Using outdoor string lighting is one of the quickest and easiest ways to illuminate any plot for nighttime dining and entertaining.
Outdoor lighting ideas come into their own at night, but this style of lighting, strung above a table or seating area, will look pretty in the daytime too. The beauty of outdoor string lights is that they can be hung from pergolas and trees, nestled in foliage, and draped from the house or a building in the backyard when you want to introduce their magical sparkle, so they’re a really versatile outdoor lighting solution.
To inspire you to decorate your space, we’ve rounded up the most attractive and simple-to-achieve outdoor string lighting ideas out there.
Boost your backyard's ambience with these outdoor string lighting ideas
'Adding a set of string lights to your patio lighting is one of the quickest ways to elevate your outdoor space,' says Beth Murton, Head of Gardens for Homes & Gardens. 'Although they work particularly well in a contemporary backyard space, they can be just as effective in a pretty cottage garden-style set-up where they can introduce a more romantic, whimsical vibe.
'If you don't have access to a power source, consider solar-powered options. The quality of these products has improved massively in recent years, and in many cases they perform just as well as electric versions.'
1. Combine with candles for an intimate party setting
Clever lighting can elevate any backyard party, turning a simple alfresco meal into a more atmospheric setting. For the best effect, look at combining a range of sources of light across different levels of the space.
String lights overhead are ideal for your main source of light in an outdoor dining area, while candles on the table are a must for that flickering effect. Candles in hurricane lanterns are a practical choice for lighting the way to the table, and can ensure there’s less chance of someone tripping over a chair after dark. For safety reasons, LED candles, such as these flameless flickering battery-operated candles from Amazon, are a smarter option as there’s no fire risk should they get knocked over during your party.
If you're a fan of traditional Edison-style bulbs, add these to your shopping list. Featuring 60 bulbs on a black wire, these are 46ft in length. They can be connected to other sets to make up to 140ft of lights. Available as a plug in or battery-powered option.
Suitable for year-round use outdoors, these classic string lights are highly rated on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.5 stars. This set has 15 hanging sockets and you can connect up to five different strands from the same power source.
Black cables and fittings are often the classic choice for string lights, but we love the contemporary vibe of this white version too. It comes with 25 bulbs (plus two spare) and you can connect three different sets together to light your entire backyard patio area.
5. Add interest by lighting backyard walls
Turn blank and uninspiring walls into a feature in their own right by hanging one or more sets of string lights. In a small patio like this with walls on two sides, the space can run the risk of feeling quite dark, so lighting will be even more essential to create a welcoming space.
If you opt for solar string lights, make sure that the solar panel is placed in a spot where it will get the maximum amount of sunlight to charge the lights during the day. In a space with high walls, such as a courtyard garden, there is likely to be a lot of shade during the day, so think carefully about where you will place it.
If you're worried about damaging the surface of your wall, you can secure your lights in place with self-adhesive hooks that can be peeled off when they are no longer needed. These Command Light Clips from Amazon are suitable for outdoor use.
6. Team string lights with a projector for an outdoor movie set-up
What could be more fun than kicking back and watching a movie outdoors under the stars? ‘String lights are an essential part of my backyard set-up for movie nights,’ says Beth Murton. ‘I was worried that having lights near our outdoor projector screen would make it difficult to view the image on the screen due to a lack of contrast, but it’s never been an issue. If anything, it just adds to the fun vibe of the whole evening.'
Add a few oversized floor cushions, some cozy blankets to snuggle up under and you’ve got the ideal way to keep kids (and adults) entertained on a summer’s evening.
Beth has been writing about homes and gardens for over 20 years, contributing to a number of leading magazines, including Real Homes, 4Homes, Period Living and Grand Designs. In 2020, Beth took on the role of launch Editor in Chief of Gardeningetc.com, a website dedicated to gardening and outdoor living. At the start of 2023, she moved to Homes & Gardens as the Head of Gardens, bringing her passion and knowledge for all things outdoors to our team.
7. Suspend string lights low above a dining table
You can turn any meal into an occasion by installing garden lighting above a dining table, but there are a few design rules you should follow for the best results.
To achieve this effect, you’ll need a generous length of lights, and you should arrange them relatively close to the tabletop so it and the lights work together to create an eye-catching feature.
Bear in mind that the rule for outdoor lighting hung above a table is the same as inside a home, even though we’re talking about string lights: they shouldn’t be so low that they block diners on opposite sides from one another’s view.
8. Wrap string lights around tree trunks
If you’re lucky enough to have mature trees in your backyard, their substantial bases are the ideal location for a pretty lighting landscape idea. Simply wind the lights around the trunks to draw attention to their lovely forms.
Check cable lengths before you buy, especially when string lights need to be used with an outlet. 'Look out for products that are designed as a system with connectable cables,' says Beth Murton. 'This will enable you to connect multiple sets of lights from a single power source so that you can easily reach the features in your backyard that you want to illuminate. The Warm White Edison Bulb Connectable Lights at Lights4Fun, for example, allow you to connect up to 160ft of lights, making this a great option for larger backyards.'
9. Follow the shape of a branch
Don’t lose the benefit of the feature trees and shrubs in your backyard after dark.
String lights wrapped around branches can draw attention to their wonderful natural shape, so they remain as focal points of a yard design instead of fading into obscurity after dusk.
If you're looking for easy-to-install, eco-friendly string lights, solar garden lighting can be a good option. They can charge up during daylight hours and shine for hours after dark.
10. Add string lights to a pergola for a cozy seating spot
String lights are great if you're looking for patio or deck lighting, especially when the space is combined with a pergola, as they can provide background lighting for a seating or dining area. The pergola also provides a convenient framework for hanging string lights.
Lights can soften the lines of the structure if it’s without plants or before they’ve had a chance to grow up and around it. The lights will also twinkle among the flowers and foliage of mature climbing plants on a pergola.
Do consider using them on other yard structures too, such as arches and arbors, so you can appreciate the verticals in the space after dark.
11. Illuminate a patio umbrella after dark
Instead of taking a patio umbrella down once the sun has disappeared from the sky, use it as a magically illuminated feature above a dining table. The structure of a sunshade is perfect for twining string lights around.
You could use a long conventional strip of string lights, but easier to set up are versions specially designed to fit the shape of a parasol.
Pick from those that are light strips or designs with LEDs or bulbs projecting from the cable. Or, as here, a combination of the latter two.
This would make a great addition to a pool lighting set-up too, creating a cozy space for evening sundowners next to the pool.
12. Team with pendant lights for a layered effect
String lights make for appealing overhead lighting on their own, but they also look great in combination with pendant lighting for the yard.
Consider this option if your plot is large or you have a long garden, as the mixture of lights will make a statement even when seen at a distance.
The pairing of string lights and pendants is also a sound choice for a large table, illuminating the top across its length and width to create the correct level of light for dining.
Draping the string lights from the lower branches can define the dining zone, and you can take advantage of the natural shade for comfort, even in the hottest part of the day. The lights will make the zone a draw at night, too.
To create a similar look, the Pacifica outdoor pendant from Serena & Lily would be a stylish choice.
13. Choose shapely string lights for added interest
If your backyard includes immature plants or the area’s compact dimensions mean you don’t have room for large specimens, there might seem less opportunity to decorate them with light.
However, small gardens can still include string lights. Choose lights that are shapely and let them create the detail young or small plants may not deliver. Battery-powered versions mean there’s no need to have an outdoor outlet either.
14. Size up for maximum impact
One of our favorite outdoor string lighting ideas is to scale up to those with large bulbs. They’ll deliver the look of a series of pendant lights above a table to create a spectacular setting after dark but they’re simple to set up and can be moved around to different locations.
They can be used over a table as a way to illuminate an outdoor table, too. If that’s the case, use poles located at either end of the table as support for the string lights.
15. Line a backyard path with string lights
Lining a pathway with string lights suspended by shepherd's hooks is a really pretty way to define the thoroughfares in your yard by night. It could work just as well as a front yard lighting option too, illuminating the pathway to the front porch or door.
The same effect could be created against fences, when decorating a garden wall, or to nestle the string lights into shrubbery or flower beds. Space the hooks evenly to create a neat finish.
How do I decorate my backyard with string lights?
There are a whole host of ways to decorate a backyard with string lights, making use of both planting, the yard’s structures, and the house.
Try dressing trees of all sizes, along with shrubs, with string lights to illuminate their shape when night has fallen. The plants don’t need to be particularly sizeable. String lights can be nestled amongst foliage with lights twinkling between the leaves. Larger trees can also be handy anchor points for long strings radiating across the yard.
You can use string lights to decorate the outside of your home too. String lights are great for ceilings, and they make enchanting front porch lighting ideas, too. They can also be attached at one end to the exterior of the house and strung across a patio for dining or entertaining.
How do you hang string lights in your backyard without trees?
To hang string lights in your backyard without trees, you can use poles in their place. The big advantage of putting these in is that you can install them exactly where you want in order to locate the string lights above a patio or other zone. And because they're easily moveable, you don't have to fix them in place.
Use timber 4x4 posts if you prefer a natural material. This may repeat one that you’ve used as part of your hardscaping in any case. Make sure the timber is pressure treated to avoid rot, decay and insect damage. Alternatively, use metal poles, which have the advantage of being slimmer and more discreet.
Bear in mind that the string lights could be hung from the house or a yard building at one end to reduce the number of poles you need.
Adding a structure like a pergola to the yard is also an option. Although this is a bigger project, it does double up as a place to grow climbers and can be used to create shade along with providing a framework for string lights, so it could be worth the investment of time and money.
There are so many ways to incorporate outdoor string lighting ideas into your backyard space. They can be hung from fences and walls, as well as the dividers between different zones of the yard, in addition to being draped on its natural features. Think about locating them in arches, pergolas and arbors, too.
Using lighting cleverly can help to make a backyard look more expensive too, so there's even more reason to add a few strings of lights to your space.
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Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.
- Beth MurtonHead of Gardens
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