Carotid artery disease is common and increases the risk of stroke. However, there is wide variability on the severity of clinical manifestations of carotid disease, ranging from asymptomatic to fatal stroke. The collateral circulation has been recognized as an important aspect of cerebral circulation affecting the risk of stroke as well as other features of stroke presentation, such as stroke patterns in patients with carotid artery disease. The cerebral circulation attempts to maintain constant cerebral perfusion despite changes in systemic conditions, due to its ability to autoregulate blood flow. In case that one of the major cerebral arteries is compromised by occlusive disease, the cerebral collateral circulation plays an important role in preserving cerebral perfusion through enhanced recruitment of blood flow. With the advent of techniques that allow rapid evaluation of cerebral perfusion, the collateral circulation of the brain and its effectiveness may also be evaluated, allowing for prompt assessment of patients with acute stroke due to involvement of the carotid artery, and risk stratification of patients with carotid stenosis in chronic stages. Understanding the cerebral collateral circulation provides a basis for the future development of new diagnostic tools, risk stratification, predictive models and new therapeutic modalities. In the present review we discuss basic aspects of the cerebral collateral circulation, diagnostic methods to assess collateral circulation, and implications in occlusive carotid artery disease.