The citizens of Kottayam played an important in the early social struggles in Kerala. In 1891 a protest movement, known as the 'Malayali Memorial Agitation', took place seeking a better representation of Travancoreans, compared to outsiders, in the Travancore civil service. It is believed to have started in Kottayam. This movement had a big influence in beginning the modern political movements of Kerala. During the 'Nivarthana struggle' which took place in the 1930s in Kerala seeking the representation of Hindus of the lower castes, Christians and Muslims in the Travancore Legislature, Kottayam played a major role. The famous Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924 by Mahatma Gandhi, against untouchability occurred in Vaikom near Kottayam. It was the first systematically organized agitation in Kerala against orthodoxy to secure the rights of the depressed classes.
The Headquarters of the Rubber Board, Rubber Research Institute of India, Plantation Corporation of India and Oil Palm India are situated in this district.
Kottayam town is located in central Kerala at a location of 9°35N 76°31E / 9.58°N 76.52°E / 9.58; 76.52. It has an average elevation of 3 metres (9 feet) from sea level. Kottayam town is situated in the basin of the Meenachil River which is formed from several streams in the Western Ghats in Idukki district. It flows through the Kottayam district and joins the Vembanad lake. As per division of places in Kerala as Highlands, Midlands and Lowlands based on altitude, Kottayam is considered to be part of the Midlands. The general soil type is alluvial soil. The vegetation is mainly tropical evergreen and moist deciduous type. The climate in this District is moderate and pleasant. Kottayam's proximity to the equator results in little seasonal temperature variation, with moderate to high levels of humidity. Annual temperatures range between 20 to 35 °C (68–95 °F) From June through September, the south-west monsoon brings in heavy rains as Kottayam lies on the windward side of the Western Ghats. From October to December, Kottayam receives light rain from the northwest monsoon, as it lies on the leeward side. Average annual rainfall is 315 cm. Kottayam is bordered by Pathanamthitta district on south, Alappuzha district on west, Ernakulam district on north and Idukki district on east.
Public transport in the city is largely dependent on buses, run by both private operators and Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). There are three bus stations serving Kottayam- two catering to private buses and one exclusively for the KSRTC buses. Of the private bus stations, the bigger one is at Nagampadam which is very close to the railway station and the other one is in the heart of the city. Bus services are very economical. Besides local bus service for travelling within the town, Kottayam is well-connected to the rest of Kerala through inter-state bus services run by KSRTC. Hired forms of transport include metered taxis and auto-rickshaws. Two-wheelers form the majority of the private-owned vehicles. The inter-city rail transport system in the city is administered by the Southern Railway division of the Indian Railways. Trains between Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram pass through Kottayam, with all trains having a stop. There are trains passing through Kottayam, from and to most major cities in the country like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. 49 km of railway line runs through Changanassery, Kottayam and Vaikom taluks. Meenachil and Kanjirappally taluks are not reached by rail. Some of the railway stations in the district being- Changanassery, Chingavanam, Kottayam, Ettumanoor, Kuruppanthara, Vaikom Road and Piravom Road. The nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, 90 km away from the city. The other major nearby airport is at Thiruvanthapuram, approximately 150 kilometers away.
As of 2001[update] India census, Kottayam Urban Agglomeration had a population of 1,72,878 , while Kottayam district had a population of 19,52,901. Males constitute 49% of the population and females 51%. It is one of the very few places which witnessed a negative population growth from 1991 to 2001. Kottayam District as per the 2001 census has ranked as 1st in Literacy with a percentage of 95.9 compared to 90.92% for Kerala State and 65.38% for India. It is ranked as 10th in population as well as in area among the districts in Kerala. This District has marked lowest decadal population growth rates of 6.76% compared to 9.42% for Kerala.
Kottayam is a major trading center of natural rubber in India. Rubber trees are extensively cultivated in central Kerala, especially in vast areas of Kottayam District, in plantations, both large and small. The Rubber Board, a body set up by the Government of India for the development of rubber industry, is also located at Kottayam. A number of small and medium sized enterprises in and around the town are engaged in the processing of rubber latex and manufacturing of rubber products. Besides rubber, Kottayam is a trading place of other commercial crops like spices cultivated widely in the surrounding areas. The Plantation Corporation of Kerala also has its headquarters in Kottayam. Kottayam is also known as a business centre. The stretch of Kottayam–Kumily Road (KK road) that passes through the town is a major shopping centre. Baker Junction and Kanjikuzhy are also considered as the commercial and residential hubs of the town. Tourism has a major contribution to the economy of the place, as many tourism related businesses thrive in the town. Kumarakom, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Kerala, is only 14 km from the town. Wagamon is another place worth a visit, and borders the districts of Kottayam and Idukki. Also, Kottayam is a sought after place for religious tourism, and especially after the beatification of first Indian Roman Catholic saint, St.Alphonsa, a lot of people are visiting the places where she was born and brought up and spent her life, like Bharananganam.
Kottayam has its place of honour in the cultural map of Kerala. The culture of Kottayam is influenced mainly by the large presence of the Syrian Christian community. The Syrian Christians of Kottayam are popularly known as Achayans. The cuisine of Kottayam is Keralite Cuisine, characterised by the use of parboiled rice as the staple food and the presence of coconut and spices in abundance. Margamkali and Arjuna Nritham are popular dance forms. Margamkali, which consists of group dance and martial arts like Parichamuttukali, is popular among the Syrian Christian community. It is performed by men and women separately. In the past, it was performed during Syrian Christian weddings. Arjuna Nritham, also known as Mayilpeeli Thookkam, performed by men was also popular. Besides these, popular South India dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattom and Kuchipudi and classical Carnatic music are also learned by a large number of young people, mainly as a hobby and extracurricular activity.
Cricket, basketball and football are among the most popular sports in Kottayam. Kottayam is also famous for athletics, as the place has produced several athletes who represented India. The main stadium of Kottayam is the Nehru stadium at the entrance of the town. And many tournaments happen in the town in the course of the year. A number of popular basketball tournaments including the Marian Trophy, Girideepam Trophy, Lourdes Trophy and Virginia Memorial tournament are conducted every year. A municipal park is located by Sastri road. There are several movie halls which screen Malayalam, English, Tamil and Hindi movies. There are also restaurants that cater to Kerala, Tamil and North cuisines.
Reflecting the religious make-up of the population, a large number of Hindu temples and Christian churches dot the townscape. Notable among them are Thirunakkara Mahadeva temple and two churches known as Valiya Palli and Cheriya Palli and Thazhathangadi Juma Masjid.Thazhathangady Juma Masjid, situated in the banks of river Meenachil, is one of the oldest mosques in India and is more than 1000 years old, famous for its architectural beauty, and richness in wood carvings. This mosque was constructed by the followers of the Islamic prophet Muhammad during one of their first voyages to Kerala. Thirunakkara Mahadeva temple, at the heart of the town, is a Shiva temple built in the Kerala style of temple architecture, with interior murals depicting themes from the Hindu epics. It was built at the beginning of the 16th century by the then Raja of Thekkumkur. The annual temple festival that culminates in a ceremony called the Aaraattu, attracts large number of devotees.
Kottayam is a major center of Syrian Christians of Kerala. St. Mary's Church, the Valia Palli (the Big Church), built in 1550 by Knanaya Syrian Jacobite Christians who immigrated from West Asia, is considered as the first Christian church in Kottayam town. This church is famous for its two granite crosses known as Persian crosses. There are rare antique carvings and mural paintings behind the main altar and on the ceiling.
Another St. Mary's Church known as Cheria Palli (the Little Church), belonging to the Malankara Orthodox Church was built in 1579 by the Raja of Thekkumkur for his Christian subjects. These churches feature temple architectural influences. The interior murals, painted using vegetable dyes, depict Biblical themes. The Syro-Malabar rite of the Roman Catholic Church has an archeparchy based in Kottayam. Some of the important Catholic churches in Kottayam include Lourdes Forane Church, Good Shepherd Church, Vimalagiri Cathedral and Christhuraja Cathedral. Pope John Paul II visited Kottayam, during his visit to India in 1986. He announced the beatification of Father Kuriakose of Chavara and Sister Alphonsa, who hails from Kottayam district, at Kottayam. The mortal remains of Saint Alphonsa, who was elevated to sainthood in 12 October 2008, are kept in a chapel next to St. Mary's Church, Bharananganam. It is a popular Christian pilgrimage center. But, besides all of these, the most outstanding relic of Christendom in Kottayam would be the ST.MARY'S JACOBITE SYRIAN CHURCH in Manarcad. This 1200 year old church attracts thousands, if not millions, of believers from all over the country.
Kottayam is considered as the nerve center of Malayalam literature and publishing media. Unnuneeli Sandesam, a beautiful and famous poetry work, is supposed to have been written by one of the Vadakkumkur Rajas. In 1821, Benjamin Baily, a British missionary, established C.M.S. Press, the first printing press in Kerala, in Kottayam. The town has been in the forefront of newspaper and book publishing in the state ever since. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Malayalam literature was enriched by the works of Christian missionaries. Varthamana Pusthakam (1778), written by Parammekkal Thoma Kathanar on a visit to Rome, is the first travelogue in Malayalam. The first Malayalam English dictionary and Malayalam dictionary were published in Kottayam in the years 1846 and 1865 respectively. The first autobiography in Malayalam by Vaikom Pachu Moothathu was published in Kottayam in 1870. The first Malayalam Bible was also published in Kottayam.
Jnananikshepam was the first newspaper published by the natives of Kerala, and it was brought out from CMS press at Kottayam in 1848. Nasrani Deepika was started in 1887 by the Carmelities of Mary Immaculate (CMI) missionaries at Mannanam near Kottayam. The newspaper still continues to be published under the name Deepika and is a leading Malayalam daily. Malayala Manorama, India's largest circulating regional daily, was founded here by K.C Mammen Mapila in 1890. The part played by newspapers published from Kottayam, like Malayala Manorama, Deepika and Bhashaposhini, a literary magazine from Malayala Manorama Group in the cultural and literary development of Kerala is immense.
Today, five major Malayalam newspapers – Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhoomi, Deepika, Madhyamam and Mangalam – and around thirty periodicals are published from Kottayam. Kottayam is also home to several book publishers in Malayalam such as D. C. Books, Labour India Publications and Current Books. Almost 70 percent of books published in Kerala are from Kottayam.  In 1945, a group of writers set up Sahithya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangam, which stands for 'Literary Workers' Co-operative Society' in Malayalam. It was the first co-operative enterprise of writers, novelists and poets.
The Old Seminary of the Malankara Orthodox Church was the first institution to start English education in Southern India. C.M.S High School, (now Church Missionary Society College High School), was founded by the British missionary, Benjamin Bailey of the Church Mission Society of London. C.M.S College, the first college in Kerala, was started in Kottayam in 1817 by the Church Missionary Society. The Baker Memorial Girls High School in Kottayam, founded by Amalia Dorothea Baker in 1820, is one of the oldest girls' schools in India. The leading institution of higher education in Kottayam is Mahatma Gandhi University, one of six universities in Kerala. Medical College, Kottayam also includes a Dental College and a Nursing College. There are also a number of Arts & Science Colleges, including the famous C.M.S. College Kottayam (The first college in Kerala was started in 1817), BCM College etc. A couple of engineering and polytechnic colleges, and several nursing schools are located in and around the town. There are also several popular schools like Girideepam School, Pallikkudam and Baker Memorial School.
Apart from Arts and Science colleges, there are around 8 engineering colleges also in the district. One government-funded and seven private-funded they are : Govt. Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology, Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, College of Engineering, Kidangoor South, Mangalam College of Engineering, Mar Gregorious College of Engineering & Technology, Saintgits College of Engineering, College Of Enggineering Poonjar & St.Joseph's College Of Enggineering. And more being planned for the years ahead. Centre for rural management (CRM), Kottayam is one of the leading autonomous research organizations for rural development. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication, a Central Government institution, is also located in Kottayam.
The Kottayam assembly constituency is part of the Kottayam (Lok Sabha constituency). The district has 10 Assembly constituencies - Kanjirappally, Uzhavoor, Changanassery, Kottayam, Ettumanoor, Puthuppally, Poonjar, Pala, Kaduthuruthy and Vaikom. The only Parliamentary constituency with in the district is Kottayam. Certain parts of Kanjirapplly, Poonjar and Pala Assembly constituencies are included in Moovattupuzha Parliamen-tary constituency. But there has been reorganisation recently, as part of which the number could be decreased. Administratively, Kottayam district consists of two Revenue di-visions - Kottayam and Pala - each under the control of a Revenue Divisional Of-ficer. There are five taluks -Kottayam, Changanassery, Vaikom, Meenachil and Kanjirappally.