We aimed to define the diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) imaging features of intracranial cystic lesions and to investigate possible special features for the differential diagnosis. One hundred and twenty patients with intracranial cystic lesions were included in the study. There were 29 arachnoid cysts, eight epidermoid cysts, 34 primary tumors, 18 abscesses, 29 metastases and two hydatid cysts. Echo-planar diffusion-weighted MR imaging was obtained in addition to conventional cranial MR scans. The morphologic features of the cystic portion and the wall of the cyst and signal intensities on diffusion-weighted images were evaluated. All abscesses and epidermoid cysts were hyperintense on diffusion-weighted images. Arachnoid cysts, hydatid cysts, primary tumors, and metastases were hypointense except five cystic tumors. These five primary or metastatic necrotic tumors showed high signal intensity on diffusion-weighted images due to hemorrhage or superinfection. The walls of the cystic tumors were usually hyperintense on diffusion-weighted images in contrast to the wall of the abscesses, which were iso-hypointense. This was a statistically significant finding for the differentiation between tumors and abscesses (P<0.05). Diffusion-weighted MR imaging is a useful technique for the evaluation of the intracranial cystic lesions and provides additional beneficial information to conventional MR imaging. However, the presence of hemorrhage and superinfection of the tumors may cause a signal increase that results in misinterpretetations. In these cases, the appearance of tumor wall may be useful for differentiating abscesses from tumors.