Established methods for characterization of tissue and diagnostics, for example histochemistry, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray tomography, or positron emission tomography (PET), are mostly not suitable for intra-operative use. However, there is a clear need for an intra-operative diagnostics especially to identify the borderline between normal and tumor tissue. Currently, vibrational spectroscopy techniques (both Raman and infrared) complement the standard methods for tissue diagnostics. Vibrational spectroscopy has the potential for intra-operative use, because it can provide a biochemically based profile of tissue in real time and without requiring additional contrast agents, which may perturb the tissue under investigation. In addition, no electric potential needs to be applied, and the measurements are not affected by electromagnetic fields. Currently, promising approaches include Raman fiber techniques and nonlinear Raman spectroscopy. Infrared spectroscopy is also being used to examine freshly resected tissue ex vivo in the operating theater. The immense volume of information contained in Raman and infrared spectra requires multivariate analysis to extract relevant information to distinguish different types of tissue. The promise and limitations of vibrational spectroscopy methods as intra-operative tools are surveyed in this review.