The population structure of the species Legionella pneumophila was investigated by multilocus variable number of tandem repeats (VNTR) analysis (MLVA) and sequencing of three VNTRs (Lpms01, Lpms04 and Lpms13) in selected strains. Of 150 isolates of diverse origins, 136 (86 %) were distributed into eight large MLVA clonal complexes (VACCs) and the rest were either unique or formed small clusters of up to two MLVA genotypes. In spite of the lower degree of genome-wide linkage disequilibrium of the MLVA loci compared with sequence-based typing, the clustering achieved by the two methods was highly congruent. The detailed analysis of VNTR Lpms04 alleles showed a very complex organization, with five different repeat unit lengths and a high level of internal variation. Within each MLVA-defined VACC, Lpms04 was endowed with a common recognizable pattern with some interesting exceptions. Evidence of recombination events was suggested by analysis of internal repeat variations at the two additional VNTR loci, Lpms01 and Lpms13. Sequence analysis of L. pneumophila VNTR locus Lpms04 alone provides a first-line assay for allocation of a new isolate within the L. pneumophila population structure and for epidemiological studies.