The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford is one of Sir Christopher Wren’s first buildings, which he designed when he was an astronomy professor at the University of Oxford. It was built between 1664 and 1669 and is primarily used for university events.
Previously graduation ceremonies and other university events were held in the St Mary the Virgin on High church, but it was decided that a more secular environment was more appropriate for these, often rowdy, events.
What to see at the Sheldonian Theatre
The theatre’s roof is based on a geometrical flat floor, which was revolutionary in its day and the ceiling features a fresco by King Charles II’s court painter, Robert Streater. The ceiling painting consists of 32 panels and was restored in 2008.
Visitors to the Sheldonian Theatre have access to the main theatre, with its impressive ceiling fresco, the attic, where the university used to store books and the building’s eight-sided cupola above the centre of the roof, which offers spectacular 360º views over Oxford.
Visiting the Sheldonian Theatre
Many visitors to Oxford skip the Sheldonian Theatre, partly because there are so many more well-known attractions in the city but it is well worth a look, particularly for the view from the cupola.
There are three main ways to visit the theatre. The general visitor ticket that lets you explore the theatre at your leisure, a guided tour or attending a concert or other event.
The cheapest option is the basic visitor ticket that gives you access to the main theatre, the attic and cupola.
The next step up is the one-hour guided tour, which gives you much more background information about the theatre as well as some interesting facts about the history of the University of Oxford.
Although it is primarily used for university functions, concerts are held here from time to time and attending a concert lets you visit the theatre as it was intended. However, the seating is said to be not particularly comfortable. Tickets for concerts usually range between £15 and £35.