Pergola vs. Gazebo vs. Pavilion: Which is Best for Your Backyard?

Are you considering adding a structure to your outdoor space? Read this post to review the differences between pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions to help pick the right structure for your backyard!

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Have you been trying to come up with ways that you can create a more inviting and livable backyard space? Or maybe you have a deck or patio already, but you can’t be out there as long as you want because of the hot sun, rain, or other outdoor elements.

Whatever the case may be, you may want to consider adding a landscape structure to the yard. Some of the most common include pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions, each of which brings a nice place to relax on your property. These terms tend to be used interchangeably, but each structure has its own set of distinct characteristics.

Choosing the right one for your individual yard, lifestyle, and needs is an important decision to make. Let’s learn more about each structure so you can make a well-informed decision about your outdoor living space.

Pergola vs Gazebo vs Pavilion

Pergola Overview

A pergola is typically built over a porch or patio, although it most certainly can be a freestanding structure in your backyard. It is equipped with an open roof with slats and vertical posts. Privacy walls, curtains, etc. can be used to add personality and privacy to a pergola. Pergolas are great for dry, sunny climates since they don’t traditionally offer protection from the rain, though they can create shade.

Gazebo Overview

A gazebo is a freestanding outdoor structure that has no walls, but it does have a solid roof. They typically take on an octagon shape, although some prefer a round shape. Some people choose to screen the structure to offer insect protection. Unlike pergolas, gazebos are great for wet climates due to their solid roof structure.

Pavilion Overview

A pavilion is open with a solid roof and typically takes a rectangular shape. These outdoor structures are often larger than a pergola or a gazebo. Unlike gazebos and pergolas, pavilions tend to be simple and plain, though they are functional. An outdoor kitchen or room can be added to a pavilion thanks to its size. Pavilions also work well in wet climates.

Special Note: In many cases, you will find a pavilion-looking structure listed as a gazebo. Don’t be confused by this, as in many areas, the terms gazebo and pavilion can be used interchangeably. The important thing for you to understand is the shape and features you want, as this is the main difference between the structures which we compare below.

For the purposes of this post, we are defining a gazebo in the traditional sense that it has an octagonal or hexagonal shape, and a pavilion has a rectangular shape.

This is an image that shows a comparison between the pergolas, gazebos, and pavilion structures.

Evaluation Characteristics

To compare these three common outdoor structures, we use the following dimensions:

  1. Roof

  2. Shape

  3. Sides

  4. Foundation

  5. Style

Although important, we don’t compare based on the following dimensions:

  • Cost: The cost can vary significantly depending on the size, shape, materials, and features of each outdoor structure. Therefore, it is difficult to say definitively if one structure is always more or less expensive than another.

  • Materials: All three structures can be found in either wood or metal options. Although it is quite rare to find a traditional gazebo in metal, we recognize there are some options.


Pergola: flat, open, slatted roof

Gazebo: pitched, dome-shaped, enclosed roof

Pavilion: low-pitched, enclosed roof

If you are looking for a structure with a fully closed roof, you should be considering a pavilion or a gazebo, as these have roofs designed to fully protect you from the elements every day and in extreme weather.

Gazebos offer more protection from the elements thanks to their enclosed, pitched roof. The domed roof also offers full shade within the sitting area where you may spend time with family and friends.

Pergolas, on the other hand, are completely open structures with cross beams that provide partial weather protection. However, there are some means to add protection to a pergola roof, such as adding a polycarbonate cover, climbing plants, and canopies.


Pergola: square or rectangular shapes

Gazebo: circular, hexagonal, octagonal shapes

Pavilion: square or rectangular shapes

Practical needs may be thrown out the window here for your aesthetic preferences. As a general rule, you should take your landscape into consideration when determining the type of structure you want. While pavilions and pergolas offer visual interest and make excellent additions to any outdoor space, gazebos tend to have a traditional and classical elegance to them. Also, keep in mind that pavilions are typically larger in size than gazebos and pergolas, so you will need more yard space for one.


Pergola: open air, no sides

Gazebo: typically built-in railing

Pavilion: open air, no sides

Due to the railing and balusters, gazebos tend to be slightly more enclosed than pergolas and pavilions. However, pergolas and pavilions tend to be considered more welcoming in their designs due to the open sides. The openness of the pavilion often makes it an ideal option for backyard entertaining. With all three structures, you can add walls, sunshades, privacy screens, railings, latticework, and more to block high winds, protect yourself from bad weather, and add privacy.


Pergola: added on top of an existing patio, foundation

Gazebo: Typically freestanding on its own, elevated foundation

Pavilion: added on top of an existing patio, foundation

As a general rule, a gazebo is a freestanding, permanent structure with an elevated foundation and finished floor. However, it is possible for a gazebo to be built on top of another foundation like an existing patio.

Both pergolas and pavilions have open sides and are typically designed to be added on top of an existing foundation, such as a patio. Pergolas and pavilions can also be added to serve as an extension of an existing structure, a home’s roof, or a home’s exterior wall.


Pergola: Modern, contemporary

Gazebo: More traditional

Pavilion: Modern, traditional, contemporary

All three outdoor structures offer a different look and style. Although a pergola can be traditional in terms of design, these structures can incorporate certain elements to be more modern and contemporary. For instance, modern pergola options often have simple, straight lines, different materials, and/or unique stain colors. From our experience, we see that there is a growing trend of metal, modern pergolas used in many backyards.

Double roof pavilions can offer a traditional and contemporary style, whereas exposed wooden beams serve as the most traditional material choice, offering a bit of a rustic feel.

Stemming from the Victorian and Edwardian ages, gazebos tend to be more traditional, old-fashioned, and timeless, though they can be made more modern with creative shapes.

Where to Buy

If you are looking to buy one of the aforementioned outdoor structures, there are plenty of options online if you would like a DIY kit, etc. You can find some on Amazon, Home Depot, Wayfair, etc. Of course, you can also visit your local home improvement store to see if they have DIY kits or other options available. If not, they may be able to help you get everything you need and possibly provide some direction if needed.

If you would prefer to leave the building up to a professional, simply reach out to several local contractors to obtain quotes. A professional installation performed by a family handyman can put your mind at ease that the structure is built properly.

Some Pergola, Gazebo, and Pavilion Options on Amazon:

Purple Leaf Pergola

Yardistry Gazebo

Sunjoy Pavilion / Gazebo

Final Thoughts

Pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions are all solid choices for any outdoor living space. Each offers its own set of unique benefits, characteristics, and features and can instantly add style and value to your property. Make sure to consider the above dimensions when choosing the right outdoor structure for your home, but don’t forget to take your own personal preferences and needs in mind.

In the end, the final choice for many homeowners may come down to aesthetic preferences rather than practical needs, especially if you are not limited to budget or size. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Pergolas and pavilions are both stylish outdoor choices with the option to be customized to meet your individual taste. However, if you prefer a more old-fashioned look with a touch of elegance, then a gazebo may be more suited to your tastes.

Hi, I'm Ashley!

Hi, I'm Ashley!

I started Live Your Best Backyard to share my (and my family's) hands-on experience and countless hours of research on all things backyard to help you find the best products, ideas, tips, and information for your backyard!

Read More About Me
Hi, I'm Ashley!

Hi, I'm Ashley!

I started Live Your Best Backyard to share my (and my family's) hands-on experience and countless hours of research on all things backyard to help you find the best products, ideas, tips, and information for your backyard!

Read More About Me
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