The developing visual system has proven to be one of the most informative models for studying axon guidance decisions. The pathway is composed of the axons of a single neuronal cell type, the retinal ganglion cell (RGC), that navigate through a series of intermediate targets on route to their final destination. The molecular basis of optic pathway development is beginning to be elucidated with cues such as netrins, Slits and ephrins playing a key role. Other factors best characterised for their role as morphogens in patterning developing tissues, such as sonic hedgehog (Shh) and Wnts, also act directly on RGC axons to influence guidance decisions. The transcriptional basis of the spatial-temporal expression of guidance cues and their cognate receptors within the developing optic pathway as well as mechanisms underlying the plasticity of guidance responses also are starting to be understood. This review will focus on our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms directing the early development of functional connections in the developing visual system and the insights these studies have provided into general mechanisms of axon guidance.