Methylation of nucleotides in ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) is a ubiquitous feature that occurs in all living organisms. Identification of all enzymes responsible for rRNA methylation, as well as mapping of all modified rRNA residues, is now complete for a number of model species, such as Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Recent high-resolution structures of bacterial ribosomes provided the first direct visualization of methylated nucleotides. The structures of ribosomes from various organisms and organelles have also lately become available, enabling comparative structure-based analysis of rRNA methylation sites in various taxonomic groups. In addition to the conserved core of modified residues in ribosomes from the majority of studied organisms, structural analysis points to the functional roles of some of the rRNA methylations, which are discussed in this Review in an evolutionary context.