Planning a weekend getaway through the holiday season? Look no further! St. Augustine, Florida, which ranked as #11 on Country Living’s 50 Best Christmas Towns You Should Add to Your Bucket List This December, may be the perfect Florida destination. Guide2travel.ca thanks Hotels.com for asking me to share my travel experiences in this part of Florida in this article.
What is Nights of Lights?
Nights of Lights is a two-month long celebration (December and January) that sees three million lights glow throughout the warm winter evenings of this coastal city. While the celebration is just 25+ years old in St. Augustine, it was inspired by the Spanish tradition of putting a lighted candle in windows over the holiday season.
The candles were symbolic of the nativity, providing a welcome into the home and hearts of people for Jesus and his parents. Now, Nights of Lights provides an opportunity for locals and visitors alike to celebrate 450 years of history in St. Augustine.
Indeed, St. Augustine may be one of America’s most historic cities. Founded by Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, back in 1565, St. Augustine was the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years. Now, it’s recognized as continental USA’s oldest, continuously inhabited European-established settlement. With such a strong Spanish background, it’s easy to see the popularity of Nights of Lights.
What Happens During Nights of Lights?
The great thing about a St. Augustine weekend getaway during Nights of Lights is that you can have an amazing trip with traditional holiday celebrations, along with beautiful Florida weather. You won’t be shivering whether you’re taking the free park and ride shuttle or Ripley’s Red Trains Nights of Lights Tour or the Trolley Tour. Since the lights are on from dusk until dawn, there’s no rush either!
Or, you can start your night with one of the tours that go out from the Municipal Marina at 6 p.m. every night as soon as the lights are lit. I don’t know about you, but I find the shimmering of lights on the water a pretty spectacular scene.
However, as you can see from the aerial view of the lights in the header image above, from the sky is also impressive. While the cost is a far cry from the free shuttle, a helicopter ride over the city can turn your weekend getaway into an adventure you and your significant other will remember for years.
What are the Best Things to Do During the Day in St. Augustine?
When I was in this part of Florida, it was all about the history for me. In St. Augustine’s historic district you step back into the 1700s, so the area is very walkable since the streets were designed for horse and ox carts. While you’ll see the Spanish Colonial and Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture you might expect, you’ll also find examples of early European designs and the Gilded Age (term coined by Mark Twain for the era that followed the American Civil War — also known by other names).
Make sure to check out the Colonial Quarter living history museum on your explorations. From blacksmith and live musket demonstrations to visiting a home over 270 years old, lots of new experiences await. And me? I always love the sound of canons, which fire daily.
You also have to visit Castillo de San Marcos if you enjoy military history as I do. Originally completed in 1695, it’s the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental United States. The history of the fort spans centuries that included a 1702 siege and use as a prison during the American Revolution. From there, take the Bridge of Lions across the Matanzas River for another historic must-see, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum.
Planning Tips for Your Visit to St. Augustine
St. Augustine is just over 100 miles from Orlando, which is a great airport to fly into and rent a car. The road trip includes Interstates #4 and #95, so it’s a fast trip. Daytona is on the way, so during my visit I also spent some time at the racetrack and other attractions there.
When you get to St. Augustine, you’re sure to find the perfect hotel for your weekend getaway, regardless of your budget or preferences. Me? I like to find a hotel close enough to walk to the main things I want to explore on a weekend getaway. So for a first choice, I’d recommend the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront, St. Augustine. Whether you prefer views of the historic district or the Bay, you’ll find both here with its Second Spanish Colonial inspired colorful buildings.
If pampering is on the agenda for your weekend getaway, try the Casa Monica Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection, St. Augustine. This four-star hotel offers many amenities and is close to the Lightner Museum with its gorgeous displays during Nights of Lights.
I visited St. Augustine as an add-on to a fam trip hosted by the city of Daytona Beach. However, I always retain editorial freedom in my articles, so the experiences and opinions are my own.