'The journey to the door is important!' 5 outdoor pathway lighting ideas for a better-looking and more practical yard

Try these outdoor pathway lighting ideas, from lanterns to recessed fittings, to bathe your front or backyard in a stylish glow

A front yard pathway lit with recessed lighting
(Image credit: William MacCollum. Design: Whipple Russell Architects)

Outdoor pathway lighting is an important addition to your front or back yard, helping to guide visitors down your garden path as well as bringing a warming glow that illuminates other areas of the backyard and bathing the landscape in a golden glow come evening time. 'I think the journey to the door is important, as well as the scale of it,' says Thomas Martin of Sydney-based Rama Architects.

'Lighting shouldn't be overlooked; having a well-lit garden in the evening can make a big difference in how it's experienced,' agrees landscape designer, Paul Moon.

But it's not just about recessed lighting embedded into your pathway, and you can easily add light to your outdoor path through other designs. From boho lanterns to string lights that hang from above - these are our favorite methods of lighting your backyard pathway, and ideas for you to copy at home.

1. Uplight trees

An outdoor tree lit from the base

(Image credit: Triple O Pixel. Design: SKDO)

First up, use trees and plants along your path and use them as a guide, lighting them from below to highlight your pathway while accentuating the natural shape of the flora and fauna in your backyard. Uplighting deciduous trees from the base creates a sculptural effect. 'Tree lighting from below creates interesting shadows and texture,' says landscape designer, Paul Moon

Alternatively, you can also use the foliage to your advantage and embed the lighting within the leaves to hide unsightly wires that can be seen in the naked light of day. 

'It’s important to keep in mind the light, temperature and space available but also considering things like whether you want to highlight soft or sharp leaves, vibrant or subtle color, can really help establish the mood and bring a sense of cohesion and continuity,' adds Lee Turner, director at Turner Road Architecture.

2. Go for the recessed look

Outdoor lighting up the steps to the front door

(Image credit: Amanda Aitken. Design: Turner Road Architecture)

Light your path and embed the lighting with recessed fixtures that sit within the ground. Recessed fixtures are a great way to light pathways when you're looking for modern garden lighting ideas. They are great for small backyards too, as they don't take up much space and can help illuminate dark corners, overall making the space feel bigger.  

Embed your recessed lights into decking, or into paving and edging along patios and walkways for a smart and cohesive look. As with interior recessed lights, make sure your lights are equally spaced, and avoid the temptation to fit too many which will only serve to create an unwanted airport landing look in your backyard. Think about positioning in relation to your fence, wall or path too. 

Position your lights no more than 6 inches from the edge of your path to ensure they illuminate it, and go symmetrical with lights on either side of the path for a neat finish.

Go for the LED option for your outdoor recessed lights. They are the energy efficient option and makes them cooler than incandescent lights. The lower temperature makes them safer to handle.

Recessed lighting overall helps navigation around your backyard. 'Lighting the path well underscores the intention of the circulation and allows the garden to be experienced in the way it was designed, day or night,' summarizes Paul.

Don't forget using recessed light on steps like in this example from Turner Road Architecture. Not only does it look modern and stylish, but it has safety implications and can stop any nasty trips.

3. Light from above with string lights

String lights light an outdoor pathway from above

(Image credit: Christian DuRocher. Design: Kate Anne Designs)

Instead of shining the light upwards, why not hang them from above, caster a softer light across the pathway. String lights create a more diffused and less harsh light that disperses equally along your backyard path.

This backyard with a string light canopy from Kate Anne Designs does just this, adding rattan lanterns over some of the bulbs to help bring add visual interest, help light the pathway and bring a boho feel to the space. 

'One of our favorite lighting brands is LightCraft, which we use for all of our string lights and low voltage landscape lights,' says Kate Anne of Kate Anne Designs.

4. Go for height with modern designs

A pathway lit with tall lights

(Image credit: Triple O Pixel. Design: SKDO)

If you're looking for your backyard pathway lighting to provide a bit more sculpture and structure, go for a design that offers more height. When spaced evenly along walkways, bollard path lights will make for a striking feature and help to carve up the pathway, creating a classic and sophisticated look to your outdoor space.

In this example from Shreya Krishnan Design Office (SKDO), the light shines brightly, but look to the likes of Marset's Ginger bollard floor lamp, which is made from aluminium and angles the light downward, or these bollard lights by Peter Bysted for Louis Poulsen that also shine the light downwards to avoid any harsh lighting.

'The problem with recessed uplights is that an uplight can be glaring to the eye and cast unattractive shadows on people,' says Ken Shallcross of DNM Architecture. 'Some communities with night-sky ordinances prohibit them. We try to use lights near the ground mounted in walls or on bollards so that the light is cast downward onto the path.'

5. Or light the way with rustic lanterns

Outdoor path lit by lanterns

(Image credit: Adam Potts. Susan Skornicka Designa)

For something a bit more temporary, line your pathway with lanterns - a quick way to add some magic to your backyard and help navigate guests around the space. Go for a unison look, or mix up the shapes, heights and styles for a playful feel. Remember not to use real flames and go for LED candles that won't get put out by damp conditions and reducing fire risks.  

A significant advantage of lanterns is their soft, diffused light, adding a layer of ambiance that's great for gardens intended for nighttime relaxation or gatherings.

'The lanterns add to the balance, harmony, and peaceful nature of the garden,' says Susan Skornicka, who designed the above space. 'Placing them along pathways guides the walk in a beautiful glowing way, and offers a welcome to a special setting at the top of the stairs.'

Italian furniture brand Poltrona Frau has released pear-shaped outdoor lamps called Sparkler Lanterns that are touch on and off, omit 2700k light and are made of powder-coated aluminium - a reliable material for backyards.

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.