Free Things to Do in Nuku’alofa (and Some Cheap Activities Too)
Tonga’s capital city is extremely budget-friendly. From the affordable transport to the budget guesthouses and lodges, you can hardly go wrong when visiting Nuku’alofa on the cheap. On top of that, there are plenty of free sights to check out around the city between the royal sites and the awe-inspiring handicraft markets. For those seeking to do a little bit more, there are extremely affordable tours and activities available. Check out some of our top recommendations in this list of free things to do in Nuku’alofa, as well as cheap things to do in Nuku’alofa.
1. Snap a Pic of the Royal Palace
Standing proud on the waterfront of Tonga’s capital, the Royal Palace is a symbol of Tonga to the rest of the world. You might as well get a good photo of it! Although the palace grounds are not open to visitors, you can get good views of the Victorian-style building from the waterfront grassy areas on the west and east side of the palace – better from the west side. Note that taking photos from the waterfront side of the palace is forbidden.
Location: Corner of Vaha’akolo and Vuna Road.
2. Check Out the Royal Tombs
Another attraction that’s hard to miss while walking around Nuku’alofa, yet still worth paying attention to, is the Royal Tombs. Standing in the centre of a huge fenced-off park area, the tombs feature grand statues of Tonga’s royal figures of the past. Although the Royal Tombs are not open to the public, there are interpretation panels along the fences giving some context to the royals who have been buried here since 1893.
Location: Seen from Meteialona Road, Vaha’akolo Road and Taufa’ahau Road.
3. See Amazing Arts and Crafts at the Talamahu Market
Even if you’re budget won’t allow purchasing some of the impressive Tongan handicrafts found in Nuku’alofa, they are still well worth a look! Head to the central Talamahu Market for its wide array of arts and crafts filling just about every available space of the market. See intricately woven baskets, Tongan clothing, tapa cloth paintings, carved jewellery and carved ornaments and so much more! On top of that, the market has a huge fresh produce section, where punters can admire the pyramids of tropical produce piled up for sale.
Location: Salote Road
4. Browse the Langafonua Handicrafts Centre
Additional to the crafts market mentioned above, we recommend having a browse around the Langafonua Handicrafts Centre. All of the crafts are handmade by local women with each item being as unique as the next. Admire traditional tapa paintings, woven bags, carved Tongan jewellery, woven table mats, bowls, fans, coasters, wooden carvings and the list goes on and on.
Location: Taufa’ahau Road next to Friends Cafe.
5. Take a Day Trip to the Islands
Some of the best-value tours available in Nuku’alofa are day trips to the off-shore islands, as well as tours around Tongatapu island itself. For instance, take a Day Trip to Royal Sunset Island Resort on Atata Island to experience Tonga’s idyllic islands. After a 15-20-minute boat trip, you’ll arrive on the island to a welcome drink before having the whole day to enjoy the island as you like: kayaking, swimming in the pool, walking to the island’s village and meeting the locals, sunbathing on the beach or snorkelling at the nearby reef. At less than TOP$100 for a full-day experience, that’s not a bad way to make your Pa’anga go further! Find out more about the day trip on Viator and Tripadvisor.
See more island day trips in our 10 Best Island Day Trips from Nuku’alofa.
6. Learn About the Tongan Culture at Ancient Tonga
Apart from whale swimming and island-hopping, another must-do in Tonga is to engage in the local culture. Tonga has a rich and interesting island culture that can be engaged further at cultural centres like Ancient Tonga. The cultural tour operator offers a wide range of experiences, with the most affordable options being the Half Culture Tour (approx TOP$45), Full Culture Tour (approx TOP$75) and Te Unga Classes, such as dancing, weaving and cooking, (approx TOP$55). Find out more about Ancient Tonga on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: Tamakautonga Road
7. Have a Picnic at Popua Park
Nuku’alofa might not have stunning beaches like the rest of Tonga, but it does have an attractive recreational area with a story. What used to be an area only ventured to dump rubbish (apparently you could smell the stench all the way down the waterfront), Popua Park was recently transformed into a recreational haven. Check out the flower gardens, play on the beach volleyball court, let the kids loose at the playground, and have a picnic in the picnic areas.
Location: Popua. East along Vuna Road, a 5-10-minute drive from the city centre.
8. Attend a Church Service
With 99% of Tonga’s population being devout Christians, sampling a slice of life at one of the Sunday church services is a rewarding experience. Tongan church halls are filled with harmonious singing and the sound of brass instruments played passionately by the local school children. It’s a great free way to spend a Sunday morning in Nuku’alofa. Check out the 5 Best Churches in Nuku’alofa to Experience as a Visitor for more information on the churches to visit.
Location: Centenary Church on Wellington Road, Centennial Church on the corner of Laifone and Hala Tu’i Roads, St Mary’s Cathedral on Vuna Road and St. Paul’s on the corner of Fatafehi Road and Wellington Road.
9. Take a Tour and Try Tongan Coffee at the Tupu’Anga Cafe
Tucked away in a suburb of Nuku’alofa, Tupu’Anga Cafe is a coffee roaster with a cassava chip factory. Try Tongan treats, like cassava cake, manioke chips and lu pie at this European-style cafe with a Tongan twist. The owners can give you a tour of their coffee bean roastery and factory for making the island’s ever-popular cassava chips! There’s even a children’s playground should you be travelling with little ones that need entertaining. See more 10 Things to Do in Nuku’alofa with Kids.
Location: At the south end of Umusi Road
10. Try Out the Cheap Eats
Eating Tongan cuisine is all part of the cultural experience of visiting Nuku’alofa! What’s more, it’s especially easy to eat well in the city, even if you are on a budget. Try Tonga favourites like ota ika (raw fish marinated in coconut cream) or lu (taro leaves wrapped in meat and coconut cream) in restaurants like Mama’s Cafe and Talahiva Restaurant – both serving mains for TOP$5-$10. Tongan fish dishes at 12 Seafoods Restaurant are also pretty affordable with prices starting from TOP$6! For more recommendations, check out our Cheap Eats in Nuku’alofa.