As we enjoy the sunshine this summer (please, weather gods), thoughts turn to sprucing up the garden. And when you buy garden sofas and new BBQs, don’t forget about outdoor lighting. The right garden lights can turn your daytime garden space into the perfect al fresco evening spot – and it doesn’t have to cost much, either.

Whether you’re looking for some atmospheric outdoor festoon lighting, or something to add a splash of colour come nightfall, garden lighting can extend the usability of your garden well into the evening.

When choosing the best outdoor lighting for your garden, think about where you want to light – it may be a pathway, or perhaps you want to light up some shrubs in a subtle way? Whatever vibe you want to create, from playful to stylish, there are garden lights for you.

How do you choose the best garden lighting? Well, if you’ve got an outdoor plug socket you can go for mains-powered lights. These are generally bright, built to last but can be on the pricier end of the scale and sometimes a bit of a faff to install.

Then we have battery-operated options. Most of these operate on a timer, so they come on at the same time every day and then stay on for eight or so hours. This means shelling out for batteries, but they can be a great budget option if you don’t have an outdoor socket and/or your garden doesn’t get much sun to fuel solar-powered lights.

That leads us to solar-powered garden lights. These clever lights have a solar panel integrated into them, and use the sun’s rays to charge themselves over the daytime, and then light themselves up when they sense natural light is fading. Although in the past solar lights have been a bit mediocre in terms of brilliance, many are now as good as hard-wired lights. Solar lights come in all designs, and the prices vary wildly – often depending on the quality and durability.

How we tested

We spent a month testing a range of garden lights – solar powered, battery operated and mains powered – to find the best outdoor lights. The products ranged from playful lights to party lights, and more practical options too. We were looking for durability. They needed to withstand the wind and rain because, alas, the UK summers demand that.

We didn’t want to be running out every time it rained to gather in our fairy lights. Brightness was also important – did the lights provide the right level of brightness for its kind? We don’t expect fairy lights to be seen from outer space, but were they bright enough to make a difference? And, of course, value for money is of paramount importance, so we factored that in too.

The best outdoor lights for 2023 are:

  • Best overall – B&Q smart garden urbane solar-powered LED lantern: £15, Diy.com
  • Best hanging lantern – Tyvek Moroccan hanging solar lanterns: £44.99, Lights4fun.co.uk
  • Best premium outdoor lighting – Bridgman Myrtle teak solar lantern: £559, Bridgman.co.uk
  • Best under £10 – Wilko clear solar ball lantern: £9, Wilko.com

B&Q smart garden urbane solar-powered LED lantern

We were thoroughly impressed by this medium-sized lantern. It casts a really decent glow for the size, and looked just as good on a table top as it did on a path or corner of our garden. Certainly not akin to a floodlight, this lantern is instead going to lend a gentle glow to your garden. While it charges through the day, we found it didn’t need full bright sun all day to get it powered up. A light sensor then switches it on automatically as the sun sets, creating a romantic, soft light. The black case would look great in pretty much any garden, and it feels robust. The flexible handle also allows you to hang it from a hook too. This lantern looked as good as new after spring downpours too.

Buy now £15.00, Diy.com

Next solar Helsinki lantern

A reasonable size for the price, we thought. The Helsinki lantern stands at 31.5cm tall, and made a subtle yet discernible difference in our garden. Certainly, it wouldn’t be one you’d want to illuminate a space – it casts a gentle glow rather than a blinding light. But it looks smart and stylish, and provided a nice warm glow in a rather otherwise-neglected nook. It’s deceptively lightweight, so you’re not going to want to put it up high in high winds, but on the floor in a sheltered place it creates a rather lovely vibe.

Buy now £30.00, Next.co.uk

Tyvek Moroccan hanging solar lanterns

As pretty as a picture, this set of three lanterns look great during the daytime as well as adding some cute decorative lighting at night. They’re made out of Tyvek on the outside, which is a water-resistant synthetic material, so although they look like paper they will weather British summers just fine. Certainly after a month of testing – and a fair amount of rainfall – our trio of lanterns still looked great. They cast a glow rather than a beam of light, but hung up on a bush or tree, they look really charming.

Buy now £44.99, Lights4fun.co.uk

Habitat solar USB mood light

The value for money on this light is hard to beat. We loved that it charges itself using a hidden solar panel, and also you can charge it via a USB cable if you want to pop it in a shady spot. At 25cm high, this globe light makes an impact too. And while you can use the remote to set it to glow white – perhaps on a table, or as a focal point in the garden – we enjoyed watching it cycle through all the colours of the rainbow. It’s fun and easy to use, and perfect for parties.

Buy now £30.00, Argos.co.uk

Canberra slatted outdoor lantern duo

We really liked this set of two lanterns, which look great sat next to one another, or dotted across our seating area. The battery-operated candles work on a timer, so they automatically come on for six hours at the same time every day. This took the hassle out of remembering to switch them on every day. They’re a great decorative light and cast a warm glow, but would we use them to light up a whole garden? No, they’re simply not up to it. But as a weather-resistant answer to the romantic glow of candles, these are really gorgeous. The outer lantern cases are also sturdy and well made, and look more premium than others we tried.

Buy now £47.99, Amazon.co.uk

B&Q Delamere crackle glass ball solar-powered string lights

If mains-powered festoons aren’t logistically possible, then these solar-powered string lights are a great alternative. The crackle-glass bulbs looked stylish when off, but when the sun fades and they automatically switch on, they created a gorgeous warm glow in our outdoor space. They’re more of a warm white than bright white, but we found they gave off a really decent luminosity for a small space. They are but eight bulbs, but they’re perfect for stringing up along a short wall, or in a pergola. And you can’t argue with that price, either.

Buy now £14.00, Diy.com

Bridgman Myrtle teak solar lantern

Admittedly, the price of this lantern isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you want the crème de la crème of outdoor lighting then look no further. These lights are made to order, and look incredible off or on. The solar panel takes two full days to charge the light, but once charged the light is quite literally brilliant.

Not only is it bright enough to light a full corner of the garden or a pathway, it’s also dimmable and has motion sensors – so if you want it can just be activated when someone’s near. Compared to others we tested, these lanterns are extremely weighty, and have four metal sheets in the corner that make it easy for them to withstand most gales. The bright light in the top of this lantern beams onto the metal plate on the bottom, and onto the metal corner sheets and reflects the light beautifully, and quite theatrically.

Buy now £559.00, Bridgman.co.uk

Sylvania Helios chroma outdoor led festoon

If you’re after something jazzier than white lights, these multicoloured festoon lights are a fun option. They’re heavy duty; suitable for professional and domestic use, and though you will need more than a thin branch to hang these from, they’re going to withstand every type of British weather you throw at them. Another thing we liked is that you can daisy chain sets together, if you have a big space to fill.

Each string has 12 bulbs – the colour of which are a vibrant red, green, blue and yellow – and a 12m overall length. We were impressed with how bright they were, and how much impact they made on our outdoor space. For a fiesta feeling, you can’t go wrong with these festoon lights.

Buy now £79.98, Screwfix.com

Wilko clear solar ball lantern

If you’ve got a smaller space you want to add a touch of sparkle to, this Wilko light does the job nicely. The clear case acts as a mirror once the light is working (it comes on automatically when it senses low light) and the light inside cycles through colours. It’s the definition of cheap and cheerful. We liked that it has a handle, so you could hang it, or have it on a table top as we did. During testing we found it charged quickly and stayed illuminated right through the evening.

Buy now £12.00, Wilko.com

4Lite festoon lighting

It’s hard to find an outdoor space that doesn’t look better at night with some festoon lights. These warm-white lights come in 10m or 20m strings, and you can run sets together to get something super long if needs be. We tested the 10m length with 10 bulbs, and found enough light was cast in a small space to light it up nicely. It’s not going to be blinding bright lights, but it was perfect for al fresco drinks outside. We could easily see each other underneath them too. They’re not as heavy duty as some festoon lights, which means they are easy to hang and don’t look too ugly when they’re not on. These festoon lights are a touch more affordable than some others on the market, but are great quality for the price.

Buy now £49.99, Screwfix.com

4lite outdoor LED solar bollard

This modern-looking bollard is ideal for illuminating paths and entryways, and even driveways. The solar panel in the top powers a bright light that lies on the underside, while the post then screws into the floor. It looks and feels high end and we were very impressed with the brilliance of the light – it rivals any similar mains-powered bollard lights, and is little faff to install. Another thing we liked was there is an optional motion sensor on it, so it will just switch on when needed. Or, of course, you can have it on all the time. We were impressed.

Buy now £78.99, Screwfix.com

The verdict: Outdoor lights

Simple but effective, the B&Q solar lantern snatched top spot. It looks premium, yet is pretty affordable. We found it was robust enough to withstand most weathers, and gave out a lovely warm glow. If you’re looking for something brighter, then the 4Lite bollard is fantastic for illuminating pathways and it looks great too.

Looking for more outdoor decor? These are the garden shops and retailers to have on your radar

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