A large part of the mammalian genome is transcribed into noncoding RNAs. Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) have emerged as critical epigenetic regulators of gene expression. Distinct molecular mechanisms allow lncRNAs either to activate or to repress gene expression, thereby participating in the regulation of cellular and tissue function. LncRNAs, therefore, have important roles in healthy and diseased hearts, and might be targets for therapeutic intervention. In this Review, we summarize the current knowledge of the roles of lncRNAs in cardiac development and ageing. After describing the definition and classification of lncRNAs, we present an overview of the mechanisms by which lncRNAs regulate gene expression. We discuss the multiple roles of lncRNAs in the heart, and focus on the regulation of embryonic stem cell differentiation, cardiac cell fate and development, and cardiac ageing. We emphasize the importance of chromatin remodelling in this regulation. Finally, we discuss the therapeutic and biomarker potential of lncRNAs.