There is nothing like the holidays to inspire a sense of nostalgia for traditions, whether passed down through generations or adopted into your festive season playbook. One tradition that deserves some indulgence is the ritual of the holiday afternoon tea. Something about slowing down with friends, dressing in your best, and taking your time over tiers of mini sandwiches and scones is even more special when played out against the backdrop of the Christmas season.
Angela Renals, the Georgia-based founder of Destination Tea, a directory of afternoon tea in America, is an expert on the beloved ritual. “As our world becomes increasingly busy and digitized, we cherish the tradition of a holiday tea,” she notes. “Especially when long-distance families gather for the holidays, it’s the perfect time for all the generations to put the phones away and reconnect around the tea table.”
Lucky for us, hotels and historic homes across the South make this ritual part of their holiday traditions. So, whether you’re making time for tea with visiting family or catching up with friends before the holiday break, these are some of our favorite places for holiday afternoon tea in the South.
The Hermitage Hotel
One of Nashville’s most iconic and storied hotels, The Hermitage Hotel has been a fixture in Music City for well over one hundred years. Tea at The Hermitage has certainly played a significant role in its history over the decades. The hotel’s opulent afternoon tea is a treat regardless of the time of year and, in true Nashville fashion, served by staff wearing custom-designed uniforms by Draper James. In December the tea service shines brightest, with performances by ballet dancers from the Nashville Ballet, who dance selections from “The Nutcracker” while guests enjoy scones, pastries, sandwiches, and of course, tea.
thehermitagehotel.com, 231 6th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37219
The Windsor Court
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans’s The Windsor Court is known for its elegant lobby and some of the most spacious guest rooms in the Big Easy. While some guests come for that reason, or perhaps for the hotel’s well-regarded spa, others come for the hotel’s afternoon tea. At the holidays, tea service takes on a more festive atmosphere. Served in the Windsor Court’s salon, holiday tea has now been a property tradition for over 25 years. Guests can expect the usual tea trimmings with Christmas-themed scones.
thewindsorcourt.com, 300 Gravier St, New Orleans, LA 70130
The Jefferson Hotel
The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, takes Christmas seriously, with hundreds of poinsettias, over twenty Christmas trees, and an epic gingerbread house. It’s that décor that forms the backdrop to the historic hotel’s holiday tea which tends to book up almost as soon as reservations are released. Served twice a day every Friday and Saturday, The Jefferson’s tea is served along the hotel’s mezzanine balcony, overlooking the rotunda, where the air is noticeably scented by the gingerbread. It’s truly a treat for all the senses.
jeffersonhotel.com, 101 W Franklin St, Richmond, VA 23220
Amelia Island, Florida
A stay at Amelia Island’s Ritz-Carlton, always feels special regardless of the season, but the whole experience steps up a notch in December when the hotel transforms into the North Pole thanks to its special Santa Storybook Tea. On Saturdays in December, Santa and Mrs. Claus welcome guests to the Ritz’s Salt Restaurant, They read holiday stories by a roaring fire while children and their families partake in tea, cakes, and cookies.
ritzcarlton.com, 4750 Amelia Island Pkwy, Amelia Island, FL 32034
One of the most legendary hotels in the nation’s capital, Willard InterContinental is known as the place where “lobbying” was termed as well as the first place outside of Kentucky where a mint julep cocktail was served. These days the Willard is known for its opulent holiday tea which can be booked out weeks or months in advance. Served in the hotel’s storied Peacock Alley to the music of a resident harp player, Willard’s assortment of sandwiches and cakes, plus their optional addition of champagne, are enough to have locals and visitors come back year after year.
washington.intercontinental.com, 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
St. Regis Hotel
The St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood offers afternoon tea year-round, but partaking in the tradition is particularly memorable at the holidays when normal tea service transforms into a tea with Santa afternoon. All ages are welcome for tea with Santa which is served in the hotel’s Astor Court, decked out for the holidays. The crown jewel of the holiday décor is the hotel’s 20-foot Christmas tree which is decorated this year by Over the Moon with ornaments inspired by the magic of The Nutcracker ballet. Live holiday music and a visit from Santa (of course) and his elves, put some extra sparkle in the afternoon.
marriott.com, 88 W Paces Ferry Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30305
Green Spring Gardens
Green Spring Gardens, an 18th-century mansion with a historic, public park, opens its doors during the first weekend of December for an intimate and informative Christmas Tea. Green Springs Garden’s tea features hearty fare served over a lecture about Clement Clarke Moore’s beloved Christmas story, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The “tea talk” explores the meaning and work behind Moore’s classic story while guests enjoy the luxuries of tea inside the home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.