Best solar lights 2021: energy-saving outdoor illumination

The best solar lights harness the sun's power to add night-time illumination to the garden; discover energy-saving wall lights, lanterns and string lights

Best solar lights: solar ground lights with a flickering flame effect in a flower bed
(Image credit: Argos)

With the best solar lights, you can turn your garden into a chic evening chillout zone. Whether it's for night-time dining or garden parties, a quality set of solar lights can make all the difference. Now a firm favourite with every eco-conscious garden designer, solar lights work by using energy from the sunlight to charge a battery. When the sun goes down, the lights respond – usually automatically – by switching on. Pretty smart, right?

We've separated the wheat from the chaff, locating the very best solar lights to cover your budget and criteria. As you peruse the products in our guide, pay attention to some of the handy specs we've outlined, including dimensions, bulb colour and run time. This way, you can find just the right thing, be that a flickering amber option, a warm white number or an uber-bright LED light. 

Oh, and if you're keen to consider other lighting options too, you might want to check out our guide on the best outdoor lights. Still a little stuck on styling your garden space? Get your creative juices flowing with our outdoor lighting ideas.

The best solar lights 

Solar String Lights Garden, 24 Ft 30 Crystal Balls

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

1. Solar Crystal Ball String Lights

Best solar string lights: ideal for garden parties and atmospheric lighting

Length: 24ft
Battery included?: No
Bulb colour: Warm white
Run time when fully charged: 8 hours (at least)
Reasons to buy
+Super bright+Waterproof+Different modes+Great price point
Reasons to avoid
-Battery not included

These festoon-style solar light bulbs are about as swanky as they come. Oh, and the 24-foot garland of 30 crystal balls is perfect for display high above dining and seating areas, whether on a pergola or in a luscious green canopy. Waterproofed and designed to emit a warm white light, these are a more energy-efficient choice of solar string lights. 

Did we mention the lighting modes? There's eight of them – yep, you heard us correct. No doubt you'll be testing this out as soon as they arrive. Sparkle, waves, gradual, flash, twinkle and much more. Taking only six to eight hours for a full charge, they can run for up to 20 hours dependent on the setting you select. A little annoyingly, the bulbs are non-replaceable, so no DIY, please. As far as mood lighting goes, they are pretty special. Entertaining guests with these spotted around the space is a surefire way to impress.

Lights4fun Set of 2 Rattan Solar Powered LED Outdoor Garden Lanterns

(Image credit: Amazon)

2. Lights4fun Set of 2 Rattan Solar Powered LED Outdoor Garden Lanterns

Best solar lanterns: create an intimate dining experience with the warm glow of these table lights

Dimensions: H15 x W16cm (small); H25 x W16.5cm (tall)
Battery included?: Yes
Bulb colour: Flickering amber
Run time when fully charged: 8 hours
Reasons to buy
+Imitates a real flame+Round and gorgeous design+Can be hung from above or displayed on surfaces
Reasons to avoid
-Not the cheapest

Rattan is a trend that isn’t going away in a hurry, and these lanterns are sure to bring the feeling of summer to your surroundings. The flickering amber bulbs imitate a real golden flame, making these a great alternative to candles on an outdoor dining table or even a small coffee table (especially if kids are about). You can even hang these from up high using the built-in handle. Sturdy, well designed and modern to boot, they can brighten up dinner time (or cocktail hour) in an instant. 

As for functionality, these are an absolute breeze to use: simply take them out of the box and switch them on. Perfect as a decorative addition to your outdoor furniture, they charge during the day before illuminating automatically at sundown, making for a gorgeous ambient glow. Plus, in the spring and summer months, you can expect a good eight hours' worth of light from these bad boys. Oh, and because they're imitations, you needn't hassle over matches or messy wax spillages.

Ranex Solar LED Wall Light with Motion Sensor

(Image credit: Argos )

3. Ranex Solar LED Wall Light with Motion Sensor

Best solar wall light: a practical solution for added security

Dimensions: H16 x W20 x D12cm
Battery included?: Yes
Bulb colour: White light LED
Working time when charged: Not specified
Reasons to buy
+No wiring needed+Motion sensor +Added security
Reasons to avoid
-More pricey (but worth it)

We had to include a practical number, of course, and this LED wall light is the perfect fit. The motion sensor will not only help you avoid any run-ins with the garden hose, or worse, a half-filled paddling pool, but it will also give you peace of mind around intruders. It's a sturdy, well designed – and not unsightly – number, although, granted, it's no looker. 

Thanks to its integrated solar power system, you won't need to faff around buying or changing bulbs as it will charge 'naturally' during the day, then shine in the evening if and when motion is detected. Handily, no wiring is necessary with this, and it emits a strong, white light. Respective of whether you are using auto mode or on mode, the light will stay on for about two minutes following activation or continuously. As for its resistance to foreign materials and water, it has a reasonable IP44 rating, so it should manage standard conditions. 

A solar-powered outdoor floor lamp with a wooden tripod base

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

4. Cox & Cox Indoor Outdoor Solar Tripod Floor Lamp

Best solar floor lamp: ideal for creating an outdoor living room effect

Dimensions: H146.5 x Dia.45cm
Battery included?: Charge via mains or USB
Bulb colour: Multiple
Run time when fully charged: 2-6 hours of solar charging results in 4-6 hours of usage. 4-6 hours of USB charging results in 4-20 hours of usage.
Reasons to buy
+Practical floor standing design+Statement feature
Reasons to avoid
-Not as stable in windy conditions

Floor lamps might not be your first thought when you think of planning a garden lighting scheme, but we love this Solar Tripod Floor Lamp for the way it creates an intimate outdoor living area after dark.

The white opaque shade ensures there's a subtle glow from the light, while the matt wooden tripod stand gives this design a contemporary edge. Position next to an outdoor sofa as shown here, or allow it to brighten a dark corner and create a cosy evening reading space.

The energy-saving solar-powered bulb can also be charged from the mains on an overcast day, and with a handy remote control and multiple light colours to choose from, this lamp will help you set the mood for any garden get together.

Solar Vintage Style Bulb String Lights

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

5. Solar Vintage Style Bulb String Lights

Best solar lights for trees: hang these for a unique and quirky touch

Length: 3m (light string); 2m (lead cable)
Battery included?: Yes
Bulb colour: Warm, yellowy glow
Run time when fully charged: Not specified
Reasons to buy
+Vintage style+Five different bulb styles featured+Charmingly eccentric 
Reasons to avoid
-Only seven bulbs on the chain

When it comes to lighting with a touch of luxe, these are just the ticket. By draping these across your trees, you can enhance the atmosphere in your outdoor space. Plus, thanks to the quirky design, you can show off your unique taste to visitors. A mix-and-match selection of five different bulb designs features in this seven-bulb string light set, which measures a solid three meters in length. Oh, and if your tree's a little beyond reach, the two-meter lead cable has you covered.

While these are weather tough, it is still a smart move to bring them indoors during winter months and periods of rain. Ultimately, this will increase their life. Oh, and one thing that is a little irritating about these is that the bulbs cannot be replaced. With that said, sometimes it's better that we can't tinker with our outdoor equipment – we're looking at you, dodgy DIYers. As for the bulb shapes, these range from round to fluted and teardrop designs.

Argos Home Solar 20 Festoon Warm White Light

(Image credit: Argos)

6. Solar String Festoon Lights

Best solar festoon lights: perfect for lighting smaller gardens

Length: 600cm
Battery included?: Yes
Bulb colour: White light
Run time when fully charged: Not specified
Reasons to buy
+No wiring needed+20 bulbs is the perfect amount for a small space+Good price point
Reasons to avoid
-May behave sporadically if not fully charged

The simple but cool and industrial style of these festoon solar lights can complement lots of different garden settings, whether you're decking out your outside living room or trying to add more character to your tiny balcony. These are faff-free and will be able to create the relaxed atmosphere you're looking for. 

Automatically emitting a warm white light when the sun goes down, these don't require separate batteries or wires as they rely solely on the light caught during the day. In terms of using them, we'd suggest taking them down in colder months. Again, unfortunately, the bulbs are non-replaceable. Overall, these are ideal if you want all the whimsy of a fifties American fairground and to do your bit for Mother Nature. Plus, with a cute 20 bulbs to play with, it's a no-brainer for dinky gardens.

How to buy the best solar lights

Solar lighting is a must-have for all gardens, saving you money on electricity bills by using a very renewable source of energy, dear old sunlight. They are fuss-free, usually requiring little to no installation – depending on the style of light you choose – and aesthetics-wise, there are some very beautiful designs on the market. 

Use your outdoor lighting design for practicality, security, to illuminate the best garden furniture for alfresco soirées or to highlight your flowerbed ideas. Solar lights really are a great option for low-maintenance outdoor lighting, so your options are endless.

Of course, when looking for the best solar lights, there are a few considerations worth having in mind. To help guide you in the process, we've pinpointed some key factors to think about, plus some commonly asked questions.

How's it hanging?
No, literally, how do you want to hang them? Dependent on where you wish to place your solar lights, certain options might be better suited for the job than others. For example, if you're keen to place them on the ground or a table, you'll almost certainly want to opt for the Lights4fun Set of 2 Rattan Solar Powered LED Outdoor Garden Lanterns. Conversely, these can also be hung, although for draping across trees, we'd suggest something like the Solar Vintage Style Bulb String Lights.

Glow up
Take a moment to ask yourself what sort of glow you'd like. Some options are pretty intense, like the Ranex Solar LED Wall Light with Motion Sensor, and may prove a little stark for casual use. If you're entertaining guests in the garden, ambient lighting like string lights or a festoon option will be a more relaxing choice.

How to use solar lights
The charging panel may be integrated into the lighting, but if your solar lights come with the charger on a stake, then it’s simply a case of sticking the stake in the ground where the sun hits and hanging your lights where you so wish. 

A wall light will need to be fitted, of course, but the key to ensuring that your solar lights work efficiently is to keep the sensor in direct sunlight for the stated minimum amount of time to ensure it is fully charged – usually between four to eight hours. 

How long do solar lights last?
The best solar-powered lights should remain in fine working order for at least two years, with LEDs standing the best chance of a longer lifespan. 

Do solar lights work in winter?
A good question indeed. Technically speaking, yes – at least, usually. Provided the solar panel receives sufficient sunlight during the day to power the battery, it should work. However, some of the brands advise against use during winter as either the lights work less well or the conditions reduce the product's lifespan.