Downton Exhibit and Waldorf Astoria Royal Tea

It only makes the most sense to reserve oneself an afternoon tea on the day you visit the Downton Abbey exhibit. Open in Atlanta near Perimeter Mall until mid-January, the exhibit is on the bucket list of many a Destination Tea reader (as explained by our very scientific Venn Diagram below). We paired our Sunday visit with a royal tea at the Waldorf Astoria in Buckhead (find all your nearby afternoon tea options in the Atlanta Afternoon Tea Directory).

Diagram of crossover between History Buffs, Afternoon Tea-Goers, Costume Party People

Based on whether you attend on peak days, tickets run from $39 to $45 and are discounted for seniors and groups of ten or more. Crowds are controlled with reserved entry times, and an audio guide is available for an extra $5. Our two cents is that for what the audio guide adds — minimal behind-the-scenes commentary from cast and crew — you could skip it.

To sum up the experience, it is neither underwhelming nor outstanding. Still, loyal Downton Abbey fans will find much to enjoy here. We especially appreciated the actual costumes and real-world historical context on display. The portion dedicated to Dowager Countess Violet Crawley cannot help but put a smile on your face, and one of the final experiences — an immersive 3-walled theater, “The Library,” with shifting scenes from the show — is a powerful reminder of why we love the world of Downton Abbey.

Naturally, our eyes were peeled for all things tea-related, and unfortunately, we found remarkably few. As so many afternoon tea enthusiasts also love the British royals, and sometimes throw tea parties to celebrate their milestones, we thought this was fun to share: The Order of British Peerage.

Authentic props from Downton Abbey recall pivotal moments in the show’s storyline, like this letter from the tragically fated (and my favorite) Crawley sister, Lady Sybil Branson.

While taking this quiz to see if you might get hired as a Downton Abbey servant, we found a tea reference! Which answer do you think is correct?

Huzzah! The Library mentions the Crawleys’ custom of gathering around the fire for a four o’clock tea. Properly, we are reminded, “A footman will serve the tea, sandwiches and a slice of cake (which is never eaten with a fork).” By the by, there are still historic properties around the world that do serve afternoon tea at low tables in the library (see our afternoon tea at Mount Juliet Estate in Ireland).

One thing this exhibit does very well is recreate some of the stage sets, like the stately dining room, and the servants’ quarters, like butler’s pantry, kitchen and servant’s hall, complete with the iconic bell board.

Attempting to dress the part, I was delighted to find that my inherited pearl drop earrings were similar to The Countess’!

Upon entering the staged servants’ floor, peering into the kitchen from the hallway, for just a moment you feel as if you are on set. We spied tea kettles! It was interesting learning that the backsplash by the stove was built to be removable so that cameras could film from that vantage point.

The costume portion of the exhibit — which we will not spoil for future visitors with pictures posted here — was wonderful in that it described each costume’s materials, including some made from actual antique fabrics from the period. Jewelry and tiaras (traditionally only worn by women that have been married) are also featured here. Which of these hats would you like to wear to an afternoon tea?

Happily, the gift shop offers an array of Downton Abbey Teas from Republic of Tea, and we also spotted an embroidered teacup ornament.

We finished the day by treating ourselves to afternoon tea at the Waldorf Astoria, which is currently renovating its usual afternoon tea space on the ground floor. You can see how they formerly served afternoon tea here, when we attended their Downton Abbey tea two years ago. By the way, kudos to Jill (below) for perfecting the teacup hold at her first afternoon tea :).

All the treats in this afternoon tea meal are perfectly executed from start to finish. In lieu of a scone course, the Waldorf now serves soft, buttery chocolate and crème brûlée madeleines. We also appreciated our server’s tea recommendations and quickness in offering second infusions, loved our teas by Tealeaves and happily sipped on a glass of champagne. We will be sure to revisit and share pictures of their afternoon tea when their new Peacock Alley opens.

Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

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