St. Augustine Nights of Lights Tips & Tricks

One of the biggest holiday celebrations in all of Florida is the St. Augustine Nights of Lights. This annual event takes place ever year and consists of the entire town being lit up with millions of lights. From November to January, you can see and experience this gorgeous display for free!

Of course, this makes the event quite popular and very busy to attend, especially on weekends. To fully experience the St. Augustine Nights of Lights, you will want to plan ahead. This guide will help you with everything, from figuring out a hotel to how to experience the displays.

st augustine nights of lights

Location and Atmosphere

Before getting into logistics, I want to set the scene for why this event is so magical. If you haven’t been, St. Augustine is a historical town with cobblestone streets on the waterfront. With light displays and Christmas decorations added to it, it makes the St. Augustine Nights of Lights a holiday display unlike any other.

The lights are spread out around the historic district so much so, that you would have a hard time covering it all on foot. This is in part due to the amount of decorations, but also due to the crowds. Plan for it to be very congested as you tour, especially in the main areas. It still is a fun, holiday atmosphere, but I just want to stress the crowds, and the difficulty driving and parking, to anyone visiting.

nights of lights

Ways to Enjoy Nights of Lights

There are multiple ways to experience the St. Augustine Nights of Lights during your visit. The obvious way is to simply walk around and take in the sights. If you are staying the night in a hotel within walking distance to Flagler College and the main plaza, this is definitely an easy way to do it. For further hotels and those just visiting for the evening, you are going to want to find a parking spot and not move your car in the early afternoon or take an Uber.

There are also a lot of different tours you can take too. The most popular are the trolley tours where you can ride around and get off at various stops. There are two options to choose from, either the Old Town Trolleys or the Ripley’s Red Trains. They both take similar routes through town, play Christmas music and give out refreshments. They are actually pretty affordable at less than $20 per person. However, I have heard to splurge for the fast track tickets because lines to get back on the trolley can be very long on weekends. This seems like the way to go if you don’t want to walk a lot and like jolly music.

st. augustine plaza nights of lights

You can also take a boat tour and see St. Augustine lit up from the water. You don’t get as much of a view of the lights from here, but it can be a fun way to get into the holiday spirit. Many companies offer them including Florida Water Tour and St. Augustine Eco Tours. These tours are usually around an hour a long and include a narrative guide and some refreshment. It is a uniquely Floridian Christmas experience for sure!

If you want to make your Nights of Lights experience romantic, you can even get a horse drawn carriage! This way you can ride around town with your loved one and leisurely enjoy the lights. There are options with Old Town Trolley, St. Augustine Carriage and even a wine tasting carriage tour. This is the most expensive option at around $150 for a carriage ride, but definitely the most magical!

st. augustine lights

Our Experience

In 2019, my family and I visited the weekend after Thanksgiving to experience the St. Augustine Nights of Lights. We decided to stay at The Holiday Inn St. Augustine, because I wanted to use points, and also, we were bringing our pup, Charlie. Ideally, it is better to stay somewhere right on the main street in one of the bed and breakfasts, so you can be in walking distance to the lights. These fill up fast and can get expensive, so book early!

Another thing you want to do early is eat dinner. Most restaurants do not take reservations and have long waits on these crowded weekends. We had spent the day at Castillo de San Marcos and then checking out breweries and found ourselves hungry around 7 PM. This was a mistake because all the restaurants had hour long waits by then! We eventually got into The Floridian for a lovely outdoor dinner, but it was much later than expected.

However, once we finished dinner, we had a lovely experience walking around and taking in the lights. We started at Flagler College, then spent time at the Plaza de la Constitucion and then walked along A1A for a view of the water and the town. Eventually, we got to Odd Birds Bar and stopped for a refreshing cocktail, although hot chocolate works equally as well. We also got a late-night snack at Costeau’s Waffle Bar to end the day. We had taken an Uber from the hotel and had no problem getting one back without surge pricing around 11 PM. I definitely recommend this if you are not in walking distance.

odd birds st augustine

Special Events During Nights of Lights

Throughout the season, St. Augustine hosts special events to celebrate this festive time of year. This starts with the Light-Up ceremony which usually occurs the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Once it gets dark, the countdown for flipping the switch of the lights start while the All Star Orchestra plays Christmas music. It is one of the most exciting days of the holiday season here!

Then Mid-December, the annual Regatta of Lights takes place where boats big and small are decorated and form a parade along Matanzas Bay. Whether you watch from the shore or a boat, it is a fun way to see the land and sea festively lit up. The final event of the season is the Beach Blast Off into the new year. This takes place on the St. Augustine Beach Pier on New Year’s Eve and includes live music, food and drink stands and fireworks. All of these events are free to experience and fun for the whole family!

st augustine christmas

Know Before You Go: St. Augustine Nights of Lights

If you are looking for a unique holiday experience in Florida, visiting St. Augustine for the Nights of Lights is one of the best options. The weather is usually pretty cool for Florida and everything feels so festive throughout December. If you are a local, you can experience a lot of Nights of Lights in a few hours, but those from out of town should probably plan to stay the night. It is worth it for a holiday trip like no other! Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • The St. Augustine Lights come on at 5:30 PM every day from the Saturday before Thanksgiving until the end of January.
  • The number one thing to remember is that it is extremely hard to find parking in Historic St. Augustine this time of year. If you plan to park in the area to see the lights, I would recommend doing it midday and then not moving your car until you plan to leave. Parking tends to be about $15 for the day at most places in the area.
  • It is much more preferable to take a shuttle from outside of town, take an Uber or Lyft to see the lights or stay in a hotel within walking distance.
  • Restaurants also get very crowded, so eat dinner early if you can to avoid long waits for a table. For restaurant recommendations, check out this St. Augustine food guide.
  • If you do not like crowds, it is better to come during the weekdays or during the month of January.
  • If you plan to book a tour, do it in advance since many weekends fill up.
  • Make sure to walk around the plaza, Flagler College and along the waterfront so you get a variety of views of the lights!
nights of lights guide

There are a lot of fun Christmas things to do in Florida, but Nights of Lights is one of the best! Have you experienced this annual event? For more holiday ideas, check out my Central Florida Christmas guide.

For more ideas for things to do in St. Augustine, check out my St. Augustine Bucket List on Etsy!