Most people do not associate the United States with royalty, and for good reason given the American Revolution. However, an obvious exception to that can be found on the islands of Hawaii and, more specifically, at Iolani Palace. The only true “royal” palace located in the United States, this is a definite must-see on any Hawaiian trip.
The Iolani Palace has a rich history in terms of both the current building as well as the land upon which it stands. Located in an area known as Pohukiana in downtown Honolulu, the current palace has been in existence since 1882. Though first commissioned for the purpose of housing the Hawaiian royal family, the Iolani Palace served as both the seat of the Hawaiian Territorial government as well as the first capitol building. It has been open to the public as a museum since 1978.
In Hawaiian, the name Pohukiana means “the land is calm.” It is therefore no surprise that the area which bore that name would serve an important role in housing and keeping the members of the Hawaiian Royal family right up to the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. King Kamehameha II and his wife Queen Kamamalu are buried in a mausoleum modeled after Westminster Abbey located in this area. His son, King Kamehameha III, also lived in the Pohukiana area for a while.
In 1845 Kamehameha III permanently moved the capital of Hawaii to Honolulu from Lahaina and a permanent royal building (the first palace) called Hanailoia was built. Later, King Kamehameha V envisioned a newer, more modern building that would truly translate the progressive nature of the Hawaiian state in the place of this simple two-story structure. Finally, newly-elected King David Kalakaua, the first Hawaiian king to travel the world, would bring that dream to fruition.
Kalakaua was impressed by the grand palace styles that he saw on his travels. This led him to commission several architects and designers in the construction of the new palace. This included designers Thomas J. Baker and Charles J. Wall along with architect Isaac Moore. The style of the palace is the one-of-a-kind American Florentine that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This includes the integration of a grand koa wood staircase and indoor plumbing that was functional before the U.S. White House’s.
After the monarchy fell in 1893, Iolani Palace served a number of functions as a hall of government. During the time of the Hawaiian Republic the palace was known simply as the “Executive Building” with many of the royal bedrooms converted to offices. Once Hawaii officially became a U.S. territory, the palace continued to serve out a government role as a military command center during World War II and the official seat of the Hawaiian state government from 1959-1969.
When the state government of Hawaii moved to new offices nearby in Honolulu, the Iolani Palace, which was at that time already designated a National Historic Landmark, fell into the hands of the Friends of Iolani Palace organization who began to restore the structure to its original specifications as a royal residence. The palace opened to the public as a museum in 1978.
Throughout modern popular cultural history, the existence of the Iolani Palace as a cultural landmark has been strong. The original Hawaii Five-O series depicted the state police headquarters in Iolani Palace. Several movies and books as well as the television series based off of the Disney film Lilo and Stitch have also had this important Hawaiian cultural icon play a role in their plots.
Visiting the ‘Iolani Palace is a chance to engage first-hand with Hawaii’s royal history. There are daily tours offered in both guided audio and docent-led form which take visitors through the deep history of the building, its architecture, and the royal artifacts now housed within it.
Located in the heart of downtown Honolulu, the central placement of Iolani Palace makes it an easy detour from other Hawaiian sightseeing missions. In addition, its simple tour-based layout makes it a good add-on to other activities in the Hawaiian capital.
Though all visitors are invited to view the basement gallery at Iolani Palace, the first and second floors, which house the restored palace rooms and many of the original royal family artifacts, are limited to visitors over the age of 4 only.
Why It’s a Must-See
For older children and adults who are fascinated by the oft-ignored history of Hawaii, its royal family, and its journey to U.S. statehood, a visit to the Iolani Palace is an absolute must. By immersing oneself in the relics of the past and learning about the journey that one building took through the Hawaiian metamorphosis from island kingdom to the 50th U.S. state, visitors get the opportunity to learn and breathe Hawaii in a whole new way.
Where to Buy It
There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.
1. Purchase a ticket from Iolani Palace when you get there.
2. Purchase a ticket online. .
3. Purchase as part of a money saving package. Popular examples to the right.
Money Saving Packages
Iolani Palace is featured in several tourist packages. Visit Smart Destinations to see how much you can save.
Iolani Palace is included in the following money saving tourist passes: