Transparent glass-ceramics are nanocomposite materials which offer specific characteristics of capital importance in photonics. This kind of two-phase materials is constituted by nanocrystals embedded in a glass matrix and the respective composition and volume fractions of crystalline and amorphous phase determine the properties of the glass-ceramic. Among these properties transparency is crucial, in particular when confined structures, such as dielectric optical waveguides and optical fibers, are considered, and the number of papers devoted to this topic is continuously increasing. Another important point is the role of the nanocrystals when activated by luminescent species, as rare earth ions, and their effect on the spectroscopic properties of the glass-ceramic. The presence of the crystalline environment around the rare earth ion allows high absorption and emission cross sections, reduction of the non-radiative relaxation thanks to the lower phonon cut-off energy, and tailoring of the ion-ion interaction by the control of the rare earth ion partition. This last point is crucial and still object of intense experimental and theoretical studies. The composition of the glass matrix also impacts the properties of the rare earth ions located in nanoparticles. Moreover, some kinds of nanocrystals can play as effective rare earth sensitizers. Fabrication, assessment and application of glass-ceramic photonic systems, especially waveguides, deserve an appropriate discussion which is the aim of this paper, focused on luminescent glass-ceramics. In this work, a brief historical review, consolidated results and recent advances in this important scientific and technological area will be presented, and some perspectives will be outlined.