We all want our outdoor space — whether it’s an adorable city balcony or a sprawling suburban yard — to feel cozy, warm and inviting, like an extension of our home. Aside from adding some fresh outdoor furniture, if you really want to upgrade your al fresco space, you need to focus on lighting. In other words, plan for once the sun sets! Enter: string lights. “String lights make the backyard look more joyous,” says Sheva Knopfler, co-founder of Lights.com. “They automatically create a whimsical warm vibe in any space. They also help bring the eyes up, which will make the yard feel bigger if it is a small area.”
Sierra Fallon, lead designer at Rumor Designs, says, “String lighting is a great idea because they are easy to install, anyone can do it, and can cover a large expanse of space.” The lights can also subtly define conversation areas within your outdoor space. “String lights are an easy way to dress up a backyard and really anchor that entertainment zone, like over a dining setup or fire pit,” says Sarah Hart, senior designer at Brayton Interiors.
When it comes to shopping for string lights, you need to first brush up on the category’s ins and outs. Which brings us to LED lights. The longest-lasting, most energy-efficient lights to buy right now (versus old-school incandescent bulbs), LEDs are the only type of light we’ve included on this list because they’re just that good. And they come in multiple power-type formats such as plug-in, solar and battery-operated — each of which have their own pluses and minuses. “Plug-in are typically brighter, but make sure you’re close to a usable power source so that you don’t have an ugly extension cord hanging out,” says Hart. “And battery options are a great solution if you just want this temporarily for an outdoor dinner party.”
As for solar, Fallon says they tend to be better for temporary or season-long use, as “they aren’t as reliable and may dim if it’s a cloudy day or a long event. Solar is great for camping, or if there’s no access to electricity.” When considering solar you’ll also want to keep in mind the amount of sunshine your desired location gets throughout the day — if it’s a shady spot, solar lights aren’t a good fit, but if it gets all-day sun, you’re good to go.
If you want to channel a Parisian café in your outdoor space, hanging your string lights in a way that looks nonchalant — but was actually carefully planned — is key to achieving the desired look. For example, Fallon advises, “It will look best to leave a bit of slack on the line to create a more fun, casual vibe.”
Adds Knopfler, “We recommend connecting a few strands of the lights and letting them hang from different heights — from a point on your house, or a tree, to a fence post. Setting the lights up to hang from different heights will make your space feel larger. Also think about the length of the strand and how many lights you want in that configuration. Some strands could be 48 feet and only have 15 lights, while some strands will have a bulb every two feet or even less.”
There are lots of elements to consider when deciding which string lights are best for you and your outdoor space, but rest assured that once they’re hung and twinkling — turning your regular ol’ patio into a romantic piazza — the effort will have been worth it. Check out the best string lights according to experts and reviewers (and us!) below.
Shedding a dense, warm white light, this 48-foot strand of waterproof and weather-resistant Edison-style bulbs is a bestseller at Home Depot, with more than 2,500 positive reviews and 5,400 favorites. A quick way to turn your outdoor space into the most welcoming spot in your house, the plug-in strand has 24 shatterproof lights — one every two feet — and it can be connected to up to 11 additional strands.
Vintage-style with A19-shaped bulbs, this 40-foot plug-in strand features 20 bulbs that are both weather-resistant and shatterproof. “This is a great option for those looking for a traditional light bulb look, but with newer technology,” says Knopfler. “These can connect end to end for a total of 60 lights and 120 feet on one power source (included).”
One of Amazon’s most-lauded string light sets, this 15-bulb, 48-foot strand from Brightech has nearly 10,000 positive reviews and a 4.7-star rating. Featuring an Edison-style bulb every three feet, the strand can connect with eight additional strands and is a great choice for those in tough climates — the heavy duty lights are waterproof, can withstand 50 mile per hour winds, and are available in three shades of ultra-warm, warm and cooler white light.
If you’re looking to permanently install an all-weather string light scenario in your outdoor space, this set from Pottery Barn is a great option as it’s UL-listed and designed to withstand year-round weather. Available in three lengths, the plug-in string lights feature shatterproof, café-style bulbs and end-to-end connections that can be linked up to 750 feet — meaning they’ll work for even the biggest of yards.
Twinkling lights are perfect for setting some serious seasonal ambiance and this battery-operated set is an Amazon favorite, with nearly 6,000 positive reviews. The 36-foot strand includes 100 tiny, warm-light LED lights and it’s both dust- and waterproof. A big selling point is that the lights come with a set-and-forget timer (on six hours, off 18 hours) and a remote that can toggle through eight different blink modes. “Battery powered is a good option for those that don’t have electricity nearby and can’t find a good solar solution,” says Knopfler.
A sleek (and oversized) update to the standard Christmas lights, Lights.com’s Gloria set features 50 LED bulbs on a 29-foot strand. Battery-operated, the warm white lights can be used indoors, but are also weather-resistant and shatterproof making them a great option for outside, too. “Place these on a fence, wall, ceiling, or anywhere else you want to add some magic,” suggests Knopfler. They also come with a built-in six-hour timer.
“Solar is a great eco-friendly option, especially if you want to have them on every evening… or if they’re hanging further out in your yard, not close to a power source,” says Hart. Not surprisingly, Amazon’s got more than a few solar-powered string light options, including this pick from Brightech. Boasting nearly 20,000 positive reviews and a 4.5-star rating, this super-soft white light strand comes in two lengths — the 24-foot option has 12 Edison-style bulbs, while the 48-foot has 15 bulbs — and is shatterproof, weatherproof and can even endure 50-mile-per-hour winds and temps up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. The included solar panel can be installed by clamping onto a structure or staking in the ground and it has a 20,000-hour lifespan (approximately 2.5 years) and an on/off switch. A full charge takes six hours of direct sunlight and will automatically return five to six hours of light at sundown — indirect light also works as well, but will emanate a weaker glow.
Pottery Barn has a slew of solar string light options that go well beyond the standard, and that includes this chic strand of Edison-style bulbs with exposed filaments and brass bases. Sure to inject some glam into your outdoor space, the 28-foot strand has 12 bulbs and a solar panel with an on/off switch and a six-hour charge.
One of Wayfair’s best-selling solar-powered string light sets, this 20-foot strand has a whopping 30 globe-style LED bulbs and is backed by more than 1,500 positive reviews. We love that the solar panel — which needs six hours of sunlight to radiate seven to eight hours of light at sundown — has a dual-mode button that can toggle between steady light and a flashing mode. The Sol 72 Outdoor lights have bubbles embedded inside the bulbs, and in addition to warm white, they also come in bright white and blue hues.
Simple and chic, this set of LED string lights from Joss & Main would look perfect on a city rooftop and farmhouse porch alike. Featuring 10 shatterproof and weatherproof globe-style bulbs, the set’s solar panel can be clamped onto a structure or staked in the ground, and it has a built-in day/night monitor, turning on for up to eight hours at sunset after a full day of charging. Dual modality includes steady and flashing options.
Available in both white and black, this set of standing posts make hanging your string lights in an open-air space a breeze. Whether you want to stake them into the ground, drill them into the patio or slide them into weighted umbrella stands, the steel posts are adjustable up to 10 feet tall, providing the much-needed height to achieve your outdoor bistro vibe. Pottery Barn also offers a set of tabletop top posts that clamp onto your outdoor dining table, providing al fresco overhead lighting.
One of Amazon’s most highly-reviewed string light pole options, this set from Holiday Styling Store has more than 1,300 positive reviews and can be staked into the ground, thanks to its 4-inch-wide and 10-inch-deep stakes. Standing 8 feet tall, the poles are made from powder-coated, galvanized steel that is weather-resistant. Only need one pole in your space? Fear not, you can break the set up and purchase a single pole for $79.99.