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Toronto – 10 Alternative ways to Keep Warm in Winter

For the uninitiated foreigner from warmer lands, Toronto in winter can be a brutal place. Having heard great things about this city I took up the option to spend a two day layover in Toronto during December on my way to Cuba. So what can you do in two short days in the bitter cold? Here are just some random suggestions to keep warm in Toronto outside of the usual winter convenient categories of museums, galleries and shopping malls.

1. Tim Hortons

Start off the day with a warm beverage, and where better than from the beloved Canadian clichéd coffee establishment, Tim Horton’s. Now I know the more discerning coffee connoisseurs may scoff at this suggestion, but ignore them – this is Tim Hortons! That would be like going to America and refusing to try Dunkin Donuts – a damn shame! Not really a coffee drinker myself I have returned a French Vanilla convert.

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2. Lublaws

It would be a gross disservice to call Lublaws a supermarket. It is a lavish, vast food hall meets deli meets meeting point for friends meets lifestyle food store. Hot and cold foods are available at deli counters.

The dessert area has everything from macaroons, donuts, pastries, cakes and baklava set over numerous counters – with so many options you will be left either overwhelmed or euphoric. Tables and chairs a plenty makes Lublaws a hub for meeting friends over a coffee and cake, or lone visitors surfing the net and eating sushi. Beyond the food hall area there are the beautifully laid out isles that elevates the grocery shopping experiencing and makes that of Waitrose in the UK seem boring and primitive.

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Dessert heaven; So much choice you will be left utterly overwhelmed

3. Underground City

Still unbearably cold? Never mind, the Canadians have thought of everything! The PATH is an underground passageway covering 18 miles and connecting subway stations to malls, key buildings and roads in the downtown area. Filled with shops and restaurants the PATH is not only incredibly functional, but an interesting feat of architectural engineering that deserves a visit. Bear in mind however it can be very quiet with most stores closed on weekends and after 6pm during the week.

4. Kensington Market

Kensington market is a trendy urban meets hipster haven collection of streets filled with vintage shops, record stores, bars and eateries with interesting fusion concepts (Rasta Pasta I’m looking at you). Graffiti – such a must have in any hipster hood that it’s almost contrived – and trendy religious symbols adorn the walls.  Even the fruit and veg stores here look ridiculously edgy. Dress up warm and brace the cold to explore this area on foot. Once you feel the need for some inner warmth head to Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos. This Californian Mexican taco place has a reputation that precedes it and it does not disappoint. This is a mostly standing joint with only one highly coveted table. Standing or sitting – the tacos are worth a try!

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Baja fish taco
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Shrimp heaven

5. Donuts

Now would be a good time for something sweet and as Canada is world famous for its donuts why not take the opportunity to see if it’s all just hype. Personally I had what I have since classified as the best donut I have ever had the privilege of eating in my life – the chocolate and hazelnut donut from the aforementioned Lublaws. (I even spotted a Bacon Maple donut – what is that about?!)

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Heaven in the form of a donut

6. CN Tower

If you’re getting a bit cold and want to head inside with 2 hours to spare why not have dinner at the CN Tower’s 360 restaurant. Access to the observatory deck and famous glass floor is complimentary with dinner and therefore much better value for money. The restaurant does a 360 degrees spin (hence the name) so you can see the full view of the Toronto skyline. Food is not amazing here but worth the experience if visiting Toronto for the first time.

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Set course menu at 360 Restaurant
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Dessert – looks better than it tasted

7. Board games, Shisha and Tea

What better way to spend a cold evening than in a cosy Czech meets Arab style tea house. Not only are there over 50 types of teas on offer hailing from China to Baghdad, there’s also a whole library of over 100 board games available  from household names to the more obscure. Hookah is also available so you can wind down with a cup of tea, pipe and get down to some serious Kattan manoeuvring. Seating is available on comfy sofas and Persian rugged floors and one could happily wile away the hours here.

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Games, games, games.
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Shisha, tea and boardgames.
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8. Snow

Coming from London the snow is still a novelty for me – especially when it does not bring in its wake a barrage of obstacles and logistical nightmares. Well equipped to handle the snow, it can go as quickly as it arrives in Toronto – what better way to make the most of it then with a snow fight or building a snowman/woman?

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9. Burgers Galore

For the Halal foodie Toronto offers something that even London’s vast culinary scene does not – a mainstream, good quality Halal burger chain. Canada’s Hero Certified burger chain exists all around the city which uses 100% Heritage Angus Beef which adheres to sustainable practices – and is 100% Halal!

With free toppings and condiments you can customize your burger to your specific tastes. The fries are great too, and the Coke is refillable (something we’re still not accustomed to in Europe). There’s even a 24 hr branch – perfect for satisfying late night/early morning cravings. As it’s a franchise I’m hoping beyond hope London may one day be home to Hero Certified.

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10. TV Dinners

When it gets too cold/late and you head back to your hotel room why not take the opportunity to venture into Canadian TV. For most of the world’s TV watching audience’s American shows and films reign supreme so it’s only right to experience the neighbouring North American offering whilst in Canada.

If in need of something to munch on whilst watching TV you can order pizza straight to your bed. I find Domino’s in North America vastly superior to that in Europe – and they don’t make a fuss of half and half toppings on your pizza unlike my local Pizza place (really, how hard is it to put olives on one side of the pizza and none on the other?)

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His and her halves

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So there you are, some potential ways to wile away the cold hours whilst ensuring your culinary needs are met. The Toronto food scene can’t be afforded the justice it deserves in just two days, but it’s a start!

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