Choosing an Outdoor Shade Structure: What’s the Difference Between Arbors, Pergolas, Gazebos, and Pavilions?

You have a lot of options when choosing an outdoor shade structure that also adds beauty in your backyard. Great choices for offering shade include arbors, pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions. Homeowners often confuse these similar structures, so use these clues to help you tell the difference and choose the right one for your home.

Are Arbors and Pergolas the Same Thing?

An arbor and a pergola are not the same structure. They are similar and can be mistaken for each other because they both are designed with a lattice framework (wood or vinyl strips that create a grid with a square or diamond pattern).  But there are also some key differences, mainly in how they are used in your yard.

Arbors — Arbors are designed with sides formed from lattice and often have an arched top. Arbors are often used to add shade or decor along walkways or paths or to designate the entry point into a garden or backyard. They are also very popular at outdoor wedding venues because their lattice framework is perfect for decorating with climbing plants or vines.

ARB17 Economy Diamond Arbor Shown with Rainbow Top 36” Wide Opening ~ 24” Wide Panels 24” Deep ~ 42” Wide

Pergola — While an arbor is a smaller structure, pergolas tend to be much larger outdoor shade structures. They include a lattice-style roof that is supported by posts and are used to cover and define larger areas, including entire patios or outdoor seating areas. They provide sun protection through the roof grid and through the addition of shades or canopies.

10’ x 14’ Arcadian Vinyl Pergola Standard Features

What’s the Difference Between Gazebos and Pavilions?

Gazebos and pavilions are commonly mistaken for each other because they have similar designs with solid roofs.

Gazebo — Gazebos are outdoor shade structures with a solid roof and partially open sides, that can even be screened in. A gazebo can have a built-in floor or can be placed on a concrete base. The most telling feature of gazebos is their shape. They are typically shaped as an octagon or oval, but there are some rectangular designs as well.

10′ Bell Roof, Vinyl Gazebo

Pavilion — Unlike a gazebo, a pavilion is a roofed structure with completely open sides and no built-in floor. The roof is typically supported by 4-6 posts or more, depending on the size, and they are most commonly attached to a deck, paver patio, or concrete base.  While many gazebos are octagonal or oval, most pavilions are designed to be long and rectangular.  Additionally, while a gazebo is more of a self-contained structure, pavilions are commonly used to provide a roof for a patio or seating area below.

12’ x 16’ Traditional White Vinyl Pavilion Shown with Asphalt Shingles and 8×8 Posts

Pavilions can also be confused with pergolas. When comparing these two structures, the roof is key to identifying the right structures. Pavilions feature a completely closed roof while a pergola’s roof is constructed of open slats.

The opportunities for adding an outdoor structure to your home are endless. Browse our selection of gazebos, pavilions, pergolas, sheds, barns, and so much more!

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for? You can now build your own structure!