The brain and meningeal spaces are protected from bacterial invasion by the blood–brain barrier, formed by specialized endothelial cells and tight intercellular junctional complexes. However, once in the bloodstream, Neisseria meningitidis crosses this barrier in about 60% of the cases. This highlights the particular efficacy with which N. meningitidis targets the brain vascular cell wall. The first step of central nervous system invasion is the direct interaction between bacteria and endothelial cells. This step is mediated by the type IV pili, which induce a remodelling of the endothelial monolayer, leading to the opening of the intercellular space. In this review, strategies used by the bacteria to survive in the bloodstream, to colonize the brain vasculature and to cross the blood–brain barrier will be discussed.