Until relatively recently, a diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative disorders was principally based on clinical presentation, with post-mortem examination remaining a gold standard for disease confirmation. This is in sharp contrast to other areas of medicine, where fluid biomarkers, such as troponin levels in myocardial infarction, form an integral part of the diagnostic and treatment criteria. There is a pressing need for such quantifiable and easily accessible tools in neurodegenerative diseases. In this paper, based on lectures given at the 2019 Biomarkers in Neurodegenerative Diseases Course, we provide an overview of a range of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood biomarkers in neurodegenerative disorders, including the ‘core’ AD biomarkers amyloid β (Aβ) and tau, as well as other disease-specific and general markers of neuroaxonal injury. We then highlight the main challenges in the field, and how those could be overcome with the aid of new methodological advances, such as assay automation, mass spectrometry and ultrasensitive immunoassays. As we hopefully move towards an era of disease-modifying treatments, reliable biomarkers will be essential to increase diagnostic accuracy, allow for earlier diagnosis, better participant selection and disease activity and treatment effect monitoring.