What is the Difference Between Pergolas and Gazebos?

Kaitlyn N. Watkins
Kaitlyn N. Watkins

In the wide realm of outdoor structures, two that are frequently confused for each other are pergolas and gazebos. The difference between pergolas and gazebos is that pergolas are often attached structures with open-lattice roofs while gazebos are freestanding buildings with closed roofs and floors. Each can be a range of sizes and serve various purposes, but gazebos are mainly for shelter and pergolas generally lend support to plants.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Pergolas and gazebos are both usually made out of wood, though various metals and vinyl material can sometimes be used for either. The difference in structure, however, between pergolas and gazebos has to do with how open they are. A pergola has a flat, open roof, usually consisting of a very wide-open crisscrossing lattice or slatted beams designed to let in dappled light from the sun. The sides of a pergola are usually made from two or four posts or narrow sections of trellis material. The main purpose of the pergola is to allow plants and vines to climb up its open structure to cover the sides and roof.

While still a relatively open structure, a gazebo usually has a full roof, which is often turreted or domed. There is typically some type of low wall and pillars or posts around the sides of a gazebo, as many gazebos offer benches along the perimeter of the interior. Frequently, gazebos will have an independent foundation or floor, which can be either concrete or wood, to give further support to the benches and roof. Gazebos can be round, hexagonal, or even rectangular, and being inside one gives the impression of being in an outdoor room.

Another major difference between pergolas and gazebos has to do with their function in a landscape or property. One popular use of the pergola is as an outdoor walkway, providing a shaded covering for a sidewalk or to connect two buildings, while supporting vines. Pergolas are also often used interchangeably with arbors as gateways to garden areas or as a covering for a swing or single bench. Very large gazebos are also known as pavilions, and can be found in parks and public areas to house picnic seating or performance spaces. Given the open yet protected nature of gazebos, they are often used as viewing locations for scenic overlooks or for ceremonial occasions.

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You can drape a tarp over a pergola to provide shade and cover from the weather. I have seen plenty pictures of this. Given the option, I think I would prefer the gazebo over the pergola because it sounds like the gazebo is a more secure and stable structure, and it could be almost like an outside room if you closed it off with screening. This would make a really good entertainment area, or a place to just relax.


@Animandel - Unless you have no handyman skills whatsoever, or you are physically unable to build a pergola, you should make building it a do-it-yourself project. My sister's husband has built a couple of them, and my sister and I helped with the planning, the designing and some of the labor.

The most important thing is to choose a sturdy treated wood that you like. Once you get the structure up, you can plant various types of running plants to grow on the pergola and shade you when you are beneath it. Otherwise, the opened top isn't going to help you much with your lack of shade problem.


My parents put in a pool in there back yard. Mainly they added the pool because my kids love the water. Now the children spend a lot more time at their grandparents' house during the summer when they are out of school. The only problem with the pool is that there is no cover and shade around the area. It gets pretty hot in the middle of the summer, especially when the sun is heating up the concrete deck.

My parents are looking for the best ways to add shade to the pool area. Since the pool is close to the house, I think building a pergola on the back patio might be the perfect solution. I have heard that there are pergola kits that you can buy and then build the structures yourself.

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