Riparian ecosystems are hotspots for ecological restoration globally because of the disproportionately high value and diversity of the ecological functions and services which they support and their high level of vulnerability to anthropogenic pressures, including climate change. Degraded riparian ecosystems are associated with many serious anthropogenic problems including increased river bank erosion, water quality decline, increased flood risk and biodiversity loss. Conventional approaches to riparian restoration, however, are frequently too narrow in focus – spatially, temporally, ecologically and socially – to adequately or equitably address the goals to which they aspire. Climate change, along with the intensification of other human pressures, means that static, historically oriented restoration objectives focused solely on prior ecological composition and structure are unlikely to be defensible, achievable or appropriate in the Anthropocene. Conversely, open-ended restoration strategies lacking clear objectives and targets entail substantial risks such as significant biodiversity losses, especially of native species. A functional approach to planning and prioritising riparian restoration interventions offers an intermediate alternative that is still framed by measurable targets but allows for greater consideration of broader temporal, spatial and cultural influences. Here, we provide an overview of major riparian functions across multiple scales and identify key drivers of, and threats to, these. We also discuss practical approaches to restoring and promoting riparian functions and highlight some key concerns for the development of policy and management of robust riparian restoration in the Anthropocene.