In Arabidopsis, a variety of mapping populations have been used for the detection of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) responsible for natural variation. In this study, we present an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of populations used. To do this, we compare the results of both experimental and natural populations for the commonly analysed trait flowering time. It is expected that genome wide association (GWA) mapping will be an increasingly important tool for QTL mapping because of the high allelic richness and mapping resolution in natural populations. In Arabidopsis, GWA mapping becomes ever more facilitated by the increasing availability of re-sequenced genomes of many accessions. However, specifically designed mapping populations such as recombinant inbred lines and near isogenic lines will remain important. The high QTL detection power of such experimental populations can identify spurious GWA associations, and their unique genomic structure is superior for investigating the role of low-frequency alleles. Future QTL studies will therefore benefit from a combined approach of GWA and classical linkage analysis.