Fundamental understandings of surface chemistry and catalysis of solid catalysts are of great importance for the developments of efficient catalysts and corresponding catalytic processes, but have been remaining as a challenge due to the complex nature of heterogeneous catalysis. Model catalysts approach based on catalytic materials with uniform and well-defined surface structures is an effective strategy. Single crystals-based model catalysts have been successfully used for surface chemistry studies of solid catalysts, but encounter the so-called “materials gap” and “pressure gap” when applied for catalysis studies of solid catalysts. Recently catalytic nanocrystals with uniform and well-defined surface structures have emerged as a novel type of model catalysts whose surface chemistry and catalysis can be studied under the same operational reaction condition as working powder catalysts, and they are recognized as a novel type of model catalysts that can bridge the “materials gap” and “pressure gap” between single crystals-based model catalysts and powder catalysts. Herein we review recent progress of surface chemistry and catalysis of important oxide catalysts including CeO2, TiO2 and Cu2O acquired by model catalysts from single crystals to nanocrystals with an aim at summarizing the commonalities and discussing the differences among model catalysts with complexities at different levels. Firstly, the complex nature of surface chemistry and catalysis of solid catalysts is briefly introduced. In the following sections, the model catalysts approach is described and surface chemistry and catalysis of CeO2, TiO2 and Cu2O single crystal and nanocrystal model catalysts are reviewed. Finally, concluding remarks and future prospects are given on a comprehensive approach of model catalysts from single crystals to nanocrystals for the investigations of surface chemistry and catalysis of powder catalysts approaching the working conditions as closely as possible.