Outdoor string light ideas: 10 ways to create a sparkling garden display

These outdoor string light ideas will help give your backyard an inviting glow – from twinkling fairy lights to laid-back festoons

string light ideas: in tree with hanging egg chair
(Image credit: Made and Found/Alamy Stock Photo)

Introducing outdoor string light ideas to your garden is so simple and affordable, yet will reward you with beautiful results. Here, we recommend ways to use your fancy string lights so that they look their best and work to illuminate your outside space.

Of course, there are plenty of outdoor lighting ideas that will up the ambience of a garden. But with string lights, an extra sense of va-va-voom is pretty much guaranteed. And nowadays, you're not just restricted to plain white fairy lights (although they certainly still have their place). There are all sorts of styles to play with, from delicate butterfly or starburst designs to swags of globe-like festoons.

It's not just the look of the lights themselves that you can get creative with – there are plenty of opportunities when it comes to positioning them, too. Whether you want to bring extra sparkle to a seating area or give your pathways a more magical edge, there are loads of ideas to get your outdoor string lights working their magic

10 gorgeous looks for your garden using outdoor string light ideas

To help you get inspired for your own outdoor string light ideas, we've rounded up lots of gorgeous looks. You'll be keen to turn your backyard into an enchantingly illuminated space before you know it.

1. Turn up the magic for your outdoor dining scene

sparkle lighting fairy lights around dining scene outdoors

(Image credit: Sparkle Lighting)

String lights are an absolute must for your backyard party lighting ideas, as will give any outdoor scene an extra sense of occasion. 

Consider a delicate starburst design made of metal wire, as seen here. When suspended above an alfresco dining zone, perhaps from the branches of nearby trees, they'll look nothing short of elegant. An additional string of lights can also be weaved amongst ornate serving platters, candles, and vases of blooms to bring the table to life. 

Then, all you need to add is your guests, a bottle of vino and some home-cooked food and your evening soirée is sure to be a success (although even takeaway pizzas will feel special when served in this set-up).

2. Decorate the inside of a parasol for a cozy glow

string lights and festoon lights from lights4fun in parasol

Give your parasol a glow – this one features lights from Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Speaking of outdoor string light ideas up high, how's this for an inspiring scene? As it demonstrates oh-so-beautifully, if you've already invested in a parasol, you've got the perfect canvas for some twinkling lights. 

Woven around the beams, they'll transform your seating space into a cozy sanctuary as dusk falls – the ideal setting for entertaining loved ones. Hang additional lanterns or pendants alongside the fairy lights, or even some faux foliage or flowers, for a layered and charmingly eclectic look.

Looking for more lovely ways to give your outdoor area a glow? Our patio lighting ideas feature has plenty.

3. Wrap around trees to boost the ambience

lights wrapped around tree from lights4fun

We love the tropical feel of this scene, featuring lights from Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Outdoor tree lighting ideas are a great way to bring their form and foliage to life when the evening draws in. 

One way to do so is with uplights – a commonplace solution in landscaping lighting schemes. However, we love the more laid-back look of string lights wrapped around trunks and extending out around branches. They give a real boost to this contemporary plot, for instance, especially when combined with globe-bulbed festoons overhead.

4. Keep it casual with strings of festoons

festoon lights from lights4fun by bistro and vase of flowers

These simple festoons from Lights4fun will give any outdoor scene a boost

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Even the most lacklustre of spaces can be transformed with a string or two of festoon lights. And the result will always have an air of laid-back cool, reminiscent of festivals or rooftop bars.

They're super affordable and can be strung along fences, on shepherds' hooks, or from trees. Add a vase of flowers and some pretty table linen and you've got yourself a romantic seating spot beneath the stars – even if it is tucked into a small corner beside the log store.

There are lots more festoon light ideas in our feature.

5. Or, use string lights en masse for a spectacular seating space

string lights around tree with hanging chair

These sparkling lights create a dazzling display

(Image credit: Made and Found/Alamy Stock Photo)

Now here's a scene that will certainly turn heads, whether you're out in the garden or viewing it through a window indoors. As you can see, if you want to make a big impression with your string light ideas, more is certainly more.

Woven tightly around a tree, these warm glowy lights create an enchanting backdrop that's perfectly accompanied by a hanging chair. Meanwhile, additional red lanterns add another dimension, plus color, to the scene.

A set-up like this will transport you into your own fairytale – no matter your age. It'll be your new favorite spot in no time. You can find more inspiring outdoor seating ideas in our guide.

6. Prettify your planting with butterfly lights

butterfly string lights on shrub from lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Another way to create an enchanting scene in your own backyard is with the addition of butterfly string lights. Try stringing them around an evergreen shrub or perhaps a window box to boost the pretty factor of your planting at night.

If you're not sure about butterflies, then there are lots of other characterful designs available, from tiny toadstools to animals. They'll give any backyard a more playful tone, and are a lovely pick for family gardens.

7. Dot mason jars filled with lights around your patio

fairy lights in jar

Mason jars and micro lights make a decorative combo

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

If you're on the lookout for the perfect finishing touch for your patio or deck, how about adding some of these twinkling features to the scene? Battery-powered micro fairy lights and a mason jar (with lid) are all it takes to make a pretty decoration at home – make a few and you can use them to pep up your living room or bedroom, too.

For a look that's even less maintenance, consider buying a ready-made design that's solar-powered. They'll charge up from the sun by day before sparkling effortlessly into the night, without you needing to do anything. 

Don't forget there are lots more solar-powered lights available too – not just the string variety. Our best solar lights buying guide is a good place to start your search if you'd like some for your yard.

8. Match your string lights to the surroundings

colorful string lanterns above pink bistro set

These hot hues are well suited to a summertime scene

(Image credit: Spike Powell/Future)

An easy way to make a garden feel harmonious is to pick a complementary garden color scheme and stick to it. We don't just mean for your planting, but for your accessories and furniture too.

Take this example, which features a string of hot pink, red, and peach lanterns for a cheerfully tropical vibe. The theme extends to the bistro set, and even the tableware, resulting in a pulled-together style that contrasts well against the leafy backdrop.

It's a great look for an urban outdoor dining area, however if you prefer more muted tones, that would work just as well.

9. Add a nautical twist with micro lights and rope

micro rope lights from lights4fun

This rope micro light decoration from Lightsfun makes a striking alternative to more traditional string lights

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

I know we specified string lights, and you could argue this is more of a rope, but it's a design too cool to miss. And, if you're on the lookout for something a little different, it could be just right for your space.

It's entwined with a series of outdoor-suitable micro lights and looks fantastic when swagged from shepherds' hooks along a garden path, or even artfully arranged along a fence or wall.

We love the rustic and subtly nautical edge it offers – perfect for a coastal-themed plot. And of course, it will look lovely come sundown, when it emits a gentle yet welcoming glow.

10. Make a sparkling first impression

christmas lights on house exterior from lights4fun

A scene like this doesn't have to be strictly for Christmas – featuring lights from Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

If you thought decorating your front yard was just for the festive period, think again. As long as you keep it pared-down, there's no reason you can't welcome guests with twinkling lights all year, or at least for the months when the nights are longer than days.

String lights on nets are an easy way of bringing your topiary, small trees, and shrubs to life – whether they're planted in containers or straight into the ground. Simply drape them over the foliage and switch on to admire the magical look.

Of course, if you are looking for outdoor Christmas light ideas, then you can go as overboard as you want – our feature has plenty of stunning designs.

Can you use outdoor string lights in the rain?

You can leave your string lights up in the backyard even when it's raining if they are outdoor suitable. Lights have what's known as an IP rating, which stands for Ingress Protection. This basically means how well they are protected against dirt, dust, and moisture, so you'll want to check this before you buy.

The higher the number, the more protected the lights are. An IP65 rating is considered completely dust tight and water resistant (although shouldn't be submerged in water). However IP44 lights will generally withstand lighter showers.

This isn't just something to bear in mind for your outdoor string light ideas – it's worth remembering when choosing any of your garden lights. And if you're on the lookout for some different varieties, you'll find lots of good picks in our best outdoor lights buying guide.

How do you hang outdoor string lights without nails?

If you're not too keen on the idea of hammering nails into your structures or trees to support your lights, you'll be pleased to know that there are some alternative solutions.

  • One easy way to support string lights is with shepherds' hooks. Pushed into the ground at equal spacing, they'll allow you to light up the edge of a path, or the back of a flowerbed, and you can also move them around if you fancy a freshen up.
  • As we've already mentioned, trees are another useful option when it comes to hanging up your string lights. Whether you're wrapping them around branches, around the trunk, or strung in-between a few to decorate the space above a patio, the result can be stunning.
  • Likewise, wooden pergolas are also handy when it comes to securing string lights. Again, you can simply wrap them around the structure, however a few staples attached with a staple gun made especially for cables will help to keep them in place. Be sure to have them switched off and unplugged as you install them.
  • Winding string lights around decking railing is another option that will instantly give your space a boost without reaching for the tool box.
  • Finally, don't forget about net lights, which are a simple way to give small trees and shrubs a pretty glow.

sparkle lighting from cox & cox

The Indoor Outdoor Golden Cluster lights from Cox & Cox look lovely suspended from shepherds' hooks

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

More top tips for outdoor string lights

The experts at Lights4fun suggest to go big with string lights. After all, if you want to create a show-stopping look that's bound to impress, the more the merrier. However, it does depend on the finished result you want to achieve, and that goes for your color selection, too. 'Opt for a rainbow of colors or a subtle warm white,' they say. Either way, string lights are an easy way to ensure your garden is the best dressed on the street.

When it comes to placing your fairy lights, 'decorating garden structures creates an instant focal point and adds a glow to your garden,' continues Lights4fun. 'Wrap around trees and their branches, entwine through pergolas and fixtures or drape from window to wall diagonally across your space to create a sparkling display.' String lights also look lovely in a porch, or to brighten up an enclosed patio. As long as you choose outdoor-suitable ones, the options are almost endless.

If you're looking for more ways to boost the ambience of your garden, our pergola lighting ideas feature is well worth a look.

Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.