The closely related bacterial pathogens Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonococci, GC) and N. meningitidis (meningococci, MC) initiate infection at human mucosal epithelia. Colonization begins at apical epithelial surfaces with a multistep adhesion cascade, followed by invasion of the host cell, intracellular persistence, transcytosis, and exit. These activities are modulated by the interaction of a panoply of virulence factors with their cognate host cell receptors, and signals are sent from pathogen to host and host to pathogen at multiple stages of the adhesion cascade. Recent advances place us on the verge of understanding the colonization process at a molecular level of detail. In this review we describe the Neisseria virulence factors in the context of epithelial cell biology, placing special emphasis on the signaling functions of type IV pili, pilus-based twitching motility, and the Opa and Opc outermembrane adhesin/invasin proteins. We also summarize what is known about bacterial intracellular trafficking and growth. With the accelerated integration of tools from cell biology, biochemistry, biophysics, and genomics, experimentation in the next few years should bring unprecedented insights into the interactions of Neisseriae with their host.