With its elegant atmosphere and tasty food, the Blenheim Palace afternoon tea is a great break from the hustle bustle of everyday life.
When we decided to spend five days touring around South England, we knew right away that our itinerary would include a visit to Highclere Castle, the castle where the iconic British TV show Downton Abbey was filmed. We are true fans of the show and watched all six seasons on our local Philadelphia PBS station. But then we found out that Highclere Castle was closed for renovations during our time in England. What??? We still decided to drive to Highclere on the way to one of our other destinations thinking we could at least catch a glimpse of the famous country estate, but, alas, we couldn’t even find our way past a large tractor used to manicure the mansion’s hedges.
However, thanks to the Blenheim Palace afternoon tea, we got to live out our aristocratic fantasies in a spectacular location that, in many ways, is more legendary than the TV mansion made famous for its upstairs/downstairs living. Blenheim Palace, built during the 18th century as a reward for one of the British army’s great victories, stands as a British monument with a scale that matches some of the great palaces of the world including Versailles in France and Schonbrunn palace in Austria. Our experience at Blenheim Palace was heightened not only by the privilege of walking the expansive Palace grounds in the late afternoon, when many visitors had exited but also by the scrumptious high tea served in Blenheim’s stately sunlit tea room.
Blenheim Palace Afternoon Tea
After arriving at Blenheim Palace, we headed straight to The Orangery Restaurant so that we wouldn’t miss a minute of our afternoon tea. After all, it’s not like we do this type of meal every day. In fact, we last enjoyed an afternoon tea over six years ago in Hong Kong at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. Yeah, it had been way too long.
Our Blenheim Palace afternoon tea had all the bells and whistles that we expected. The somewhat narrow, elegant room’s high ceiling is decked with chandeliers and large window with views of the Italian garden just outside. Atmosphere is always important when it comes to the tea experience, but ultimately it’s all about the tea and food.
We enjoyed our Traditional Afternoon Tea service with its selection of loose teas, savory sandwiches and homemade sweets. The server brought us a three tiers of plates with savory tidbits like salmon sandwiches, miniature quiches, scones with clotted cream and freshly baked pastries. Much to our surprise, there was no lemon curd – a staple of the high tea experience. Please have no pity since this predicament forced us to eat macarons instead.
Tasting Tip: You can upgrade the Traditional Afternoon Tea to include champagne for an additional £10 – £20 depending on your choice of bubbly.
Blenheim Palace Tour
After finishing our afternoon tea, we dashed over to the palace’s main entrance for a tour of the private residence and garden. One look at the imposing entrance and we knew we were in for a treat.
We then walked inside the building which combines both elements of Italian Baroque and Neoclassic styles. Blenheim Palace is unique architecturally, and in some ways, theatrical. It took builders 22 years and 240,000 pounds of brick to build Blenheim Palace.
Blenheim Palace is both historic and monumental. Originally built for John Churchill, also known as the first Duke of Marlborough, after he led the troupes to a successful outcome in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, the palace has been the home to the Spencers (of Lady Diana fame) and Churchills for over 300 years.
We loved our tour of Blenheim Palace and all of its impressive art and furniture including ten tapestries that detail the battle of Blenheim and a 38 seat dining room table that literally takes over a day to unfold. Our engaging tour guide, Ben Price, made the palace come to life with his stories about the people who have lived at Blenheim Palace over the centuries. We learned about Consuelo Vanderbilt’s unhappy tenure during the early 19th century, perhaps a real life inspiration to the Downton Abbey storyline. We also learned that Winston Churchill was born in the palace and grew up there. Yes, the Winston Churchill.
We finished our tour by wandering around the palace garden and gawking at the epic structure underneath peaceful, cloud puffed blue skies. The only sounds we heard were the calm winds that drifted over the sprawling British estate. We may not have made it to the real life Downton Abbey but, on this trip, we experienced something even better – a palace with history and substance.
Travel Tip: Take a quick detour and visit St. Martin’s Church in nearby Bladon. The charming, classic English town’s church, on the edge of the Cotswalds, is the final resting place for Winston Churchill.
Blenheim Palace is located at Woodstock OX20 1PP, United Kingdom.
Where to Stay and Eat after Blenheim Palace Afternoon Tea
We thank Tourism Southeast, for their assistance with our visit to South England. We also thank Blenheim Palace and Sudbury House for their generous hospitality.