A favorite annual event for for visitors and locals.
It's nearly that time of year again. The week before Thanksgiving when 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.
The 30th Annual Nights of Lights season begins on Saturday, November 18, 2023, and continues through Sunday, January 28, 2024.
1. By Trolley or 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 it's also the best way for a family to see it all in comfort and safety. Kids love seeing the lights turn into Santas or snowflakes with their magical viewing glasses and the whole family can embrace the holiday spirit, singing carols and waving at the people on the street. The trolley and train tours offer a comprehensive cruising tour around town, past the beautiful old buildings lit up with white lights — Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, the Bayfront businesses, and the Plaza de la Constitución.
3-D glasses, cookies and apple cider are traditional features of the Old Town Trolley's Nights of Lights Tour. Old Town Trolley tours operate from Sunday, November 19, 2023 through Saturday, January 27, 2024. The Old Town Trolley Tours sells full rows only, and each row hold four in the seats and one or two toddlers or babies on laps. Guests can reserve rows on their website in advance and avoid waiting in line to get tickets.
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. Ripley's Red Train Nights of Lights Tours depart from Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum every night from Sunday, November 19, 2023 until Sunday, January 28, 2024 (except Christmas Day.)
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 leave from Camachee Cove, where it's easy for visitors to find parking and avoid missing the boat. Florida Water Tours offers nightly tours aboard their boats Osprey and Island Breeze throughout the duration of the Nights of Lights —from November 18, 2023, to January 28, 2024. For more information visit Florida Water Tours here.
St. Augustine Sailing offers Nights of Lights charter adventures aboard luxury private sailing yachts, with packages that include just dessert or a full, chef-catered meal. Cruises must be booked in advance and leave from Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor and Marina, where free parking is available.
If you're looking for a more intimate tour, 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.
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 streets that other tours can't reach.
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 thrill-seeker who wants to see the twinkling lights below from the twinkling lights above, check out this 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 two million lights. For an additional fee, you can even swing over and see those light displays at St. Augustine Beach.
Well, from up high if not from the air — the St. Augustine Lighthouse offers their Lighthouse Illuminations tours for Nights of Lights. Each tour of the grounds and keepers' home lasts 90 minutes and concludes with a climb to the top of the lighthouse where one can view the millions of lights of St. Augustine from the iconic tower.
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.
This bayfront cocktail bar is popular year-round, but during Nights of Lights, their atmosphere is transformed. 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 among the lights either with their own light displays, views of the water, or views of the Plaza decorated for Nights of Lights.
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.
Celebrating 40 years of business in 2021, the Raintree offers fantastic food and wine and a gorgeous light display. Guests can enjoy relaxing on their star-studded outside patio.
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 Guide to St. Augustine Nights of Lights.
Not enough time to try all seven ways? How about staying overnight?
St. George Inn — A boutique downtown hotel with rooms in a number of different buildings, and a wine bar courtyard off St. George Street.
St. Francis Inn — This historic bed and breakfast is just a 10-minute walk from the dazzling, light-strewn Plaza.
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. Also, beginning on November 19 and continuing for most Saturdays (except the two holiday eves) the City of St. Augustine offers a Free Park and Ride Shuttle. Go here to learn more.
This article was originally written by Alex Pooler in 2013. It has been updated with current information for the 2023-24 Nights of Lights season.
As Content Editor for VisitStAugustine.com, Alex writes and edits everything from articles to business profiles to events. She likes manatees, orange juice, and getting into a hot car on a scorchingly hot Florida summer day after being in AC for hours.