On the east coast of Florida, a small preserved city from the age of pirates displays a brilliant light show every year. As the month of December rolls around, the town gets into a tissy from the holiday spirit. Three million lights are strewn throughout twenty blocks of the ancient city shining bright on the exterior of buildings and dangling from gorgeous southern trees. Local shopkeepers take tinsel into their own hands and decorate their window displays for the festive annual competition. It’s the time of year when St. Augustine looks its most magical. As a matter of fact, St. Augustine is well-known for its holiday light display and visitors come from around the world to spend a night in its glowing lights by riding a horse-drawn carriage around the twinkling city. The spectacular city was deemed as one of the best light displays in the world by National Geographic in 2011.
As its popularity grows, so does the backed-up city traffic, bustling masked crowds, and an immense amount of holiday music. Tourists and locals are accustomed to waiting for hours to find a parking spot in the public ramp or along the narrow stone streets as the holidays approach. With over 6 million visitors a year, many businesses thrive in the tourism industry but the businesses with the most success are the ones that capitalize on Nights of Lights. This year was no different from previous years despite the pandemic. Crowds walked through the city with phones and hot chocolates in hand visiting restaurants, cafes, boutiques, antique shops, and other local trades. The lights are accessible on foot and the sidewalks allow people to take their time with photos while enjoying the glowing ambiance but the jolliest way to see the sites is to take the Old Town Trolley’s Nights of Lights Tour. This year, they are taking preventative measures for guests wanting to ride the joyful Christmas ride such as wiping down trolleys after every ride, installing plexiglass barriers between seats, and limiting contact with large crowds through online reservations. Ticket holders get to sing along with Christmas jingles, see historic sites, and learn about St. Augustine’s history through a festive narration from the trolley hosts.
As mentioned above, the local shops create a magical atmosphere for guests by doing more than just window decorations. Locals create special events and packages that they host or hold a partnership with different tour groups. For example, one of the local cafes called ChocoLattes has a hidden outdoor back patio and a private room on the second level available for private groups to reserve. This is especially great for the holidays as groups, families, and companies tour the city’s beautiful Christmas lights. This past holiday season, the upstairs room was rented to the Tasting Tours. Nikki, the owner of the Tasting Tours, explained that visitors can purchase their wine and carriage ride package. ChocoLattes serves as the meeting location where guests check in on the upper level and take a tour around the city at their designated time. Guests that wait for their time can choose to order sweets and beverages on the lower level if they want but it’s not part of the package. Once it’s time for their carriage ride, the wine-goers load in a beautifully lit carriage across the street at the Grace United Methodist Church, and the tour begins!
As this year’s pandemic was on the rise, I wasn’t comfortable with doing everything on the tourist must-do list but I did my best to safely document everything I talked about in the article. Watch the video below and scroll through the galleries to see the spectacular light display.
Click through the galleries for shots mentioned in the article.
ChocoLattes and the Tasting Tours
More information on St. Augustine:
To prepare and plan your trip to visit the St. Augustine Night of lights in 2021 read the following articles
- Ultimate Guide of St. Augustine Nights of Lights
- Seven Ways to See the Nights of Lights
- Ripley’s Red Train Nights of Lights Tour
- Full Events Calendar for Nights of Lights
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