Multiciliated cells are epithelial cells that are in contact with bodily fluids and are required for the proper function of major organs including the brain, the respiratory system and the reproductive tracts. Their multiple motile cilia beat unidirectionally to remove particles of external origin from their surface and/or drive cells or fluids into the lumen of the organs. Multiciliated cells in the brain are produced once, almost exclusively during embryonic development, whereas in respiratory tracts and oviducts they regenerate throughout life. In this Review, we provide a cell-to-organ overview of multiciliated cells and highlight recent studies that have greatly increased our understanding of the mechanisms driving the development and function of these cells in vertebrates. We discuss cell fate determination and differentiation of multiciliated cells, and provide a comprehensive account of their locations and functions in mammals.