Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens contains a wide range of collections which are of local, regional and national importance. These have been growing since early in the 19th century, and are still expanding. Particular strengths are local history, including shipbuilding and coal mining, natural history, geology, glass and pottery made on Wearside, 19th- and 20th-century art, works by L. S. Lowry, archaeology and ethnography. Highlights of the collection on display include the largest collection of Sunderland lustreware pottery in the world, the Londonderry glass table service (made on Wearside in the 1820s) and a very rare fossil Gliding Reptile (Coelurosauravus) which is 250 million years old.
The Winter Gardens houses an excellent botanical collection of over 2,000 plants and trees, displayed to their full splendour in naturalistic settings under a single-span 30 metre dome. For the gardener or botanist there are many fine examples of the world's most interesting and exotic plants, such as the primitive plants displayed around 'Fern Gully' which include Tree Ferns, Cycads, giant horsetails, and Michella figo, a relative of the Magnolias. Visitors can see growing examples of many important plants from around the world, such as tea, coffee, sugar, citrus fruits, date palms, bananas, pineapple, mango, the vanilla orchid and gingers, as well as a number of plants that are used to make important medicines.