Best outdoor solar lights 2021: let there be light in your garden (but not any wires)

Follow the shining path to garden illumination with the best solar lights for outdoors

Included in this guide:

Atlas Solar Spotlights in use in a garden at night
(Image credit: The Solar Centre)

The best outdoor solar lights create a magical glow. Use them wisely and you can illuminate the key foliage and features of any outdoor space, highlighting the best bits and creating a cosy atmosphere for outdoor entertaining. 

The best outdoor lights aren't all solar, but the best solar lights for outdoors are impressively bright and cost absolutely nothing to run, because of course they get all their energy from the sun. The downside, of course, is that if you live somewhere like Scotland there isn't a lot of sun to go round – so you'll find your solar lighting may struggle to illuminate at all, or won't light up for long. But that doesn't mean you can't install your lights in the cooler months so they're ready to go when the sun comes back.

In our best outdoor solar lights we've got illumination from all kinds of brands, but you won't find the best Philips Hue outdoor lights here. That's because smart lights need more power than a little solar panel can provide.

If you're thinking about solar lighting as part of a larger garden upgrade, we also have guides to the best patio heaters, best cordless lawn mowers and best barbecues.

The best outdoor solar lights for gardens

Atlas Solar Spotlight in use in a gardenT3 Award

(Image credit: The Solar Centre)

1. Atlas Solar Spotlights

Best solar light for outdoors – a set of four spots with impressive brightness

Reasons to buy
+Much brighter than you'd expect+A doddle to install+They turn on automatically+Keenly priced

Buy Atlas Solar Spotlights from The Solar Centre [UK]

If you want to fit some spotlight stakes amongst the foliage, you have two choices. You could faff about with a low-voltage mains cable which would invariably require an outdoor power source which few of us have. Or you could plump for this exceptional set of four surprisingly bright solar units and install them yourself in a matter of seconds.

This writer was frankly gobsmacked at how bright these little spots were. Being of solar origin, I expected a feeble glow that illuminated a few leaves before dying out after an hour or so. Instead, they bathed the foliage in about 200 lumens of warm white light that is easily bright enough to illuminate most medium-sized trees and shrubs. The blurb says they have a reach of up to 25 metres which is possibly true in the complete blackness of Mongolia. However, in practice it’s more like five metres which is more than enough for most garden shrubbery.

The Atlas spots (also available in pairs) are equipped with tough, sealed metal bodies and waterproof cabling that simply screws together. All you have to do is mount the admittedly large 24cm x 20cm solar panel either to some patio decking or in the ground using the provided spike, and then unfurl the 4.5 metres of cable between each light and the panel, and stake the spots into the ground. The solar panel’s battery absorbs the sun’s energy during the day and as soon as its light sensor detects dusk, they switch on and stay on till well past bedtime. Very impressive and indeed one of the most effective solar products we've ever come across.

To see how this top-rated pick compares to a fierce rival, then be sure to read T3's Atlas Solar Spotlights vs Chiron Solar Colour Spotlight comparison feature.

TrueFlame Mini Solar Torch Lights on white backgroundT3 Award

2. TrueFlame Mini Solar Torch Lights

The best solar lights for outdoors

Reasons to buy
+Realistic flame effect+Solid construction+Zero maintenance

Buy the TrueFlame Mini Solar Torch Lights from The Solar Centre [UK]

Stake-style solar lights are an efficient and fuss-free way to gently illuminate a garden path or add ambience to a flower border and, for our money, this pair is one of the best we’ve ever come across.

Unlike the popular static, single LED variety, each solar-powered TrueFlame is equipped with a battalion of LEDs that flicker independently to simulate a dancing flame. The result is remarkably realistic, even from up close. And we’re not the only ones who think so since the online world is awash with rosy comments about the system in general, and not just this particular model. In fact, many owners have even taken the trouble to post videos of their new-found garden lighting nirvana.

The TrueFlames are equipped with a Li-ion battery apiece that is charged by an unobtrusive, top-mounted solar panel during the day. When dusk falls they automatically switch on and stay on for up to 10 hours. The TrueFlames measure 19cm in length and are ideal for illuminating pathways or adding a touch of exotica to your flowerbeds. The plastic housings, too, are sturdy, well designed and look swish even when off.

However, if you require something bigger and brighter, consider the single 30cm TrueFlame USB model, which has a bigger solar receptor and battery, a USB charging port for adding extra juice and three different levels of brightness. Invest in either of these models and you’ll have the best-lit garden in the neighbourhood.

T3's TrueFlame Mini Solar Powered Garden Torch Lights vs OxyLED 8 Pack Solar Lights comparison feature shows how this product compares against another strong rival.

Qedertek Solar Lantern String Lights Outdoor in use at nightT3 Award

(Image credit: Qedertek)

3. Qedertek Solar Lantern String Lights

Best solar lanterns for the garden

Reasons to buy
+Look good, cost little+Easy to use+Weather resistant
Reasons to avoid
-Lots of assembly required

This pretty garland of 30 waterproof LED lanterns can be slung from a tree, strung along the patio wall or hung from a garden fence. Each palm-sized lantern – spaced at 20cm intervals – contains a single white LED that emits a gentle warm white glow as soon as natural light begins to fade.

The Qedertek comes with eight metres of cable and a small solar panel. Just be warned that the whole lot arrives flat-packed so be prepared to spend half an hour or so assembling each lantern in turn before you get to enjoy your own mini Blackpool illuminations.

Mpow Motion Sensor Security Lights outdoor solar shown on white backgroundT3 Award

(Image credit: Mpow)

4. Mpow Motion Sensor Security Lights

Auto on and off lights for night time guidance

Reasons to buy
+Excellent security solution+Lights the way as you walk+Easy to install
Reasons to avoid
-The light is quite harsh

These four solar panel lights aren’t pretty to look at and the light they emit is quite harsh but they work brilliantly well at illuminating the path ahead. The clever thing about them is that they use sensors to detect motion and don’t stay on for more than about 30 seconds at a time unless you remain within sensor distance. This saves battery power so they can work all night if necessary – and even in areas that don’t get much sunlight to charge the internal batteries during the day.

Each module is equipped with 140 tiny LEDs that illuminate an area of about 16 square meters at a maximum angle of 270°. Rather cleverly, they turn on gradually so you’re not blinded every time you walk past.

Position them around the shed, by the pool or hot tub, or screw them to your garden fence or down the side passage and you’ll never step on a dog turd or stumble headfirst into the wheelbarrow again. These lights are an invaluable addition to any outdoor area, are a doddle to fit and amazingly cheap too.

John Lewis & Partners Rattan Solar Powered Garden Lantern on white backgroundT3 Award

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

5. John Lewis & Partners Rattan Solar Powered Garden Lantern

Add a rattan-effect table top glow to your al fresco bash

Reasons to buy
+Stylish tabletop LED lamp+Straw carry handle
Reasons to avoid
-Not very bright-Pricy

Buy this outdoor lantern from John Lewis & Partners [UK]

This stylish LED solar lamp casts a gentle soft white glow on tables and patio paving. Simply leave it in the sun for the day and, come darkness, tap the button to turn it on.

Granted the rattan-effect is more like plastic when looked at close up and it doesn’t emit enough light to read by or even see what you’re eating. But as a general lighting effect for entertaining or tarting up the garden landscape it’s really rather pleasant.

Powerbee Endurance Deluxe Solar Fairy Lights shown on white backgroundT3 Award

(Image credit: Powerbee)

6. Powerbee Endurance Deluxe Solar Fairy Lights

Best outdoor solar fairy lights

Reasons to buy
+Pleasant fairyland effect+Powerful solar panel
Reasons to avoid
-A bit trickier to install

Buy the Powerbee Endurance Deluxe Solar Fairy Lights from Powerbee [UK]

Powerbee produces a wide range of great quality outdoor solar lights but we’re especially smitten with this string of 100 white fairy lights. Where so many solar-powered lights fade during the late evening and most of winter, this package has been designed with cloudy UK weather in mind. Hence, they come with an effective solar panel that soaks up more light than others, ensuring reliable light sensor-controlled illumination every night of every day.

Simply find a clear spot to site the solar panel – it spikes into the ground – and string up your tree, fence or shed, or whatever you like. It also comes with a control box offering a range of different lighting functions, from static to flashing to chase. 

Don’t panic if your garden’s north facing or you just don’t have enough natural light because it also comes with a USB charging port to boost the internal battery.

The best garden solar lights: a bluffer's guide

With outdoor lights, even when you’re all on your lonesome, you’ll look out of the lounge window and marvel at the glow beneath the Acer Palmatum, the flickering fairy lights dancing in the breeze and the Tiki flame spike lights you spent so much hard earned on in order to recreate the ambience of your favourite Maldives holiday resort.

Solar-powered lights are a doddle to install because there’s none of that pesky cabling involved. Simply site the panel in direct sunlight – south-facing properties fair best – string the lights up or spike them into the ground and sit back and wait for the sun to go down. During the day, the solar panel absorbs light, converting it to electricity which is stored in a built-in rechargeable battery. As soon as the light begins to fade, the built-in light sensor flicks the switch and, voila, light, lots of lovely light.

We’ve rooted through the interweb and hunted down the best solar-powered options we’d love to see in our fictitious T3 garden. It's worth paying a bit more for solar lights to get ones with greater longevity – both in terms of how long they shine, and how many winters they can survive. Any one of these carefully curated products will add a little sparkle to your al fresco nightlife.

  • Garden well lit? Well why not enjoy it in one of the best hot tubs?
Derek Adams
Derek Adams

Derek (aka Delbert, Delvis, Delphinium, etc) specialises in home and outdoor wares, from coffee machines, white appliances and vacs to drones, garden gear and BBQs. He has been writing for more years than anyone can remember, starting at the legendary Time Out magazine – the original, London version. He now writes for T3.