What is the difference between a pergola and a pavilion?

Pergola pavilion combo

What is the difference between a pergola and a pavilion?

The main difference between pergolas and pavilions is the roof.  Pergolas have an open lattice-style roof, while pavilions have a solid roof that is usually covered with asphalt shingles or metal.  This means that pergolas provide about 70-80% shade depending on the gap distance of the top slats.  Pavilions provide full shade and also much better protection from the rain.

Distinct differences

Pergolas and pavilions are both outdoor structures that can enhance the beauty and functionality of your outdoor living space.  While they might appear to be somewhat similar, there are some distinct differences between the two.  In this article, we will explore the differences between pergolas and pavilions, the benefits of each style, and what you should consider when trying to decide between these two structure types.

What is a Pergola?

A pergola is a garden or backyard structure that consists of vertical posts that support crossbeams and then on top of that an open lattice of cross boards.  The roof, therefore, is typically partially open, allowing some sunlight and airflow to pass through.  Pergolas are often used to provide shade and can support climbing plants.  They can also be used as a decorative feature to add a visual appeal or interest to a garden, backyard, or outdoor living space.

Benefits of a Pergola

One of the primary benefits of a pergola is the shade it provides.  The open lattice roof allows some sunlight through the slats.  Creating a mostly shaded area similar to being under a tree.  This can make your outdoor space more comfortable by keeping you and your family out of the sun.  Additionally, can be customized to fit your design preference.  They can be made out of a variety of materials.  Mostly wood or metal.  With different trim and color options, they can match the style of your preference.

Pergolas for gardeners

Pergolas are also a great option for gardeners.  The lattice framework can provide great support for climbing plants and vines.  This can change the look and feel of the design.  These plants can also provide additional shade.  You can grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables in pots or plant them directly in the ground surrounding the pergola.  This can create a stunning natural oasis that’s perfect for relaxing and entertaining your family and friends.

What is a Pavilion?

A pavilion is typically a freestanding outdoor structure that features a solid roof and open walls.  Unlike a pergola, the solid roof of a pavilion provides better shade and protection from the elements.  Pavilions can be used for many purposes, including outdoor dining, sitting around a fire pit, entertaining, and relaxing with family or friends.  They can be designed in different styles and colors.  The shingles can match your house.  Or a pavilion can have a metal roof.  Pavilions can be made out of metal or wood.  Or a combination of the two materials.  Pavilions for backyard living spaces are mostly made of wood timbers.

Benefits of a Pavilion

The main benefit of a pavilion is the total protection the roof provides from the elements.  The solid roof provides full shade and protection from the rain.  Keeping you and your guests dry in case it starts to rain.  The roof will also help protect your furniture and barbeque from getting wet.  This will help your furniture last much longer since it is out of the bad weather.  Pavilions can also be built with electrical outlets and light fixtures.  Some people will put a TV in their pavilion to relax and watch the big game outside.  A pavilion can create a functional and versatile outdoor living space.

Extra Outdoor Living Space

Pavilions are also a good option to create a separate outdoor living space in your yard. Unlike pergolas, which are often open and part of the landscape, pavilions are more like a separate distinct structure and can be used to create a better-protected area for dining, entertaining, etc.

Differences between Pergolas and Pavilions

Other than the most obvious, the roof.  The other main difference is the overall design and purpose of the shade structure.  While both of these structures are visually appealing.  The pergola is usually more of a decorative feature in an outdoor living space.  The pavilion would typically be used more for dining, grilling, and entertaining.

Choosing Between Pergolas and Pavilions

When choosing between pergolas and pavilions, there are several factors to consider.

First, is your design preference.  Pergolas are a great option for those who want to add a decorative design element to your outdoor living space.  They are also a good choice for those that want some partial sun filtering through the roof.  Pavilions are ideal for those that want full shade and protection from the elements.  They are a great option for those who want to create a separate defined outdoor living space and add extra living space.

Second, consider the size of the space available for the structure and your intended use.  If you have a small patio a pergola might make sense.  However, if you want to entertain a larger group, and have extra space in your yard, then the extra protection the roof of a pavilion provides might make more sense.

Third, is your budget.  Pergolas typically cost less than pavilions.  There is less wood in a pergola, and they are much easier to construct.  Pavilions usually will have a tongue and grooved cover over the rafters to create a rustic heavy timber look.  A pavilion is much more complicated to design and build.  And there is more timber required to construct this structure.  Since it has a solid roof, snow load needs to be calculated in the design.

Fourth, is design options.  One advantage that a pergola has over a pavilion is its roof shape.  The outer edge of a pergola does not have to be straight.  It can curve to follow the edge of a curved patio for example.  The pavilion roof is typically square or rectangular in design.  It is not really feasible to have a curved edge roof.


In conclusion, both pergolas and pavilions are great options to enhance your outdoor living space.  However, the two main reasons to choose a pergola are 1, you like the look and design of a pergola.  2, you want to save money.  Other than those two reasons, a pavilion is a much more versatile structure.  Because of the better protection from the elements.  You will likely spend more time inside a pavilion and your outdoor furniture will be much happier too.  Whatever you choose, a pergola or pavilion can drastically transform your outdoor living space and get you outside using your backyard.

One final thought…

There is one other option.  You can have both.  I have designed some structures that blend a pergola with a pavilion.  There are unlimited design options.  Let a design professional help you come up with the dream shade structure for your outdoor living space.

My name is Steve and I am passionate about designing beautiful and functional pergolas and pavilions.

Whether you need help coming up with an idea or already have something in mind, my goal is to help you explore the possibilities and find the perfect addition to your outdoor living space.  With my design consultations, you will have access to my decades of design experience and a personalized plan that fits your vision and budget.

If you are interested in taking the next step, I am a sales agent for one of the largest timber pavilion manufacturers in the country.  I can arrange to have your timber pergola or pavilion shipped directly to your location in the continental USA.  From start to finish, I am here to help you make your dream a reality.

Thank you for visiting my site and I am looking forward to working with you!

Steve Fleischer

Designer for one of the country's largest pergola and pavilion manufacturers. Steve has decades of design experience. Let Steve design an unforgettable structure for your backyard.

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