Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) have a number of physical properties that make them appealing for medical applications. For example, the attenuation of X-rays by gold nanoparticles has led to their use in computed tomography imaging and as adjuvants for radiotherapy. AuNPs have numerous other applications in imaging, therapy and diagnostic systems. The advanced state of synthetic chemistry of gold nanoparticles offers precise control over physicochemical and optical properties. Furthermore gold cores are inert and are considered to be biocompatible and nontoxic. The surface of gold nanoparticles can easily be modified for a specific application, and ligands for targeting, drugs or biocompatible coatings can be introduced. AuNPs can be incorporated into larger structures such as polymeric nanoparticles or liposomes that deliver large payloads for enhanced diagnostic applications, efficiently encapsulate drugs for concurrent therapy or add additional imaging labels. This array of features has led to the aforementioned applications in biomedical fields, but more recently in approaches where multifunctional gold nanoparticles are used for multiple methods, such as concurrent diagnosis and therapy, so-called theranostics. This review covers basic principles and recent findings in gold nanoparticle applications for imaging, therapy and diagnostics, with a focus on reports of multifunctional AuNPs.