The genus Populus has a wide distribution in different climatic zones. Besides its economic and ecological relevance, Populus also serves as a model for elucidating physiological and molecular mechanisms of stress tolerance in tree species. In this review, adaptation strategies of poplars to excess soil salinity are addressed at different scales, from the cellular to the whole-plant level. Striking differences in salt tolerance exist among different poplar species and ecotypes, with Populus euphratica being outstanding in this respect. Key mechanisms identified in this species to mediate salt tolerance are compartmentalisation of Cl− in the vacuoles of the root cortex cells, diminished xylem loading of NaCl, activation of Na+ extrusion into the soil solution under stress, together with simultaneously avoiding excessive K+ loss by regulation of depolarisation-activated cation channels. This leads to improved maintenance of the K+/Na+ balance, a crucial precondition for survival under salt stress. Leaf cells of this species are able to compartmentalise Na+ preferentially in the apoplast, whereas in susceptible poplar species, as well as in crop plants, vacuolar Na+ deposition precedes apoplastic transport. ABA, Ca2+and ROS are involved in stress sensing, with higher or faster activation of defences in tolerant than in susceptible poplar species. P. euphratica develops leaf succulence after prolonged salt exposure as a plastic morphological adaptation that leads to salt dilution. Transgenic approaches to improve salt tolerance by transformation of candidate genes have had limited success, since salt tolerance is a multigenic trait. In future attempts towards increased salt resistance, barriers between different poplar sections must be overcome and application of novel biotechnological tools, such as gene stacking, are recommended.