Owing to the limited regenerative capacity of cartilage tissue, cartilage repair remains a challenge in clinical treatment. Tissue engineering has emerged as a promising and important approach to repair cartilage defects. It is well known that material scaffolds are regarded as a fundamental element of tissue engineering. Novel biomaterial scaffolds formed by self-assembling peptides consist of nanofibre networks highly resembling natural extracellular matrices, and their fabrication is based on the principle of molecular self-assembly. Indeed, peptide nanofibre scaffolds have obtained much progress in repairing various damaged tissues (e.g. cartilage, bone, nerve, heart and blood vessel). This review outlines the rational design of peptide nanofibre scaffolds and their potential in cartilage tissue engineering.