How to Transform Your Outdoor Dinners With String Lights and Lanterns


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Not to sound dramatic, but lighting is everything. Bad lighting can end a party, ruin an otherwise perfectly fine photo, and make a well-decorated room look entirely drab. And the same is true for outdoor living spaces, whether you have a giant garden or a tiny patio. Great ambient lighting makes even those unbearably hot nights on the back porch feel magical.

Fortunately, outdoor lighting is a lot easier to get right than indoor lighting. The trick is using enough light sources to set the desired mood (and highlight walkways and tripping hazards) without making it feel like a night at Yankee Stadium. Depending on your space, the solution can be as simple as hanging a set of string lights or sticking a few torches in the yard. You can even do both. Honestly, as long as you’re not trying to eat al fresco by the white-hot glow of a halogen lamp or bug zapper, pretty much anything goes.

But speaking of that white-hot glow, keep in mind that most LED lights will cast a cooler light while less energy-efficient incandescent bulbs naturally give off a warmer, more romantic glow. It’s fine to use either, or mix and match both until your space feels just right. To get you started, here are eight of our favorite easy lighting solutions for any outdoor area—no hard-wiring required.

Solar string lights: Brightech Glow String Lights

Solar technology has finally made its way to string lights and there are so many more choices available than there were just a few years go. These hanging string lights from Brightech are by far the prettiest option. Structured just like traditional industrial string lights, they feature brass sockets to instantly add warmth and style to your outdoor space—and the LED filament is warmer than a standard LED bulb. They’re pretty low maintenance too; simply position the included solar panel in a sunny spot and they’ll come on automatically at dusk.

Brightech Glow Solar Hanging String Lights

$60.00, Brightech

Shatterproof string lights: Banord Outdoor LED Lights

If bulb durability is a concern, these classic industrial-style lights are the way to go. Small LED bulbs are enclosed in weatherproof, shatterproof plastic covers to create a look that’s similar to the Edison-inspired bulbs you usually find in this type of lighting. The glow is pretty warm for LED lights, and they can be used with a dimmer (not included) if the cumulative luminance from the 17 1-watt bulb kills your ambiance. According to the manufacturer, you can safely connect at least six strands of the 51-foot lights and three strands of the 102-foot lights, though many reviewers say they have connected even more without issue.

Banord Outdoor Shatterproof LED String Lights at Amazon

$38.99.00, Amazon

Ground lights: Otdair Solar Garden Lights

It’s hard to find functional pathway lighting that doesn’t resemble an old-timely gas street lantern or (worse) a strip mall sidewalk light, so I was thrilled to find these solar globe garden lights. They’re modern, minimalist, and super low maintenance, as long as they’re placed in a somewhat sunny spot. After catching rays all day, they come on automatically at dusk and can last up to eight hours. They’re not super bright, and the LED bulbs cast a cool glow, but it works for this style and this price point—especially considering they come in a set of eight.

Otdair Solar Garden Lights

$29.99.00, Amazon

Table lamps: Fatboy Edison Outdoor Lamps

These tiny table lamps from the Dutch design brand Fatboy add instant ambiance to any outdoor space. While the output is on the cooler side, the battery-powered LED bulbs have three brightness settings, and a single charge can last up to 12 hours. They’re safe to use in wet locations, but probably shouldn’t be left outside all the time, so consider them part of your outdoor table setting. Put them out when you’re having a party or take them in and out just like you would a tray of cocktails.

Fatboy Edison Outdoor Table Lamps at Wayfair

$169.00, Wayfair

Pendant light: Fatboy Thierry Le Swinger Outdoor Lamp

This versatile pendant can be hung just about anywhere and moved just as easily. Use the attached cord to suspend it from a pergola or tree branch, or use the included adjustable ground stake to make it like a floor lamp—but for your yard! Like the table lights, this lamp has a single LED bulb and relies on a USB cord to charge, but a single charge can last up to 42 hours.

Fatboy Thierry Le Swinger Outdoor Lamp

$272.99.00, Wayfair

Garden torch: Tiki Adjustable Flame Penta Glass Torch

Nothing compares to the ambient glow of an actual fire, and a torch (or 12) can make even the most mundane backyard hang feel super festive. The real draw for me, though, is that the minimal smoke created by a torch’s wick and fuel system can help repel mosquitoes—especially if you stock up on the citronella-scented stuff. These green glass torches are a departure from the standard wicker style and add a pop of color to your outdoor space without being over the top (green is totally a neutral outside, right?). You can adjust both the intensity of the flame and the height of the pole, or skip the pole altogether and transform the glass canister into a tabletop torch.

Tiki Adjustable Flame Penta Glass Torch

$22.89.00, Amazon

Lantern: Threshold Resin Outdoor Lantern

If you’re looking for a warm glow without flames or a cord, this 18-inch outdoor lantern from Target is a great option. While it resembles natural rattan, the body (which houses a plastic flameless candle) is actually made of a weather-resistant resin. It is worth noting that the waterproof “candle” is built into the lantern and requires two C batteries, so it might not be a great option if you plan to use it every night. But for the occasional outdoor gathering, it’s a great way to give your outdoor space a warm glow—especially if you arrange a few together and mix and match the tall and round styles.

Threshold Resin Outdoor Lantern

$50.00, Target

Floating pool light: Beklabito Outdoor Floating Light

Turn any pool (even a kiddie pool) into a pool party with floating lights. This watertight glowing orb is available in five sizes, ranging from eight inches to two feet, and has a rechargeable built-in LED light. The included remote control can be used to switch between four light modes and 16 different colors. Even if you don’t have a pool, a few of these would look great (and maybe a little spooky, in a good way) arranged on a deck, patio, or yard.

Beklabito Outdoor Floating Light

$48.49.00, Wayfair

Originally Appeared on Epicurious