The advent of visible-infrared laser pulses carrying a substantial fraction of their energy in a single field oscillation cycle has opened a new era in the experimental investigation of ultrafast processes in semiconductors and dielectrics (bulk as well as nanostructured), motivated by the quest for the ultimate frontiers of electron-based signal metrology and processing. Exploring ways to approach those frontiers requires insight into the physics underlying the interaction of strong high-frequency (optical) fields with electrons moving in periodic potentials. This Colloquium aims at providing this insight. Introduction to the foundations of strong-field phenomena defines and compares regimes of field-matter interaction in periodic systems, including (perfect) crystals as well as optical and semiconductor superlattices, followed by a review of recent experimental advances in the study of strong-field dynamics in crystals and nanostructures. Avenues toward measuring and controlling electronic processes up to petahertz frequencies are discussed.