The study of how neighboring tissues physically interact with each other, inter-tissue adhesion, is an emerging field at the interface of cell biology, biophysics and developmental biology. Inter-tissue adhesion can be mediated by either cell–extracellular matrix adhesion or cell–cell adhesion, and both the mechanisms and consequences of inter-tissue adhesion have been studied in vivo in numerous vertebrate and invertebrate species. In this Review, we discuss recent progress in understanding the many functions of inter-tissue adhesion in development and evolution. Inter-tissue adhesion can couple the motion of adjacent tissues, be the source of mechanical resistance that constrains morphogenesis, and transmit tension required for normal development. Tissue–tissue adhesion can also create mechanical instability that leads to tissue folding or looping. Transient inter-tissue adhesion can facilitate tissue invasion, and weak tissue adhesion can generate friction that shapes and positions tissues within the embryo. Lastly, we review studies that reveal how inter-tissue adhesion contributes to the diversification of animal morphologies.