The Famous Bettys Café Tea Rooms

Cakes at Bettys Cafe and Tea Rooms in York
Sweet tooth heaven at Bettys Cafe. Visit Britain/Doug McKinlay/Getty Images

Bettys Café Tea Rooms in York is a legend. If you doubt it when visiting York, a city that is no slouch in the sweet tooth department, you need only look at the line of people queueing to get in.

A cross between a traditional English tea room and a sophisticated Swiss cafe, Bettys is like no place else for afternoon tea. The selection of sweets and light meals is amazing. You can probably find a cheaper cup of tea in York, but why would you want to?

The Accidental Yorkshireman

Bettys (and by the way, there is no apostrophe in Bettys and there is no Betty and probably never was) was founded in 1919 by Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont. According to the story, he intended to start a business on the English South Coast but took the wrong train and ended up in Harrogate, where the first Bettys was established.

A good thing too. They do like their tea and cakes in the North of England. The York café, now the flagship of a small Yorkshire chain, was modeled after the Queen Mary. In fact, after Belmont sailed on the ship in 1936, he hired the same craftsmen and artisans to create the restaurant.

During World War II, the basement bar at Bettys was popular with American and Canadian bomber crews, stationed nearby. Many signed their names, with a diamond-tipped pen, on the mirror, which is still on display.

A Varied and Generous Menu

The menu at Bettys includes an astonishing array of sweets and cakes as well as lunch and supper dishes like Welsh Rarebit and sausages and mash. Reflecting the restaurant's Swiss founder, there is also Birchermuesli for breakfast and Swiss breakfast rosti as well as a selection of Swiss dishes like Swiss Alpine Macaroni (pasta and potatoes with raclette). Unlike many traditional English tea shops, Bettys serves wine and beer.

Afternoon Tea and Beyond

There are six Bettys Tea Room Cafés located around Yorkshire and all of them serve "afternoon tea" throughout the day. Plan on skipping lunch and having a late dinner because afternoon tea is a feast. For £19.95/$25 (2019 prices), you can expect a pot of Bettys own, tea room blend tea along with a selection of sandwiches - smoked salmon and cream cheese, Yorkshire ham, roast chicken and egg mayonnaise - scones with jam and clotted cream, and a selection of little cakes, tarts, and French-style macaroons. For a bit extra, they'll turn it into a champagne tea with a glass of pink bubbly. 

Don't worry if your appetite - or your wallet - doesn't extend to such excess. For about half the price, they serve a simple cream tea - a pot of tea, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Or you can simply order tea or coffee and pick one of their amazing cakes from the cake trolley.

Bettys Café Tea Rooms Essentials

  • Where: All of the tea rooms are in Yorkshire. If you're interested in the Queen Mary decor and the airmen's mirror visit the main York branch at 6-8 St. Helen's Square, York YO1 8QP. others are located at -
    • Harrogate - the first Bettys dating from 1919
    • Stonegate York - Little Bettys, a mini version of York's main tea room that is sometimes easier to get into. It's in a listed, medieval building at 46 Stonegate
      York,YO1 8AS
    • Ilkley 32 The Grove,Ilkley LS29 9EE in the heart of Wharfedale with a view toward Ilkley Moor - scene of a famous UFO incident in 1987.
    • Northallerton - High Street, Northallerton, DL7 8LF in the center of an elegant Georgian market town.
    • and the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Harlow Carr, the only Bettys in a modern setting, the tea rooms here overlook the 58 acre RHS gardens.
  • Reservations: Reservations aren't available in the cafés - thus the long queues at popular times of day. However, in the summer of 2015, Bettys launched a more elaborate, more formal - and more expensive - reservation only afternoon tea. It is available in the Imperial Room in Harrogate and the Belmont Room.
  • Visit their website for opening times and to more information.
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