Whether it’s a string of solar LEDs or a wired and wonderfully extravagant illumination, there’s something magical about outdoor lighting. It doesn’t take much effort to transform even the tiniest space and make it feel like you’re on holiday or in a fancy bar.
Unfortunately choosing outdoor lighting and garden lighting isn’t easy, especially when manufacturers are - ahem - creative with their photography. What promises to be a Disney-scale epic in photos all too often turns out to be disappointingly dim and ridiculously short-lived.
So how do you choose the best garden light for you? The first thing to think about is how you intend to power your lights. Battery-powered ones are best left for the winter, as replacing the batteries soon becomes a pain. Solar lights are free to run and if you choose wisely they can be impressively bright, but it’s important to appreciate their limits: a single, small solar panel isn’t going to produce enough juice to mimic the Blackpool Illuminations.
Solar string lights in particular are great for ambience but pretty rubbish for providing useful illumination, although solar floodlights with lots of LEDs can make effective security lights even in winter. Wired lights have the widest choice, although of course you need to plug them in or connect them to the mains.
Our pick of the top garden lights to buy today
1. SolarCentre Lumify USB Outdoor Solar Fairy Lights
Best for solar string lights
Technology: LED | Power: Solar | Waterproof: Yes | Colour: White (warm white and multi-colour available too) | Fixing: string | Length: 10m (up to 30m available)
Let’s be honest: most solar string lights are crap, with misleading prices (RRP A bajillion pounds! Now just £3.74!) and the kind of build quality pound shops would laugh at. SolarCentre lights aren’t like that. The company’s products are solidly made, designed for the British weather and, as here, often include genuinely useful features such as fast USB charging for when there simply hasn’t been enough sunshine and a power saving mode that dims the lights slightly to make them last a lot longer. The solar panel is much bigger than most - that’s a good thing - and all the connections are waterproof. The version we’re picking here is the 100 bulb, 10m model, but you can get up to 300 bulbs on a 30m cable. Make sure you choose the right LED: normal white LEDs are cool in colour like the ones in car headlights, while warm white has a more yellow tint that makes it look closer to incandescent lighting.
2. John Lewis Large Outdoor Solar LED Rattan Lantern
Best for parties
Technology: LED | Power: Solar | Waterproof: Yes | Colour: White | Fixing: N/A | Length: N/A
John Lewis offers a range of reassuringly expensive outdoor lighting including some really pretty tabletop LEDs and retro lamps, but if you fancy something a bit different from the stuff you see in supermarkets this large lantern is just the thing. It’s 69cm tall and 19.5cm deep, with a solar powered LED that isn’t replaceable but which should last for at least 20,000 hours of illumination. That’s over 800 days of continuous light, and of course it’s not going to be on constantly. At 2.5kg you don’t need to worry about it falling over, and we think it gets the balance right between being cute and being gimmicky - something that doesn’t always apply to unusual garden lights.
3. MPOW 54 LED Security Light
Best for security lighting
Amazon’s best-selling solar security light isn’t very pretty, but with 54 LEDs and eight solar panels to drive them it’s exceptionally bright - up to 1188 lumens, which is roughly equivalent to a 100W filament bulb - even when the weather isn’t brilliant. The motion sensor has a 120 degree wide angle, there are three different brightness settings and it’s waterproof to IP65. The all-in-one design means it’s simple to mount, and unlike other solar lights this one comes with a 45-day money back guarantee and an 18 month warranty. You can get no-name solar security lights for less money, but we think that’s a false economy: it’s worth spending a little more to get a security light you can rely on.
4. Blooma Absolus White LED Recessed Deck Lighting Kit
Best for decking
Technology: LED | Power: Mains | Waterproof: IP67 | Colour: White | Fixing: recessed | Length: 8.2m to first light, 1.5m between each
There are lots of solar decking lights out there, but we’ve found them to be disappointing: combining solar panel and light in the same unit isn’t very pretty and the resulting light isn’t brilliant either. We think mains lighting is a much better option for decking, and at less than £46 for ten lights and a power supply B&Q’s offering is hard to beat. It’s expandable too, with support for a further two sets of lights via extension kits. The lights are a real doddle to fit, and with 8.2m between the plug and the first light and then 1.5m between each light you’ve got plenty of flexibility for uplighting, stair lighting or both. As with any outdoor electrical products, make sure there’s an RCD between it and the plug socket to keep you safe.
5. Philips Ledino LED Outdoor Wall Light
Best for wall lighting
Technology: LED | Power: Mains (wired) | Waterproof: IP44 | Colour: Warm White | Fixing: Wall | Length: N/A
Philips makes some of the most interesting outdoor lighting around without the price tags you’ll find on designer lights, and like many of the wall lights in the range the Ledino is available as a standard light or as a motion sensor light. This is the non-sensor version, a dimmable LED light with a beam angle of 110 degrees, the equivalent of a 30W filament bulb and a 2700K colour temperature that delivers a gorgeous warm white glow. It’s a mains job so you’ll need an electrician, but the light is guaranteed for five years and it’s a typically well-built Philips product with waterproofing to IP44. Until the app-controlled Hue smart lighting range finally ventures out of doors, this’ll do nicely.