Design Trends

The Best String Lights to Illuminate Any Gathering

The ultimate finishing touch.

By Isabelle Eyman
String lights hung from trees outdoors over dining table.

My favorite restaurants all have a few things in common. Excellent, innovative dishes (duh), kind and knowledgeable servers, and gorgeous, intimate lighting. I call it the trifecta of dining out, and while each holds its own importance in making an experience memorable, if a restaurant boasts twinkling string lights on the patio, I’m immediately sold. The soft glow aligns perfectly with my romanticize-your-life approach to everyday moments. With the mood lighting set, the evening suddenly feels like a party filled with all of your closest friends, even if the surrounding diners are simply strangers eating alongside you. That’s the power of the best string lights.

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

Best string lights strung from trees above outdoor dining table.
Image by Michelle Nash

The Best String Lights

Maybe you think it’s silly or perhaps you agree, but I know I’m not alone in being charmed by the influence of string lights. The vibe is festive and relaxed, inviting and elegant. But of course, the best string lights offer more than appearance alone. Because they’re most often displayed outdoors, they have to stand up to the elements. Rain, wind, and a far enough fall onto a concrete patio will all do serious damage. What’s more, we want the best string lights to illuminate our backyard dinners for the months to come. (Summer’s not over yet, y’all!)

If you’re shopping for the best string lights too, keep reading for our picks. Ahead, discover the best options for every occasion, come rain or shine.

Every product is curated with care by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether gifted or purchased ourselves. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Best Overall: Brightech Ambience Globe LED Outdoor String Lights

We love that these globe lights bridge the gap between a modern appeal and a vintage aesthetic. Not only are they easy to install (as opposed to some of the IKEA options we researched—no surprise there), but they also withstand nearly any weather condition, with reviewers noting that the string, with the bulbs removed, even stood up to hurricane winds. (“60 mph wind gusts!”) If you’re looking for string lights that are as durable as they are stylish—and affordable—make these your pick.

What We Love:

  • Stylish string lights stand up to inclement weather.
  • Sustainable packaging features little plastic.

What We Don’t:

  • Bulbs appear brighter than expected given the “soft white” description.
  • Bulb type: LED
  • Number of sockets: 12
  • String length: 26′
  • Connectable: Yes

Best Budget: Room Essentials™ Outdoor String Lights

It’s a given: Target will always and forever be our go-to resource for affordable, chic home décor. And when it comes to the best string lights, it only makes sense that the popular retailer would supply a budget-friendly option. These indoor/outdoor lights offer a soft, warm glow for any space and come in four colorways to help you create a customized experience. I purchased the Discovery Green light strands for my back patio and love their rustic, yet artful appeal. Because they’re less expensive than other options, be sure to handle these carefully. They can be fragile and easy to break.

What We Love:

  • Comes in four colorways (though the Mint Green is currently out of stock).

What We Don’t:

  • Because the lights are inexpensive, don’t expect the same level of durability as other more expensive options.
  • Cords tangle easily.
  • Bulb type: Incandescent
  • Number of sockets: 20
  • String length: 16.8′
  • Connectable: Yes

Best Color Lights: Terrain Stargazer Garden Lights Color Story Bulbs

Anthropologie’s décor subsidiary, Terrain is known for being the aesthetic darling of the home design world. As such, the pieces are often whimsical, with their own idiosyncrasies to add a touch of character to any space. It comes as no surprise that they’d offer a bright, nature-inspired set of lights to color the outside of your home. These bulbs are for those who want something a little unexpected and to explore a departure from string lights’ typical white or yellow-tinted glow. Bonus: When the temps drop in the early winter, you can take these inside to add a festive touch to your holiday décor.

What We Love:

  • Indoor/outdoor lights allow for flexibility of use, helping you customize every space of your home.
  • A stylized option for incorporating color into your décor.

What We Don’t:

  • Socket strand sold separately.
  • Bulb type: LED
  • Number of sockets: 21
  • String length: 20′ (sold separately)
  • Connectable: Yes

Best Weather Resistant: Brightech Glow Heavy Duty String Lights

Durability and style collide in these weather-resistant, LED string lights. If you’re looking for dependable quality, look no further than Brightech. When you’re shopping for the best string lights, you want something that not only provides ambiance, but that makes daytime activities possible in the evening. These provide the perfect light for entertaining as well as enjoying a patio night solo—reading or enjoying a quiet post-dinner evening. As other reviewers noted, the three-foot spacing between lights is enough to keep these from feeling cluttered. Instead, they offer an airy, relaxed feel fit for any outdoor party.

What We Love:

  • High-quality, durable lights can stand up to harsh weather conditions.
  • Bright lights provide function and aesthetic appeal.

What We Don’t:

  • You can’t go wrong with these lights. We couldn’t find anything we didn’t love.
  • Bulb type: LED
  • Number of sockets: 15
  • String length: 48′
  • Connectable: Yes

Best Fairy Lights: Terrain Stargazer Waterproof Light Strand Party Pack

When you’re after a soft, delicate glow, only fairy lights will do. To clarify, fairy lights are strands made up of small lights close to one another, contrasted against other strings that may feature globe or Edison bulbs spaced farther apart. Because of their nuanced design, fairy lights are an excellent way to add a glimmery, delicate ambiance to an outdoor patio or backyard. While other options are flimsy and fragile, these waterproof, LED strands can stand up to a range of weather conditions. What’s more, they’re also battery-operated, giving you freedom and flexibility with their placement and design. I love bunching a strand into a larger Mason jar and placing it on a windowsill indoors. It gives any room a magical glow.

What We Love:

  • Battery-operated lights give you freedom of placement and design.

What We Don’t:

  • Given the delicate nature of the lights, they’re easy to tangle and can be difficult to set up.
  • Bulb type: LED
  • Number of sockets: 27
  • String length: 6.5′
  • Connectable: No

Best Solar: Pottery Barn Solar Patio Hanging String Lights

We love solar-powered string lights as a solid, energy-saving option. The Edison-style bulbs pair a vintage, nostalgic design with a sustainability mindset. To make your life easier (and your gatherings all the more streamlined), these strands are controlled by an automatic sensor, turning your lights on and off at optimal times. Hostess with the mostess? Most definitely.

What We Love:

  • Features an automatic sensor, allowing the lights to turn on automatically.
  • Lights last 5-6 hours from a full charge.
  • No outlet needed, giving you free rein of placement and design.
  • Solar-powered battery pack included.

What We Don’t:

  • Less suitable for illuminating larger areas (requires purchasing several sets).
  • Bulb type: LED
  • Number of sockets: 12
  • String length: 27′
  • Connectable: Yes