In central Europe, the few remnants of virgin forest left have often been studied for reasons based on the following line of argument: Such studies increase our understanding of forest dynamics under a natural disturbance regime and are therefore an important basis for close-to-nature silviculture. This paper reviews the history of this idea, examines its merits and drawbacks focusing on selected silvicultural issues, and explores the potential for using virgin forest research as a source of ideas for developing silviculture in future. Research on virgin forests has had important implications for managed forests in the case of maintaining nurse logs as a seedbed for tree seedlings, of knowing the maximum age and size of trees, and, to a minor extent, of identifying the habitat requirements of species which are found mainly in virgin forests. However, past research on virgin forests has not provided any major direct contributions to defining close-to-nature silviculture. The main obstacles to knowledge transfer seem to be: (i) the scarcity of virgin forest remnants in central Europe, (ii) differences between the stand histories and current stand structures in virgin and managed forests, and (iii) the better opportunities to study phenomena of interest directly in managed forests, with easier access and possibilities of using manipulative approaches (field experiments) with proper replication. Current trends in central European forests and silviculture, such as the creation of forest reserves, the increase in growing stock, the shift to continuous-cover forestry and the increasing importance of forests as habitats for endangered species, suggest there is still much to learn from virgin forest remnants, and to justify further research. However, virgin forests should only be studied when an issue can best be addressed by using them as the object of study. Otherwise, managed forests should be preferred, or a combination of virgin and managed forests.