11 Gorgeous Ways to Decorate with String Lights

Light up the night with these savvy ways to use string lights in your outdoor space.

Decorative string lights are one of the easiest updates you can bring to your porch or backyard. Patio light strings provide a cozy place to read a book in the summer and bring extra light to the party when the fire pit runs low. Plus, patio string lights set the mood and provide a little twinkle, rather than illuminate a space for functional reasons. Consider using them in conjunction with other outdoor light sources, such as candles on a dining table or pathway lights, to help keep people sure-footed.

Decorative string lights also come in many different designs, including vintage-style Edison bulbs, sleek orbs, and even lanterns, so it's easy to find a strand (or several!) that fits your style. String lights are an inexpensive solution for giving dark patios a little extra twinkle. See all the different ways you can incorporate these fun outdoor light fixtures into your backyard.

patio furniture table couch drinks
Photo: Jacob Fox; Stylist: Joseph Wanek

How to Hang Patio String Lights

Before you can turn your backyard into a cozy oasis, you'll need to know how to hang outdoor string lights. First, look for battery-operated string lights or invest in a few extension cords if an outlet isn't within reach. Always be sure to use lights, extension cords, and other lighting equipment that is graded for outdoor use.

When you're ready to hang string lights, drill screw eyes into a post, tree, or wall. Then, use small metal carabiners to attach the string of lights to the screw eyes. This will keep the lights from slipping off a simple hook in the event of wind or storms, and protect your patio from broken bulbs.

patio with gray deck, light wooden wall, white ceiling
Jason Donnelly

Choosing Outdoor String Lights

There are dozens of varieties of outdoor string lights, so they aren't a one-size-fits-all decor item. When you're shopping for string lights, there are two main things to consider: Length and style. If you aren't sure how many strands you'll need, it's helpful to string a piece of yarn around the patio to get an exact measurement before you order anything. If you're lighting a small area, you might be able to use just one strand of long outdoor string lights. There are also many different styles, like clear bulbs, mini tin-can lights, and woven lanterns, so shop around to find a size and style that fits your space perfectly.

outdoor sitting area with patterned tile
Hector Sanchez

Create Boundaries with Lights

If your backyard doesn't have the clear boundaries that a fence or patio provides, make your own with a set of string lights. Stretched across the corners of the house, these lights line this stunning courtyard with a subtle glow and give the picnic table the feel of a sophisticated al fresco bistro. Two strands of lights hung diagonally through the center provide the space with extra light perfect for an outdoor game night.

small building next to pool
Jean Allsopp

Exterior String Lighting

Taking a dip in the pool at dusk is possible thanks to these stunning decorative hanging lights. Simple string lights draped over arbor beams set the mood for a romantic night swim. Posts on an outdoor structure provide an opportunity to create a swag patio string light pattern. One set of patio string lights is enough to get the job done without disrupting the beautiful natural surroundings.

vertical garden modern deck back patio
Adam Albright

DIY String Light Planters

If you don't have an obvious place to string your lights (like a deck post or tree branch), you can make your own. These DIY string light planters are easy to assemble, and because they're filled with concrete, they're sturdy enough to display anywhere. Plus, you can fill the top of each planter with soil and plants or flowers for a bit of added greenery.

blue house with backyard patio
Brie Williams

Outdoor Twinkle Lights

If you don't think your backyard can support decorative string lights, think again. A DIY fix or two can make it happen. These homeowners installed simple wooden posts for holding string lights on two corners of their concrete patio. The posts are perfect for holding up a set of outdoor patio lights, but they also work to display gorgeous planters and outdoor lanterns for additional lighting. Once strung and lit, this space is ready to entertain.

beige patio with rustic dinner table and modern black chairs
Edmund Barr

Outdoor Dinner Party

Make your patio table the ultimate dining escape by decorating with string lights outdoors. This al fresco space is outfitted with a single strand of string lights hung above its center. The dim lighting sets the perfect mood for enjoying late-afternoon food, drinks, and dessert. However, be sure to have additional lighting, such as outdoor sconces, available for when the sun sets and the party is just getting started.

Cathy and Garrett eating dessert on patio
Lisa Romerein

Landscape with String Lights

Like a scene from a fairy tale, this backyard dazzles with decorative outdoor lighting in the trees overhead. Complete with a comfy patio set and plenty of fluffy pillows, this seating area is made to be enjoyed from day to night with good company. Create this look by stringing several sets of patio lights from branches to your house to create the ultimate cozy backyard corner.

patio string lights furnished
Adam Albright

Create an Outdoor Room

When working with outdoor patio string lights, you don't have to go big. These scaled-down string lights provide more of a twinkle than a fully lit space. Hung casually under an arbor or in between patio walls, twinkle lights are more for decoration and help set the mood for a fun, relaxing night under the stars. These also work well for screen porches that already have a main light source.

orange outdoor sofa
Bob Stefko

Functional Outdoor Lighting

Light up the night with a canopy of large bulb lights strung above a cozy seating area. Multiple sets hung closely together give you the most light for an outdoor space that doesn't leave you in the dark when the sun goes down. Most strings of patio lights simply plug in, so installation is a "no electrician required" project. This set of patio string lights is bright enough to illuminate the entire deck so you can keep the party going even after sunset.

patio eating area with grill and pizza oven
Edmund Barr

Lights for Outdoor Entertaining

Lights strung by a pool house, she shed, or outdoor dining area can smooth the transition from indoors to out, and provide a subtle directive, pointing to where the fun is happening. While entertaining outdoors, consider stringing lights from the house to the outdoor dining table to guide guests between the spaces.

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