Historic buildings

Things to do in Sunderland | Historic buildings

Take a trip back in time by visiting Sunderland’s historic landmarks including the world’s first electrical lighthouse, a church dating back nearly 1,400 years and a castle that’s been standing since the Roman Conquest.


St Peter's Church

Starting with the oldest building first, we lead with St. Peter’s Church. One of the UK’s first stone churches, on-site archaeological remains date it back to the 7th century, with Anglo-Saxon features, including the main tower and west wall, still standing firm to this day. Led by Benedict Biscop, a man of great learning who later became the region’s saint, he sought to bring a new level of learning and culture to the Saxon area, with this church and monastery part of his plans. Today the church sits in front of the University of Sunderland, not far from the banks of the River Wear, and only 10 minutes’ drive from our North West hotel. The site now offers a fascinating look at one of the oldest and best-preserved churches in the UK, while history fans will note that Saint Bede, considered to be the first English historian, was accepted into the monastery at a young age, further cementing the church’s place in history.


Hylton Castle

Almost as ancient is Hylton Castle – not the birthplace of a certain global hotel chain but rather a ruined stone castle built shortly after the Norman Conquest. Later built in stone and redeveloped again in the 18th century, the castle remained under the Hylton name until the family ran out of heirs in 1746. The castle is set to undergo yet another chapter in its history, as, thanks to Heritage Lottery funding, it’s going to include classrooms, a café and meeting and exhibition spaces. The castle is open 10am–4pm daily and is free to look around, including the extensive grounds.


Souter Lighthouse

Rounding out the historical tour is Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, a coastal area home to the first purpose-built electrical lighthouse in the world and, until relatively recently, to some of the best coal mining in the north east. The lighthouse warned ships off the rocky shores for over a century until it was decommissioned in 1988 with the advent of GPS technology. As you’d expect, the views are incredible from the top but the steps are steep – and there are over 70 in total! It’s free for National Trust members, but car park and entry to the lighthouse is a little over £7 for adults. The café is free to enter and comes highly recommended, with stunning views across the Magnesian cliffs below.

Souter Lighthouse

And yes, this is where the Fog on the Tyne song and story originate, should you feel like breaking into song.