Adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are considered promising candidate cells for therapeutic cartilage and bone regeneration. Because tissue regeneration and embryonic development may involve similar pathways, understanding common pathways may lead to advances in regenerative medicine. In embryonic limb development, fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs) play a role in chondrogenic differentiation. The aim of this study was to investigate and compare FGFR expression in in vivo embryonic limb development and in vitro chondrogenesis of MSCs. Our study showed that in in vitro chondrogenesis of MSCs three sequential stages can be found, as in embryonic limb development. A mesenchymal condensation (indicated by N-cadherin) is followed by chondrogenic differentiation (indicated by collagen II), and hypertrophy (indicated by collagen X). FGFR1-3 are expressed in a stage-dependent pattern during in vitro differentiation and in vivo embryonic limb development. In both models FGFR2 is clearly expressed by cells in the condensation phase. No FGFR expression was observed in differentiating and mature hyaline chondrocytes, whereas hypertrophic chondrocytes stained strongly for all FGFRs. To evaluate whether stage-specific modulation of chondrogenic differentiation in MSCs is possible with different subtypes of FGF, FGF2 and FGF9 were added to the chondrogenic medium during different stages in the culture process (early or late). FGF2 and FGF9 differentially affected the amount of cartilage formed by MSCs depending on the stage in which they were added. These results will help us understand the role of FGF signaling in chondrogenesis and find new tools to monitor and control chondrogenic differentiation.