In this thesis we study various one-dimensional quantum spin systems with SU(2) and SU(N) symmetry. We investigate the short-distance behavior of the SU(2) Heisenberg model in the limit of large spin and show that there exists an extended regime where perturbation theory, in the form of spin-wave theory, can be successfully applied. The reason for this perturbative regime stems from the asymptotic freedom of the nonlinear sigma model onto which the Heisenberg model can be mapped. When considering observables which respect the rotational invariance of the model, we observe a cancellation of infrared divergences in the perturbative expansions, leading to a meaningful description of correlation functions. We then turn to the study of SU(N) models. Building on the representation theory of the SU(N) group and on the matrix product state (MPS) formalism, we introduce a generic method to construct Affleck-Kennedy-Lieb-Tasaki (AKLT) models having edge states described by any self-conjugate irreducible representation (irrep) of SU(N). A simple example is given by a spin-1 AKLT model having spin-1 edge states. The phase transition between this model and the original AKLT model is shown to be continuous and to correspond to a topological phase transition described by the SU(2) level-1 Wess-Zumino-Witten conformal field theory universality class. In addition we study an SU(3) AKLT model for the 3-box symmetric irrep at each site. We demonstrate that the edge states are adjoint edge irreps, we extract its correlation length and provide a useful construction as an optimal MPS. Finally, we develop a density matrix renormalization group algorithm based on standard Young tableaus and subduction coefficients to make full use of the non-abelian symmetry and to investigate the SU(3) Heisenberg model with 3-box symmetric irrep at each site. We show that the model has a finite gap above the singlet ground state, in agreement with an extension of the Haldane conjecture to SU(3) chains in the fully symmetric irreps. We also argue that there are five branches of elementary excitations living in four different irreps, each of which is gapped.