Successful treatment of hypertension is possible with limited side effects given the availability of multiple antihypertensive drug classes. This review describes the various pharmacological classes of antihypertensive drugs, under two major aspects: their mechanisms of action and side effects. The mechanism of action is analysed through a pharmacological approach, i.e. the molecular receptor targets, the various sites along the arterial system, and the extra-arterial sites of action, in order to better understand in which type of hypertension a given pharmacological class of antihypertensive drug is most indicated. In addition, side effects are described and explained through their pharmacological mechanisms, in order to better understand their mechanism of occurrence and in which patients drugs are contra-indicated. This review does not address the effectiveness of monotherapies in large randomized clinical trials and combination therapies, since these are the matters of other articles of the present issue. Five major pharmacological classes of antihypertensive drugs are detailed here: beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, and calcium channel blockers. Four additional pharmacological classes are described in a shorter manner: renin inhibitors, alpha-adrenergic receptor blockers, centrally acting agents, and direct acting vasodilators.