Ahhh…a girlfriend getaway. One of my favourite ways to travel! We all love our partners and kids even more after we’ve had a few days to recharge — and commiserating with girlfriends with fabulous cocktails in-hand after a day filled with self-care fun and urban exploration is the perfect way to do it. A weekend in Toronto with one of my faves was just what the doctor ordered to de-stress and reconnect with who I am beyond “wife” and “mom.”
Below, you’ll find a smorgasbord of activities and foodie experiences that you can copy and paste it into your own calendar. It’s a mix of shopping, spa time, downtime, drinking and eating with plenty of opportunities for girl talk and no talk at all!
How to spend a weekend in Toronto with girlfriends
Whether you’re arriving by GO Train, car, UBER or airplane, a long weekend in Toronto is enough time to get a taste of the city if you’re visiting from afar — and just right if it’s a staycation. The best thing about using Toronto as your backdrop is that you can be as busy as you want since there’s a never-ending supply of attractions and experiences, or you can dial it back to move at a slower pace but still feel like you went away.
As for your budget, a weekend in Toronto doesn’t have to cost a fortune; although this itinerary definitely skews towards the splurgier end of things, one of the biggest ways to save money is to stay at a hotel that offers everything you want and need with plenty of comforts but without excess frills. Luxury marketing doesn’t necessarily make for a better hotel stay but it will absolutely drive up your nightly room charge.
We LOVED our stay at the newly renovated Sheraton Toronto Centre Hotel for so many reasons:
- Location, baby — right on Queen Street, a mere four-minute stroll from the Eaton Centre. The walkability points here are huge thanks to the hotel’s downtown core address
- A pick-up loop where you can drop your vehicle with a parking attendant and unload without feeling rushed by busy Toronto traffic and where you can stand, completely sheltered, waiting for a cab or UBER
- Really, really comfortable pillows and beds with nice, crisp and scrupulously clean linens
- The option to stay in a Club Room, which puts you on one of the highest floors (hello, cityscape views!) and includes access to the upscale and totally remodelled Club Lounge on the 43rd floor (where you’ll find a daily buffet breakfast with servers who will gladly bring you as many fancy coffees as you wish, and evening appetizers that could easily double as a light dinner if you’re so inclined. It’s also just a great space to hang with your friends that offers a bit less foot traffic)
- An in-house cocktail lounge called 43 Down that’s got elevated snacks and beautifully presented dinner entrées, but steals the show with its inventive cocktail menu
- The indoor/outdoor swimming pool — in a word? Awesome. Before we had kids, we used to meet friends here on a summer weekend just to take advantage of the pool scene. Along with most of the hotel, the Sheraton’s pool has also had its own transformation, and I was so happy to see that it still has the indoor section connected to the outdoor section. This is a great way to get your spa needs fulfilled if you don’t have extra budget for a true spa experience during a weekend in Toronto
- Best of all, it’s affordable! The Sheraton provides a premium experience without premium pricing with nightly stays starting at $324 (when prepaying)
A weekend in Toronto: where to eat and drink
Toronto has one of the best and most diverse foodie scenes anywhere, stacking up against big players like New York City and London (UK). And while this won’t be an exhaustive list by any means, since I’m just starting with the places we visited during a single long-weekend visit, I will continue to update this post by adding more in the coming months and years. (So be sure to clear your cache and refresh your page if you’re returning down the road, which will help you see whether there’s a new date at the top of the post.)
Since this list will grow, I’m going to make it alphabetical so it’s easy on everyone. And, although ranking good food is subjective, you can trust that everything I list has been personally vetted — and I won’t steer you wrong. Because I am a food snob.
Whether you want to “warm up” for a big night out with some of the city’s most performative cocktails or carve out a cozy nook for an hours-long chat with some tasty bites, 43 Down is a solid option. Despite its lobby-level floor location at the Sheraton Toronto Centre Hotel, this is anything but your typical lobby bar. Drinks are inventive, so have your camera ready, and food is beautifully presented.
The menu has rotated since our visit but I’m delighted to see that the King Oyster Mushroom Steak Bites are still there because it was my favourite dish. As for cocktails, The 43rd is everything a $30 drink should be — and not just because it comes to your table in a flavour-blaster birdcage; as you open the latch, smoke plumes out of the glass cage and infuses your drink and environment. It’s not all smoke and mirrors, though, The 43rd is a damn fine beverage. Ask your server for other show-stoppers on the cocktail menu if you want to add some Insta-worthy content to your social feeds.
East End Vine
This Riverdale gem is unassuming and intimate. Sommelier-owned, it’s a wine-forward menu where the vino rotates weekly and food is made to match. It’s tapas-style, perfect for sharing with your besties and the flavours and textures seem simple in theory but are quite complex in execution — especially when you layer in drink pairings the owner suggests.
If the menu still includes the tartare, Brussels sprouts, octopus, and the apple, fennel and radicchio salad, we gave these top marks. We ate after dark, though, so my food photos are not what they should be.
East End Vine was such a beautiful surprise in our Toronto foodie adventures and I’ve already made plans to return. (I’ll get some better pics next time around and replace this one when I do!)
We sat near the terrace and — oh, boy! — would that be a lovely lunch spot when the warm weather arrives. EPOCH is now open again seven days a week for lunch and the atmosphere is a sublime example of casual meets elegant, where you can comfortably arrive in nice jeans or a cocktail dress.
The cocktail program here is all about fresh ingredients and compelling infusions. I loved the Cinéma Vérité with its citrus and vanilla notes, but anything would taste amazing alongside EPOCH’s truffle parmesan skinny fries (and its oh-my-God-good black garlic aioli), hand-cut steak tartare or the buttery PEI lobster roll.
This marked my second Afternoon Tea experience at JONI and I still haven’t been able to finish all of the little goodies that come out! There are two distinct courses — savoury followed by sweet — and its the type of food that looks almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. Only almost. Trust me, I ate as much as I could.
Both times, I have opted for the same tea-somellier selections: the Park Hyatt No. 4 for the savoury course and the Heavenly Cream to accompany the sweet course. But why stop at tea? The house prosecco is simply perfect with every bite.
Having done both the Pastry at the Park as well as Tea at the Park, I’ll be honest — the less expensive one is just as magical.
Ah. Mah. Gah. This is my new favourite brunch! It reminded me so much of the bottomless brunch I did with Big B in Vegas a few years ago (which I included in my Las Vegas itinerary post), which we still talk about to this day. Just make sure you book this for a day you don’t need to drive if you plan to enjoy the never-ending mimosa flights. It’s worth the $20 upgrade!
But, friends: pace yourself. There are a lot of dishes and our server told us that, even with the two-hour seating limit, most of her guests make it through the whole thing. We did not, so I salute those folks.
The all-inclusive brunch menu may shift after I write this, so let me tell you — we only had one dish that was merely so-so (the patatas bravas). We liked them all. Top faves included: the salmon tostada, ceviche, avocado + guava salad, pork belly bacon, house sausage and apple pie-stuffed churros.
The brioche sticky bun drizzled in a sweet manchego cheese sauce deserves not only its own sentence, but also a moment of silence.
Sigh; it was so good. I dream of it. Alright, that’s enough. A weekend in Toronto is not complete without brunch; make it this one.
A weekend in Toronto: fun things to do
The thing I love most about spending a weekend in Toronto is that visiting a big city can be as jam-packed or leisurely as you like. You could grab a coffee or gelato and just sit and people-watch for hours if that’s your thing — or you can be on the move, hustling and bustling. Toronto will match whatever energy you’re feeling.
Even though I’ve focused this post around a girlfriend getaway itinerary, everything here will also absolutely work for couples, mother-daughter trips, a group of guys or — perhaps best of all — a solo escape. That’s the other awesome thing about The Big Smoke — it’s inclusive and open-minded, and the only rules you’ve got to play by to feel at home are your own.
Similar to the bars and restaurants in the section above, I’ll continue to add a variety of things to do in Toronto in this section. I’ll always add a new date at the top of the post when I do.
Yeah, yeah, this is technically eating but it’s also an experience, so it deserves to be here. I’ve already mentioned above where we enjoyed our tea time, but it’s not the only place that offers high tea in Toronto. They’re all so different and if you’ve done one, you truly have NOT done them all — so branch out. Wear your Sunday best and get ready to feel ultra-bougie as you sip — pinkies up! — and chit chat over scones and crustless sammies.
Live theatre & music
One of my all-time favourite things to do is see musicals. (I’m a closet wannabe Broadway star, after all.) A weekend in Toronto feels incomplete without seeing something on a stage, and there’s no company doing it better than Mirvish Productions. Whether you book ahead or try playing one of the available lotteries (e.g. the Hamilton App lets you enter for a chance to “win” $10 seats!), there’s always a number of great shows playing.
At time of writing, here’s what I recommend:
- Hamilton — I’ve seen it in three cities around the world (so far…) and the Toronto cast holds its own very well. The story is fascinating, the music is gorgeous and the lyrics are clever
- Harry Potter & The Cursed Child — you may think this is geared more toward kids, but I promise you, you’ll be WOWed. The special effects in this show are spectacular and the acting is world-class
- Hadestown — it’s coming soon and I have every confidence this award-winning show is going to be outstanding; I will absolutely be going and plan to report back here once I do; same goes for…
- Jagged Little Pill — as an angst-ridden teen who adored Alanis’s music, I’m excited to see how her songs come to life on stage
If musicals really aren’t your jam, there are plenty of other ways to catch some tunes during your long weekend in Toronto. The Candlelight Concerts offers beautiful tributes to various artists, set in iconic locations around the city, performed by live musicians in the dark amidst hundreds of candles. We saw the Adele by Candlelight performance featuring a stunning string quartet — and there are still a few more dates left for this (at time of writing) in case you’re as big an Adele fan as we are.
Can you say “friendship bracelets”?! Yes, but make it fine jewelry, please. I am totally obsessed with the welded jewelry trend and have had two exceptionally great experiences at Melanie Auld — one with my daughter and one with my friend, Renee. You can get just a sterling silver or solid gold bracelet in a number of styles or you can also add a charm. I’ve done both the rolo and staple chain styles and personalized them just for me with a large white topaz on one and an arrow on the other. They’re unassuming and dainty — and stack perfectly with other bracelets.
Appointments are about 20 minutes long, though if you’re having a hard time deciding, it may take you half an hour before you’re walking out the door. Your bracelet is guaranteed to stay on with a three-month warranty timeframe, in which Melanie Auld will re-weld or replace a bracelet that’s come apart. And if you need to remove it for any reason (like an MRI), you can easily snip it off and then have it re-welded again later on.
Spa & beauty
For me, a weekend in Toronto with girlfriends wouldn’t be complete without something beauty-related. Since spa time isn’t for everyone, I’m also including one of the coolest experiences I have had anywhere, ever. SQUEE!
OK, y’all. I bloody well LOVED this! You can make your own lipstick or lip balm, customizing the colour, of course, but also everything from its finish (matte, satin, etc.) to its smell (I chose pomegranate!) and the colour of your tube (there are four options). But perhaps the best part of all — you even get to name your lippy and it’ll be laser-etched onto the bottom of your tube! YASSSSS!
It’s very, very cool to make slight changes to your base colour choices to reach the shade that’s just right for you and see the science of it all unfold right before your eyes. The entire appointment takes from one to 1.5 hours and you leave with a lipstick (or balm) that’s ready to wear 30 minutes later. Simply gorgeous.
The Tox Toronto
One of Toronto’s newest spa experiences is The Tox, which hails from Los Angeles. It’s centred around lymphatic drainage and sculpting and your aesthetician will be firmly hands-on, whether you get body work done or a facial — or both. It’s not a pampering massage or facial; it’s a productive one. I saw my cheekbones become more defined by the end of my 45-minute facial and my face just felt more lifted. And that’s just the good stuff on the surface! Manual lymphatic massage helps relieve swelling in your your lymphatic system, which can happen environmentally, with some medical treatments or simply because you’ve been sick.
You’re supposed to go for four treatments in a row with two-week intervals, but I don’t live close enough to make that work so I bought The Tox’s stone gua sha facial tool to keep the benefits going at home.
And, you guessed it, watch this space for future updates.
A weekend in Toronto: getting around
When I lived in Toronto many years ago, I took the subway and streetcars without a second thought. There has, however, been a rash of random violence occurring on the TTC subways and while it may still be safer than other major cities around the world, I wouldn’t feel right without mentioning it. After all, some of you may be coming from far enough away that you just don’t see or read Toronto-based news.
The TTC is, however, the cheapest way to get around the city so if budget is a concern, just keep your wits about you as you head underground.
I’m a big fan of UBERs since you can use your smartphone from beginning to end, which has safety mechanisms in place with which I’m comfortable. They’re typically a bit cheaper than taxis as well (at least in Toronto when you factor in traffic).
An important word about taxis, though: there are fake taxis in Toronto and they’re a bunch of predators driving around looking for new victims. They’re after your credit cards and PINs, and I was duped myself earlier this year. The “taxi” was actually an old taxi vehicle that had been made up to look like one, complete with a light on the roof, and the Toronto police officer who handled my case said this is becoming more common. So if you catch a cab in Toronto, here’s how to (hopefully) avoid becoming a victim of fraud and theft:
- Only get into official taxi cabs, like Beck, Co-op and Crown
- Look for the taxi’s certificate on the back of one of the headrests; if you don’t see one, ask where it is before you close the door; by law, it needs to be posted in plain sight
- Pay with cash
- If you don’t have cash, and the driver says s/he needs to insert your card, tell them you want to tap instead
- If the driver insists and the terminal looks like this one (below), don’t try to be a hero; just punch in a fake gratuity and a series of fake numbers that aren’t anything close to your actual PIN. The machine is designed solely to provide the “driver” (thief) with the digits you keyed into the terminal. They will then likely hand you back a different (also stolen) credit card, which you won’t notice if you’re not hyperaware of being scammed. (In my case, it was late and dark and I just slid this other card into my wallet, and only noticed the next day that it wasn’t mine.) DO NOT put yourself at risk! Just get out of the car, take a picture of the license plate, note the time and your location and then immediately lock your credit card in your banking app or — if you don’t have this feature — call your credit card company’s fraud line as soon as you possibly can to file a report
Still looking for more great things to do for a weekend in Toronto? The Destination Toronto website is a sweet resource that has all of the city’s happenings housed in one place.
Have a favourite restaurant or activity you’d like to see included here? Feel free to drop it in the comments or reach out to me using the contact info on this page.
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