Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) have been extensively studied within biomedicine due to their biocompatibil- ity and low toxicity. In particular, AuNPs have been widely used to deliver photosensitiser agents for photodynamic therapy (PDT) of cancer. Here we review the state-of-the-art for the functionalisation of the gold nanoparticle surface with both photosensitisers and targeting ligands for the active targeting of cancer cell surface receptors. From the initial use of the AuNPs as a simple carrier of the photosensitiser for PDT, the field has significantly advanced to include: the use of PEGylated modification to provide aqueous compatibility and stealth properties for in vivo use; gold metal-surface enhanced singlet oxygen generation; functionalisation of the AuNP surface with biological ligands to specifically target over- expressed receptors on the surface of cancer cells and; the creation of nanorods and nanostars to enable combined PDT and photothermal therapies. These versatile AuNPs have significantly enhanced the efficacy of traditional photosensitisers for both in vitro and in vivo cancer therapy. From this review it is apparent that AuNPs have an important future in the treatment of cancer.