The 5 best garden lights 2017

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. 

T3 Roundups are product guides where we've chosen the products based on our opinion. Usually we'll also only include a product in one of these 'best' lists if they're highly rated by users and/or appear in the best-seller lists at major retailers such as Amazon, Argos or John Lewis.

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)

Designed for UK weather
USB charging
Quality doesn’t come cheap
Control module is massive

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

It looks nice
John Lewis is posh
Light isn’t replaceable
It’s a lot for a solar LED

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

It’s bright
Really, really bright
It's hideous
Really, really hideous

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

Simple to fit
Much nicer than solar deck lights
Mains electricity isn't free
White finish won't suit everyone

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

It’s pretty
Lovely warm glow
Needs to be wired in
Pricier than some

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.