Persistent atrial fibrillation (AF) is a diverse condition that includes various subtypes and underlying causes of arrhythmia. Progress made in catheter ablation technology in recent years has significantly enhanced the durability of ablation. Despite these advances however, the effectiveness of ablation in treating persistent AF is still relatively modest. Studies exploring the mechanisms behind persistent AF have identified substrate-driven focal and re-entrant sources within the atrial body as crucial in sustaining AF among individuals with persistent AF. Furthermore, the widespread adoption of atrial late gadolinium enhancement cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging and the ongoing refinement of invasive voltage mapping techniques have allowed for detailed assessment of fibrotic remodelling prior to or at the time of procedure. Translation into clinical practice, however, has yielded overall disappointing results. The clinical application of AF mapping in ablation procedures has not shown any substantial advantages beyond the use of pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) alone and adjunct ablation of fibrotic areas has yielded conflicting results in recent randomized trials. The emergence of pulsed field ablation represents a welcome development in the field and several studies have demonstrated an enhanced safety profile and increased procedural efficiency with this non-thermal energy modality. Pulsed field ablation also holds promise for safe and efficient substrate ablation beyond the pulmonary veins, but further trials are needed to assess its impact on longer term success rates. Continued advancements in our comprehension of AF mechanisms, alongside ongoing developments in catheter technology aimed at safe formation of transmural lesions, are essential for achieving better clinical outcomes for patients with persistent AF.