Rigid biological systems are increasingly becoming a source of inspiration for the fabrication of next generation advanced functional materials due to their diverse hierarchical structures and remarkable engineering properties. Among these rigid biomaterials, nacre, as the main constituent of the armor system of seashells, exhibiting a well-defined ‘brick-and-mortar’ architecture, excellent mechanical properties, and interesting iridescence, has become one of the most attractive models for novel artificial materials design. In this review, recent advances in nacre-inspired artificial carbonate nanocrystals and layered structural nanocomposites are presented. To clearly illustrate the inspiration of nacre, the basic principles relating to plate-like aragonite single-crystal growth and the contribution of hierarchical structure to outstanding properties in nacre are discussed. The inspiration of nacre for the synthesis of carbonate nanocrystals and the fabrication of layered structural nanocomposites is also discussed. Furthermore, the broad applications of these nacre inspired materials are emphasized. Finally, a brief summary of present nacre-inspired materials and challenges for the next generation of nacre-inspired materials is given.