Nights of Lights turns St. Augustine, Florida—the “Ancient City”—into a sparkling diamond on the sea during the Christmas holidays. Celebrated for 28 years, this holiday tradition ranks among the world’s Top 10 holiday light displays by National Geographic.
Nights of Lights
Starting on Nov. 20 and running through January 31, 2022, Nights of Lights turns up the voltage from the ground to the rooftops. According to the city’s travel bureau, Augustine’s Nights of Lights features millions of tiny white lights that create a magical atmosphere in the Nation’s Oldest City, and it’s free of charge.
“The Nights of Lights Celebration was created by the City of St. Augustine in 1999 to help add more reasons to visit the Nation’s oldest city during early December and into January, a time that was historically off-season. Since its inception, the celebration has been recognized as one of the most beautiful holiday displays in the world, and is one of the most popular holiday events in the U.S.”, says Richard Goldman, CEO of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches VCB.
“This brilliant display of lights sets the stage for a number of other holiday events and happenings that take place throughout January.”Richard Goldman, CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches VCB
St. Augustine operators offer nighttime tours to see the citywide light displays via buses, boats, yachts, and even golf carts. Another fun option is to climb the 200+ steps to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Built in 1874, the lighthouse is 165 feet tall. Down below St. Augustine’s historic neighborhoods, such as St George Street, shimmer.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S. It was founded in 1565 by Spanish explore Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Named after Saint Augustine, the city was a Spanish stronghold on the Eastern seaboard.
“St. Augustine is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States – more commonly called the ‘Nation’s Oldest City.'”
Christmas and Hanukkah are the ideal time to visit St. Augustine due to the holiday festivities. The fun starts on December 4 with the annual holiday parade. Expect to see vintage cars, floats, and horse-drawn carriages.
“Lots of local organizations participate in the event, making it one of the largest parades in Northeast Florida.”VisitStAugustine.com
People begin lining up at 27 Ocean Avenue to watch the parade commence at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission of Nombre de Dios, then move south through the city. It finishes behind the Visitors Center near St. George Street.
Afterward, consider your own parade on St. Augustine. Beach lovers can still enjoy sunbathing on the beach or swimming in the chilly Atlantic Ocean. The average high temperature in December is 69 degrees. Hunt down the Christmas lights on the back of beach cottages if you take a long walk after sunset.
St. George Street
Holiday shopping is the big attraction of St. George Street. Considered the “heart of the city,” it runs multiple blocks from Orange Street until it dead-ends at The Lion Bridge.
While one of the city’s most over-commercialized thoroughfares, St. George Street is home to more than a dozen colonial buildings. At Christmas, most retailers dress up their exteriors with bows, wreaths, and lights
Definitely stop at St. Augustine’s Kilwins ice cream store to enjoy a “Celebration of Flavors” as well as homemade chocolates and fudges. Christmas at Kilwins is decadent.
The shop features 11 made-in-store Fudge flavors and 32 flavors of Original Recipe Ice Cream. Open daily, it is located near the St. Augustine Cathedral.
The Perky Pelican Christmas Shoppe (41 San Marco Avenue) operates year-round. I believe it should be a Top 10 St. Augustine destination in December for visitors’ holiday shopping.
Owners Dan & Kathy McBride describe themselves as Santa’s Helpers. I guess their yellow lab is Rudolph’s Helper. This is the shop to roam when you need to buy cat and dog ornaments, a nativity scene,
Tini Martini Bar
The decorations are far from tiny at the Tini Bartini Bar at the Casablanca Inn. Expect to see giant ornaments and garlands strapped to the white fence.
Up above the second floor of the bar is the Casablanca Inn. According to its website, “the Inn’s Tini Martini Bar extends to the front verandah, where the bay breezes sway the palm trees and envelop you in tropical comfort.” You might even meet Santa Claus late on Christmas Eve.
St. Augustine B&Bs
In addition to hotels and AirBnbs, visitors to St. Augustine can enjoy quaint inns and B&Bs. You should definitely meander down Charlotte Street which is home to several lovely inns. I went hunting for the Hemingway House Bed and Breakfast. The inn’s sign boasts a fish to denote Hemingway’s affection for fishing.
Interestingly, Hemingway never stayed at the inn but this didn’t stop the B&B owners from naming their establishment after the famous writer.
“While Ernest never stayed here, (actually, he preferred Marine Land just south of here) we named the Inn after our favorite author.”Hemingway House B&B
I was enamored by the reindeer which grazed on a patch of grass near the inn’s porch. The inn is nestled on a block featuring several inns as well as restaurants.
St. George Street is home to dozens of historic colonial homes dating back to the Spanish era. The Peña-Peck House is decorated for the holidays with garlands, bows, and Christmas lights.
The Peña-Peck House is a member of the Women’s Exchange of St. Augustine. You can definitely check off a few items from your holiday shopping list by browsing its gift shop.
Bridge of Lions
While the historic Bridge of Lions was not decorated with red bows when I visited St. Augustine, I suspect the bridge lights up at night. You cannot leave this city without meeting the regal lions that guard the bridge’s entry. According to the St. Augustine Ponte Vedra: ” . . . the lions are named Fiel and Firme (translated Faithful and Firm). In 2015, two new granite lions were added to the east side of the bridge, Pax and Peli (Peace and Happiness) . . . “
Completed in 1927, this bridge helped carry automobiles from the mainland to Anastasia Island. It includes a drawbridge so don’t get trapped on one side. The bridge is a lovely way to survey the city and its waterfront.
“In 1982, the Bridge of Lions was added to the National Register of Historic Places.”VisitStAugustine.com
The lion statues are under constant surveillance. A sign on the statue warns “Please do not climb on the lions. Historical monument.”
I do wish the city decorated the big cats with festive red or green bows for the holidays!
The lion statues were a gift from Andrew Anderson M.D. to the city of St. Augustine in 1926. They are magnificent guardians of the city gates.
Nights of Lights Tours
The typical Nights of Lights tour costs $60-$70 per person to see the displays. But a group tour is definitely the easiest way to cover a lot of the city. Here are local tour websites to research:
- Old Town Trolley Famous Nights of Lights Tour
- Ripley’s Red Train
- St. Augustine Eco Tours
- Scenic Cruise Tours
- Florida Water Tours
- St. Augustine Sailing
- St. Augustine Land and Sea Tours — Private Golf Cart Tour
- St. Augustine Boat Tours
- Black Raven Pirate Ship Tour
- Gold Tours
- Blue Water Adventures Cycleboat Tour
- First City Helicopter
Other Holiday Attractions
The list seems almost endless for things to do in St. Augustine during the holidays:
December 10, 2021 – 5:30pm
December 11, 2021 – 8:00am
December 11, 2021 – 1:00pm
I trust that your holiday visit to St. Augustine will reward you with peace and happiness. And remember do not FEED the lions.