Everything you MUST see while visiting the city of Sunderland
If you only had one day to spend in the City of Sunderland (although I recommend having more than one day!), this post is everything you cannot miss while you’re in town!
I wrote on the homepage for this blog that I intend to dismantle the negative stigma and break down the poor reputation the city of Sunderland unfortunately holds. And I know this image of the city is only held by people who have never truly experienced it. So here, on this perfect day, I will change that image and make you see what every single Mackem sees when they think of home. Whether you are a student visiting for the first time, if you’ve lived here your whole life, this is everything you cannot miss!
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How you interpret this blog post is up to you. I have tried to set it out as a trail you could follow, either by driving or walking/public transport. Information for all to follow is included. Although if you do choose to follow this, be warned, it would be a very full-on day! Or you could treat it as a bucket list of things to do and see in the city of Sunderland.
Watch the Sunrise at Roker Beach
In my opinion, there is no better way to start the day than by watching the sunrise. And if it wasn’t at such an unsociable hour most of the year, I would do it every day! I do believe that it is good for your soul and if you get a good one, it sets you up perfectly for the rest of the day.
In my opinion, the best place to watch the Sunrise in Sunderland is at Roker. I recommend parking down at the Harbour View car park (the block yard) as it is free to park before 8am. And if you are worried about it being sketchy being there so early, I was there this morning and there were quite a few others about. Mainly fishermen, dog walkers and a few photographers there to capture the sunrise.
The best times to see the sunrise are in spring or autumn when the time isn’t too early. Although this morning (August 11th 2021) it was around 5:30. I got there about 20 minutes before google said it would rise to catch the sky change colour. But I have seen people who get there up to an hour before to really see the changes in the sky.
Walk through Roker Park
Roker Park is one of the oldest and largest parks in the city of Sunderland. It is also one of the prettiest so it is definitely somewhere to stop off at on this perfect day. Within the park, there are some signs of our heritage with its Victorian influences.
You can read more about The History of Roker Park, here on my blog before you visit.
Walk around The Stadium of Light, take a tour or better yet, go to a game!
Sunderland Football Club is synonymous with mackem life and a trip to the city, whether it is your first time or not, is essential.
Football is just starting again following covid and last weekend was our first home game with a big crowd since March 2020. Being back, hearing the roar, was magical. And I cannot recommend enough to someone who has never experienced it before the necessity of doing so!
Walk around the Stadium, take the tour or (and I implore you do) come support the team and embrace Sunderland football culture at a match!
Walk into Sunderland city centre
Many people in Sunderland are ashamed of our city centre and for good reason. Changes in retail, Tory cuts, and poor decision making has left the town centre in an abysmal state. With many shops empty, and the people of Sunderland choosing to go elsewhere to access more variety in their shopping options.
However, if you go into it with an open mind you can find glimmers of what could be.
New restaurants like Spent Grain, the developments at Mackie’s Corner, and the new pizza place called Proven Pizza have all cropped up in the year and are small businesses. These businesses could be the future of our town centre which is an exciting thought. Being able to offer a totally unique experience because the big chains aren’t dominating the units. Although the people of Sunderland will still winge on Facebook about it!
Nonetheless, I do think that regardless of the state it is in currently, there is a glimmer of hope just starting to shine in our city centre.
For parking, I usually park in St Marys car park or the Bridges car park, however, you can find more information on Sunderlands car parks here.
See the Shipbuilding wheel in Keel Square
Keel Square, although many people complained about the money that was spent on it, is actually becoming a lovely place to be. It is a celebration of our Shipbuilding heritage (hence the name ‘Keel’ square).
While you’re here there are a few things to look out for. The most prominent being the ‘Propellers of the City’ which is the large glass wheel. On it are the faces of over 300 people who worked on the River Wears shipyards.
There is also the Keel line which goes right through the square. The length is significant as it is the length of the Naess Crusader which was the longest ship built on the Wear. It also bears the names of the 8102 ships built on our shipyards since 1786.
I think when you take all this into consideration, it is a pretty incredible addition to the city of Sunderland, and worth visiting!
Visit Sunderland Museum and The Winter Gardens
The Winter Gardens is Sunderland best museum which captures many elements of Sunderland’s history of shipbuilding, life throughout time and not to mention the Winter Gardens. These gardens are an indoor rainforest with over 2000 plants growing inside. Make sure to see the Koi fish while you’re here!
The museum is free to enter and they often have events and activities on so make sure you check their ‘whats on’ page before you visit!
Walk through Mowbray Park
Mowbray is perhaps the oldest park in Sunderland and is at the heart of the city. It is booming with life all year round and the duck pond is a great place to sit, feed the ducks and watch the world go by.
Mowbray is definately one of the better parks in the city and a one not to be missed and is full of historical and cultural references! But if you want to know more about the parks in Sunderland, check out this post: The 6 best parks in the City of Sunderland
Grab a coffee and a Pink Slice from Grinder Coffee
Now then, I am slightly biased. But I think Grinder coffee is the best coffee in the city. And in terms of service, number of options on their menu (and cake menu) and decor, it is the best coffee shop in the city too.
The shop is just walking distance from the town which makes it an ideal place to stop off to have a refresh, which if you are following this day as a guide, you will need it!
Postcode: SR2 7AA
My recommendation for a proper Mackem day is to pair whatever coffee you like with a pink slice. Now then, I’m not going to lie, but I’ve only just ad my first ever pink slice not that long ago. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
A pink slice is simply two layers of shortbread with jam in the middle, and pink icing on top. Apparently, they’re best homemade, but the ones from Grinder are pretty damn good too!
The city has a great number of coffee shops, and more are popping up all the time. But have a read of this post: Best local/independent coffee shops in Sunderland
Go to Penshaw Monument and Herrington Country Park
When I was researching for this post, Penshaw Monument came up more times than I could count. Although it is technically within County Durham, Penshaw Monument is a beloved landmark for the city. It even features on the Sunderland AFC badge.
It was built back in 1844 in honour of the Earl of Durham and deemed a world heritage site in 1950. It was built as a replica of a temple in Athens. From the 70 ft high temple can get a cracking view of the park and the city around it. Climbing to the top can be a bit of a struggle, but it is absolutely worth it!
The park opposite is Herrington Country Park which is the largest park in Sunderland. This site was once a coal pit and you can find some incredible photos of what the landscape once looked like. Here you can park either at the top next to the huge play area and coffee shop, or you can head down to the bottom and park beside the huge boating and duck pond.
Postcode: DH4 7EL
Alternatively, if you were getting the bus, you can get the Black Cats 2 or the 78A cross country busses from Sunderland Interchange. Just get off when you see the monument!
If you are planning on following this day exactly, then I would recommend walking around the park first and then climbing Penshaw, because, for the walkers and public transport people, this will work out a lot better for you!
Cox Green doesn’t feel like it belongs in Sunderland. It has a different vibe than the rest of this city. And that is exactly why you really should visit!
There is a walk from the Cox Green New Plough Tea Trailer, down under the Victoria Viaduct, along to the bridge at Fatfield and back. The route is around 3 miles, but it is a lovely walk and a chance to see the river in a very different way. You can have a read about that route here on my blog.
There is parking next to the tea trailer, however, the car park isn’t very large at all so bear that in mind!
Postcode: SR4 9JS
Go visit Hylton Castle
Hylton Castle is somewhere I haven’t yet managed to get back to visit. However, I have seen a load of photos of it with all the wildflowers in bloom and it looks so amazing! Hylton Castle is an English Heritage site and is currently undergoing some restoration works due to be completed soon. So while the inside is still closed, you are free to wander around the grounds and take in this magnificent site.
The castle was built around 1400 by Sir William Hylton who had estates throughout the North East at the time. It wasn’t until I was conducting the research for this post that I found how much history has befallen the site! You can have a read of that here if you’re interested!
There is parking here, and a play area which if I remember correctly was a pretty decent one!
Postcode: SR5 3PA
For that walking/public transporting this route, I suspect you would be exhausted by this point. But don’t worry the day is almost done! To get here from cox green you could walk which will take a little over an hour, or you can get the bus from the Teal Farm pub just up the bank on the opposite side of the river from the Plough Tea Trailer. Bus number 73 will take you right there in 35 minutes.
End the day with a show at the Sunderland Empire Theatre
Theatre is coming back! I think people have forgotten that the theatre literally has not been open since before the pandemic. Having used to work there, I truly feel for my friends who love and miss the place. But from the 2nd of September, it’s back and I cannot think of a better way to finish off this perfect day than by seeing a show at one of our most prestigious buildings!
You can have a look here at their whats on guide to find all of the shows you could see while you’re there.
Or *Alternate Ending* watching the sunset from either Cleadon Hills or Tunstall Hills
I understand that the theatre isn’t for everyone, so for those who aren’t a sucker for it, here is an alternative ending to this perfect day for you. By going to either of these high points in Sunderland and watching the sunset. Either from Cleadon Hills or from Tunstall Hills you will get a stunning end to the day.
Well, thank you for reading this post. What do you think of it? Was there something I missed? Something you would change? Let me know in the comments below.
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Stay Safe and Happy Adventuring!
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