Sunderland will be transformed into an icy winter wonderland next month as the city stages its first ever ice festival.

In the latest addition to its packed Christmas schedule, Sunderland BID has announced that a pop-up skating rink will be erected in Keel Square on 9 December for that weekend.

Along with general skating sessions there will be the opportunity for younger skaters to take to the rink alongside some of their favourite princesses.

And then, on 16 and 17 December, the square will become a centrepiece for everything festive and frozen.

Against a backdrop of impressive ice sculptures, visitors will have the chance to meet Santa Claus and take part in special letter writing workshops, before posting their Christmas wish lists through a special letterbox made entirely of ice.

And the highlight will be a live carving of Santa’s sleigh on 16 December.

Ice sculpture

There will also be screenings of popular Christmas movies and other family-based entertainment.

The ice festival is the latest addition to the Christmas programme, compiled in partnership with Sunderland City Council.

Other highlights include the BID’s Christmas Stocking Trail, accessed via the free Sunderland Experience app, which runs until 7 January.

There are seven augmented reality festive figures to find, as well as four real-life, six feet high Christmas stockings decorated by different schools and placed at various city centre businesses.

On 3 December, children and the young at heart can take part in the ever-popular Reindeer Dash at the Bridges, in support of local charities.

And on 17 December, Sunniside Gardens will play host to a pop-up food market with a Christmas twist, with stalls selling a wide variety of locally sourced dishes and produce.

Ice sculpture

Other attractions in the city include the return of the Bridges’ Christmas grotto and a return of the centre’s virtual reality experience with a new, seasonal theme and a Makers and Bakers Market featuring a range of food and gifts on 2 December.

Visitors can also enjoy one of the highlights of the festive calendar – Sunderland Empire’s celebrated pantomime, which is Beauty and the Beast this year and runs from 8 December to New Year’s Eve.

“Our Christmas programme just keeps getting bigger,” said Sharon Appleby, Chief Executive of Sunderland BID, “and the ice festival will really be at the heart of it all.

“More details will follow in the coming weeks but it’s shaping up to be a magical Christmas here in Sunderland.”

Councillor John Price, Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Member for Vibrant City added: “We’ve got a really exciting programme of activities taking place in the city centre this winter, and a pop-up skating rink is sure to be popular with families in the countdown to Christmas.

“Whether you’re looking to keep children entertained, want to enjoy some festive films, or try some delicious local food, there’s really something for everyone to enjoy so I would encourage everyone to head over to Sunderland BID’s website to learn more about what’s on.”

For more information, visit