The Difference Between a Pergola and a Gazebo

Originally Published on May 11, 2023. Last Updated on March 26, 2024.

Pergolas and gazebos are excellent backyard additions. However, they’re very different, and one may be better for your lifestyle than another. To help you decide which would fit you better, we’ve put all the relevant information you need to know about the difference between pergolas versus gazebos in one neat and tidy package. We’ve also tapped into the mind of Anthony Carrino, a renowned interior designer and home improvement expert, who has lots of ideas and advice to share on this subject.

To get started, let’s discuss the main difference between a gazebo and a pergola. The term “gazebo” refers to any freestanding outdoor structure with a roof and open sides. Pergolas are one type of gazebo, as are rotundas, kiosks, and arbors.

Jump to Section
What Is a Pergola?
What Is a Gazebo?
Which Is Best for Me?
What Are Arbors and Trellises?

What Is a Pergola?

POLYWOOD Nautical Curveback Adirondack Chair in Slate Grey Poolside with Pergola in the Background
Featured: Nautical Curveback Adirondack Chair in Slate Grey

Pergolas got their start roughly 3,000 years ago in Egypt. The first known pergolas allegedly belonged to an Egyptian high court official from Thebes.

Pergolas have no floor structures. The slatted roofs are supported by columns secured to concrete slabs or decks and can either attach to homes or be standalone features. Homeowners love hanging string lights and vining plants from the open lattice for added shade and ambiance.

What Is a Gazebo?

POLYWOOD Coastal Chaise with Wheels in White/Navy Blue on Pation with Gazebo in the Background
Featured: Coastal Chaise with Wheels in White/Navy Blue

Egypt is also the birthplace of gazebos. They date back nearly 5,000 years, and prominent families would build them as spots to sit and admire their gardens.

Though “gazebo” refers to a category of outbuildings, particular designs have become attached to this term over time. The traditional gazebos we see dotting parks and public spaces across the U.S. are round or polygonal shaped, with wooden frames and metal roofing or asphalt shingles. They sit on raised platforms with steps leading up to the entrance, and you wouldn’t build one as an attachment to your home. “Gazebos are meant to be standalone structures,” Carrino says. “They have fully framed floors and roofs, and typically have railings all the way around, or are fully screened in.”

Which Is Best for Me?

“From a design and aesthetic perspective, you can build a pergola or gazebo to fit any aesthetic you are trying to achieve,” Carrino states. “But as a general rule, a gazebo leans more traditional, while a pergola gives you all the flexibility to create any aesthetic you are looking for.” 

Aesthetics are a significant factor to consider when comparing pergolas and gazebos, and there are other aspects to keep in mind, such as cost, installation, permits, etc. Let’s delve further into these details.

Pergolas: Points to Consider

  • Pricing: The cost of building a pergola will vary depending on your location and the materials used. Material prices differ in Michigan compared to Florida because of the different types of demand. And materials like fiberglass and wood have higher price points than vinyl or aluminum.
  • Installation: Do you plan to hire professionals to build a pergola for you? This saves work, but it will be more expensive. Taking the DIY route typically has the opposite effect, saving you money while requiring plenty of elbow grease on your end.
  • Shade: Traditional pergolas provide partial shade. However, many companies offer options that let you control the shade experience. There are smart pergolas with moveable louvers that open and shut with the press of a button and manual options that you operate via hand cranks. “You can also add extra options to these pergolas that include pull-down screens for each of the open sides and infrared heaters for those cooler months,” Carrino points out.
  • Permits and permissions: Depending on where you live, you may need planning permission from your town or HOA. Check the local zoning laws and restrictions to see if permits are required. If you belong to an HOA, review the rules to find out if there are renovation restrictions.
  • Property taxes: In some regions, pergolas are considered tangible improvements and can increase your property taxes. Research your local financial regulations to see if this applies to your town.

Chart: What is the difference between a pergola and a gazebo?

Gazebo: Points to Consider

  • Pricing: Like pergolas, the cost of building a gazebo will fluctuate based on your location and chosen materials. However, gazebo prices are higher than that of pergolas simply because more materials are needed. In addition to columns, gazebos have full roofs, railings, and floors that need to be built. 
  • Installation: Unless you’re a carpenter by trade, we recommend hiring professionals to install a gazebo as it’s quite the undertaking. 
  • Shade: Gazebos are completely covered, offering full shade for your family.
  • Permits and permissions: You’re most likely going to need a building permit for a gazebo as it’s considered an outbuilding. However, regulations vary from one city to another, so check your local laws to be sure. If your neighborhood has an HOA, read through the rules to see if you’ll be up against any restrictions.
  • Property taxes: Many states consider gazebos to be permanent structures, making them taxable. Check your local laws and regulations to be sure.

Anthony Carrino on Pergolas vs. Gazebos: For my money, and my aesthetic, pergolas are the way to go. They cost less to install, they give you all the benefits of a gazebo, and many of these kits are very DIY friendly.

Which Materials Are Best?

Gazebos and pergolas are typically built using wood, vinyl, aluminum, or fiberglass. The type of material you choose will depend on your budget and desired aesthetic. 

“I like powder-coated aluminum the best, as it is zero maintenance and will look great for years and years. Wood is always a great option, especially for more traditional aesthetics, but be aware that you will have to paint or stain it every few years to keep it looking good,” Carrino advises. “Vinyl is a great low-cost option if you have a tight budget, but this will also add the least value to your home, and over time the sun’s UV rays will start to weaken the plastic.”

What Are Arbors and Trellises?

An arbor is a small structure used as a landscaping or entrance accent. Most arbors have rounded roofs, and they’re typically built from wood or metal. Like pergolas, arbors are a type of gazebo. 

A trellis, on the other hand, is an outdoor decoration meant to support climbing plants. The frame is tall, flat, and thin, with no roof. It’s typically made of wood, metal, or plastic pieces arranged in a lattice or grid pattern. These structures bring visual interest to garden walls, fences, and other vertical surfaces. 

Both arbors and trellises are smaller than pergolas and gazebos. They’re meant more as decorative elements and offer little or no shelter from the sun and other elements.

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