The influence of reaction conditions (temperature, acidity) on the catalytic performance of supported Pt, Pd and Ru catalysts for the aqueous phase hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of lignin model compounds was systematically investigated. Phenol conversion proceeds via hydrogenation of the aromatic ring resulting in cyclohexanone, which is subsequently converted to cyclohexanol and cyclohexane. Although aromatic ring hydrogenation has a higher rate for Pt and Pd-based catalysts, the rate of hydrogenation of the polar C=O moiety in cyclohexanone is faster for Ru/C. The complete HDO of phenol to cyclohexane on noble-metal catalysts can only be achieved in the presence of a Brønsted acid co-catalyst. In guaiacol conversion, efficient demethoxylation and ring hydrogenation can be achieved within 0.5 h on Pt/C. Under acidic conditions, selectivity of nearly 90% to cyclohexane at a conversion of 75% was achieved in 4 h. To get an insight into the possibility to cleave covalent linkages between aromatic units in lignin under HDO conditions, the reactivity of dimeric model substances such as diphenyl ether, benzyl phenyl ether, diphenyl methane and biphenyl was investigated. Although dimeric oxygen-bridged model compounds such as benzylphenyl ether and diphenyl ether can be readily converted to monomeric species in the presence of noble metal catalysts, cleavage of C–C bonds in diphenyl methane and biphenyl was not observed. Plausible reaction mechanisms are proposed.