Optical biosensors represent the most common type of biosensor. Here we provide a brief classification, a description of underlying principles of operation and their bioanalytical applications. The main focus is placed on the most widely used optical biosensors which are surface plasmon resonance (SPR)-based biosensors including SPR imaging and localized SPR. In addition, other optical biosensor systems are described, such as evanescent wave fluorescence and bioluminescent optical fibre biosensors, as well as interferometric, ellipsometric and reflectometric interference spectroscopy and surface-enhanced Raman scattering biosensors. The optical biosensors discussed here allow the sensitive and selective detection of a wide range of analytes including viruses, toxins, drugs, antibodies, tumour biomarkers and tumour cells.