Following the first outbreaks of legionnaire's disease, erythromycin emerged as the treatment of choice without the foundation of rigorous clinical trials. The number of therapeutic failures with erythromycin, as well as the side-effects and drug interactions, led to the consideration of other drugs such as the new macrolides and quinolones for the treatment of legionnaire's disease in the 1990s. In this article, 19 studies in in-vitro intracellular models and seven animal studies that compared macrolides to quinolones were reviewed. Quinolones were found to have greater activity in intracellular models and improved efficacy in animal models compared with macrolides. No randomised trials comparing the clinical efficacy of the new macrolides and new quinolones have ever been performed. Three observational studies totalling 458 patients with legionnaire's disease have compared the clinical efficacy of macrolides (not including azithromycin) and quinolones (mainly levofloxacin). The results suggested that quinolones may produce a superior clinical response compared with the macrolides (erythromycin and clarithromycin) with regard to defervescence, complications, and length of hospital stay. Little data exist for direct comparison of quinolones and azithromycin. © 2006 Copyright by the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.