The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (2024)

Nothing sets the stage for a dreamy summer evening like a beautiful set of string lights. Hanging them across a deck, porch, pergola, or patio—or even between trees—creates the perfect glow and sets the mood, whether you're throwing a dinner party for 12 or simply enjoying the outdoors with your partner. The truth is, there's no better way to add ambient and functional lighting to an outdoor space without having to wire-in lighting.

What to Look for When Shopping for Outdoor String Lights

Available in mass retail stores or online, it's important to do your homework prior to purchasing given the wide range of string light options available. According to Tanek Hood, owner of Reynolds Lighting Design in Manahawkin, N.J., it's best to choose a kit with removable bulbs in case they burn out or break—or if you'd like to change the shape or color of the bulb at some point. "Opt for shatterproof bulbs over glass if you live in an area with unpredictable weather patterns and make sure they're long-lasting LED lights which use less energy and stay cool to the touch," says Hood.

The best string lights typically have a 16- to 18-gauge wire (the diameter of the copper within the light string) and a wire safety insulation rating of SPT1, SPT2, or SJTW. "Always buy UL listed lighting and plug them into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet which will break the electrical circuit if it becomes unbalanced," says Hood.

Never hang string lights over a pool. "They may look beautiful, but doing so can be dangerous if they were to become loose," says Hood.

Evaluate the Area You Want to Light Before You Shop

Remember to plot out the area you're illuminating before purchasing your lights. "Take a piece of cord and string it where you'd like to hang the lights," says Marie Cloud, the owner and principal designer of Indigo Pruitt Design Studio. "Don't forget to factor in for curves or dips and include enough string to reach your outlet." To hang, consider white or steel-colored hooks you can screw into your hardscape without having to drill holes.

If you don't want to use hardware that could potentially rust over time, zip ties work as well. "You can conceal them by choosing ones that match the color of your cord," suggests Cloud. If you don't have an ideal spot to string your lights to and fro, consider sticking a wood or PVC pole in a bucket or planter filled with sand, soil or cement to create anchors for your lights.

The good news is you don't need to spend a lot of money on a stylish set of lights. We asked some of the country's top interior designers for their favorites—it may be hard to believe, but the most frequently recommended set is sold at Costco!

How to Hang Outdoor String Lights, According to the Pros

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Pottery Barn Brass Solar Hanging String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (1)

These heavy-duty, commercial grade lights are UL listed to withstand tough climates—and they're solar powered so you don't have to worry about routing and hiding annoying cords. "The polished brass base gives them a more modern look compared to traditional outdoor string lights," says Amber Guyton, an interior designer at Blessed Little Bungalow.

Price at time of publish: $99

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Harbor Breeze String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (2)

The 18 Edison-style LED bulbs on these commercial-grade string lights feature shatter-resistant plastic and are UL listed for use in wet locations. "I once hung them at an al fresco dinner party under the stars and decided I liked the look so much I left them up all year long," says Jean Liu, a principal at Jean Liu Design. "They give off the perfect amount of twinkle when strung throughout my birch trees."

Price at time of publish: $49.98

West Elm Simple String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (3)

"These 10 frosted globes emit a soft, warm glow that adds a magical touch to any backyard setting," says Kristina Phillips, the founder of Kristina Phillips Interior Design. At 11 feet long, they look great suspended from a bar cart or along fencing. You can also buy a set of replacement bulbs; the company will recycle your old bulbs at any of their stores.

Price at time of publish: $58.65

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Hampton Bay Incandescent String Light

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These eight smokey glass globes come with a 10-foot cord that can be extended by plugging up to four strands together. "The glow is soft and not too bright—perfect for an evening of casual entertaining," says Cloud.

Price at time of publish: $39.97

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Feit Electric LED Filament String Light Set

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (5)

A designer favorite, these string lights come with 24 shatter-resistant LED bulbs plus two replacement bulbs. "They're perfect for mood lighting and they give everyone's skin a beautiful glow. I hang them over outdoor dining tables and between and around trees," says Shaolin Low, the founder of Studio Shaolin.

Other designers, like Evelyn Pierce Smith, the founder and owner of Evelyn Pierce Design Studio and Ariel Richardson, a lead designer at ASR Design Studio, cite the set's reasonable price and durability. "These lights hold up even through tough winters," says Richardson.

Price at time of publish: $159.99

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PLT Solutions Patio Stringer

You'll pay a bit more, but these commercial-quality lights extend out over 102 feet, so they're ideal for large patios and decks. They feature 50 sockets—FYI: the bulbs are not included—and grommets for extra wire support. "Al fresco entertaining is what separates summer from the rest of the year and these string lights are a fantastic way to add a warm glow while defining your entertainment space," says Maiya Kathryn Dacey, the owner and lead designer at Maiya Kathryn Design.

Price at time of publish: $168.22

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Terrain Stargazer Garden Lights Color Story Bulbs

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (7)

The 21 bulbs on these LED garden string lights are dipped in color and come in three ombré colorways—violet, blue, and neutral. The socket strand is sold separately. "I love that they're a step up from your basic clear glass bulb," says Elizabeth Sesser, a studio director of interiors at Kligerman Architecture & Design.

Price at time of publish: $58

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Lemontec Outdoor String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (8)

These string lights feature 15 clear 11-watt incandescent bulbs on a 48-foot-long strand made of waterproof materials and come with three replacement bulbs and a three-year warranty. "They've become a backyard staple as they create a warm and inviting mood," says Tina Ramchandani, a founderand principal interior designer at Tina Ramchandani Creative.

Price at time of publish: $29.99

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Crate & Barrel Globe Outdoor String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (9)

These string lights come with 25 clear globes on a 25-foot cord which can be joined together to create longer strands. "They're a bit fragile so be sure to handle them with care when taking them out of the box and when hanging," says Kate Marker, a principal designer and owner of Kate Marker Interiors.

Price at time of publish: $39.95

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World Market Origami Flowers String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (10)

These battery-powered string lights feature 10 pink, white, and mint origami flowers with LED light centers. They're not made for outdoor use, so they're best used for afternoon parties and brunches. "I love that they can be placed overhead or as an uplight on a tablescape," says Ashley Macuga, a principal designer at Collected Interiors.

Price at time of publish: $19.99

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Pottery Barn Outdoor LED String Lights

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These impact-resistant acrylic LED lights come in 12 foot, 24 foot, and 48 foot lengths, are linkable up to 750 feet, and can be left up year round in all types of weather. "Unlike most outdoor string lights, I love that these come in white," says Desiree Burns, the founder of Desiree Burns Interiors.

Price at time of publish: $89

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Brightech Glow Solar String Lights

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (12)

These bulbs use solar power, so you'll never have to remember to plug them in—plus their brass accents give them an extra luxe look. "String lights add a playful, whimsical touch to any space and these do a great job of illuminating any gathering," says Christine Vroom, the founder of Christine Vroom Interiors.

Price at time of publish: $79

The Best Outdoor String Lights for Ambience, According to Interior Designers (2024)

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