Metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) are a fascinating class of novel inorganic–organic hybrid materials. They are essentially based on classic coordination chemistry and hold much promise for unique applications ranging from gas storage and separation to chemical sensing, catalysis, and drug release. The evolution of the full innovative potential of MOFs, in particular for nanotechnology and device integration, however requires a fundamental understanding of the formation process of MOFs. Also necessary is the ability to control the growth of thin MOF films and the positioning of size- and shape-selected crystals as well as MOF heterostructures on a given surface in a well-defined and oriented fashion. MOFs are solid-state materials typically formed by solvothermal reactions and their crystallization from the liquid phase involves the surface chemistry of their building blocks. This Review brings together various key aspects of the surface chemistry of MOFs.