The absorption and fluorescence properties of nifedipine (NPDHP), felodipine (CPDHP) and a series of structurally related 1,4-dihydropyridines were studied in aqueous solution and organic solvents of different properties. The absorption and fluorescence spectra were found to depend on the chemical nature of the substituents at the position 4 of the 1,4-dihydropyridine ring (DHP) and on solvent properties. In aqueous solution, the fluorescence spectra of 4-phenyl substituted compounds are blue-shifted with respect to the alkyl substituted compounds. The more fluorescent compound is CPDHP. Nifedipine is not fluorescent. All compounds, with the exception of CPDHP, present monoexponential fluorescence decay with very short lifetime (0.2–0.4 ns). CPDHP showed a biexponential emission decay with a long-lived component of 1.7 ns; this behavior is explained in terms of different conformers because of the hindered rotation of the phenyl group by the ortho-substitution. Analysis of the solvent effect on the maximum of the absorption spectrum by using the linear solvent–energy relation solvatochromic equation indicates the redshifts are influenced by the polarizability, hydrogen bonding ability and the hydrogen bond acceptance of the solvent. Whereas, the fluorescence characteristics (spectra, quantum yields and lifetimes) are sensitive to the polarizabilty and hydrogen bond ability of the solvents. Photodecomposition of nifedipine is dependent on the solvent properties. Faster decomposition rates were obtained in nonprotic solvents. The 4-carboxylic derivative goes to decarboxylation. Under similar conditions, the other DHP compounds did not show appreciable photodecomposition.