Around the globe, cities seek to improve their resilience to face the stresses and shocks that are expected from global climate change and other threats. In implementing urban resilience policies, they are guided by different urban resilience conceptualisations. What is meant by the concept differs between scholars, governments, as well as international organisations that seek to study, advise on and implement urban resilience policies and governance interventions. This article presents a review of the urban resilience literature since the 1970s. It seeks to map and interrogate dominant urban resilience conceptualisations, and decipher whether and how different understandings of the concept can result in essentially different policies and governance interventions and outcomes. In contrasting the ‘what’ of urban resilience (various conceptualisations) with the ‘why’ of urban resilience policy (bouncing back, falling forwards, persistence) it investigates approaches to overcome some of the key critiques to urban resilience policy and research.