The complex molecular events responsible for coordinating chromosome replication and segregation with cell division and growth are collectively known as the cell cycle. Progression through the cell cycle is orchestrated by the interplay between controlled protein synthesis and degradation and protein phosphorylation. Protein degradation is primarily regulated through the ubiquitin proteasome system, mediated by two related E3 protein ubiquitin ligases, the Skp1 cullin F-box (SCF) and the anaphase promoting complex (also known as the cyclosome) (APC/C). The APC/C is a multi-subunit cullin-RING E3 ubiquitin ligase that regulates progression through the mitotic phase of the cell cycle and controls entry into S phase by catalysing the ubiquitylation of cyclins and other cell cycle regulatory proteins. Selection of APC/C targets is controlled through recognition of short destruction motifs, predominantly the D-box and KEN-box. APC/C-mediated coordination of cell cycle progression is achieved through the temporal regulation of APC/C activity and substrate specificity, exerted through a combination of co-activator subunits, reversible phosphorylation and inhibitory proteins and complexes. The aim of this article is to discuss the APC/C from a structural and mechanistic perspective. Although an atomic structure of the APC/C is still lacking, a combination of genetic, biochemical, electron microscopy studies of intact APC/C and crystallographic analysis of individual subunits, together with analogies to evolutionarily related E3 ligases of the RING family, has provided deep insights into the molecular mechanisms of catalysis and substrate recognition, and structural organisation of the APC/C.