The run-up to Christmas may be different this year – but there’s still plenty of opportunity for festive fun in Sunderland.

And that includes a seasonal search for hidden elves, reindeers and giant gifts as part of a new augmented reality event.

The Christmas in Sunderland trail will launch on 19 November and run until 3 January and, along with a number of large light installations courtesy of Sunderland City Council, there will also be seven AR characters hidden around the city.

Following on from the success of the monster trail to mark Halloween, Sunderland BID is now creating a virtual Christmas full of magical creatures.

The Sunderland Experience app will be available to download for free from Apple and Google Play stores from Thursday (19 November) or anyone who downloaded it for the Halloween event can use it again by updating it.

As an added incentive, the app will also highlight offers at city centre businesses which can be used in the run-up to the festive season.

Old favourites will also take on a new look this year, to take into account the need to socially distance.

The annual Reindeer Dash, which will support the Red Sky Foundation, will still go ahead with people being able to buy tickets online to take part and carry out the run in their own time between 1 – 24 December in their garden, in a park or even running up and down the stairs at home.

Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland BID, said that it was important to try and create as much festive cheer as possible – and continue to support local businesses.

“Everybody is in need of some fun and positivity and that’s why it was important that we created some of the magic of Christmas in a way that can still be enjoyed,” she said.

“Families can still go out and about safely and see the light installations and search for the Christmas characters, which we are sure will be as popular as the Halloween monsters were.”

Supporting the Christmas programme are the Bridges and Sunderland’s Empire Theatre.

Karen Eve, centre director at the Bridges, believes it’s important for people to embrace the Christmas spirit.

“We are doing everything we can at the centre to give people a real festive experience,” she said.

“We’re very glad to be part of the whole Christmas in Sunderland initiative and we look forward to welcoming everyone back once lockdown is over so we can help provide everything that they need for a proper festive celebration.”

Other initiative include a virtual Christmas in Sunderland Facebook group which will share activities, crafting ideas and local businesses showcasing gift options.

As part of the campaign, shoppers are also being asked to consider giving the Sunderland Gift Card – which can be bought in amounts of £5 to £500 – which can be spent across a range of hospitality, retail and experiential activities across the city.

“We wanted to encourage people to embrace the spirit of Christmas and enjoy the trail in a safe and socially distanced way,” said Sharon.

“And at the same time we would ask everyone to also support our retailers as much as they can by shopping local.”

Further information on all activities is available at the BID website at