With all the natural beauty Hawai'i has to offer—exquisite beaches, lush rainforests, pristine waterfalls, and the like — it may come as a surprise that it is also home to the only royal palace in the United States used as an official residence. Situated in the heart of downtown Honolulu on the island of O'ahu is the beautifully historic 'Iolani Palace.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic Landmark, 'Iolani Palace was home to Hawai'i's last two reigning monarchs: King David Kalakaua and Queen Lydia Lili'uokalani. King Kalakaua was the first Hawaiian monarch to venture around the world. Kalakaua took note of the grand palaces he saw in his travels and upon his return to Hawai'i, he commissioned the design of 'Iolani Palace.
The palace was completed in 1882 and cost over $360,000, a fortune at the time. It was the first building in Honolulu with electricity—even before the White House and Buckingham Palace had the new technology! The American Florentine architectural fashion of 'Iolani Palace is that of no other edifice in the world. This style came from a type of Hawaiian Renaissance, a rebirth of Roman principles of aesthetics that includes columns and wide verandas, while incorporating concepts derived from Hawai'iana, such as intricate floral patterns and the use of stone materials.
The ground floor features a lavish hallway facing a staircase made entirely of the rare and expensive koa wood. The hallway runs along the throne room, blue meeting room, and the dining room. The second floor holds the private library and all the bedrooms of the royalty. Also on display are priceless artifacts such as the Hawaiian crown jewels, orders and declarations given by the monarchs, and magnificent regalia worn by the high chiefs of the islands.
The palace, while magnificent, marks a tragic time in Hawaiian history. In 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy was forcefully overthrown by white missionaries, leaving Queen Lili'uokalani imprisoned within 'Iolani Palace until she was later pardoned by the Republic of Hawai'i. The building was then used as the capitol building for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawai'i until 1969. In the 1970s the building underwent many restorations, and opened to the public in 1978 as a museum.
While walking through the palace (wearing the requisite denim booties to protect the royal floors) history unfolds at ones feet. If only for that instant, in the elegant hallways and in the decorations along the walls, the Hawaiian monarchy is still very much alive.
- Self-Guided Tours: 9am to 5pm
- Audio Self-Guided Tours: 11:45am to 3:30pm
- Tuesday through Saturday: Guided Tours 9am to 11:15am
- Self-Guided Tours: Adults: $6, Children: $3
- Audio Self-Guided Tour: Adults: $13, Children: $5
- Guided Tours: Adults: $20, Residents/Military: $15, Children (5-12): $5
- Location: 364 South King Street in downtown Honolulu, HI
- Phone: 808-522-0832 or 808-522-0823
- Website: www.iolanipalace.org