Whether you’re a history buff or looking for some cheap things to do in Oahu, consider visiting Iolani Palace. This spectacular Honolulu royal palace served as a royal residence for the rulers of Hawaii. Who knew the US once had a royal family?
Today, this Honolulu Palace is lovingly restored and offers visitors an insight into its history and royal residents. It also stands as the only official Royal Palace in the United States.
I visited Iolani Palace during my honeymoon in the spring of 2019. My Go City Card gave free admission during my stay in Waikiki.
Iolani Palace is located in downtown Honolulu, on the corner of King Street and Richards Street. The Iolani Palace address is 364 South King Street.
If you are driving as we did, access to the pay parking lot is off Likelike Street. We were lucky to obtain one of the few parking spots left in the small parking lot.
While we had free passes to Iolani Palace, we did not know it was advisable to reserve a time slot. Visitors enter the Palace in small groups. So, if you haven’t booked a time slot, you may be waiting as we did.
We waited 45 minutes and passed the time watching the ‘A King’s Noble Vision’ video in the Iolani Barracks. After the video, we browsed the Palace gift shop.
Iolani Palace Hours and Ticket Price
Iolani Palace is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. The Palace offers free tickets once a month to Kamaaina guests on Kamaaina Sundays. So, if you’re looking for free activities in Honolulu, check he calendar for complimentary days.
To receive complimentary tickets, you require a Hawaii state ID, Hawaii driver’s license, or Active Military Identification.
There are two tours to choose from, should you decide to visit the Palace. Firstly, a guided tour with a Palace Docent costs USD 27 per adult. Alternatively, you can take one of the self-guided audio tours for USD 20.
Brian and I explored the Palace on a self-guided tour with audio headsets. If you choose the self-guided tour, the audio is available in English as well as French, Japanese, Italian, Mandarin, Hawaiian, Korean, Spanish, and German.
Your ticket includes a tour of the first and second floors, the basement gallery exhibits, and you’re free to enjoy the Iolani Palace grounds. Also, the attraction offers school tours as well as Iolani Palace group tours.
Before entering the Honolulu Royal Palace, we had to put fabric booties over our shoes to protect the floors. The booties reminded me of the booties you wear when having surgery, haha.
Not so stylish, but they do their job of protecting the floors. Why don’t all historic buildings use these?
To protect the exhibits, visitors cannot enter the palace with large bags. Also, if you’re wearing a backpack, it must be worn on the front.
Personal baby strollers are not permitted inside the Palace. However, the Palace will provide you with one of their own at no charge.
Inside, the Palace forbids the following; video recording, selfie sticks, and tripods. While we could take photos, we could not use a flash. When the Palace first opened decades ago, visitors were not allowed to take photos.
So, we were thrilled that they had changed their ruling. Before entering the Palace, we received an Iolani Palace map and an audio device.
Inside The Palace
Stepping foot inside this beautiful Palace, I was surprised at how lavish it was considering Hawaii is in the middle of an ocean. The woodwork and details are exquisite, as are the furniture and the grand wooden staircase.
The first level contains the throne room, the state dining room, the grand hall, and the blue room. The koa wood staircase is the feature of the grand hallway which showcases portraits of Hawaii’s kings and queens.
Wandering the rooms, I was stunned to learn the Palace had electricity in the 1880s, long before the White House. The bathrooms are luxurious in marble and the bedrooms lavish.
I especially enjoyed seeing the throne room with its sumptuous furnishings and jewel-tone colors of red and gold.
At one end of the room, there were two beautiful throne chairs, flanked by a few stunning Kahili. A Kahili is Hawaii’s version of a heraldic symbol.
Kahili is crafted from feathers from small birds, a technique learned from the early Polynesian settlers. Inside the throne room, the newly crafted Kahili are replicas of the ones used at the coronation of King Kalakaua.
In 2016, the Iolani Palace unveiled a couple of reproductions gowns worn by Queen Liliuokalani and Queen Kapiolani.
I particularly admired the peacock dress, which is incredibly detailed and stunningly beautiful for its time. All the dresses were designed with touches of Hawaii attire mixed with western elements.
Iolani Palace Second Floor
After completing our Iolani Palace tour of the first floor, we continued our journey on the second level. While the grand wooden staircase is the centerpiece of the grand hall, it can only be admired.
We reached the second floor by way of an elevator. The second floor consists of the King’s bedroom, and Queen’s suites, the music room, the library, and the imprisonment room.
During the Palace tour, it was interesting to learn the royal family loved music and often composed their own songs. The most intriguing room on the second floor is the imprisonment room.
In 1893 the Committee of Safety overthrew the royal family. The committee arrested Queen Liliuokalani, put her on trial, and sentenced her to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom.
This bedroom is known today as the imprisonment room. Sadly, she was denied visitors during her eight months in this bedroom. With her arrest came the end of the monarchy in Hawaii, and the last royal family of the United States.
Today, the sparse room displays a beautiful handmade crazy quilt made by Queen Liliuokalani during her confinement. Being a quilter myself, I can appreciate the hours, days, and weeks that went into the embroidery, beading, and piecing.
Basement Gallery Exhibits
Once we completed the tour of the first and second floors, we headed down to the basement. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the lower level, but the basement exhibits surprised me.
The Iolani Palace basement housed a restored kitchen complete with china. It also displayed an extensive collection of photographs depicting the Palace’s history, and a beautiful collection of Royal Jewels.
Should you choose to purchase one of the guided tours, your guide will walk you through the first two floors only. Upon arrival at the basement exhibits, you can wander freely, and without a guide.
Be sure to walk around all the rooms because there are plenty of treasures to uncover. I particularly enjoyed the collection of jewels and the stories they told.
Some of the artifacts are magnificent and rival, even the Crown Jewels at the Tower Of London. And I’ve seen the Crown Jewels several times.
One of the pieces that stood out for me was the Miniature Royal Orders. This stunning gold necklace with miniature jeweled badges of Royal Orders represented many countries from around the world.
Each badge is exquisite, and together, they make a unique and striking necklace. I admired this amazing necklace for quite some time because the detail in each miniature left me speechless.
Another showstopper is a diamond butterfly brooch with moveable wings. Worn at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, Queen Liliuokalani purchased the brooch in London, England.
The Palace Collections
After Queen Liliuokalani died in 1917, an inventory was done of her personal possessions. In 1924, her possessions were auctioned off, as per her instructions.
Since the Queen loved children, the money raised was used to manage an orphanage for destitute children. Now, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust helps approximately 10,000 children annually.
Today, the Iolani Palace is still evolving by seeking out some of these original artifacts sold in the 1920s. As they are acquired, these pieces are lovingly restored before putting them on exhibit.
When viewing the Royal Jewels and objects in the basements, I noticed many pieces had been gifted to the Palace as a way of returning them to their rightful home.
How incredibly generous of the owners to help Iolani Palace restore its Palace to its glory and share the vital history of Hawaii’s Royal Family.
Iolani Palace Grounds
Outside of the Palace, be sure to admire the Coronation Pavilion. Built for the coronation of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani in 1883, it’s a beautiful structure to see.
Today, The Royal Hawaiian Band offers Hawaiian band concerts near the Coronation Pavilion.
Iolani Palace App
If you’re unable to visit this spectacular Royal Hawaiian Palace, then download the Iolani Palace App. The Palace App allows you to take a virtual tour.
The app will transport you back in time as you walk through this fantastic Royal Palace in Honolulu.
Not only is the Iolani Palace worthy of a visit, but it’s a place I would go to again. If you’re into history and culture, consider following my Oahu three day itinerary that includes all the best cultural and historical attractions on Oahu.
At Iolani Palace, new artifacts are added continuously, so there is much to see and learn from its rich history.
Although there is sadness in learning about the end of the Monarchy and the history of Queen Liliuokalani, she lives on in the beautiful songs she wrote. A favorite amongst the Hawaiians is ‘Aloha Oe.’
Mahalo ~ Karen