It has been over 20 years since the discovery that caveolar lipid rafts function as signalling organelles. Lipid rafts create plasma membrane heterogeneity, and caveolae are the most extensively studied subset of lipid rafts. A newly emerging paradigm is that changes in caveolae also generate tumour metabolic heterogeneity. Altered caveolae create a catabolic tumour microenvironment, which supports oxidative mitochondrial metabolism in cancer cells and which contributes to dismal survival rates for cancer patients. In this Review, we discuss the role of caveolae in tumour progression, with a special emphasis on their metabolic and cell signalling effects, and their capacity to transform the tumour microenvironment.