Outdoor string light ideas - 12 easy ways to make your garden sparkle this summer

Create a magical mood on summer evenings with outdoor string lights to decorate your patio, terrace and garden greenery

If you’re looking for easy ways to give your garden a glow-up this summer, then outdoor string light ideas are the answer. With so many styles and options available, it’s never been easier to illuminate your garden, and best of all, outdoor string lights will add instant impact without costing a fortune.

Focusing on outdoor dining spaces and seating areas is the simplest way to start when it comes to garden lighting ideas. Festoon and string lights suspended overhead will illuminate the area and create a magical mood that’s lovely on summer evenings or when entertaining family and friends outdoors.

In addition to key gathering spaces, adding illumination in other areas of the garden is a fabulous way of creating extra mood and ambience. Whether stringing lights from trees and fences or lighting up summer houses and pergolas with sparkly festoon strings.

Outdoor string light ideas

While hanging festoons and string lights is a super-simple way of adding atmosphere outdoors and giving the garden a festival vibe, easy installation is another plus point. All that’s required is a couple of fixing points, which can be the side of a house or a tree, post or garden structure. While power can be supplied by an outside socket or via solar-powered string lights.

Take inspiration from our round-up of the best outdoor string light ideas, from colourful festoons and fairy lights, to sparkly strings and clusters that will compliment outdoor wall lighting ideas and bathe your outdoor space in light.

1. Suspend string lights above a patio

outdoor with string light and table festoon light

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

Pretty by day but magical at night, use string lights in your patio lighting ideas strung across a terrace to light up the space after dark. Festoon lights will give a subtle ambient glow that will provide just enough illumination for night-time dining or relaxed gatherings, without being too harsh or overly bright.

‘Festoon lights provide an easy and inexpensive way of adding magic to any outdoor space,’ says Dani Taylor, Creative and Product Director at Cox & Cox.

'If you have a large outdoor area to illuminate, decorate with connectable string lights and daisy-chain multiple sets together from a singular power source,' says Claire Bassett, Senior Product Manager at Lights4fun. 'This simple but effective design will enable you to light up any area of your garden as you can connect up to 200 metres of lights.'

'Start by wrapping the string lights around your garden trees, moving from base of the tree trunk up towards the branches. There are many accessories such as 3-way connectors which enable you to create an even glow throughout your display with ease. Zig-zag the strings of lights overhead on your decking or pergola to create a twinkly canopy to compliment the night sky.'

Buy now: Fabulous extendable globe festoon lights, £60, Cox & Cox

2. Create extra sparkle for garden parties

outdoor with table and chair and candle

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Put the focus on your garden table ideas to create atmosphere and ambience for dinner parties and outdoor gatherings. Zig-zag strings of lights above the table, using a generous amount and varying the length and height of each string to create an informal display. As with indoor dining table lighting, make sure that string lights are high enough so that they don’t block the view across the table and so that diners won’t hit their heads on them.

‘For the perfect finishing touch, adorn your outdoor space with warm white connectable festoon lights overhead,’ adds Claire. ‘Swag each string above your alfresco area and attach to surrounding trees and bushes. Add outdoor micro fairy lights, wrapping around nearby trees and surrounding foliage for an idyllic garden feature.’

3. Decorate a garden pergola

garden pergola with sofa and cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

As well as providing extra illumination outdoors, overhead lighting is a good way of drawing attention to different areas of the garden and making gathering points or seating spots more obvious to guests.

Decorate a garden pergola with strings of lights to provide subtle background lighting for any garden seating ideas. Twinkling lights will help pretty-up a plain garden structure, such as a pergola, arch or arbor, and if greenery is already established, lights can be nestled in amongst the foliage for added ambience.

4. Set the mood with low-key lighting

outdoor with sofa and cushions

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Well-lit paths, steps and boundaries are essential when it comes to safety outdoors. But for seating areas and gathering spaces where the mood is more convivial and relaxed, look to low-level lighting ideas to help create a more laidback mood.

Integrated lights into your garden fence ideas by suspending string lights along fence panels, hedges and nestled in amongst greenery. This will help to create a subtle, softly-lit backdrop for a seating area. Supplement with table top candles, lanterns and night lights if extra illumination is required after dark.

5. Double-up with extra-sparkly strings

outdoor area with sparkle light and candle

(Image credit: Sparkle Lights)

Go a little overboard if it’s a special occasion and you’re entertaining outdoors. Cluster-style string lights, doubled-up and suspended low above a dining table will twinkle extra brightly and create an enchanting atmosphere after dark.

Add an extra string of lights on the dining table, weaved in amongst candles, serving platters and glassware to make the tabletop sparkle and add an extra sense of occasion.

6. Frame a doorway with lights

outdoor with lantern and tree

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Use light strings to frame an outdoor structure, such as a porch, verandah or summer house. Suspend lights from overhead beams or rafters, loosely draping the strings in arc shapes across the width of the area, rather than pulling them taut.

When suspending lights from a wooden structure, it’s easy to secure strings by wrapping them around beams or uprights. Alternatively, screw-in hooks can be used as fixing points, strategically positioned all along the display area.

Buy now: Core Connect festoon light, £26.99, Lights4fun

7. Get the garden party started

outdoor with tree lighting and sofa

(Image credit: Iconic Lights)

Create a holiday vibe outdoors by opting for fun multi-coloured festoon lights to jazz up your patio ideas or outside deck. Perfect for parties and summer get-togethers, coloured lights will emit a warm, cosy glow and these rainbow-coloured party lights have mini hooks on the end of each bulb fitting making them super-easy to hang.

8. Decorate trees and greenery

outdoor with string light and tree lighting

(Image credit: Festive Lights)

While areas close to the house are the main consideration, the best outdoor lighting schemes take a layered approach around the garden so that you aren’t left staring out into darkness.

Positioning lighting in trees and foliage is a great way of highlighting favourite features and creating effects and shadows. Try winding string lights around the trunks of trees to draw attention to their form or along a select few branches to create a focal point. Avoid too many competing lights - less lighting in well-chosen positions looks much more discreet and effective.

9. Make a glasshouse sparkle

outdoor with glasshouse sparkle and plants

(Image credit: Sparkle Lights)

Deck out a glasshouse, conservatory or summer house with twinkling strings of festoon lights adorning the rafters and sparkling through the panes. When lit up after dark it will make a fabulous focal point, either at the end of a garden or adjoining the house and will create a welcoming glow that can be enjoyed from inside or out.

Drop festoon lights like these are a variation of standard strings, with separate drop-down bulbs suspended from a single cable giving the appearance of lots individual hanging bulbs dotted across the space, for a more luxe effect.

10. Create a courtyard canopy

house with lighting and table and chair

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Use strings of fairy lights to create a starry overhead canopy in a courtyard or walled garden area. Perfect for parties, the effect is easy to create using connectable strings of lights. Simply zig-zag the strings diagonally across the courtyard, evenly spaced apart, to fill the area and give the effect of a shimmering canopy of lights.

Joining up individual strings of lights is easy, with simple connectors on the ends of each string that screw together, until you reach the length desired. To secure the lights, use screw-in wall hooks lined-up on either side of the courtyard holding the strings in place.

11. Pretty-up a parasol

parasol lights with hanging light and tree

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Instead of taking a garden parasol down after sunset, keep it as the backdrop of your seating area by adding a sparkly set of lights. A large shade will provide shelter from the elements so that the spot feels cosier, with lights adding a welcoming glow.

Achieve the effect using a standard set of fairy lights coiled around the struts, or try specially-designed parasol lights (as here) that have separate strings to run along each strut, plus an extra hanging bulb at each end.

Buy now: Battery-operated parasol lights, £16.99, Lights4fun

12. Try an easy-up option

house with lighting and grassland

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

Suspending festoons and string lights requires several fixing points, which can be on the side of a house or outside structure, from trees or posts, garden fences and even tall hedges. If none of these are practical or you want to put lights up further away from the house, consider standalone festoon holders. Simple, sturdy metal poles that are staked into the ground for stability in strategic spots. Unlike fixed posts, they are easily moveable if you want to take lights down, move them to a different location or use them to illuminate garden path ideas.

'Alternatively, place festoon poles or shepherd’s hooks along your pathway and use connectable festoon lights, swagging each string from one pole to the next for a stylish classic display that will lead the way in,' says Claire Bassett, Senior Product Manager at Lights4fun. 'You can also adorn string lights to the side of your house, drooping each string along to create a warm atmosphere and illuminate your outdoor space after dark.'

Buy now: Festoon holder, £35, Cox & Cox

Can you leave outdoor string lights out in the rain?

Festoon lights should be waterproof in terms of rain showers and should have an IP rating over IP44. Always check the IP (Ingress Protection) rating before buying any outdoor lights. The IP rating ranks the light source by how effectively it is protected from exterior elements such as liquids or solid objects and will dictate where your lights can be installed and how much moisture or external force they can safely come into contact with.

This could include being accidentally touched or stepped on, tampered with, accidental force from tools and spades, wildlife activity, dust, dirt and wiring, in addition to rain, wind and water submersion. All of which can cause damage and malfunctioning to outside lights if they don't have the correct level of protection.

With standard garden lights such as path lights, uplights and string lights, you should aim for a minimum rating of IP44 or higher. The ‘4’ ratings will ensure your lights are protected against splashing and forceful water contact, while also protecting them from all levels of physical contact from objects. You also need to ensure that any extension cords you use for outdoor lights are rated for exterior use.

What do you use to hang string lights on a patio?

It is possible to suspend string lights from the side of a house or other outdoor structure or there may be trees or other tall supports outside that could make suitable fixing points. Metal hooks, eyes or C-clips can be attached to act as fixing points, just make sure that any hooks or clips are sturdy enough to hold the weight of lights and any support wires. Fixing points should be less than 8m apart if you’re not using support wires.

If your patio area doesn’t have any suitable fixing spots, it might be necessary to create your own. Freestanding metal support poles can be used, staked into the ground, or for a more permanent fixing, wooden posts can be cemented into the ground with hooks at the top added as anchor points. For smaller patio areas, it’s easy to make your own support posts. Just use a couple of large garden pots and cement your wooden posts in, though this isn’t suitable for larger areas where something sturdier should be used.

What special effects do string lights have?

'For a distinctive decoration choose connectable string lights with an assortment of lighting functions,' says Claire Bassett, Senior Product Manager at Lights4fun. 'Options include static, twinkle to perhaps compliment a twinkly night sky, chase and flashing so you can match your lights to any celebration! Elevate your garden lighting even more by using Twinkly lights (available at Lights4fun).

'You’ll be able to create a fantastic unique display as you can control the string lights through the use of the Twinkly smart app. Choose from a huge range of designs, colours, effects and even connect the lights to a music source and make them dance along with the beat for the ultimate garden feature.'

Lisa Fazzani
Deputy Editor

Lisa is Deputy Editor of Style at Home magazine and regularly contributes to sister title Ideal Home. She has written about interiors for more than 25 years and about pretty much every area of the home, from shopping and decorating, crafts and DIY to real home transformations and kitchen and bathroom makeovers. Homes and interiors have always been a passion and she never tires of nosying around gorgeous homes, whether on TV, online, in print or in person.