The UEFA U-21 Championship 1988, which spanned two years (1986-88), had 30 entrants. The Republic of Ireland competed for the first time. France U-21s won the competition.
The 30 national teams were divided into eight groups (six groups of 4 + two groups of 3). The group winners played off against each other on a two-legged home-and-away basis until the winner was decided. There was no finals tournament or third-place playoff.