exact experience in London. The contrast between this offering and those in more traditional spaces (Claridge’s comes to mind as a bucket list item) is so intriguing.
Betsy, it is an interesting juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary, much like the London skyline itself.
Wow. This looks like THE place to have afternoon tea in London. My sister and I took my mother to an afternoon tea at a Philadelphia hotel last year and it was very disappointing. I practically had to argue with the waiter to get some good old English black tea. He seemed wedded to the idea that a flavored tea was the way to go. You had the real deal. The last time we were in London, I took every opportunity to have tea, scones. clotted cream and jam. We don’t do those quite as well on the American side of the Pond. Actually, clotted cream is hard to find at all.
Suzanne, it’s too bad your afternoon tea in Philadelphia was disappointing. There are a few places in North America that do a good afternoon tea, but the real deal still is in England.
Isn’t London wonderful, Donna? It’s unquestionably one of my favourite cities, as there is so much to discover, and each neighbourhood offers something very exciting. I hope you’ve taken time to check out some of the chocolate shops I mention in my book. 🙂
Doreen, London is one of my favourite cities too. We were in London for 3 separate days on this trip, each with a very specific purpose/tour planned, so I did not get to check out the chocolate shops. Perhaps on my next visit.
Such lovely pictures!! I can’t wait to visit London someday
Thanks. I hope you get there.
What a fantastic view! I’m going to have to keep this in mind for a high (low) tea when I finally get around to taking the family to London. I’ve never seen that Walkie Talkie building before. The London skyline is such an interesting mix of old and modern. Strangely, I think most of my impression of modern London life comes from Doctor Who, so I expect that it’s a tad removed from reality.
The skyline is quite the mix of old and new, isn’t it? With so much building going on, I hope the beautiful old buildings don’t become completely overshadowed.
Hi Donna. Those views are amazing, and the afternoon tea spread doesn’t look too shabby either! 🙂
OMG I do love tea time in London–or anywhere for that matter! This “high” tea at Vertigo 42 is on my list for next time I’m in town. Here are three teas I’ve enjoyed there in the past–for your next visit, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Travel-Articles/Abroad/London-Teas-for-Two/london-teas-for-two.html
Carole, thanks for the info on places in the Hyde Park area I can go for tea next time I’m in London.
High tea in London with that view… I am so jealous. The closest I ever came to doing high tea as at the old hotel in Waterton International Peace Park (on the other side of Glacier Park in Montana). But I was only twenty then and didn’t do it. I should have. So many shoulds…
Jeri, I’ve been to Waterton Park, but I didn’t do the tea either.
You killed two birds with one stone with the afternoon tea and the fabulous view all at the same time. Thanks for a great posting!
Dennis, it was great to combine the views with a traditional afternoon tea.