The high Reynolds-number structure of the laminar, chaotic and turbulent attractors is investigated in a two-dimensional Kolmogorov flow. The laminar attractors include the families of multi-phased travelling waves and quasi-periodic standing waves both of which form the backbone of the transition to a turbulent flow. At leading order, each laminar attractor under study is obtained by solving the Euler equations on a manifold subject to the appropriate periodicity and symmetry conditions. The manifold is determined by a finite number of vorticity equations, these being required to suppress the secular terms at the next order. Our results show that, for the multi-phased travelling waves, the first phase velocity can be determined by an integral conservation law for kinetic energy and the subsequent phase velocities can be evaluated by a non-linear eigenvalue problem. The results also reveal that whereas viscosity determines the smallest scales and controls the amplitude of the flow, the inertial terms govern the shape and form of the flow. The comparison of our analytical predictions for evaluating the stable single-phased travelling wave with the direct numerical simulation of the Navier–Stokes equations has been undertaken, the agreement being excellent. For sufficiently high Reynolds number, after the bifurcation to chaotic flow, all of the multi-phased travelling waves and quasi-periodic standing waves become unstable non-wandering sets. Based on the above new findings for these unstable non-wandering sets and other travelling and standing waves of this kind in phase space, necessary conditions for the invariant manifolds of the chaotic and turbulent attractors are obtained, these necessary conditions being conjectured to be also sufficient.