Shortening of atrial refractory period during atrial fibrillation has been considered a hallmark of atrial electrical remodelling. The atrial fibrillatory cycle length, which is intimately related to the atrial fibrillatory rate (AFR), is generally accepted as a surrogate marker for local refractoriness. The value of using AFR to monitor the progress of atrial ablation therapy has been demonstrated and gradual slowing of AFR has consistently been observed to precede arrhythmia termination during paroxysmal or permanent atrial fibrillation ablation. Today, AFR is the key characteristic of the fibrillatory process, repeatedly validated against intracardiac recordings and extensively studied in clinical contexts. This paper provides an overview of clinical data accumulated since the method was introduced in 1998, and to present the current state of knowledge regarding ECG-derived AFR: its time course and dynamics, clinical factors affecting AFR, and available evidence of its value in the clinical context. We conclude that AFR is a promising, easily available AF characteristic that can be derived from the conventional surface ECG. It is clearly a useful tool for monitoring drug effects. Reference values for predicting intervention effect, however, are likely to be population- and context-specific and related to age, clinical types of atrial fibrillation, as well as to presence and advancement of underlying structural heart disease. Prospective studies in homogeneous patient populations are still needed to establish the clinical value of AFR.