Protein-carbohydrate interaction is exploited in cell adhesion mechanisms besides the recognition of peptide motifs. The sugar code thus significantly contributes to the intriguing specificity of cellular selection of binding partners. Focusing on two classes of lectins (selectins and galectins), it is evident that their functionality for mediation of adhesive contacts is becoming increasingly appreciated, as is the integration of this type of interaction with other recognition modes to yield the noted specificity. The initial contact formation between leukocytes and activated endothelium makes use of selectins to guide lymphocyte trafficking. In addition to the three selectins which bind a distinct array of ligands, galectin-1 and galectin-3 and possibly other members of this family are involved in cell-cell or cell-matrix interactions. This review summarizes structural and functional aspects of these two classes of endogenous lectins relevant for cell adhesion.