Last Updated on January 16, 2024 by Dr. Shannon Barrett
St. Augustine, Florida, transforms into a festive wonderland during the annual “Nights of Lights” event, captivating visitors with magical holiday lights. Celebrated as one of the world’s top 10 holiday light displays by National Geographic, this event infuses the city with holiday cheer and a spectacular atmosphere from November 18, 2023, to January 28, 2024.
- Historical Significance
- Highlights of the Event
- Best Things to Do During Nights of Lights
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- Best Ways to See the Nights of Lights
- The 6 Best Places to Eat in St. Augustine
- Parking Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Nights of Lights has a rich history rooted in the Spanish tradition of displaying a white candle in windows during Christmas, symbolizing hospitality and welcoming Jesus into one’s home. This practice, reflecting the city’s over 450-year history, has evolved into the stunning lights illuminating St. Augustine today, creating lasting holiday memories.
Highlights of the Event
- Dazzling Light Displays: Key locations like Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, and the Plaza de la Constitución adorn millions of tiny white lights. The Plaza features a massive Christmas tree, perfect for holiday photos.
- Viewing Options: Visitors can experience the lights in various ways, including carriage rides, trolley tours, and even from the water aboard cruise tours. For an adventurous perspective, helicopter tours offer a bird’s eye view of the city’s splendor.
- Culinary Delights: St. Augustine’s dining scene shines during Nights of Lights. Restaurants like A1A Ale Works and Harry’s Seafood offer delightful meals with views of the lit-up Plaza. For those craving a warm beverage, local coffee shops provide the perfect respite from the winter chill.
- Special Events: Beyond the lights, St. Augustine hosts various events, including theater performances, art exhibits, and music shows. Notable events include the Regatta of Lights, a boat parade, and the Lighthouse Illuminations, which feature tours of the festively decorated grounds.
Practical Tips for Visitors
- Transportation: Considering the popularity of the event, parking can be challenging. The city offers a free Park and Ride Shuttle service on select dates to ease transportation woes.
- Accommodations: With the influx of visitors, booking accommodations well in advance is advisable. The city offers a range of options, from cozy bed & breakfasts to luxurious resorts.
- Photography Tips: For the perfect Nights of Lights photo, aim for sunset timings, use the ‘tungsten’ white balance on digital cameras, and try the “bokeh” technique for artistic shots.
Best Things to Do During Nights of Lights
Snowfall on Spanish Street
One of the most enchanting experiences during Nights of Lights is the magical “Snowfall on Spanish Street.” This unique event transforms the already charming Spanish Street into a winter wonderland with periodic snowfalls that create a festive and joyful atmosphere. It’s a perfect spot for families and couples, offering a whimsical escape into a holiday dream. The gentle snowfall amidst the historical backdrop of St. Augustine adds an extra layer of magic to the city’s holiday season.
Location: 44 Spanish Street St. Augustine, FL 32084
Looking for Love Trees
A truly romantic activity during Nights of Lights is searching for Love Trees around the city. These unique trees, where two different species grow together and become inextricably linked, symbolize love and unity. It’s customary to kiss under these trees. It is believed that kissing under a love tree will ensure everlasting love. A famous example can be found at the Bar Harbor Cheesecake Factory. Exploring the city to find these natural wonders is not only a romantic excursion but also offers a glimpse into the unique botanical beauty of St. Augustine. Here are some places to see these fantastic trees:
- Location: Bar Harbor Cheesecake Factory, 1 King St #101, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Location: Former site of Agustina’s Love Tree Cafe. The cafe is now closed, but the Love Tree still stands at 6 Cordova Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084
Lighthouse Illuminations at the St. Augustine Lighthouse
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum hosts holiday lighting displays at the special event “Lighthouse Illuminations” during Nights of Lights. This event displays holiday lights and decorations throughout the lighthouse grounds, creating a festive and historical experience. Visitors can enjoy evening tours, including climbing to the top of the lighthouse, offering stunning views of the illuminated city. It’s an ideal blend of St. Augustine’s rich maritime history and holiday cheer.
- Location: St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, 100 Red Cox Dr, St. Augustine, FL 32080
- Phone: (904) 829-0745
- Website: St. Augustine Lighthouse
These activities are just a few highlights of what St. Augustine offers during the Nights of Lights season. Each provides a unique way to experience the city’s historical charm and holiday spirit, making them must-do activities for anyone visiting during this magical time of year.
Best Ways to See the Nights of Lights
Historic Walking Tour
Embark on a journey through St. Augustine’s glistening history with the VIP Nights of Lights Downtown Historic Walking Tour. This free, one-hour guided tour is a fantastic way to explore the city’s enchanting holiday traditions and unique colonial folklore. With a licensed guide leading the way, you’ll wander through breathtaking sights like the Lightner Museum courtyard and the Plaza de la Constitución, all illuminated by over two million lights. It’s a perfect blend of history and holiday spectacle, creating a memorable experience for all ages.
- Dates: Fridays, January 12, 19, and 26, 2024 at 6:30 pm
- Location: 4 Granada Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Contact: (904) 825-0087
- Website: VIP Nights Of Lights
Horse and Carriage Ride
Experience the charm of St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights in the most classic way – aboard a horse-drawn carriage. Tours like those offered by Country Carriages allow you to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season. Glide past the twinkling lights while wrapped in the comfort of a cozy carriage. This romantic and nostalgic mode of transport is perfect for couples and families looking to enjoy the lights in a more intimate setting.
- Location: Bayfront, between the Bridge of Lions and the Castillo de San Marcos
- Contact: (904) 669-8619
- More Info: Old City
Old Town Trolley Tours
Old Town Trolley Tours offers a delightful way to see the Nights of Lights. These trolley tours provide a comfortable and comprehensive view of the city’s stunning light displays. With their open-air design, these trolleys offer unobstructed views and the joy of feeling the crisp evening air while being entertained and informed by knowledgeable guides.
- Website: Old Town Trolley Tours
Character Rides: The Grinch and Santa Claus
For a twist on the traditional viewing experience, consider a character ride. Enjoy a unique and entertaining tour with the Grinch or Santa Claus. The Grinchmas Ride and Santa Claus tours add a playful and whimsical element to your Nights of Lights tour experience, perfect for families with children or anyone young at heart.
Each of these experiences offers a unique way to enjoy St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights, whether you’re seeking a historical perspective, a romantic moment, a family-friendly adventure, or a charming and relaxed way to see the city’s festive lights.
Looking for other amazing vacation spots? Check out our pics for the Best Vacation Spots on the Gulf Coast
The 6 Best Places to Eat in St. Augustine
After a night of light-gazing, indulge in St. Augustine’s culinary offerings. Here are a few must-visit restaurants.
Bourbon and Boards
Bourbon and Boards offers a unique dining experience, blending an extensive bourbon selection with inventive charcuterie boards. This establishment prides itself on creating an inviting atmosphere where guests can savor expertly paired flavors. Their boards feature a variety of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and accompaniments, making each visit a new adventure in taste. The warm and rustic decor provides a cozy backdrop for an evening exploring bourbon and gourmet bites.
Local Tip: Get the smoked bourbon cocktail. It’s delicious and comes with a table-side smoke show.
- Address: 77 Bridge St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Phone: (904) 342-2869
- Website: Bourbon and Boards
Forgotten Tonic stands out for its commitment to locally sourced ingredients and a menu that caters to various dietary preferences, including gluten-free options. This restaurant is known for its contemporary American cuisine, offering everything from fresh seafood to succulent steaks. The ambiance balances casual and upscale, making it perfect for a relaxed dinner after enjoying the Nights of Lights. Their creative cocktails and attentive service add to the overall delightful dining experience.
Local Tip: It’s worth visiting for a drink off their festive menu and enjoying a restaurant filled with Christmas decorations. Each drink comes in a festive glass to keep you jolly all night.
- Address: 6 Aviles St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Phone: (904) 827-9055
- Website: Forgotten Tonic
Barley Republic is an Irish pub in the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine, known for its vibrant atmosphere and authentic Irish fare. The pub features an extensive selection of beers and whiskeys, complemented by a menu that includes classic dishes like Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and chips. The outdoor beer garden is a perfect spot to enjoy the festive air of the city while indulging in hearty, comforting food. Live music and friendly staff make Barley Republic a must-visit for those seeking a lively dining experience.
Local Tip: Sit on the patio outside; the heaters keep you warm even on the coldest nights.
- Address: 48 Spanish St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Phone: (904) 547-2023
- Website: Barley Republic
Meehan’s Irish Pub and Seafood House
Meehan’s Irish Pub and Seafood House combines the charm of an Irish pub with the flavors of coastal cuisine. This waterfront establishment is renowned for its fresh seafood dishes, traditional Irish meals, and various beers and spirits. The pub’s inviting decor, rich wood accents, and historic charm set the scene for a memorable dining experience. Their balcony offers stunning views of St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights, creating a magical backdrop for an evening out.
Local Tip: Try to get a seat upstairs with one of the tables with a view and a mini-fire pit. It will be hard to leave!
- Address: 20 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Phone: (904) 810-1923
- Website: Meehan’s Irish Pub
Bar Harbor Cheesecake Factory
Bar Harbor Cheesecake Factory is a delightful destination for dessert lovers and those seeking a unique culinary experience in St. Augustine. Known for its wide variety of rich and creamy cheesecakes, this eatery offers flavors to suit every palate. The cozy ambiance and the irresistible aroma of freshly baked cheesecakes create a welcoming environment for guests. It’s not just about desserts here; the Cheesecake Factory also serves a selection of savory items, making it a perfect spot for both a sweet treat and a satisfying meal. Located conveniently in the heart of the city, it’s a great place to relax and indulge after exploring the Nights of Lights.
Local Tip: Remember to check out the Love tree in the courtyard.
- Address: 1 King St #101, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Phone: (904) 342-2869
- Website: Bar Harbor Cheesecake Factory
For those willing to venture just beyond the heart of downtown St. Augustine, Odd Birds presents a unique and memorable dining experience. Located just over the Bridge of Lions, this restaurant is known for its eclectic and innovative cuisine. Odd Birds is celebrated for its creative cocktails and fusion dishes that combine local flavors with international flair. The vibrant and trendy ambiance makes it a popular choice for locals and visitors. Although it’s a slight detour from the central Nights of Lights festivities, the culinary adventure at Odd Birds is well worth the short journey.
Local Tip: Take a selfie in the full-sized bird cage out front.
- Address: 200 Anastasia Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32080
- Phone: (904) 342-8378
- Website: Odd Birds
For visitors attending the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine, parking at the Historic Downtown Parking Facility adjacent to the Visitor Information Center (VIC) is an excellent option. We parked here every time we were downtown.
This facility is open 24 hours a day, all year round, and is conveniently located within walking distance to key attractions like St. George Street, San Marco Avenue, and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
From here, you can easily use the free St. Augustine Shuttle, known as STAR (St. Augustine Rider), to navigate the downtown core.
Augustine Rider (STAR) Details:
- Route: The STAR circulator service starts at the VIC and travels to Avenida Menendez, with the first stop in front of 14 Avenida Menendez. It then continues to Cathedral Place, north on Cordova Street, and back to the VIC.
- Total Travel Distance: 1.12 miles.
- Estimated Travel Time: Approximately 15 minutes under normal traffic conditions.
- Hours of Operation: Daily from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. (Note: Hours may vary during Nights of Lights and other special days.)
- Fare: Free of charge.
The shuttle service is designed to enhance connectivity, ease traffic congestion, and provide visitors with a convenient mode of transportation. With the shuttle, you can enjoy one complete circle around the downtown area, disembarking to explore and then catching the next shuttle for further adventures. It was very convenient and always on time, leaving from the visitor center parking lot.
- Visitor Information Center Address: 10 S. Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Contact for STAR Circulator: (904) 795-7827
- More Information: St. Augustine Rider (STAR)
Historic Downtown Parking Facility Details:
- Location: 1 Cordova Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- $20 per vehicle, per entry, during peak times.
- $5 per vehicle, per entry, during off-peak times.
- Monthly Parking Pass: Available for residents and non-residents.
- Overnight Parking: Available by permit only for RVs, tour buses, and trailers in the designated lot on Riberia Street.
- Handicapped Parking: Provided to ensure accessibility for all.
Parking at this facility offers a stress-free way to visit the ancient city’s historical sites and enjoy the Nights of Lights without worrying about finding a spot in the bustling downtown area.
- Contact: (904) 484-5160
- More Information: Historic Downtown Parking Facility
We lived in St. Augustine for a month during the holidays, so we could specifically enjoy the holiday season here. It is a magical place and great to see during the holidays. However, the merriment continues through January. You can still see all the beautiful light displays without the crowds if you come after the holidays.
Whether you visit before or after Christmas, St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights remains a magical experience, keeping the spirit of the season alive in every twinkling light.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is Nights of Lights?
Nights of Lights is a spectacular city-wide holiday light display in St. Augustine, Florida. National Geographic has recognized it as one of the Top Ten Holiday Light Displays in the world. The event features millions of tiny white lights that create a magical atmosphere in the nation’s oldest city, adorning every corner of the historic district for about 70 days.
When and where does Nights of Lights take place?
The Nights of Lights festival runs from November 18, 2023, to January 28, 2024. This annual event is celebrated throughout downtown St. Augustine, with a concentration of lights in areas like the Plaza de la Constitucion and along the bayfront. There’s no single spot for viewing; instead, the entire downtown becomes a canvas for the light display.
Is there a shuttle service available for Nights of Lights?
Yes, the City of St. Augustine offers a Free Park and Ride Shuttle Service for Nights of Lights from November 18 to December 28, 2023. This service helps visitors easily access various parts of the downtown area where the lights are displayed. Information about operating times and pick-up/drop-off locations can be found on the event’s website.
Is the event dog-friendly?
Yes, you and your pup can enjoy the light show and walking around St. Augustine. Some of the restaurants listed above allow dogs.
Dr. Shannon BarrettVeterinarian/Travel Writer/Digital Nomad
Dr. Shannon Barrett is a veterinarian and digital nomad. She owned a housecall practice, Island Veterinary Care, for over a decade and now travels full time. She lives in different beach towns and then writes travel guides based on her time there. If you’re looking for resources on travel destinations or how to become a digital nomad, then you’ve come to the right place! Love to bring your pets with you? Even better!