Glycolipids are a large and heterogeneous family of sphingolipids that form complex patterns on eukaryotic cell surfaces. This molecular diversity is generated by only a few enzymes and is a paradigm of naturally occurring combinatorial synthesis. We report on the biosynthetic principles leading to this large molecular diversity and focus on sialic acid–containing glycolipids of the ganglio–series. These glycolipids are particularly concentrated in the plasma membrane of neuronal cells. Their de novo synthesis starts with the formation of the membrane anchor, ceramide, at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and is continued by glycosyltransferases of the Golgi complex. Recent findings from genetically engineered mice are discussed. The constitutive degradation of glycosphingolipids (GSLs) occurs in the acidic compartments, the endosomes and the lysosomes. Here, water–soluble glycosidases sequentially cleave off the terminal carbohydrate residues from glycolipids. For glycolipid substrates with short oligosaccharide chains, the additional presence of membrane–active sphingolipid activator proteins (SAPs) is required. A considerable part of our current knowledge about glycolipid degradation is derived from a class of human diseases, the sphingolipidoses, which are caused by inherited defects within this pathway. A new post–translational modification is the attachment of glycolipids to proteins of the human skin.