Shade Showdown: Parasol vs Umbrella

Shade Showdown: Parasol vs Umbrella

As great as it is when the sun finally decides to make its long-awaited appearance, it can turn your outdoor space into the ultimate sun trap, rendering it unusable.

But, by choosing the right outdoor shading option, you can enhance the comfort and aesthetic of your garden — especially during peak summer. A stylish statement piece, UK garden parasols and umbrellas let you enjoy the sun from the safety of a shady spot, keeping you cool and safe from harmful UV rays. Whether you want to create a stylish patio or simply need a portable solution that provides the shade you need, understanding the key differences between parasols and umbrellas is crucial.

Read on as we dive deeper into parasols vs umbrellas, delving into their features alongside 12 ideas for getting the most out of both. 




What is a parasol?

A parasol is a type of umbrella that provides shade from the sun. It derives from the Latin words “para”, which means to shield, and “sol”, which means sun. They have a rich history dating back to ancient Egypt, China and Greece, where they were seen as a symbol of status and power, as well as offering protection from the harsh sun. 

Modern parasols are more accessible and are a common feature in people’s back gardens. They’re made from durable, weather-resistant materials, like polyester or acrylic fabrics, and are supported by a metal or wooden frame anchored to the ground or a stand. Available in a wide range of shapes, colours and sizes, they can enhance the aesthetic of your outdoor space and make it more functional, allowing you to stay outside even when the sun is at its strongest. 


What is an umbrella?

The English word umbrella comes from the Latin “umbra,” which translates to shade or shadow. Standard umbrellas are handheld devices used to provide protection and keep you dry during wet weather. Meanwhile, sun umbrellas are specially designed to provide protection from the sun, offering more UV protection than your everyday model.

The first-ever umbrella is believed to have originated from ancient China. From there, the concept caught on and spread to other countries and cultures. Unlike parasols, umbrellas are designed to be more portable and compact, meaning you can take them with you and keep out of the sun on days out. Some also have a handle, although this depends on the design. They are mainly for individual use. 


What are the similarities between a parasol vs an umbrella?

Parasols and umbrellas share many common features and design elements and are often mistaken for one another. These include: 

  • Materials: Parasols and sun umbrellas have fabric canopies. These are made from durable, weather-resistant materials such as polyester, nylon or acrylic and are designed to block harmful UV rays.
  • Frame: Both are supported by a frame that holds the canopy open. It typically features a collapsible mechanism, making it easy to open, close and transport, and is made from lightweight materials like aluminium.
  • Pole: Both have a handle or pole, allowing you to hold or anchor them to the ground. 
  • Protection: Both provide effective sun protection and can be used to create a shaded area outside.
  • Portability: Parasols and umbrellas are portable — just to different degrees. This allows you to use them as needed. 


What is the difference between parasols and umbrellas?

Despite their similarities, parasols and umbrellas differ in several key aspects. Here’s where they differ: 

  • Materials: Parasols tend to be made from thicker, UV-resistant materials that are more durable and can withstand prolonged sun exposure.
  • Frame: Umbrellas have a lighter and more flexible frame, making them easier to carry and set up. Their pole is also shorter and some feature handles for handheld use, although some can be inserted into a portable base. By comparison, parasols have longer poles that can be anchored into a base or the ground for a more permanent setup.
  • Size: Parasol and umbrella sizes vary. Parasols are larger for extensive shade, suitable for larger areas and groups of people. An umbrella is smaller and designed for individual use or pairs. 
  • Portability: Sun umbrellas are compact and easy to carry, perfect for on-the-go use, like at the beach or an outdoor event. Meanwhile, parasols can be moved around the garden or patio, but as they are much heavier, their flexibility is more limited.  
  • Cost: Parasols are more expensive than umbrellas due to their larger size, sturdier frame and more durable materials. However, this will vary and depend on the quality, size and brand. 


Parasol vs umbrella: which is better?





Larger canopy

Focal point in the garden 

Sturdier, heavier frame 


Smaller canopy

Lighter and more flexible frame




Stationary sun protection

Fixed to the ground 


Portable sun protection

Can be fixed or carried




Generally more expensive due to size and materials


Typically more affordable due to smaller size



Larger coverage

For personal use or large groups

Various sizes available

Smaller, more compact

For personal use or smaller groups

Various sizes available


The cost-effective choice: umbrellas

Triton 3m Round Aluminium Parasol in Green £95.00

Sun umbrellas are smaller and generally more affordable than parasols. They offer practical sun protection and are easy to transport, making them a versatile and cost-effective solution for anyone needing sun coverage on a budget. 


Optimising shade: parasols

Ares 3.5m Round Cantilever Parasol with Solar powered LED Lights in Charcoal - £649


Parasols’ larger canopies provide extensive shade and are ideal for bigger patios, gardens and outdoor dining spaces, easily covering large groups of friends and family members during parties or al fresco dining

Creating a large outdoor living space: parasols

Pallas 4m x 3m Rectangular Cantilever Parasol with LED Lighting in Beige - £1,399

Parasols are ideal for creating a comfortable and inviting outdoor living space thanks to their large size. Available in a range of stylish designs, you can use a parasol to create a designated area for dining or lounging. 

Choose a parasol that compliments your garden furniture to create a focal point that’s cohesive with the rest of your garden or patio. This will also make your outdoor space feel more functional.


Creating a luxury feel: parasols

Glow Challenger T2 3m Square Cantilever Parasol in Grey - £649.99


Parasols’ sheer size will add a touch of luxury to any outdoor setting. Made from high-quality materials, parasols often come in elegant, minimal designs, providing a sophisticated look for a more upscale outdoor space. 


Going for a modern look: parasols and umbrellas

Voyager T1 3m x 2m Rectangular Parasol in Taupe - £299.99



Modern umbrellas and parasols feature sleek, minimal designs to perfectly complement any contemporary garden. Choose a parasol with integrated features like LED lights or a compact sun umbrella for a clean, uncluttered look, perfect for a modern aesthetic. 

Going for a traditional look: parasols

Kratos 2m Round Wooden Parasol in Navy £59.00

If you’re someone who appreciates a more classic décor style, you can’t go wrong with a traditional wooden parasol. Perfect for achieving a timeless look, choose from a variety of sizes and colours to match your patio furniture. 

Standing the test of time: parasols

Hacienda 3m x 4m Cantilever Parasol With Granite Base & Cover in Taupe - £1,599


With a sturdier frame and a more durable, weather-resistant canopy, a parasol can easily withstand prolonged exposure to the sun and elements. It’s an investment that will last you season after season. 


Optimising a small space: umbrella

Source: Pinterest


Not everyone has the outdoor space for a large parasol. Sun umbrellas are a great alternative thanks to their smaller, more compact size, making them ideal for balconies or small patios. They are also easier to move around, store and move. 

Protection from the elements: parasols and umbrellas

Triton 2.5m Round Aluminium Parasol in Khaki - £75


Both umbrellas and parasols are versatile enough to provide shelter from the sun as well as light rain. However, the umbrella’s portable design ensures you stay protected wherever you are. 

12 UK parasol vs umbrella ideas

1. Cool down in the shade during summer

Pallas 4m x 3m Rectangular Cantilever Parasol with LED Lighting in Charcoal - £1,399


Parasol: A large parasol is guaranteed to provide extensive shade during those long, hot summer days. 

Perfect for poolside lounging or relaxing in the garden, a parasol can create a comfortable and inviting outdoor area that keeps you cool, sweat-free and protected from harmful UV rays. 

Choose one with a tilt function for adjustable shade as the sun moves position throughout the day.

Umbrella: Set up a smaller sun umbrella for instant shade during family picnics or beach trips with friends while you sit back and enjoy your favourite read without the worry of sunburn. 

Their compact design makes them easy to carry and set up for flexible sun protection wherever you go. 


2. Build an outdoor dining area

Ares 3m Square Cantilever Parasol with Solar powered LED Lights in Beige - £499


Parasol: Dine al fresco with a large parasol that shades your table and seating area

Ideal for hosting family dinners, brunches and other special occasions, a parasol lets your guests comfortably enjoy the outdoors. You’ll feel like you’re eating out at a chic European restaurant without setting foot outside your home. 

Umbrella: For something that’s a touch more flexible, use a beautiful fringed umbrella that’s just big enough to cover smaller tables and can be moved as needed. 


3. Add a touch of romance with soft lighting and flowers

Challenger T2 3.5m x 2.6m Rectangular Cantilever Parasol in Grey


Parasol: For evening gatherings, choose a cantilever parasol integrated with LED lights for a twilight ambience. They provide maximum coverage and are great for intimate dinners or romantic evening date nights with your partner. 

Umbrella: Create a similar effect by stringing fairy lights and hanging flowers onto your umbrella to enhance the romantic atmosphere.


4. Add heaters for year-round usage

Cylinder Patio Heater in Stainless Steel - £299.99


Parasol: Stay warm while enjoying your outdoor space by adding a stylish outdoor heater next to your parasol. Turn them on for chillier evening gatherings and during cooler seasons  to extend your garden’s usability throughout the year. 

Umbrella: Place a heater near your umbrella to get the same benefits, ensuring comfort without compromising on style. 


5. Explore rustic garden furniture options

Voyager T1 3m Round Parasol in Anthracite £299.99

Parasol: Pair a wooden parasol with rustic, wooden garden furniture to create a countryside-inspired outdoor space that’s perfect for relaxing weekends — even if you live in the heart of the city.

Umbrella: Choose an umbrella with a wooden handle and natural fabric canopy in a neutral colour to complement and enhance wooden or rattan garden furniture


6. Add a bar for hosting garden parties

Luna 8 Seat Bar Set in Oyster Grey - £3,249


Parasol: Cover a stylish garden bar under an equally stylish parasol for some much-needed shade while serving your favourite cocktails and socialising with friends. If you’re throwing a garden party, take it one step further and decorate your parasol to match your theme. 

Umbrella: Buy multiple smaller sun umbrellas and hand them out to your guests to keep them comfortable and protected while they sip and mingle in your outdoor bar

7. Protection from the rain

Source - Pinterest


Parasol: Although a parasol's main purpose is to provide shade, a waterproof garden parasol can also shelter you from light rain, making your outdoor space more usable against the unpredictable British weather. 

Umbrella: A sun umbrella made from waterproof materials can quickly be used to cover seating areas and protect guests against unexpected showers.


8. Create an aesthetic and covered hot tub space

Pallas 4m x 3m Rectangular Cantilever Parasol with LED Lighting in Charcoal - £1,399


Parasol: Invest in a large, elegant parasol to create a luxurious, shaded area for evening hot tub dips. Not only will it add privacy and protect your skin from the sun, but it will also enhance the spa-like feel of the area. 

​​Umbrella: Use a large sun umbrella to partially cover your hot tub. When you’ve had enough of the sun or the weather starts to turn, you can quickly nip under the umbrella’s protection for shelter. 


9. Add shade and décor to a patio

Challenger T2 3m Square Cantilever Parasol in Grey £499.99

Parasol: Use your parasol as an eye-catching design element and your patio's centrepiece. Choose vibrant colours and patterns that complement your outdoor furniture and create a lively and inviting space. 

Umbrella: Attach colourful umbrellas in bold, vibrant colours and patterns to your outdoor seats. If you’re not into colour, choose neutral blue and white strips or muted tones with fringing for a stylish touch with a twist. 

10. Seamlessly extend your living space 

Eros 3.3m x 2.4m Rectangular Cantilever Parasol in Charcoal  £549

Parasol: Use a parasol to create a seamless transition between your indoor and outdoor living spaces, making your garden or patio feel like an extension of your home. Add a few sun loungers or a cosy sofa for blissful open-air lounging. 

Umbrella: Portable umbrellas can also help extend your living space, offering flexibility in arranging your outdoor area. They can be quickly set up or taken down, allowing you to create cosy nooks or larger gathering spots as needed.


11. Protect yourself from the sun

Challenger T2 Oak 3m Cantilever Square Parasol in Anthracite - £649


Parasol: UV-resistant parasols provide excellent protection from harmful sun rays, making your outdoor space safe for extended summer use. They are essential for anyone who cares about their skin but loves spending time outdoors.

Umbrella: Sun umbrellas are convenient, portable solutions for sun protection during outdoor activities. Their compact design makes them perfect for impromptu picnics and beach trips, ensuring you stay cool and protected wherever you go. 


12. Create a trendy, modern look

Challenger T2 3m Square Cantilever Parasol in Anthracite - £499.99


Parasol: Sleek, modern parasol designs can instantly elevate the look of your garden, giving it a stylish and contemporary feel. Choose minimalistic designs, neutral colours and innovative features like LED lighting and a user-friendly crank handle system for easy adjustment. 

Umbrella: Modern sun umbrellas with clean lines and helpful features like automatic open/close mechanisms can enhance functionality and aesthetics for a trendy and practical outdoor area.


Shield yourself from the sun with Harbour Lifestyle

Both parasols and umbrellas offer excellent solutions for outdoor shading, ensuring you can enjoy the outdoors comfortably and safely. However, when it comes to parasols vs umbrellas in the UK, their specific features and functionalities cater to slightly different needs.

Parasols are ideal for creating a permanent, luxurious outdoor living space with extensive shade and aesthetic appeal. They’re perfect for those who prioritise style and durability and need to cover a larger area. 

Sun umbrellas provide more flexible and portable shade. They are cost-effective and versatile, making them ideal for on-the-go sun protection and smaller spaces. 

Explore Harbour Lifestyle’s wide range of parasols to find the perfect fit for your outdoor space. 

Our collection includes elegant cantilever parasols for extensive shade, durable aluminium parasols, and charming wooden options, each designed to enhance your garden or patio while providing superior sun protection. 


Visit Harbour Lifestyle to discover the ideal parasol for a beautiful addition to your garden. 




Can you use an umbrella as a parasol?

Both sun umbrellas and parasols can provide effective sun protection. However, umbrellas are typically smaller and more portable and won’t offer as much shade as a larger parasol. A parasol is generally a better option for extended sun exposure due to its larger canopy and sturdier design. 


Which came first: parasol or umbrella?

Both parasols and umbrellas can be traced back to ancient civilisations. The first umbrella is believed to have originated in China, dating as far back as 3500 BC, whereas the first known parasol dates back to Ancient Egypt around 2450 BC