Infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of chronic liver disease. HCV is an enveloped plus-strand RNA virus closely related to flavi- and pestiviruses. The first cloning of the HCV genome, about 10 years ago, initiated research efforts leading to the elucidation of the genomic organization and the definition of the functions of most viral proteins. Despite this progress the lack of convenient animal models and appropriate in vitro propagation systems have hampered a full understanding of the way the virus multiplies. This review summarizes our current knowledge about HCV replication and describes attempts pursued in the last few years to establish efficient and reliable cell culture systems.