Bhutan is a country flushed with art and design, from the intricate patterns on buildings to the stunning statues and Buddhist figures found in temples and monasteries, our tiny Himalayan nation is an artist’s dream. Vibrant colors of homes and roofs dot green valleys and religious art showcases one of the most ancient forms of Buddhism on earth. From carpentry to woodwork, the distinct architecture of Bhutan’s buildings is a cultural and historical trademark that traces back centuries. With over 13 different art forms, there’s an incredible array of destinations to visit to awaken the artistic inspiration within. 

Walk a path of vibrant colors, patterns, designs, and stories, by embarking on the Artists Trail- an itinerary of the top arts and crafts destinations in Bhutan! 

1- Thimphu

The nation’s capital and a hub of the arts, Thimphu hosts sprawling crafts markets, artist hubs, and art academies such as the School of Traditional Arts and the Textile Academy. Don’t miss these top highlights- start from the Gagyel Lhendrup Weaving Center in South Thimphu and work your way north toward the city center.

Gagyel Lhendrup Weaving Center

Gagyel Lhendrup Weaving Center is a product of love towards Bhutanese textiles. Weaving traditions in Bhutan hold significant cultural and artistic value, and has for centuries. Traditions and the daily lives of its people are often dependent on it. 

Weaving in Bhutan is done on traditional backstrap looms, where the weaver sits on the ground and uses body tension to control the tension of the threads. Natural dyes derived from plants, roots, and minerals are frequently used to color the threads, which gives the fabrics a distinct and earthy appearance. Other than the usual Gho and Kira, customers can also purchase household items like table runners, cushions, table cloths etc., all adorned in Bhutanese designs.

CSI Market 

CSI Market supports and promotes the country’s Cottage and Small Industries (CSI), pivotal in showcasing Bhutan’s entrepreneurial spirit and its rich tradition of craftsmanship. Offering a diverse range of products crafted by local artisans and entrepreneurs, including traditional Bhutanese textiles, handmade crafts, organic health and beauty products, and various artisanal foods, all reflect the unique cultural heritage and innovative prowess of Bhutan. Situated in the heart of Thimphu, this market not only provides a vital sales venue for small-scale producers and craftsmen but also serves as an interactive space where visitors can engage with Bhutan’s rich cultural traditions and contemporary creativity.

Royal Textile Academy 

A non profit established as an education center to train others in the traditional Bhutanese arts of weaving, the Royal Textile Academy serves as a museum, educational center, and gallery where visitors can learn about the intricate processes involved in traditional Bhutanese textile production, including weaving techniques and the use of natural dyes. It also plays a crucial role in sustaining and revitalizing this traditional art form by offering training programs to new generations of weavers. 

VAST Bhutan 

Voluntary Artists Studio (VAST), is an essential cultural and creative hub located in the heart of Thimphu, established with the aim of providing Bhutanese youth with a platform to develop their artistic talents and foster a sense of social responsibility through art. Founded in 1998 by a group of professional artists, VAST Bhutan has since become synonymous with the promotion of contemporary art in the country, encouraging creativity and innovation among the younger generation while deeply rooting them in their rich cultural heritage. The studio offers a wide range of workshops, classes, and exhibitions, covering various art forms including painting, sculpture, and photography, thus nurturing the artistic skills of its participants. Stop by for a look at the most recent exhibition! 

2- Bumthang 

Head east from Thimphu and travel through Punakha and Phobjikha to reach this region of Central Bhutan. Home to the famous Yathra textile, Bumthang is a popular stop for a variety of arts and crafts. The Yathra textile in particular creates vivid designs, is traditionally woven with yak hair or wool, and is thicker and feels more coarse, ideal for the cold winters in the valley. Many local women in Bumthang Valley earn a living upkeep this tradition- you can take part in its preservation by stopping by a locally run textile shop in Zungye.

3- Trashiyangtse- 

Moving even further east past Bumthang, the region of Trashiyangtse is for the adventurous- and the artist. This is the birthplace of some of Bhutan’s most unique arts and crafts. From a local Deysho factory in Boomdeling that produces natural fiber paper (for over 30 years now!), to master Shagzopa’s, or wood turners, authenticity in creation is abundant here. Don’t miss Zorig Chusum, a premier institute that has been training Bhutanese youths on honing the Bhutanese arts since 1997.

4- Lhuentse district- Gangzur

In the northwest Lhuentse district of the country, a perfect stop on a cross country road trip, this is where to find stunning traditional Bhutanese pottery. Formed as if by magic with gentle hands, the pottery at Aum Zam’s workshop in Gangzur is unmissable. One of the last two women skilled in the art of traditional pottery making in the region, Aum Zam enjoys steady business and would certainly welcome yours! Come for the clay pots and stay for Aum Zums personality and welcome. 

5- Mongar district- Khengar 

The southern district of Mongar is home to a village of mask makers. Remote yet worth the journey, Naniring under Kengkhar gewog in Mongar is home to dozens of traditional mask makers. They are practitioners of Babzo, the art of Mask carving where a block of wood soon becomes a beautiful carved mask silhouette. Travel here to experience the process of mask creation and to pick out your favorite to take home as an unforgettable memory. 

Wherever you end up exploring in Bhutan, the traditional and modern arts that paint the story of its people and history is like no others. Follow the artists trail to the far reaches of the East or stay local and browse the markets of Thimphu- we wish you well on your adventure! For more itineraries, follow along on instagram or explore more of the blog.