Techniques for measuring exocytosis, endocytosis and vesicle cycling in living cells in real time have resulted in a rapid expansion in the knowledge of these processes in neurons and other secretory cells. Several experimental approaches, developed during the past decade, have played key roles in this expansion. In this review we focus on three techniques: electrophysiological methods for monitoring membrane capacitance, electrochemical methods for detecting released secretory contents and optical methods for imaging membranes of endosomes and recycled vesicles that are stained with fluorescent dyes. Each technique has contributed unique and complementary information about the vesicle cycle, advancing our knowledge of the kinetics of membrane fusion and retrieval, the identity of the secretory contents and the spatial patterns and directional pathways involved in secretory membrane recycling. Naturally, each technique has inherent limitations; some of these shortcomings have recently been resolved by using more than one method simultaneously.