Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are important complex carbohydrates that participate in many biological processes through the regulation of their various protein partners. Biochemical, structural biology and molecular modelling approaches have assisted in understanding the molecular basis of such interactions, creating an opportunity to capitalize on the large structural diversity of GAGs in the discovery of new drugs. The complexity of GAG–protein interactions is in part due to the conformational flexibility and underlying sulphation patterns of GAGs, the role of metal ions and the effect of pH on the affinity of binding. Current understanding of the structure of GAGs and their interactions with proteins is here reviewed: the basic structures and functions of GAGs and their proteoglycans, their clinical significance, the three-dimensional features of GAGs, their interactions with proteins and the molecular modelling of heparin binding sites and GAG–protein interactions. This review focuses on some key aspects of GAG structure–function relationships using classical examples that illustrate the specificity of GAG–protein interactions, such as growth factors, anti-thrombin, cytokines and cell adhesion molecules. New approaches to the development of GAG mimetics as possible new glycotherapeutics are also briefly covered.