The field of protein crystallography inspires and enthrals, whether it be for the beauty and symmetry of a perfectly formed protein crystal, the unlocked secrets of a novel protein fold, or the precise atomic-level detail yielded from a protein-ligand complex. Since 1958, when the first protein structure was solved, there have been tremendous advances in all aspects of protein crystallography, from protein preparation and crystallisation through to diffraction data measurement and structure refinement. These advances have significantly reduced the time required to solve protein crystal structures, while at the same time substantially improving the quality and resolution of the resulting structures. Moreover, the technological developments have induced researchers to tackle ever more complex systems, including ribosomes and intact membrane-bound proteins, with a reasonable expectation of success. In this review, the steps involved in determining a protein crystal structure are described and the impact of recent methodological advances identified. Protein crystal structures have proved to be extraordinarily useful in medicinal chemistry research, particularly with respect to inhibitor design. The precise interaction between a drug and its receptor can be visualised at the molecular level using protein crystal structures, and this information then used to improve the complementarity and thus increase the potency and selectivity of an inhibitor. The use of protein crystal structures in receptor-based drug design is highlighted by (i) HIV protease, (ii) influenza virus neuraminidase and (iii) prostaglandin H2-synthetase. These represent, respectively, examples of protein crystal structures that (i) influenced the design of drugs currently approved for use in the treatment of H[V infection, (ii) led to the design of compounds currently in clinical trials for the treatment of influenza infection and (iii) could enable the design of highly specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that lack the common side-effects of this drug class.