At the end of each academic year, several Cambridge University colleges host ‘May Balls’ – these events are opulent balls organised for students to celebrate. Many of them are often black tie and have a different theme each year. Attendees receive an exquisite dinner and a variety of entertainment options, often including famous musicians and acts.
These balls are very exclusive, with some only allowing a very limited guest list – prices vary between colleges. Each college’s ball is different and prices vary – with an average price of £150, but some college’s prices are as high as £400!
The balls begin in mid-June, but tickets are sold way ahead of time. Given the exclusivity of some of these balls, tickets are limited and the only way to experience one of these extravagant nights is if you are a current student, alumni, a guest, staff or fellow.
But what makes these events so lavish and expensive, and which college ball is the most extravagant? Traditional Punting Company researched and looked into this year’s college balls and found out more about past themes, special guests, and also which is ranked as the most lavish based on ticket price…
1. Trinity College
Average ticket price: £418.33
At the top of our list and ranked as the most exclusive May Ball due to its higher ticket price is Trinity College’s May Ball. Trinity is known for being the largest Oxbridge college and has the largest financial endowment of any college, so we’re not too surprised that this is the most expensive ball and is at the top of our list.
Tickets for this May Ball are sold in doubles, so this makes them instantly more expensive compared to the other colleges. The ticket options include standard tickets, VIP tickets and dining tickets, all of which are only sold in pairs. The dress code for this event is classic traditional black tie, white tie or formal national dress.
Often described as “Europe’s largest private party”, Trinity’s theme is said to be ‘Back to the 90’s’ this year and Two Door Cinema Club are rumoured to be the headlining act! They famously hold a stunning firework display that lights up Cambridge (which you can catch a great view of on our May Ball Firework Punting event) and also hosts a range of world-class entertainment each year. Last year saw fairground rides, an Abba tribute band and even tagliatelle served in a giant wheel of cheese! Previous Trinity Balls have witnessed performances from the likes of Shakin’ Stevens and Elvis Costello.
2. St John’s College
Average ticket price: £235
Once famously named the seventh best party in the world by Time Magazine, this year’s St John’s May Ball tickets average at £235. This lavish event features live music, all-you-can-eat food and drink, as well as another world-class fireworks display. The event’s theme is very secretive, often revealed on the night, so we weren’t able to find much about the theme for this year, other than a few clues from the official poster. We have seen themes such as ‘A Midsommer Nights Dream’, ‘Venetian Carnival’, and ‘Orient Express’ in the past.
Students and guests have the option to purchase upgrades to their tickets, adding a little bit extra to their Ball experience including fast track, dining, and breakfast upgrades. For example, the breakfast upgrade includes a formal breakfast in the Senior Combination Room in the early hours of the morning!
Like Trinity, the dress code is formal black tie and national dress. St John’s College currently supports three charities: Mencap, CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) and May Week Alternative. St Johns has also just announced that this year’s headlining act is DYLAN, who was this year’s star nominee of the BBC’s Sound of the Year!
3. Magdalene College
Average ticket price: £213
Ranked as the third most lavish May Ball, Magdalene’s biennial ball is back this year for the first time in four years! The college has been characterised throughout the decades by its elegant white tie dress code, making it one of their main traditions. Students are given discounted white tie hire – alternative outfit options for the night include national dress, highland dress or officer’s mess dress.
There doesn’t seem to be a set theme name for the Magdalene May Ball this year, however, they have promised fantastical adventure, gastronomy, live music, entertainment, dancing and much more for the night! Past years have seen performances from KT Tunstall and The Fratellis, so we are expecting big things for this year’s headliners – it seems the entertainment is being kept under wraps for now.
4. Queens College
Average ticket price: £205
This year, Queens College May Ball theme will be ‘Golden Age’ with a dress code of black tie or formal national dress and an option to embrace golden accents to your outfit too. Queens College haven’t thrown a May Ball since 2019, but it is back this year with it’s great reputation for putting on a party with impressive entertainment – like silent discos and game rooms, they certainly have some high expectations to live up to!
Queens have had several well-known headliners in past years including Bastille, the Kaiser Chiefs, Florence and the Machine, Bombay Bicycle Club and B*witched! This year’s headliners have yet to be announced so there is plenty of anticipation.
The college’s alumni ticket options include a drinks reception in the president’s garden before the ball; as well as access to the exclusive alumni room. Students can also purchase a Dining add-on to their tickets, which includes a three-course sit-down meal before the ball starts.
5. Corpus Christi College
Average ticket price: £197.50
There seems to be little information on the Corpus Christi May Ball so far for this year, suggesting they want to keep it all under wrap until the big day! We do know that the theme this year is ‘All The World’s A Stage’, with a classic black tie or national dress dress-code.
Last year’s theme was ‘Arcadia’, and they had headliners such as The Amazons. Previous years saw bespoke Corpus Christi gin for guests to enjoy, and headline performances from Bondax, Alex Metric and KSteward.
Tickets have a queue jump option with a £25 extra fee and also include alumni and staff ticket options. This year’s ball is certainly set to be one to remember too!
6. Jesus College
Average ticket price: £173
The May Ball is always an extremely popular event amongst Jesus College students, their theme this year will be ‘Bloom’ which invites attendees to a night of creation, classification and genesis. The dress code will again be black tie, white tie or national dress, but they are also encouraging sustainability with an option to buy, sell or rent your formal wear from fellow students.
Previous themes included ‘Wildcard’ which also saw great entertainment with a performance from James Bay. Other years have also had headline acts of the likes of Jack Garratt and Kathrine Ryan too, so we once again have high expectations for the entertainment this year!
Like St Johns, Jesus has upgraded tickets to experience more at the ball such as a Champagne priority option and a Dining option. Although these come at a higher price than the general access tickets, it is sure to be a lavish and well-worth-it experience.
7. Downing College
Average ticket price: £162.45
Downing is known for having been one of only two May Balls to receive a five-star review from both Varsity and The Tab, so like every year, this year’s ball has a lot to live up to.
Their theme for this year is ‘Regency and Revelry’, and their headliner acts will be Tinchy Stryder and Toploader. Last year’s theme was ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ and saw British musician Example headline the night – other past headliners have included Scouting For Girls, Jax Jones and Becky Hill!
Tickets include inclusive access to the best food, drinks and entertainment on offer. Downing has also provided Bursary ticket options and add-on options, such as queue jump, Dining and VIP.
8. Darwin College
Average ticket price: £142.50
Darwin has described their May Ball as “one of the most lavish affairs of the year”, and this year’s theme of ‘Orient Express’ was perhaps inspired by St John’s ball in 2000. Their dress code is black tie or national dress but creativity in regard to the theme is encouraged. This year their committee have pledged to hold the first-ever Vegan May Ball, which has attracted a lot of media attention, creating great PR and marketing for this ball!
Past years have seen interesting themes such as ‘Titanic’ and ‘Arcadia’, and headliners such as The Hoosiers. However, there have been no clues for this year’s headliners.
Alternative packages such as queue jumps and VIPs were available to be purchased with tickets. VIP tickets mean attendees are chauffeured to the ball early by a punting boat, and they get to attend a luxury three-course dinner with musical entertainment.
9. Robinson College
Average ticket price: £140
Robinson’s theme this year has been announced as ‘Disorderly Conduct’ which is described on their website as “think the indulgence of the speakeasy and the sophistication of the Jazz age!”. The dress code will be black tie and the rockband Toploader has been announced as a headliner.
Previous years have had alluring guests within the world of Cabaret and Courtesans. Their balls have been described as being triumphant, with incredible performances – the Ball’s beautiful decor also always seems to be a highlight. They have also seen performances from the likes of Saint Raymond, Sunset Sons and Romare.
Robinson College also sold add-on tickets which included dining and queue jump options.
10. Homerton College
Average ticket price: £136.25
Last but certainly not least on our list is Homerton, with their theme this year named ‘Eclipse’ and the classic black tie and national dress dress code, their May Ball is fundraising for charities such as Cambridge Street Aid and Social Mobility Foundation.
There is little about headliners for this year’s ball, however, Homerton’s May Balls are always a great success, and last year they had Big Narstie as their headliner and ‘Gaia’ as the theme. This year the college has partnered up with ‘By Rotation’ to be as environmentally friendly as possible and to encourage guests to scrub up sustainably.
The tickets also have a queue jump option, and bursary tickets for students.
Whether you are going to a May Ball this year or you simply just want an insight into these lavish events, this May Ball Week will surely be one to remember for many students, staff and alumni. Known as the best week of the year for Cambridge students, we’re excited to see if this year’s events live up to those high expectations!
If you’re not able to attend these exclusive events but would still love to feel like a part of it, we are currently running an event which allows you to enjoy the end-of-term fireworks presented by each college at the University of Cambridge from the best seat in the house- the River Cam! Find out more information and book your spot here.
We ranked all the Cambridge University Colleges that currently have May Ball information released, and we ranked 20 of them from the most expensive tickets to the least expensive. This included College Students’ tickets, Guest tickets, Alumni tickets, Staff and Fellows tickets and Bursary tickets. We looked at all these ticket options for each college and worked out the average for each, and with this information, we ranked the top 10.
The full research can be found here.
Posted on June 2nd, 2023, by the Traditional Punting Company Editor