In Einstein's general relativity, with its nonlinear field equations, the discoveries and analyzes of various specific explicit solutions made a great impact on understanding many of the unforeseen features of the theory. Some solutions found fundamental applications in astrophysics, cosmology and, more recently, in the developments inspired by string theory. In this short article we survey the invariant characterization and classification of the solutions and describe the properties and role of the most relevant classes: Minkowski, (anti-)de Sitter spacetimes, spherical Schwarzschild and Reissner-Nordstroem metrics, stationary axisymmetric solutions, radiative metrics describing plane and cylindrical waves, radiative fields of uniformly accelerated sources and Robinson-Trautman solutions. Metrics representing regions of spacetimes filled with matter are also discussed and cosmological models are very briefly mentioned. Some parts of the text are based on a detailed survey which appeared in gr-qc/0004016 (see Ref. 2).