Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 | Review & Tips

This post is based on a visit in October 2023. We paid for our own tickets but this post does contain AD affiliate links. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Review and Tips

Sunderland Festival of Light takes place in Mowbray Park in Sunderland City Centre on selected dates in October / November. Tickets must be booked in advance online. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Our Review 

Sunderland Festival of Light at Mowbray Park

Now I know a lot of people much prefer Sunderland Festival of Lights when they're in Roker Park but for me as a visitor, I much prefer the Mowbray Park location. Here's why: 

  • Easier to get to by public transport - Mowbray Park is across the road from Sunderland Metro Station and Sunderland Train Station and Go North East strikes aside, is easy to get to by bus

  • As a visitor, I find Mowbray Park easier to navigate. It's flatter with wider paths and it's easier to see everything without worrying it you've missed something 

  • The road closures around Roker Park used to stress me out where as there are no road closures needed for Mowbray Park and there is ample city centre parking 

Don't get me wrong, Roker Park did have it's positives (esp the lush food and drink venues and coastal walk) but I do prefer Mowbray Park. 

I was really impressed with Sunderland Festival of Light this year and it you're on the fence about going or it's been a few years, I would say go for it.

I think in previous years, this light festival has kind of been left behind in terms of production value - others in our region (although more expensive) are much more spectacular and although I always feel like Sunderland lights have been worth the couple of £ entry fee, in the past it has felt kind of amateur-ish. 

Well this year, they have really upped their game and although it's still not as big and spectacular as some of the professional light trails like Nightfall, it's still really good and worth a visit. 

At £3.30 a ticket, you really get your money's worth I feel and it's much more than just a walk through a park with some lights. 

First of all, I have to point out the shimmering walrus light installation that overlooks the famous sunderland walrus statue by the lake, a nice local touch. I really liked the lit up sunderland sign too.

Then you have 'selfie street' which is lined with various selfie and photo opportunities. This did help to bring the festival up to date a bit and I liked the interactive element. 

There are two huge light tunnels which are just gorgeous to walk through and really feel magical. 

Sunderland Festival of Light Light Tunnel

But my favourite part was definitely the magical woodland glade where there are 1000s of glowing 'mushrooms' lining the walkway. Atmospheric music is playing and as you walk through the winding paths with the shimmering lights all around you, it really feels like you're in your own Disney movie.


I kind of feel like I'd stumbled into a Sleeping Beauty and Tangled crossover universe, especially helped by spotting real life rabbits munching on some grass and squirrels running up the trees around us. This bit was just stunning and worth the ticket price alone. The kids behind us were just so excited and kept saying WOW as they walked through (to be fair, I did too). 

Then you have all the additional entertainment such as walkabout acts, silent discos, pop up theatre and fire shows (selected nights) which all really add to the atmosphere. I know some people moan about the cost but I honestly don't think Sunderland Council can be making any £ from this. The whole evening felt like such a bargain. 

You should know by now that I would say if it was a bit rubbish but that wasn't the case at all. I was really impressed. 

We visited without kids and had a lovely little walk through. There were plenty of adults there without kids, it's not an event that's just for kids. However obviously, most children will really enjoy the event and it's perfect for all ages from babies up to teens. My kids would have liked it. 

If I had my time again, I would visit late afternoon on a weekday in half term - spend a few hours enjoying Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens which is just beside Mowbray Park (it's free and there are dinosaurs inside), then book somewhere for tea and then see see the lights once it was dark. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Essential Info 

The Festival of Light takes place in Mowbray Park on the following dates: 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Dates

Tickets MUST be bought online in advance and cannot be cancelled / transferred to another date.

You do need to try and visit during your specified entry time to avoid congestion but if you are running late/early, don't worry, the staff are really lush and will still let you in if you're late (although last admission is 7:45pm so be aware of this). 

Ticket prices are as follows: 
  • Single admission: £3.30 
  • Under 2s ticket: free (you still need to book a ticket)
  • Group of 4: £11 
  • Group of 10: £27.50 
Find out more and book your tickets here:

Dogs are welcome on leads (if you're happy to bring them) and the event is accessible for wheelchairs, pushchairs and mobility scooters (more on access below). 

Address: Mowbray Park, Burdon Road. SR1 1PP. 

The park/event entrance is just beside Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. Please note, Mowbray Park closes to the public at 3pm on event days. 

It's REALLY easy to get to Mowbray Park by Metro or train (the route from Sunderland Metro Station is shown below). It's literally across the road. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Metro Station

There are several car parks in Sunderland City Centre. You can find a list of car parks here (including blue badge parking). City Centre car parks which are managed by Sunderland City Council are FREE after 3pm Mon-Fri and if you do need to pay, I find parking charges to be very reasonable when compared with other cities in the UK. 

We always park at St Mary's when visiting Sunderland City Centre. It's a large multi-story with 480 spaces, is free after 3pm (Mon-Fri), has it's own toilet and is has been awarded 'safer parking award' status. Use postcode SR1 3AH. 

St Mary's is a 10 minute (easy walk) to Mowbray Park. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Car Parking

There are toilets and baby change facilities available and plenty of helpful staff on hand if you need directions or assistance. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Event Programme 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Event Programme

Click on the image above to read it or if you can't make the text out, you can see another version here (click on the events programme). 

I love that there is a huge programme of events with something on every evening. Everything mentioned above is FREE. Activities range from a silent disco to pop up theatre, fireside stories, character appearances, LED fairies, fire shows and more. It's an excellent events programme! 

What I will say though is don't let your kids know who will be there as sometimes events need to be changes at the last minute. For example on the night of our visit, it was supposed to be Spider-Man and Elsa but instead it was Time Travelers Street Theatre. 

Then whoever they spot is just an added bonus. 

The walkabout characters really added to the event and atmosphere. I was too scared to try the Silent Disco as it was pretty early on in the evening and nobody else was there but I reckon later on it will be brill. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Slilent Disco

Sunderland Festival of Light - Fairground Rides, Merch & Stalls 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Rides

There are a couple of areas across the park with fairground rides and stalls - expect the usual prices of £2.50-£4. Cash or card are usually accepted but I would say bring cash for speed (a range of £1 coins and 50p pieces would be perfect). 

I would suggest walking around the full park first and then asking your kids to pick one or two rides to go back to once you've seen all of the lights. 

The rides are mostly for little ones - don't expect any thrill rides for teenagers. 

There are lots of merch stands inside the park with no prices displayed - they're all from the same company and sell the same things - masks, light up wants, light sabers and minecraft swords. 

Prices start at around £5 for the smallest items but for larger items expect to pay £8-£10+. 

When my kids were little I sometimes used to buy these Glow Stick Party Packs for light trails and before we visited we'd make up little necklaces or bracelets. These are ideal if you're visiting with lots of little kids. If you need to save a bit of cash, you can usually buy flashy toys/wands from Poundland too. 

I think as we approach Halloween, some kids will get dressed up to visit too which will add to the atmosphere. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Review and Tips - Merch Stalls

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Mowbray Park Playground 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Mowbray Park Playground

The playground in Mowbray Park is lovely and you're welcome to visit during the light trail. It's in excellent condition and features a range of play equipment for all ages. 

It's not the most accessible of parks though and there are no wheelchair swings/equipment - even the roundabout is not wheelchair accessible. You can read more on how accessible the playground is here. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Food & Drinks 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 Food Stalls

You are welcome to bring your own food and drinks into the park (no alcohol) or there is a food area with various stalls selling loaded chips, German sausages, ice creams, a sweet stall,  hot and cold drinks and sausages. 

If you're looking to save a bit of cash, why not use my DIY Theme Park Hot Dogs trick? 

There are picnic benches to sit on and plenty of bins too. I couldn't see any covered seating so bring a coat with a hood or umbrella if it's wet and maybe even a little personal waterproof foldable seat pad to keep your bum from getting wet. 

Prices are what you'd expect from a festival - loaded chips £7 for example. 

The cafe in Sunderland Museum was also open on the night we visited (access via their terrace by the lake), you can see their menu below. I do think the cafe was cheaper than the other food vendors. 

Credit Bennellis 

Credit Benellis

Although you can't access the inside seating and they serve from a hatch, there is outdoor seating overlooking the lake and this would be a nice place to sit and get away from the hustle and bustle of the main park I think. 

Or of course there are lots of places to eat and drink in Sunderland City Centre if you'd prefer a proper sit down meal. You can see all of our recommendations for places to eat in Sunderland City Centre in this post. 

There is a wetherspoons pub just outside of the park entrance if you're looking for something cheap and cheerful or My Delhi is just around the corner.

My personal favourite restaurant in Sunderland is Mexico 70 just across from Sunderland Empire. They make THE best tacos in the North East in my opinion. 

We stopped at The Sweet Petite which is just a 5 min walk from Mowbray Park. It's the nicest bakery and they have so many themed Halloween cakes and milkshakes on their counter. They open until 6pm on a Thurs/Fri and Sat and if you can, it's worth popping in and getting some cakes boxed up to takeaway for the weekend (bring a bag). 

Gravestone Biscoff Blondie from The Sweet Petites 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Our Tips 

I visited at dusk as we had spent the day in Sunderland and I needed to get home so couldn't wait for it to get darker but still wanted to visit so I could share some tips. I would 100% book a timeslot for when it gets dark.

If you have little kids and want to visit earlier in the evening, wait until after 28 October to visit as the clocks will have gone back so it will get darker a lot earlier in the evening. 

The sun sets at the following times:
  • 14 Oct - 6:09pm
  • 20 Oct - 5:55pm 
  • 28 Oct - 5:37pm `
Then the clocks go back...... 
  • 29 Oct - 4:35pm 
  • 3 Nov - 4:25pm 
  • 11 Nov - 4:09pm 
Dogs on leads are welcome to join you. Mowbray Park has wide paths and if it does get crowded, you could easily avoid the crowds and personally, I do feel like I would feel comfortable bringing Fozzy to this event. We spotted a few dogs and they seemed happy enough. Obvs you know your own dog and what's best for them though. 

I would say don't book your tickets yet as there is plenty of availibility. I would just keep checking every few days to check there are plenty of tickets still and if they start becoming limited (the time slots are green when there is excellent availability, orange when it's 'good' and red when 'limited'), book then.

Ideally, I would wait until a few days before you'd like to visit to check the weather and try and book a visit based on when there's going to be no wind/rain for the best experience. Although of course, if it does rain, it's not the end of the world. 

You can't book tickets or pay on the gate, they must be bought in advance online. You can buy tickets online on the day of your visit. 

You don't need to print tickets out - they just scan them on your phone. Every ticket has their own QR code and is sent as one big PDF so it's easier if everyone in your party arrives together. 

Once you're in, you can't leave the park and be re-admitted but you can stay for as long as you'd like once inside. 

I would recommend setting aside 1-2 hours for a visit depending on if you'd like to go on rides/buy food/watch some of the entertainment etc.... 

Personally, I would not rely on the walkabout character schedule and tell your kids that they might meet Spider-Man etc.... as characters can be changed. Just don't mention any characters to them and whoever they meet is an added bonus. 

Quiet hour is available on the following evenings: 

Mowbray Park is very accessible with wide surfaced paths suitable for wheelchairs, mobility scooters, pushchairs and prams. It's also pretty flat and there is seating at various locations. I would say some with limited mobility may be able to manage the walk around.

I would say the full walk around the lights is less than 1km loop and probably closer to 0.5km circular. 

The installations are accessible - the light tunnel is on a surfaced path and is wide enough for wheelchairs etc, you do need to travel move across a little bit of grass to access some of the selfie stations and fairground rides but there is temp flooring down so I think access should be ok for most. This is a good guide to access across the park. 

You don't need walking boots / wellies. Normal shoes or boots are fine. 

I couldn't see any accessible toilets and there aren't any in the park normally. Please correct me if you spot some and I will update this post. 

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens next door does have accessible toilets and they are open late on a Wednesday evening (until 7pm) and close at 5pm Mon-Fri and 4pm Saturday so if accessible toilets are important to you, I would try and plan a visit taking this into consideration. 

I would say bring both cash and card - both seem to be accepted but it's best to have both incase card machines go down / a stand doesn't have the correct change. 

Sunderland Festival of Light 2023 : Make a Day of it in Sunderland 

If you're visiting Sunderland over half term, check out our guide to what's on over October Half Term here which lists events taking place in Sunderland over this period. 

I would definitely try and team a visit to Sunderland Festival of Light with Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens next door. It's FREE to visit and well worth it.

The museum closes at 5pm on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 4pm on a Saturday. Parts of the museum open until 7pm on a Wednesday which is slightly annoying as the light trail generally runs Thurs-Sun evenings. The museum is closed on Sundays. 

However, the Festival of Light is running every day of (Sunderland) half term so you could plan a visit on Wednesday 25th October to see both in the evening (Sunderland half term is a week earlier than most). Do note that the museum is opening later on that particular day (from 1:30pm) due to filming. 

Personally, I would visit the museum and winter gardens at 2pm ish, book somewhere for an early meal in Sunderland and then visit the lights afterwards. 

I'd recommend around 2 hours to explore the museum, there are dinosaurs in the winter garden, an Elmer exhibition with sensory activities and drawing (closes one hour before museum closing time), lots of animal themed exhibitions, fossils, gems, boats and more. It's fab! 

Find out more about Sunderland Winter Gardens and Museum here. 

Just around the corner from Mowbray Park is a Laser Quest , Space themed indoor adventure golf and Clue HQ Escape Rooms

And just along the road (opposite The Sweet Petite) is Harry's Game Shack which is a gaming lounge / cafe. 

Maybe you could combine a visit with a show at Sunderland Empire?  The Rock Orchestra by Candlelight is showing on Thursday 26 October (14+). 

Comedian Jon Richardson is performing on the evening of Saturday 28 October (14+)

Or Sing-a-Long-a Encanto  is showing on the afternoon of Sunday 29 October. 

Roker is not far from the city centre and the walk along the sea front is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. If the weather is fine, you could do this before going into the centre. The walk is flat and there are plenty of places to stop for food and drinks as well as two playgrounds along the walk. 

Read our guide to the Roker-Seaham walk here: Roker-Seaham Pushchair Friendly Walk

Stay Over in Sunderland 

Holiday Inn Sunderland

Holiday Inn Sunderland only opened last year and is a beautiful city centre hotel. They are currently running a deal with rooms for 2 including breakfast, gym access and a bottle of prosecco from £59 per room. This is a bargain! If you're visiting as a couple, it's worth looking at I think. Check prices & get the deal here. 

If you're visiting with kids or kids+dog, I would recommend The Seaburn Inn at Seaburn. This beach front hotel is lovely and welcoming and dog-friendly family rooms with bunk beds for the kids are available. Check prices and book here. 

The following is our review from 2021: 

We visited Sunderland Festival of Lights on opening weekend and thought I would share some top tips for visiting alongside tips from readers. Hope you find them useful: 

Parking / Public Transport 

I've had mixed reports about parking on the sea front. Some say it's busy, other say they have managed the park no problem. In previous years we have always booked an early time slot and managed to park on the sea front in Harbour View Car Park (see further down this post for details and postcodes). Some of the streets are closed next to Roker Park but they have attendants and I believe if you are a resident or have a Blue Badge they will let you thought. 

This time, we parked at Stadium of Light Metro Car Park (postcode SR5 1JE). It is an easy 15 minute walk from Roker Park. We parked at 6:30pm and there were loads of spaces plus it was free. From the car park, cross over the bridge and then it's pretty much down one road to Roker Park. If you are travelling by public transport, remember up to three children aged 11 or under travel free for every fare paying adult on the Metro now. 

Buses seemed to be running right along the sea front as normal and bus stops weren't busy but there is no park and ride this year. 

Lots of people mention parking at Morrisons but I am reluctant to recommend as there are restrictions and a parking eye so if you do this, do so at your own risk. 

Food and Drink Options 

In Roker Park itself there is a little food village with a Greek Van, Crepe/Hot Chocolate Van and a stall selling German Sausages plus an ice cream van further around the park. The catering vans take cash or card and there is uncovered seating. Example prices: 

*Nutella Crepe £5 
*Hot Chocolate £3.50 
*Greek Wrap £7.50 
*German smoked sausage in a bun with a bottle of coke £7.50 

You can take your own picnic into the park and your own drinks too. Somebody suggested taking a flask of hot chocolate which I think is a great idea if you are on a budget. You could also take your own flask of hot dogs. There are more food stalls on the sea front near the big wheel / fun fair. 

Roker Methodist Church 

Roker Methodist Church on the corner of Roker Park has set up a stall outside serving hot dogs for the bargain price of £1 as well as a selection of drinks. They will be there every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening 5:30pm-9:30pm. Money raised will help to support the church and the work they do. You pass the church if you walk back to the Metro Station so this might be a sweetener for the kids. 

Grannie Annies 

There are several local businesses in the area but Grannie Annies seems to be the place most recommend and they are just a 2 minute walk from the park. Kids meals are £3.95, they have a sweet shop attached selling sweets for £1 and flashy toys for £4 (they are also dog friendly). 

Model Railway

There is a small model railway running next to the loos/playground in the top corner of the park (ask stewards for directions if you can't find it). This is ran by volunteers and subject to weather conditions. It is FREE but cash donations are very welcome so bring a few £ if you can. On the evening of our visit, it closed at 8pm so get there well before 8pm if you fancy it. 

Flashy Toys 

Apparently there are official and unofficial vendors in the vicinity. Official vendors are selling light up toys for £5-£7 and take cash or card. They did look spectacular but there's no denying it's pricey, especially if you have multiple kids. One tip was to buy your own flashy toys from Poundland / similar before you visit if you are on a budget. I used to like buying a tube of glow stick bracelets/necklaces to make up and wear too. 

One Way System / Finding Everything 

There is one way in and one way out of the park (entrance is the main entrance opposite the sea, exit is a little further along). The exit is next to the Helter Skelter so have a good walk around the park and make sure you see everything and head to the Helter Skelter last. 

Fairground Rides 

The Helter Skelter in the park is £3 for one turn (cash only) and if your children are under a certain height (I think it was around 1.35m - it was just a line so difficult to judge), an adult must accompany them and pay too. This means for most kids under 7, you will pay £6 for one turn on the Helter Skelter. Teens are not permitted to take younger kids on either (we tried!) has to be someone over 18. 

There is a small fairground at Cliffe Park which you can't miss as you will see the big wheel on the sea front. We didn't visit so I don't have many tips but a reader did mention the big wheel was £15 cash or card for a family ticket which they said was worth it (or £5 per adult / £4 per child). You don't need a ticket to visit the fairground. Food and drinks are also for sale here, hot dogs were £3. 

Additionally, The Dinosaur King will be visiting Cliffe Park with dinosaurs every hour on the following dates. We have seen similar before and they're great! These are free to see with no ticket required. 

Dogs are welcome 

Dogs are welcome to join you at Roker Park and there were lots of dogs there enjoying a family night out. I love that dogs are included! They don't need a ticket. Obviously it may be busy in places and it is dark so keep this in mind when deciding if it's right for your dog. 

Covid advice 

All tickets are via email, there are hand sanitising stations and different exit and entry points. We visited on a sold out Friday night and capacity has definitely been reduced. It didn't feel busy and the only time we were close to other people was as we queued for the pancake man. Nobody was wearing face coverings (including us) but it is an outdoor event that wasn't crowded. You do not need to prove your COVID/vaccination status to attend. Tickets must be booked in advance and cannot be purchased on the gate. 

Other Essential Info

There are plenty of toilets and Roker Park is accessible for pushchairs and wheelchairs. I would recommend bringing a pushchair if your little one is likely to run off as it is dark in parts of the park and although not overly crowded, there are obviously lots of people there. 


We thought the event was 'ok'. Not amazing, not terrible and worth the price we paid for tickets. It is nice for a little walk out in the evening and I love that it was dog friendly. Costs can mount up but with a bit of planning, you can save £ using some of the tips mentioned above and you don't need to spend anything when you are there. I would recommend most for families with children under 7 who still love to see magical lights. It is definitely worth a visit if you've never been before and if you live close by. 

If you have older kids and need to travel a fair distance to get there, I would probably say it's not something I would rush out to book unless you know your kids still like this kind of thing. 

The main themes are around Halloween, Dinosaurs, Classic Disney and Magic Lights. There is a mix of old and new installations this year. 

How to Buy Tickets & Prices 

 The festival will include old favourites alongside some new features this year.

As well as the festival in Roker Park, Sunderland Illuminations will run across Roker & Seaburn seafront every evening from 14 October. The festival is open from 5pm-9pm with last entry at 7:45pm. Entry times are staggered to assist with COVID guidelines. 

During Half Term, a 'Quiet Hour' will run from 4pm-5pm which is ideal for visitors looking for a quieter and more relaxed experience. 

It is essential that you pre-book your tickets for this event. No tickets will be available on the gate so please do plan ahead. Tickets are very reasonable at £3 each and under 2s go free. Group & family discounts are available for those booking with a group of more than 3 people. 

Group discounts include: 
  • £8 (in total) for a group of 3 
  • £10 (in total)  for a group of 4 
  • £12 (in total) for a group of 5
As far as I can see, there are no booking fees (yeah!) 

Tickets are on sale now. Find out more and book online here. 

Roker Park is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs and there are usually light up flashy toys for sale, refreshments available and sometimes a few fairground rides available too. It's a lovely night out. Visitors are also welcome to bring their own food and drinks/ a picnic (why not try these DIY hotdogs?

There are toilets and baby change facilities on site. 

For those who like to plan ahead, the festival usually operates a park & ride system but this year, this will not be going ahead due to reduced capacity. We have parked at Harbour View Car Park (SR6 0RQ) and walked along the seafront in the past.

Other recommended car parks include: 
  • Harbour View (postcode SR6 0ZZ)
  • Marine Walk (SR6 0PL)
  • Dykelands Road (SR6 7QE)

Travel by Metro is also an option with Seaburn or Stadium of Light Metro being around a 15 minute walk away (up to three kids aged 11 and under travel free with every fare paying adult). 

Our trip to Sunderland Illuminations first featured on my blog back in 2014. If you fancy a trip down memory lane, you can read that post here. I am sure those photos were taken with a Blackberry phone and it was typed up on my phone too! How times change. 

Tickets are on sale now. Find out more and book online here. 

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Please follow social distancing rules & Government guidelines , respect the local area. leave no trace, take litter home, park responsibly and if somewhere is busy on arrival, please consider leaving and returning at a later date. 

Always check updated opening hours / protocols with venues direct before setting off as things may have changed since this post was published. 

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Sunderland Festival of Light


1 comment

  1. How difficult is it to purchase festival of light ticket it just keeps sending me round in roundabouts


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