The Difference Between a Terrace and a Balcony

Image of a balcony filled with potted plants and a bistro set in the middle

Westend61 / Getty Images

A terrace and a balcony are both great ways to expand living space and connect the inside with the outside. Both add visual interest to a property's exterior and maximize living space, allowing homeowners to enjoy the outdoors within easy reach of the comfort of their own home.

The two structures are often mistaken for each other, and while they do have similar features, each has its own architectural characteristics and purpose, and there are significant differences between the two when it comes to location, size, and construction. Read on to find out how balconies and terraces differ, what the origins of each are, and how to make best use of these outdoor spaces in your own home.

Terrace
  • Next to or on top of a building

  • Open, not enclosed

  • Large in size

  • Entrance is not through an indoor room

  • Often a public space, especially if located at the top of a building

Balcony
  • Attached to the side of a building

  • Enclosed by a low railing or wall

  • Usually small and narrow in size

  • Entrance is through an indoor room

  • A private space

What Is a Terrace?

A terrace is a paved or tiled outdoor area next to or at the top of a building. It's open, flat, and (when not located on a rooftop), it's slightly raised. The word terrace has origins in 16th-century Old French, as well as Latin, in which the word terra means earth.

Rooftop terrace for building
Westend61 / Getty Images

Location

A terrace is an outdoor area that's located next to or sometimes at the top of a building. Unlike a balcony, it is not necessarily attached to a building and can be completely free-standing. It's an open space that's usually only slightly raised, and because it's not physically connected to a building (unless it's a rooftop terrace), it doesn't need to be entered through a room inside the house.

Size

Much larger than a balcony, a terrace can span almost the entire surface of a rooftop when located at the top of a building, and it's often used as a garden or an entertaining space. In a busy city, it's a great opportunity to build a quiet oasis that feels far removed from the hustle and bustle of the crowded streets.

Terraces that are located next to a house also tend to be large in size. They're slightly elevated and provide generous outdoor living space for homeowners that's perfect for entertaining or relaxing outside while the weather is nice. They can also be a valuable feature when selling a home, particularly when private outdoor space is tough to find.

Construction

Often a fully free-standing construction, a terrace is built from the ground up and finished off with a paved, tiled, or wood-planked surface. If using wood, it's important to use a moisture-resistant type that's been treated for the outdoors, so that the terrace remains in good shape and looks just like new for years to come.

What Is a Balcony?

A balcony is a raised outdoor platform attached to the side of a building and enclosed by a low railing, accessible from an upper floor and designed to extend living space past the indoors. The word balcony comes from the Old Italian word balcone and dates back to the 17th century, one of the most famous balconies in the world being Juliet's balcony (of Romeo and Juliet fame) in Verona, Italy.

Apartment balcony table with plants
Carlina Teteris / Getty Images

Location

A balcony is a raised outdoor platform attached to the side of a building and enclosed by a low railing or wall. It is usually accessible through an upper floor, and generally only has one point of access, such as a door.

Size

Balconies tend to be long and narrow and much smaller than a terrace. The size of a balcony also varies depending on whether it is attached to an apartment building or a house, the latter usually being larger. Generally, a balcony is at least four feet deep, making it a great space for a small-sized outdoor bistro set to enjoy a morning cup of coffee, a place to grow and display herbs and tomatoes, or a spot for your exercise mat to get in a yoga session in the fresh air.

Construction

If you've ever wondered about how balconies are built and how they manage to stay up in the air, the hidden structural support comes from joists that are added to the existing building's beams. They are fastened together to secure the structure and support the weight of the balcony.

Terrace vs. Balcony

Both of these exterior structures have many uses, whether it's gathering with others and entertaining or providing a place to have a small potted garden in the middle of a busy city. Terraces and balconies are common features in various styles of homes, but there are iconic examples of each that immediately come to mind. Perhaps the most famous of all balconies, Juliet's balcony in Verona is so iconic that it inspired a namesake structure, the Juliet balcony: a particularly narrow balcony that's often only inches deep but adds a feeling of openness and light as well as aesthetic charm, thanks to a very ornate railing.

Similarly, rooftop terraces, such as the one at the top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, are a quintessential representation of the structure; a large open space offering spectacular views and an oasis above a crowded city. It's no surprise that balconies and terraces continue to be a popular feature in private homes and public buildings, given that they do exactly what they were designed to do: extend and maximize living space and connect often-small indoor spaces with the openness of the outdoors.

Modern detached house with terrace and garden
Westend61 / Getty Images
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Potential Woods for Use in Outdoor Applications. Hardwood Distributor's Association