Things to do in Sunderland

Alexander Iles

Positioned around the winding River Wear, Sunderland began as a settlement that grew up around a monastery in the seventh century, before becoming one of the most important industrial cities in England. From shipbuilding through to coal mining and glass production, Sunderland’s industrial heritage can be seen today at sites such as the Ryhope Engines Museum, which innovatively provided clean water to the whole city, and the Bowes Railway, home to one of the earliest sections of rail in the world.

With regeneration projects taking place across the city, many of Sunderland’s historic buildings have become beacons of culture. Sitting at the heart of the newly developed Cultural Quarter, and beautifully juxtaposed with the Empire Theatre next door, The Fire Station provides a base for arts organisations Dance City and Live Theatre, showcases live music and comedy, and houses the popular Engine Room bar and bistro. The city’s cultural renaissance is further bolstered by the newly renovated Dun Cow pub and The Peacock, which has been finely restored to include an intimate music venue. Sunderland’s vibrant start-up scene includes streetwear store Port Independent and the artisan beer at Port Bierhaus, as well as CoffeeHaus coffee shop.

Head further into the city centre to visit the Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Gardens. A real family-friendly day out, the museum houses collections of local, regional and national importance. The gallery space is also home to a large collection of work by L. S. Lowry, who was inspired by the heavy industry at the harbour mouth and Lambton Drops. Closer towards the banks of the River Wear are the National Glass Centre and the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. Explore the city’s rich history of glass-making alongside work by some of the leading contemporary artists. For beautiful local walks, Durham‘s heritage coast and Sunderland’s Roker Beach both offer tempting seaside views.

Discover our top picks

  • 1. St. Peter’s Church

    St. Peter's Church
    St. Peter's Church, Monkwearmouth

    St. Peter’s Church, St. Peter's Way, Sunderland, SR6 0DY - Visit now

    St. Peter’s Church is an ancient church that once would have been a focal point for learned men and women from all over the world. It is a grade one listed building and is one of the oldest churches in the North East of England. Today the church can be found in the middle of Sunderland University with a campus that is named after it, which is very appropriate, as it provided education to those who came to it and would have been one of the most important places of learning in Britain and even in Europe, during the dark ages.

  • 2. Washington Old Hall

    Washington Old Hall
    National Trust

    Washington Old Hall, The Avenue, Washington, Sunderland, NE38 7LE - Visit now

    When people hear Washington, they will likely think of the capital of the United States, the state or the famous man, George Washington, but unknown to them the Washington family can be traced back to Sunderland. Washington in the North East today is more famous for the Nissan car plant, but in the centre of Washington you can still see an area that is reminiscent of an English country village. Its church’s foundation dates back to The Dark Ages and nearby is Washington Old Hall; the ancestral home of George Washington himself.

  • 3. Bowes Railway

    Bowes Railway
    Bowes Railway

    Bowes Railway, Springwell Road, Gateshead, Sunderland, NE9 7QJ - Visit now

    Bowes Railway was designed to transport the coal of County Durham to Jarrow on the River Tyne. The Bowes family were incredibly influential in the North East of England, from art through to coal mines, they have left references to their industry and interests across the region.

  • 4. The National Glass Centre

    The National Glass Centre
    National Glass Centre

    The National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, SR6 0GL - Visit now

    The National Glass Centre tells how glass, a delicate and light material, came to be such a large part of Sunderland’s stature and history.

  • 5. North East Land, Air and Sea Museum

    North East Land, Air and Sea Museum
    North East Land, Air and Sea Museum

    North East Land, Air and Sea Museum, Washington Road, Sunderland, SR5 3HZ - Visit now

    The North East Land, Air and Sea Museum occupies what was once Sunderland Airport, holding an impressive repository of vehicles.

  • 6. Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art

    Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art
    Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art

    Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, SR6 0GL - Visit now

    Located within The National Glass Centre, next to the River Wear, is the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. Starting in 1969 as the “Bookshop Gallery”, the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art has developed and moved throughout its history. This space was designed for artists to experiment and create new works of art within Sunderland.

  • 7. Ryhope Engines Museum

    Ryhope Engines Museum
    Ryhope Engine Museum

    Ryhope Engines Museum, Waterworks Rd, Ryhope,, Sunderland, SR2 0ND - Visit now

    The Ryhope Engines Museum is a volunteer-led museum that preserves the history of the pumping stations that provided Sunderland with fresh water and helped combat disease.

  • 8. Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Garden

    Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Garden
    Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Garden

    Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Garden, Burdon Rd,, Sunderland SR1 1PP, SR1 1PP - Visit now

    Built in the heart of Sunderland city centre, the Museum, Library and Winter Garden tells the fantastic history of Sunderland from its earliest days. It opened in 1810.

  • 9. Sunderland Association Football Club (SAFC) and The Stadium of Light

    Sunderland Association Football Club
    Sunderland Association Football Club (SAFC) & The Stadium of Light

    Sunderland Association Football Club (SAFC) and The Stadium of Light, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, SR5 1SU - Visit now

    Sunderland Association Football Club (SAFC), known by their nickname the “Black Cats”, or by the regional nickname for Sunderland, the “Mackem’s”, are the football club for the city of Sunderland.

  • 10. Sunderland Empire Theatre

    Sunderland Empire Theatre
    Sunderland Empire Theatre

    Sunderland Empire Theatre, 4-5 High St West, Sunderland, SR1 3EX - Visit now

    Sunderland Empire Theatre seats 1,850, the scale of which has seen the likes of Matilda, War Horse and Wicked take to its stage.

  • 11. Penshaw Monument

    Penshaw Monument
    Penshaw Monument

    Penshaw Monument, Chester Rd, Penshaw, Sunderland, DH4 7NJ - Visit now

    Penshaw Monument stands above the city of Sunderland on Penshaw Hill, surrounded by open park, and is owned by the National Trust.

  • 12. Angelo’s Ristorante

    Angelo's Ristorante
    Angelo's Ristorante

    Angelo’s Ristorante, 48 W Sunniside, Sunniside,, Sunderland, SR1 1BA - Visit now

    Angelo’s Ristorante is an authentic Italian restaurant in Sunniside, Sunderland. Sitting within in a Grade II listed building, the restaurant enjoys surroundings that have been carefully restored using the original features of the building, including a rare glass staircase from the 19th century. Describing themselves as Sunderland’s most sophisticated eatery, Angelo’s has reason to hold themselves up to that standard. Their head chef, Nello, won the best Italian Chef in England and in 2015 and 2016 Angelo’s ranked in the top ten Italian restaurants in England.

  • 13. Let There Be Crumbs

    Let There Be Crumbs
    Let There Be Crumbs

    Let There Be Crumbs, Roker Terrace, Roker,, Sunderland, SR6 9ND - Visit now

    Found down near the beach on Roker seafront, Let There Be Crumbs is a pleasant café inside Roker Hotel. The reputation of this tearoom and eatery has grown and developed since its opening in 2015. It has become one of the best locations in Sunderland for their patisseries, brunch or just to pop-in for a tea or coffee after a walk down on the seafront. The café is primarily known for its cake counter, which gives the reason for the cafés name.

  • 14. Poetic Licence

    Poetic Licence
    Poetic Licence Bar

    Poetic Licence, Roker Terrace, Roker,, Sunderland, SR6 9NB - Visit now

    The sister venue to Let There Be Crumbs, Poetic Licence, situated on Roker Seafront, offers some of the best views and diverse drinks in Sunderland.

  • 15. D’Acqua


    D’Acqua, 28 John St, Sunniside,, Sunderland, SR1 1JG - Visit now

    A stone’s throw from Sunderland museum and winter gardens, is D’Acqua – an exceptional eating experience in the heart of the city. In a Grade II listed building that used to house the Sunderland and South Tyneside water board, you will be able to enjoy the ambience that resonates out of these fantastic bricks and mortar – French oak floors and handmade bricks at that. D’Acqua serves the best quality in British, French and Italian food. They provide the finest flavours of each of these cuisines through the freshest ingredients. Examples of the dishes that combine the best in British, French and Italian food that are offered at D’aqua would be the pan-roasted halibut with cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower & cauliflower pickle with a potted shrimp sauce – using fish from the North East region.

  • 16. CoffeeHaus


    CoffeeHaus, John St, Sunniside, Sunderland, SR1 1QD - Visit now

    CoffeeHaus can be found on St. Thomas Street in Sunderland city centre and came out of unused space in 808 Bar and Kitchen and what was changing rooms in the next-door Port Independent clothing to create this coffee shop. Only having cost £20,000 it is an incredible achievement and has turned the place around very successfully. Opting for the minimalist interior that many coffee houses prefer, it is stylish and cool.

  • 17. Port Independent

    Port Independent
    Port Independent

    Port Independent, Unit 4 St Thomas Street, Sunderland, SR11QD - Visit now

    Port Independent – or Gerard, Preston and Nathan, the three guys behind the shop – is an independent clothing retailer in Sunderland. Providing the people of Sunderland with designer brands, Port Independent has become one of the favourite retailers in the city for those who want something different than what is offered on the high street. Having created their own in-house brands, there is something for everyone in the store. These brands are Patels Skatewear, INDPT, Port Basics and Harbour, all of which are available both in store and online.

  • 18. Aphrodite


    Aphrodite, 8 Vine Place, Sunderland, SR1 3NE - Visit now

    In 1994 Aphrodite was established by two brothers, Andrew and Duncan McKenzie, who had a passion for bringing good menswear to people in their city. Since then, they have been providing designer clothing from a range of high-quality brands that have large scale appeal to those who love fashion such as Stone Island, Canada Goose, DSquared2, Kenzo & Balmain – though that list is not exhaustive as they have clothing from every brand from A-Z.

  • 19. Reynolds Outdoor Centre

    Reynolds Outdoor Centre
    Reynolds Outdoor Centre

    Reynolds Outdoor Centre, 6 Derwent St, Sunderland, SR1 3NT - Visit now

    Reynolds Outdoor Centre has provided outdoor wear, military surplus and camping gear since 1860. In the North East of England there is a fantastic array of wilderness to explore, from hills and mountains through to beautiful valleys and seaside walks. It is likely after a number of walks you will want to upgrade your walking gear and supplement it with some home comforts – especially if you have fallen in love with the region’s countryside. Within no time, it is likely you will have been bitten by the bug and will be an expert looking for the best in outdoor equipment and planning expeditions.

  • 20. Roker Hotel

    Roker Hotel
    Roker Hotel

    Roker Hotel, Roker Terrace, Roker, Sunderland, SR6 9ND - Visit now

    The Roker Hotel offers wonderful views of Roker pier and beach, with easy access to Sunderland city centre via car or Metro. It is a fantastic choice for any visitor to the city. The hotel is well-established and popular in Sunderland and has a dedicated following amongst locals and visitors who return time and time again due to their positive experience. From the outside of the building the hotel honours its Victorian seaside foundations, with over a hundred and seventy years of hospitality to its name it is one of the longest serving hotels in the city.

  • 21. Seaham Hall

    Seaham Hall
    Seaham Hall

    Seaham Hall, Lord Byrons Walk, Seaham, Sunderland, SR7 7AG - Visit now

    Seaham Hall is a hotel like no other. The hall itself is a Georgian Country House with its own rich history, boasting the Pride of Britain Hotel status; a body of fifty outstanding independent hotels nationwide, which are run by the most dedicated teams.

  • 22. Hardwick Hall

    Hardwick Hall
    Hardwick Hall

    Hardwick Hall, Hardwick Hall Hotel, Sedgefield TS21 2EH, Sunderland, TS21 2EH - Visit now

    In County Durham, just half an hour from Sunderland, is the beautiful old country hall now converted into a hotel: Hardwick Hall. This award-winning hotel is situated within Hardwick Country Park. The park was refurbished in 1999 at a cost of £4.1 million granted by the heritage lottery fund. This allowed the park to be restored, with many of the buildings, such as the temple of Minerva, restored to the beauty enjoyed in the 18th century.

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Patron Mono by Carolina Caycedo, image depicts a figure standing in a room with a three channel video emitting a yellow light
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