Over 20 000 MR systems are currently installed worldwide and, although the majority operate at magnetic fields of 1.5 T and below (i.e. about 70%), experience with 3-T (in high-field clinical diagnostic imaging and research) and 7-T (research only) human MR scanners points to a future in functional and metabolic MR diagnostics. Complementary to previous studies, this review attempts to provide an overview of ultrahigh-field MR research with special emphasis on emerging clinical applications at 7 T. We provide a short summary of the technical development and the current status of installed MR systems. The advantages and challenges of ultrahigh-field MRI and MRS are discussed with special emphasis on radiofrequency inhomogeneity, relaxation times, signal-to-noise improvements, susceptibility effects, chemical shifts, specific absorption rate and other safety issues. In terms of applications, we focus on the topics most likely to gain significantly from 7-T MR, i.e. brain imaging and spectroscopy and musculoskeletal imaging, but also body imaging, which is particularly challenging. Examples are given to demonstrate the advantages of susceptibility-weighted imaging, time-of-flight MR angiography, high-resolution functional MRI, 1H and 31P MRSI in the human brain, sodium and functional imaging of cartilage and the first results (and artefacts) using an eight-channel body array, suggesting future areas of research that should be intensified in order to fully explore the potential of 7-T MR systems for use in clinical diagnosis. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.