Cystic and bright kidneys can pose a significant diagnostic dilemma when discovered as an incidental finding at the time of a routine fetal ultrasound scan. There are diverse aetiologies with equally variable implications for the prognosis in the affected fetus, and for future pregnancies. Accurate antenatal diagnosis in the absence of any positive family history is often not possible and a team approach to management (to include the fetal medicine specialist, paediatric nephrologist or urologist, geneticists and in some cases, pathologist) is essential. In this review we will attempt to describe the embryology and aetiology of these conditions and suggest an approach to management. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.