There are many simulators available for use in anaesthetic-related education and research. Those who wish to purchase a simulator or to establish a simulation facility face a daunting task in understanding the differences between simulators. Recent reviews have focused on narrower areas of simulation, such as airway management or basic life support, or on the application of simulators. It would be difficult to deal in detail with every simulator ever made for anaesthesia, but in the present review we cover the spectrum of currently available anaesthetic simulators, provide an overview of different types of simulator, and discuss a selection of simulators of particular interest, including some of historical significance and some examples of ‘home made’ simulators. We have found no common terminology amongst authors for describing or classifying simulators, and propose a framework for describing (or classifying) them that is simple, clear and applicable to any simulator.