7 Ways to See Nights of Lights
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 27th Annual Nights of Lights season begins on Saturday, November 14, 2020, and continues through Sunday, January 31, 2021.
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.
“Ding Ding Ding” goes the tour. Guests can see the lights, sing Christmas carols, and experience all the spirit of the season on Old Town Trolley's Famous Nights of Lights Tour. The tour includes complimentary magical viewing glasses (which turn the lights into glittering snowflake or star shapes).
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 15, 2020, until Friday, January 29, 2021 (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 charter boat, Osprey, throughout the duration of the Nights of Lights —from November 14, 2020, to January 31, 2021. 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.
- St. Augustine Boat Tours Nights of Lights Tour
- Scenic Cruises Nights of Lights Tours
- Schooner Freedom Nights of Lights Sails
3. By Private Electric Car
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.
For those who would like a truly personal 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 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 2 million lights. For an additional fee, you can even swing over and see those light displays at St. Augustine Beach!
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.
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.
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 7 ways? How about staying overnight!
Guy Harvey Resort — If you don't consider a Florida vacation to be complete without staying on the ocean, consider the Guy Harvey Resort in St. Augustine Beach. It's just a short (and picturesque) drive over the Bridge of Lions to see all the Nights of Lights displays.
St. Francis Inn — This historic bed and breakfast is just a 10-minute walk from the dazzling, light-strewn Plaza.
TRYP by Wyndham — Upper level rooms facing town offer 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 2020-21 Nights of Lights season.