To develop protective immune responses against mucosal pathogens, the delivery route and adjuvants for vaccination are important. The host, however, strives to maintain mucosal homeostasis by responding to mucosal antigens with tolerance, instead of immune activation. Thus, induction of mucosal immunity through vaccination is a rather difficult task, and potent mucosal adjuvants, vectors or other special delivery systems are often used, especially in the elderly. By taking advantage of the common mucosal immune system, the targeting of mucosal dendritic cells and microfold epithelial cells may facilitate the induction of effective mucosal immunity. Thus, novel routes of immunization and antigen delivery systems also show great potential for the development of effective and safe mucosal vaccines against various pathogens. The purpose of this review is to introduce several recent approaches to induce mucosal immunity to vaccines, with an emphasis on mucosal tissue targeting, new immunization routes and delivery systems. Defining the mechanisms of mucosal vaccines is as important as their efficacy and safety, and in this article, examples of recent approaches, which will likely accelerate progress in mucosal vaccine development, are discussed. © 2012 Expert Reviews Ltd.