To obtain graphene-based fluorescent materials, one of the effective approaches is to convert one-dimensional (1D) graphene to 0D graphene quantum dots (GQDs), yielding an emerging nanolight with extraordinary properties due to their remarkable quantum confinement and edge effects. In this review, the state-of-the-art knowledge of GQDs is presented. The synthetic methods were summarized, with emphasis on the top-down routes which possess the advantages of abundant raw materials, large scale production and simple operation. Optical properties of GQDs are also systematically discussed ranging from the mechanism, the influencing factors to the optical tunability. The current applications are also reviewed, followed by an outlook on their future and potential development, involving the effective synthetic methods, systematic photoluminescent mechanism, bandgap engineering, in addition to the potential applications in bioimaging, sensors, etc.