Churches in Nuku’alofa
Sunday in Tonga is regarded as a day of rest. That’s why you will find no shops open, no flights scheduled and no activities operating. You will, however, find churches alive with song! Visitors are welcome at most churches across Tonga to experience a Sunday service, regardless of your religious status. For visitors, attending a Sunday service is more of a cultural experience. So which churches should you check out in Tonga’s capital? Check out some of our recommended churches in Nuku’alofa to experience as a visitor.
Church Etiquette in Tonga
- Wear formal clothing, covering the knees and shoulders
- Church services on a Sunday typically begin at 9am or 10am, then again at 3pm or 4pm. Signs outside of churches state service times
- If you arrive late at a church service, discretely walk into the church and sit at the back
- Different churches have different rules about taking photos on the inside. Assume it is disrespectful to take photos during a church service. Usually, it is acceptable to take photos of the church interior after the service
- It is Ok to take photos of a church from the outside
- Stand when the locals stand to sing, however, you are not expected to sing along (unless you know hymns in Tongan).
Find out more about church etiquette in Tonga in Tonga Etiquette: What to Do When Visiting a Tongan Village.
Sai’one Centenary Church
Location: Wellington Road
Also known as the “King’s Church”, the Centenary Church is where Tonga’s royal family go each Sunday to worship. This inevitably makes it one of the most popular churches in Nuku’alofa for visitors to experience.
Regardless of denomination or religious status, you’ll be welcomed here as a visitor. Relax and enjoy the booming harmonies of the congregation.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Location: Vuna Road
On the waterfront of Nuku’alofa, near Faua Wharf, St. Mary’s Cathedral boasts a picturesque setting for photos. The attractive church also has pretty rose gardens, as well as a stained glass facade to admire.
St. Mary’s Cathedral is one of two grand Catholic churches in Nuku’alofa, the other being the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua (see below).
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Location: Corner of Fatafehi Road and Wellington Road
The largest Anglican church in the Kingdom of Tonga, St. Paul’s Church is worth checking out for its Sunday service. The interior of the church boasts some impressive features, such as the altar with carved whales, dolphins, turtles and seashells.
The church went through a refurbishment in 2014, making its architecture well worth getting a photo of from the outside.
Location: Corner of Laifone Road and Hala Tu’i
Denomination: Free Church of Tonga
Standing across the road from the Royal Tombs, the Centennial Church (more commonly known as just “The Free Church of Tonga”) is a magnificent and unmissable building. Unfortunately, the old building was severely damaged by Cyclone Gita. So while visiting for a church service is off the table, it’s still worth a look at what’s left of the grand architecture reminiscent of what you would find in Europe.
Learn more about cyclones in Tonga here.
Basilica of St Anthony of Padua
Location: Taua’ahau Road and Laifone Road
Often open outside of Sundays for visitors to check out the interior (and for local worshippers, of course), the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua is worth a visit at any time. See gorgeous stained glass windows, hand-carved furnishings and wooden beams.
The Catholic church is one of the most distinctive buildings in the city in terms of its architecture, an unmissable sight near the Royal Tombs.
For more information on the religion of Tonga, see our Guide to the Religions in Tonga.