The human gastrointestinal tract represents an environment which is a densely populated home for a microbiota that has evolved to positively contribute to host health. At birth the essentially sterile gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is rapidly colonized by microorganisms that originate from the mother and the surrounding environment. Within a short timeframe a microbiota establishes within the (breastfed) infant's GIT where bifidobacteria are among the dominant members, although their numerical dominance disappears following weaning. The numerous health benefits associated with bifidobacteria, and the consequent commercial relevance resulting from their incorporation into functional foods, has led to intensified research aimed at the molecular understanding of claimed probiotic attributes of this genus. In this review we provide the current status on the diversity and ecology of bifidobacteria. In addition, we will discuss the molecular mechanisms that allow this intriguing group of bacteria to colonize and persist in the GIT, so as to facilitate interaction with its host.