Get ready to be dazzled by 3 million lights in the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine. This charming little town in northern Florida adorns itself with unparalleled winter magic, ranked by National Geographic among the world's most sumptuous holiday light displays.
Conde Nast Traveler shares this wonder, naming St. Augustine alongside Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong among "The World's Most Spectacular Holiday Light Displays."
No American city has embraced the magic of Christmas for as long as St. Augustine. Through the cobblestone streets of the country's oldest city, picturesque carriages traverse the historic district, actors in period costumes stroll, and millions of lights enchant visitors.
At least once in your life, you must witness this celebration, which usually extends from mid-November to the end of January! And the icing on the cake: it's entirely free!
The origin of this tradition
The Nights of Lights in St. Augustine originates from the Spanish tradition of lighting a white candle in windows during Christmas. The candles in the window recall the fact that Mary and Joseph found no refuge. So when the Spanish placed candles in their windows, it was a symbolic gesture, making room in their homes and hearts to welcome Jesus.
This tradition also reflects the welcoming spirit of the holiday season, signifying that every home is open to guests.
The grand illumination of the city by the Mayor
Every year, to inaugurate the launch of the Nights of Lights, the Light-Up! night begins with a variety of Christmas musical performances in front of the St. Augustine City Hall. An orchestra at the Plaza de la Constitución Gazebo entertains the crowd with swing and big band sounds.
At 6:30 pm, the Mayor of the city flips the switch for the Nights of Lights, kicking off the merchants' illumination of the entire city. You will be mesmerized by the excitement as millions of little white lights come to life in unison!
Admire the lights by land
If you want to fully experience the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine, hop on board one of the trolleys or take a carriage tour to explore the city. The Old Town Trolley is ideal for family moments, while The Tasting Tours offers a more adult experience with a souvenir wine glass.
The Christmas land parade
Join the crowd along the shore to admire the Christmas parade, which usually starts at 9 a.m. on the first Saturday of December. This free celebration offers two full hours of floats, marching bands, cars, horses, and of course, Santa Claus!
Experience the lights by sea
For an even more thrilling adventure, embark on the Schooner Freedom for a unique cruise under the stars. Savour a cup of mulled wine as you let yourself be rocked by the sea breeze, admiring the magnificent Nights of Lights that dance along the shores of St. Augustine. An unforgettable nautical adventure to enhance your holiday celebration.
The boat parade
You will want to coordinate your visit with the Regatta of Lights, which brings the magic of lights onto the water. Organized by the St. Augustine Yacht Club, this parade usually takes place on the second Saturday of December.
Sailboats, motorboats, and vessels of all sizes are decorated with colourful lights, creating a dazzling spectacle for spectators along the waterfront.
The best places to take photos in St. Augustine
From dusk to dawn, you'll have a myriad of options to capture exceptional photos. Stroll along the coast near the Tini Martini Bar to capture the dazzling lights. Wander the streets of George and Cordova. Don't miss the lights of Flagler College and the Lightner Museum (especially the courtyard with illuminated palm trees!)
The two must-visit places for selfies during the Nights of Lights are the Plaza de la Constitución, in front of the Christmas tree in the heart of the park, and the Bridge of Lions, to admire the sparkling lights reflected on the water.
How to get there and where to find parking in St. Augustine?
As the town comes alive with the magical glow of lights, careful planning is essential. To facilitate your visit, the city of St. Augustine offers free Park and Ride shuttles dedicated to the Nights of Lights. Check shuttle information here.
If you are travelling from Orlando International Airport (MCO), plan for about a 2-hour drive to reach St. Augustine. For those departing from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, anticipate a journey of about 4 and a half hours.
Get ready to be amazed this Christmas season!
Immerse yourself in the wonder of the holidays in St. Augustine, an unparalleled and entirely free festive experience! Whether you prefer to explore the lights by land on a trolley or carriage or opt for a maritime adventure, St. Augustine promises a memorable experience.
Prepare for an extraordinary holiday celebration in this history-rich city, where magic illuminates every corner. Contact a soNomad agent to find the best travel insurance before your departure to Florida.