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Top Ten best things to do in Sunderland

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Ten Best Things To Do in Sunderland

There are countless great things to do in Sunderland thanks to our bustling city centre, stunning coastline, beautiful countryside and unique culture. 

If you're looking to plan a family day out, why not discover the top ten things to do in Sunderland as chosen by MySunderland, and plan the perfect visit to the city we call home?...

Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Gardens

Discover Sunderland's fascinating history at Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Garden's - the city's first ever museum. Having opened its doors back in 1810, it boasts an antiquities and artwork collection dating back to 1846, including exhibitions on Sunderland's past in shipbuilding, coal mining, glass making and pottery industries. Featuring the Museum's Art Gallery which contains works of L.S. Lowry, as well as a stunning Winter Garden, Sunderland Museum makes for a learning-filled day out. 

Explore over 2,000 plants and views of the beautiful Mowbray Park, or see something new and exciting every season with an ever-changing events programme. 

Roker and Seaburn Beaches

Roker and Seaburn, Sunderland's beautiful Blue Flag beaches are perfect for traditional seaside fun. These award-winning beaches sit peacefully on the North East coast, and are the perfect spots to unwind or let the kids go exploring. 

Roker and Seaburn have been family-favourites for decades - the golden sands are a sandcastle builder's paradise and ideal for picnics and lounging, while the promenade and seafront provide great opportunities to take in spectacular views and fresh sea air. The restored Roker Pier and Lighthouse provide a glimpse into Sunderland's past, with the chance to brave an underground tour. Meanwhile, Roker is also home to the fantastic Roker Park with its play areas, lake and miniature railway. There's also plenty of places to grab a bite along the seafront, whether you're in the mood for an ice-cream, or fish and chips as the ultimate seaside treat!

Roker Pier and Lighthouse

A trip to Sunderland's beautiful Roker beach would not be complete without an exploration of the historic Roker Pier and Lighthouse. With its distinctive grey and granite lighthouse, this iconic Sunderland landmark opened in September 1903 and has been a crucial and well-recognised part of our coastal scenery ever since. 

A symbol of Victorian innovation and endeavour, the lighthouse reopened its doors to the public in 2018 following restoration by the Heritage Lottery Fund, making it a great tourist attraction for all the family. Access the unique and rarely seen tunnel which stretches the length of the pier (610 metres, to be exact) or learn how engineer Henry Hay Wake pioneered a variety of techniques to build the pier, utilising skilled craftsmen and granite blocks weighing up to 45 tonnes. A triumph in engineering for its time, Roker Pier and Lighthouse is one of Sunderland's best history and sightseeing opportunities. 

Washington Wetland Centre

WWT Washington Wetland Centre is a wildlife haven for rare species, allowing you to get up close to a variety of cute and friendly creatures. WWT Washington Wetland Centre is home to exotic birds, otters and more, giving youngsters and adults alike the opportunity to learn about animals in their habitats. Feed the gentle and timid Hawaiian geese, and have them nibble corn from your hands, or see the spectacular shocking pink Chilean flamingos. 

Summer brings many surprises too as you can catch freshly hatched ducklings and fluffy chicks up close, as well as adorable Asian short-clawed otters frolicking in the water. Children will love Washington Wetland Centre, and with play areas and a year-round programme of events, it's an adventure-filled day out for all ages. 

Hylton Castle

Hylton Castle is one of the oldest buildings in Sunderland, and at around 600 years old, it stands at the heart of the community. A former home for barons and Sir Joseph Swan, a stronghold for knights and a military headquarters, Hylton Castle has a colourful and varied past. 

The shell of the original gatehouse has been transformed to become a heritage-led visitor attraction with a cafe, exhibition space and community spaces for educational use. A stunning historic building, with a fascinating history and surroundings, Hylton Castle is a hidden gem for history lovers, tourists and families alike, making it the perfect place for curious minds to explore. 

National Glass Centre

The National Glass Centre is an important part of Sunderland's culture and heritage, as it provides a window into the region's glassmaking past. Discover how glass arrived in Britain, how it's made, and why Sunderland played a key role in its exportation. Here you can marvel at some of the world's finest contemporary glass and ceramic artists, as well as up-and-coming names in the industry from the University of Sunderland. 

Feel the heat of the furnace during the National Glass Centre's famed daily glass making demonstrations, and witness the skill and passion of its resident glass makers. The Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art also forms part of the National Glass Centre, with regular programmes and exhibitions also ready to be discovered. Whether you want to take in the beautiful pieces on display, or have a go at making some yourself, there's plenty of inspiration and creativity to be found at the National Glass Centre. 

Washington Old Hall

Washington Old Hall is the ancestral home of the first president of the USA, George Washington. The town of Washington sharing a name with the capital of the United States is no coincidence, as this hall is where George Washington's family once resided. The surviving stone manor house of Washington Old Hall includes parts of the original medieval home, with a 17th century ground floor that contains a great hall, kitchen and panelled room. 

You can see an authentic cookbook written in 1660 to find out what people were eating and preparing in the kitchens of days gone by, and witness a collection of incredible George Washington memorabilia in the 'Liberty Room'. Boasting a recreation of a family home (the hall was once divided to accommodate up to nine families!) gardens and a cafe, this historic site of Washington Old Hall is one of Sunderland's finest. 

Sunderland Empire Theatre

Sunderland Empire Theatre is the North East's biggest theatre, presenting everything from the best West End shows to plays, stand-ups, dance performances and live music all year round. 

This stunning Edwardian theatre is located in the heart of Sunderland city centre, and boasts the best shows and biggest names in showbiz. Sit back and enjoy everything from old fashioned pantomimes or the latest spectacular from London's West End in an opulent auditorium, and be captivated and transported to a new world. Open since 1907, Sunderland Empire has seen performances from Charlie Chaplin to The Beatles, making it an iconic part of our city's history.  Be sure to grab a bite beforehand at the Garden Palace Bistro nearby, or celebrate with a drink after the curtain call at any of the city's fantastic local bars. Whether it's a great night out, or a memorable experience for all the family, you won't be disappointed by the impressive year-round entertainment at Sunderland Empire Theatre. 

Penshaw Monument and Herrington Country Park

Penshaw Monument and Herrington Country Park provide a stairway to the heavens and a step into the past, right in the heart of Sunderland's sprawling countryside. Penshaw Monument is one of Sunderland's most impressive landmarks, standing at 70ft high, with views of the North East for miles around on a clear day. Built as a memorial to the Earl of Durham, John George Lambton in 1844, Penshaw Monument is a Greek style construction based on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. 

It sits at the top of the hill, and is surrounded by a peaceful green oasis that's perfect for family bike rides, lakeside strolls, and hikes to the peak, where you can see spectacular views across the North East landscape. Special tours also run during selected months, and the Herrington Country Park provides a serene escape from the hustle and bustle. A play park and cafe make it a great spot to take the kids, and the legend of the Lambton Worm, which in folklore, terrified the residents of Fatfield, is sure to provide added entertainment and intrigue!

St Peter's Church

St. Peter's Church in Sunderland is one of the most significant historical sites in Britain. Founded in the 7th century by the pioneering Benedict Biscop, it became one of the greatest and influential learning centres in the North. As one of the earliest sites of English Christianity, St. Peter's Church was once a place where 'modern' skills such as stone masonry and glass-making were brought to the British Isles. It was even where the timing of Easter was decided! 

This fascinating church is steeped in the creativity and innovation of our ancestors. Great manuscripts were produced here, providing Britain with some of its greatest cultural treasures; an 8th century Anglo Saxon Bible, the Codex Amiatinus and the oldest intact European book, the St Cuthbert Gospel -  the latter of which was purchased by the British Library in 2012 for an astonishing £9m. 

Perhaps most notably, the famed monk and scholar, the Venerable Bede, resided here over 1,300 years ago. While much of the original monastery no longer remains, it is still possible to walk the same pathways walked by Bede himself, with a glimpse at the intricate Anglo-Saxon carvings and stonework that have been preserved here.

Discover the top ten things to do in Sunderland, as well as many more amazing sights, activities and attractions. 

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