We’ve all seen breathtaking pictures on Pinterest of patios laden with string lights. These simple lights create a backyard oasis that’s everyone’s ideal summertime spot. And while string lights (also called market lighting) are great for creating subtle overhead ambiance, there are other ways to light your outdoor living spaces to even greater effect.
Here’s a look at five alternatives to string lighting that can give decks, patios, pool areas, outdoor kitchens and more the illumination needed to transform them into serene spaces for relaxing or entertaining.
1. Path Lighting
Path lighting is an excellent way to light up a dark path or walkway, making it more welcoming and navigable. It provides a soft, subtle light that allows you to see where you’re going without being too bright or jarring—enough to maintain the mood after sunset. Whether they direct you to a fire pit in the yard, a pier down by the lake or to and from your back door, path lights serve to set a tranquil mood.
Path lighting is useful where string lighting isn’t. To hang market lights, you need a pergola, trellis or some other structured feature. Path lighting stakes into the ground alongside the walking area, to cast a faint glow wherever you need sure footing.
2. Lanterns & Sconces
Lanterns and sconces are another attractive lighting style for illuminated outdoor living. Like path lighting, they’re soft and subtle to help create context after dark. The difference? They’re mounted higher—shoulder level or above—to diffuse light within your line of sight. Point them up or down to illuminate small swaths of light around structures, or attach them to pillars or posts to create depth around your outdoor living space.
Lanterns and sconces are a great alternative to string lighting because they allow for more concentrated, targeted illumination. Market lights overhang large areas like patios or decks, whereas lanterns and sconces deliver a single source of light in strategic areas.
3. Step Lights
Step lights give a dramatic effect when placed along the edge of your deck or patio. They provide nice light for evening gatherings and are great for ensuring sure-footedness anywhere there’s a transition between surface heights or materials. These lights are as much safety features as they are mood-setters!
What makes step lights such a great alternative to string lights is that they deliver a soft glow that emits from below eye level, instead of shining light down on activities from above eye level. There’s a level of ambiance and atmosphere that radiates upward with the gentle illumination cast by step lighting. What’s more, it doesn’t take many of these strategically placed lights to create a glow that exemplifies the entire space.
4. Cap and Post Lighting
Cap and post lighting is a nice way to light up the top or sides of your deck for dramatic effect. This type of outdoor lighting works best when it is on either side of your deck, and can add a nice ambiance to entertaining. It’s also incorporated right into the decking, which makes it easier to manage than string lights.
One of the main benefits of cap and post lighting is that it provides an even distribution of light. This means you won’t have any dark spots on your deck, making for a more comfortable outdoor experience than is possible with overly bright market lights. Whether you’re entertaining or relaxing after the sun goes down, cap lighting ensures enough illumination without being overpowering.
5. Solar Lighting
Less a style of light than a type, it’s nevertheless important to consider solar lighting when looking for ways to illuminate your deck. There are many superior solar lighting styles out there, and they’re often more efficient and versatile than simple string lights. Look to incorporate solar lighting into your outdoor space using all of the above fixtures: path lights, lanterns and sconces, step lights, cap and post lights, and more.
Don’t skimp on solar, either! Look for fixtures that have high-quality UV capture points, the ability to control light intensity and even the ability to integrate into a larger lighting concept on your property. You’ll find lighting opportunities that far exceed a few strings of cheap market lights.
Don’t be Afraid to Explore Lighting Concepts
It’s easy to look up Pinterest lighting ideas of your deck or patio and get excited about fairy lights and market lighting concepts. But these fads are limited in how they’re able to illuminate your time outdoors. If you truly want to bask in the comfort and ambiance of a perfectly lit outdoor space, you need to explore different light styles, fixtures and placements.
There are many alternatives to string lighting that provide illuminated outdoor living on any home or landscape. Take a look at some of these options and try them out for yourself!