Vegetation survey is an important research agenda in vegetation science. It defines vegetation types and helps understand differences among them, which is essential for both basic ecological research and applications in biodiversity conservation and environmental monitoring. In this editorial, we reflect on the historical development and current state of vegetation survey worldwide and introduce the Special Feature ‘Vegetation Survey’, as well as the new section of the same name in Applied Vegetation Science. The current Special Feature contains eight vegetation survey studies from North America, New Zealand, Europe and Asia. Most of these studies describe diversity of important vegetation types across large areas and some are also innovative from the methodological viewpoint. They illustrate current trends in vegetation survey in different parts of the world and also represent some examples of the type of studies that we wish to publish in the ‘Vegetation Survey’ section in future issues of Applied Vegetation Science.