7 Ways to See Nights of Lights
It's finally that time of year again. The week before Thanksgiving where stores are already blasting holiday music, Christmas tree lots are opening, and lights are going up in the city of St. Augustine. Nights of Lights has been proclaimed one of the best light displays in the world by National Geographic—but it's not just the lights that bring people to St. Augustine. Sure, they're bright and shiny and really nice to look at, but what's next?!
Don't worry! There are tons of things to do to get a unique vantage of local light displays. Check out some of these tours to make your Nights of Lights holiday season unforgettable.
1. By Trolley Train Tour
You may be wondering who the trolley and train tours are for? Well, one answer is anybody who likes fun and anybody who is a beginner to Nights of Lights. Riding the trolleys and trains is a visitor-must, but more specifically, the trolley/train is a perfect way to view the lights for families. The entertainment is typically catered for all ages, including children looking for excitement and thrills. The trolley and train tours will give you a cruising tour around town past lit-up displays, including the Plaza de la Constitucion, the bayfront, Flagler College and the Lightner Museum, all accompanied by cheerful holiday music from their onboard speakers.
“Ding Ding Ding” goes the tour. View Nights of Lights from the comfort and character of a trolley. St. Augustine is home to two different trolley train tours that take you through downtown. Each has their own special perks. With Old Town Trolley Tours, you can enjoy some hot cider (because yes, it does get cold in the Sunshine State), homemade cookies, and seasonal tunes to sing along to. You can also see the lights through a pair of special shades that add a little more twinkle to every bulb.
Ripley's Red Train takes vacationers through Nights of Lights in style. You and your friends can jam out to Christmas music as you ride through the city, and view the lights through the lens of some spiffy glasses that brighten the display with illuminated shapes. Also, who could say no to roasted marshmallows and Christmas movies? Every Friday and Saturday Night, Ripley’s will have a Christmas Party at the departure location through December 22, 2018. These trolleys and trains sure know how to literally sweeten the deal.
2. By Water
If the twinkle in the trees puts you in a state of wonder and awe, imagine the twinkle of the city’s lights reflecting on the water. St. Augustine is fortunate to be a coastal town with the Matanzas River just steps from the light display in the Plaza de la Constitución. It’s one thing to look down Castillo Drive from the seawall at the lights, but the view from the water is truly spectacular. Water tours tend to be catered more for adults, with couples pricing and BYOB available on some boat tours. Families are still welcome though, and private tours are available.
Florida Water Tours is located just outside of downtown St. Augustine, and with tours leaving from Camachee Cove, it's easy for visitors to find parking and avoid missing the boat. For more information, or to book one of Florida Water Tours Nights of Lights Tours, please click here.
St. Augustine Eco Tours offers a special boat excursion to view St. Augustine's Nights of Lights from the water. These tours go out from the Municipal Marina at 6 p.m. every night the lights are lit. Up to 12 guests on each one-hour tour can experience the illuminated city in comfort and without the hassle of the crowds. Book a tour with St. Augustine Eco Tours Nights of Lights Tours.
3. By Private Electric Car
If the thought of finding a spot on a trolley train sounds too stressful, or you want the freedom to step out and photograph yourselves among the lights, consider a private electric car tour. These passenger vehicles are made for small groups, and can be customized to visit exactly the areas of the Nights of Lights displays that you want to see.
For those who would like a more personal vehicular experience, whether for a couple or small group, Explore Tours’ nightly tours are only $20 a person, $15 per child. This small electric vehicle will take groups around the plaza and can even make stops so vacationers can take photos. The Explore Tours car is also pet-friendly. Book a tour to see the lights in a more private setting.
Another way you can experience Nights of Lights away from the crowd is on Gold Tours Private Nights of Lights Tours. These private tours begin the night after the opening ceremony for Nights of Lights. It's an eco-friendly option and the private bus is small enough to fit into the narrow European-style roads that other tours can't reach. The tour is narrated by Peter Gold, a retired English Barrister and Judge (obviously with a perfectly classy voice for narration), and lasts 45 minutes long. Peter Gold is an experienced and licensed tour guide in St. Augustine with some pretty impressive insight, so he makes the tour worthwhile.
4. By Air
These tours aren’t for the faint of heart, but certainly with those with a heart for adventure. If you’re a thrillseeker who wants to see the twinkling lights below from the twinkling lights above, check out these Nights of Lights Tours from the sky.
Planes, trains, automobiles, and ... helicopters?! If you're eager to get off the ground and curious about how fabulous these lights look from above, then take a tour with Helicopter Tours of St. Augustine. You and two other people can get a bird's eye view of the more than 2 million lights. For an additional fee, you can even swing over and see those light displays at St. Augustine Beach!
St. Augustine Biplane Rides doesn't do a Nights of Lights tour, but they do have a Sunset Tour with a Night of Lights option available as an add on. This offers not only a stunningly beautiful view of the sky, but seeing the city lit up is a much different experience than the city at any other time of the year.
5. By the Bottle
Lights aren’t the only thing glistening in St. Augustine. Pop a bottle of bubbly and check out these Nights of Lights promotions that highlight St. Augustine’s local breweries and lounges.
Nights of Pints is a clever way to experience Nights of Lights allowing visitors to sample some of St. Augustine’s local craft beers. Purchase a Nights of Pints t-shirt and receive a free drink from Ancient City Brewing, Bog Brewing, Dog Rose Brewing, and Old Coast Ales. Even the journey between establishments offers great views, with Old Coast Ales over the Bridge of Lions, Ancient City Brewing on the Plaza, and Bog Brewing and Dog Rose Brewing beyond Flagler College and the Lightner Museum.
This bayfront cocktail bar is popular year-round, but during Nights of Lights, their atmosphere is at a different level. They have one of the most glittering displays downtown, with the added comfort of a wind barrier and outdoor heaters to keep guests comfortable (because again, yes, it does get cold in Florida) as they sip on fine wines, craft beers, and martinis.
6. By the Plate
If you’re coming in the evening, you’re bound to want to get a bite to eat. St. Augustine is renowned for its culinary scene, and fortunately for you, there are a few places tucked amongst the lights either with their own light displays, views of the water, or views of the Plaza decorated for Nights of Lights.
Situated by the bayfront and with upstairs balcony views overlooking the plaza, A1A Ale Works is a picturesque location for panoramic views of the lights. Their patio has heaters to keep you comfortable, and if that doesn't do the trick, a bowl of their Beer Cheese Soup certainly will.
This restaurant on the bayfront features a courtyard of strung lights year-round. It’s tucked among the Nights of Lights displays facing the water and just around the corner from the decked-out Plaza. After dinner, you can walk along the bayfront and admire the palm trees lighting the way.
Other deLIGHTful dining atmospheres:
- Raintree Restaurant - A star-studded outside patio with lights abounding.
7. By Foot
See the city the way its early residents would have—by simply taking a nice evening stroll. St. Augustine is a walkable city, with crossings and pedestrian-only areas offering safe routes for visitors on foot. The Plaza de la Constitución in the center of St. Augustine's historic district is the perfect starting point for exploring the lit-up wonderland of the nation's oldest city during Nights of Lights.
Not only is it a great central point in the city, offering access to pedestrian-only areas like St. George Street, but the lights on the Plaza are some of the prettiest, climbing around the branches of live oak trees and illuminating the city's Christmas tree display in the heart of the square. For more tips on exploring the city on foot, check out our Ultimate Survival Guide to St. Augustine Nights of Lights.
Not enough time to try all 7 ways? How about staying overnight!
St. Francis Inn - A bed and breakfast just a 10-minute walk from the dazzling, light-strewn plaza.
TRYP by Wyndham - Upper level rooms facing town can give visitors a glowing view.
Yes, it's true, there are many more great ways to see the lights in St. Augustine. So, if you're interested in all of your options, you should check out our guide to Nights of Lights Tours.
This article was originally written by Alex Pooler on November 15, 2013. It has been updated with current information for the 2018-19 Nights of Lights season.