ʻIolani Palace is a living restoration of a proud Hawaiian national identity, a registered National Historic Landmark, and the only official royal palace in the United States.
I decided to take one of my friends, a pastor’s daughter, to ʻIolani Palace to learn about the spiritual history of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi! Growing up here, we would visit the Palace for school field trips, learning about the Hawaiian Monarchy and the imprisonment of the Queen. Back then, they had the imprisonment room set up as it would have been. One takeaway I had from this recent visit stems from this change and is concerned with our historical narratives. Do we choose to dwell on injuries of the past? Or do we choose to rewrite our stories for the glory of God? The room now features a quilt that honors the legacy of the royal family.
Most people may be unaware of this, but I spent a summer volunteering for The Friends of ʻIolani Palace as a Guardian. I would read my summer reading book in the study and ensure that guests did not cross any boundaries. I still remember the book I read that summer, which was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Looking back with a greater appreciation for the monarchy’s role in bringing Christianity to the Hawaiian people, this title is especially meaningful. Over the last ten years, the Palace has undergone a transformation and I am glad to see such positive historic preservation and restoration efforts.
The Palaceʻs website has transit and parking directions. Located in Downtown Honolulu, this is not too far from Waikīkī. There is metered parking available onsite.
Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. | Self-Led Audio Tour
Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. | Docent-Led Tour, Self-Led Audio Tour, Hawaii’s Royal Connection to Japan, Chamberlain’s Tour
Thursday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. | Docent-Led Tour
Friday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. | Self-Led Audio Tour, Chamberlain’s Tour
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. | Self-Led Audio Tour
A self-guided tour takes an hour and a half to two hours. Along with the self-led audio tour, the Palace currently offers docent-led tours, as well as the following specialty tours. I have not been on these, yet, but hope to in the near future!
The Chamberlain’s Tour
- Schedule: Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays at 3:00 p.m.
- Length: 60 minutes
- Cost: $69.95 per adult, $44.95 per child (ages 5 to 12)
- Capacity: 6 guests
The Chamberlain’s Tour offers visitors access to the never-before-seen Chamberlain’s office suite. See a new perspective of life at ʻIolani Palace through the eyes of the Royal Chamberlain and other members of the Palace staff. The Chamberlain answered directly to the King and Queen and his office revealed what it took to run the royal household. For the first time, guests will be able to step into the Chamberlain’s office and hear insightful and enchanting stories about the monarchs who once walked the halls.
The highlight of the private and intimate tour will allow guests to be taken into the Chamberlain’s office suite located in the basement. Guests will get a closer look at many precious objects and learn about the Royal Chamberlain’s duties. They’ll also hear stories from docents dressed in authentic period clothing about King Kalākaua and his efforts to strengthen the Kingdom’s position in the international community, plus anecdotes about some of his remarkable guests and royal staff. This unique, docent-led tour will also include stops in the first floor rooms, as well as the King’s Bedroom and Library on the second floor, and Palace Galleries. Guests will also receive an exclusive souvenir keepsake.
Hawaii’s Royal Connection to Japan Tour
- Schedule: Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m.
- Length: 45 minutes
- Cost: $69.95 per adult, $44.95 per child (ages 5 to 12)
- Capacity: 6 guests
Hawaiʻi’s Royal Connection to Japan tour explores how the Hawaiian Kingdom established its relationship with the Asian nation, which continues to the present day. This exclusive opportunity brings King Kalākaua’s 1881 journey to Japan to life. During this docent-led tour, guests will have access to restricted areas throughout the Palace for an up-close look at precious objects, learn about people in Kalākaua’s inner circle, and hear stories about the King’s efforts to strengthen the Kingdom’s position on the world stage.
The tour is also available in Japanese upon request, and each guest will receive a special souvenir keepsake.
White Glove Tour
- Schedule: Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.
- Length: 90 minutes
- Cost: $99.95 per adult (not recommended for children under 12)
- Capacity: 4 guests
During the White Glove Tour, guests will go beyond the stanchions during a private and intimate tour led by the ʻIolani Palace Historian. Get a closer look at many precious objects in the Throne Room, State Dining Room, and King Kalākaua’s Library. Guests will hear stories of the monarchs and learn of their distinguished place in Hawaiʻi’s history as well as their impact on the world. The tour concludes in the Palace attic where guests will slip on a keepsake pair of white gloves for the unique chance to view items in the Palace collection that are not on display to the general public. They’ll learn about the special care it takes to protect and preserve these precious cultural objects for future generations.
Royal Legacy Tour
- Schedule: By appointment only
- Length: 90 minutes
- Cost: $550
- Capacity: 1-4 guests
- A complimentary parking space on the Palace grounds
- A private, tour of ʻIolani Palace and Palace Galleries
- A gift bag with palace souvenir and one year of membership with The Friends of ʻIolani Palace
- A 10% discount in the Palace Shop
- Ability to view the video presentation of “A King’s Noble Vision”
This unique tour includes a personal greeting from the ʻIolani Palace Director of Guest Services, a private tour of the Palace, and a behind-the-scenes experience. This exclusive opportunity brings to life the time of Hawaiʻi’s monarchy and the Palace as a marvel of opulence, innovation, and political intrigue.
Guests will experience an extraordinary tour of ʻIolani Palace led by the Palace Historian and going beyond the stanchions of the State Dining room, King’s Library, King’s bedroom, and Throne Room – allowing a closer look at many precious artifacts. During this private and intimate tour, visitors will hear stories of the monarchs and learn of their distinguished place in Hawaiʻi’s history, as well as their impact on the world.
The tour concludes at the Palace Galleries, where guests can view beautiful jewels and other treasures from the Royal Collection, and visit the exhibit describing the meticulous restoration of the Palace and the continuing efforts to protect and preserve it for future generations.
As ʻIolani Palace is a sacred place, guests are kindly asked to be dressed in a manner that is respectful of the cultural and historical significance of this place.
- Shirts and footwear are required; you will also be asked to wear shoe coverings provided by the Palace.
- Bathing suits and beachwear (including beach coverups) are inappropriate attire and not permitted.
- Clothing displaying profanity is not allowed.
Palace visitors are encouraged to take selfies and share their experiences and are welcome to take photos of the ʻIolani Palace interior, exterior, and grounds for personal use. The following are not permitted:
- Flash photography
- Audio recording
- Tripods/monopods or selfie sticks
- Extended lenses
Commercial photography is strictly prohibited without prior written permission from ʻIolani Palace and the Hawaii State Film Office.
Children under 5-years-old are free and must be in a front-held infant/child carrier, safely strapped in a stroller provided by ʻIolani Palace, or holding the hand of an accompanying adult at all times. Personal strollers are not permitted inside the Palace; there is no charge to use a Palace stroller. If the child is being disruptive, Palace personnel will ask that the child be taken outside.
Please respect all roped-off areas and obey all posted signs placed throughout the interior and exterior of ʻIolani Palace.
The following are not allowed inside ʻIolani Palace:
- Large bags
- Food and beverages
Service animals are permitted on the premises. We ask that you notify the reservations office and/or the cashiers before entering ʻIolani Palace.
The significance of the land around ʻIolani Palace stretches back to antiquity. It is thought to have been the site of an ancient heiau (place of worship).
In 1845, King Kamehameha III established his official residence in a large commodious home on this site. The structure served five Hawaiian kings until its demolition in 1874 and the subsequent construction of the Palace that exists today.
Constructing the Palace
The cornerstone for ʻIolani Palace was laid on December 31, 1879 – with full Masonic rites – and construction was completed in 1882. The Palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchs, where they held official functions, received dignitaries and luminaries from around the world, and entertained often and lavishly.
ʻIolani Palace was ahead of its time as it was outfitted with the most up-to-date amenities, including electric lights, indoor plumbing, and a modern communications system – the telephone.
On Sacred Land
Kapu means “forbidden,” or “off-limits,” but more importantly it also means “sacred” or “consecrated.” When visiting the Palace grounds, please respect the sanctity of the area and especially of the places marked Kapu. These areas should only be entered by appropriate persons using appropriate protocols.
An eight-foot-high coral block wall with wooden gates originally enclosed the Palace area. Following the Wilcox Rebellion in 1889, it was lowered to 3’6″. In 1892, the present painted iron fence was installed.
Each of the four principle gates display the Coat of Arms of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and have a distinctive name and purpose:
- Kauikeaouli (King Street) – In honor of King Kamehameha III and used for ceremonial occasions
- Kinau (Richards Street) – Named after the mother of Kings Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V and used by tradesmen
- Hakaleleponi (Capitol Mall) – Named for Queen Kalama, consort of Kamehameha III, and used by staff and retainers of the royal household
- Likelike (Diamond Head) – The name of Princess Likelike, sister to King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, and reserved for private use by the royal family
Keliʻiponi Hale: The Coronation Pavillion
The Coronation Pavilion was built for the coronation of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapʻiolani on February 12, 1883. The pavilion was later moved from its original site near the King Street steps.
Today, The Royal Hawaiian Band can be seen playing near the Coronation Pavilion and has also been used for the inauguration of the Governors of the State of Hawaiʻi.
The Sacred Mound
Located in the Southeast quadrant of the Palace grounds, the Sacred Mound was once the site of the Royal Mausoleum. It is marked by a fenced-in mound to respect the Hawaiian chiefs who may still be buried there. In 1825, a mausoleum of white-washed coral block was constructed to house the remains of Kamehameha II and his consort, Queen Kamamalu, both of whom died of measles while on a journey to England.
For the next forty years, this royal tomb and the land immediately surrounding it became the final resting place for the kings of Hawaii, their consorts, and important chiefs of the kingdom. In 1865, eighteen coffins were removed from this site and transferred to Mauna Ala, the Royal Mausoleum, in Nuʻuanu Valley.
Hale Koa: ʻIolani Barracks
Hale Koa, also known as ʻIolani Barracks, was originally completed in 1871 and designed by architect Theodore Heuck to house the Royal Guard. Its coral block structure contains an open courtyard surrounded by rooms once used by the guards as a mess hall, kitchen, dispensary, berth room, and lockup.
Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the disbanding of the Royal Guard, ʻIolani Barracks was used at different times as temporary shelter for refugees of the 1899 Chinatown fire, headquarters for the National Guard of Hawaii, a service club, a government office building, and a storage facility.
Originally located on what are now the grounds of the Hawaii State Capitol, the barracks were dismantled and reconstructed at its present location in 1965. Hale Koa now houses The Palace Shop, ticket office, and video theatre.
Kanaina Building: Old Archives
The Kanaina Building was built in 1906 and was the first building in the U.S. erected solely for the custody and preservation of public archive materials. It was restored in 1987 and now houses the administrative offices of The Friends of ʻIolani Palace.
Home of The Hawaiian Monarchy
After being built by Hawaiʻi’s last king, David Laʻamea Kamananakapu Mahinulani Naloiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua, ʻIolani Palace remained a royal residence for a little over a decade. Queen Liliʻuokalani, the king’s sister and successor, remained in the Palace until she was deposed and the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. In the following years, the Queen was imprisoned in the palace, where she composed a number of songs – including O Kou Aloha No (The Queen’s Prayer).
Behold not with malevolence the sins of man, but forgive – and cleanse.— Liliʻuokalani, Hawaiʻi’s Last Reigning Monarch
The Queen’s Imprisonment
Queen Liliʻuokalani succeeded her brother upon his death on January 20, 1891. She was determined to strengthen the political power of the Hawaiian monarchy, but her attempts to affect change caused great opposition from the Committee of Safety – who later orchestrated the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the establishment of a provisional government with the support of the American Minister to Hawaii.
In 1895, an unsuccessful attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Liliʻuokalani to power resulted in the Queen’s arrest. She was forced to relinquish all future claims to the throne and was put on trial before a military tribunal in her own throne room. Liliʻuokalani was convicted, fined, and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor, which was later reduced to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of the Palace for nearly eight months.
During her imprisonment, Queen Liliʻuokalani wrote this prayer on March 22, 1895, and soon set it to this melody. At the bottom of her manuscript was written, “Composed during my imprisonment at ‘Iolani Palace by the Missionary party who overthrew my government.” In this prayer hymn, the Queen tells of her great love for God, a love great enough to ask for the forgiveness of those who imprisoned her. In Hawaii today, this hymn is sung expressively with great reverence and devotion.
The Palace served as capitol of the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaiʻi until 1969.
The first and second floors of the Palace have been meticulously restored and are open to the public for guided tours.
The first floor consists of the public reception areas – the Grand Hall, State Dining Room, Blue Room, and the Throne Room. The second floor consists of the private suites – the King’s and Queen’s suites, Music Room, and the Imprisonment Room, where Queen Liliʻuokalani was held under house arrest.
The Grand Hall runs the entire width of the Palace with a large staircase made of Hawaiian koa wood as its focal point, leading to the private family suites on the second floor. Lining both walls of the Grand Hall are ten portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens that hang above niches where valuable decorative pieces from England, India, Japan, and France are displayed.
The Throne Room is near the Grand Hall and is lavishly decorated in crimson and gold. As the largest room in the Palace, this is where King Kalākaua held formal audiences, diplomatic receptions, and state balls. The two thrones were for King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani; however, they disliked sitting on them and preferred to stand while receiving guests. The trial of Queen Liliʻuokalani also occurred in this room.
The Blue Room is located across the hall from the Throne Room and was used for informal audiences and smaller receptions. Matching portraits of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, by American portraitist William Cogswell, decorate the walls alongside other portraits. Of the most prominent furnishings in the room is a rosewood piano.
Beautifully carved sliding doors mark the entrance into the State Dining Room. The room features a crimson theme with floor-to-ceiling windows, furniture made in Boston, elegant Bohemian crystal and Paris porcelain, and a massive floral carpet.
Portraits of Prussian, French, Russian, and British leaders hang on the walls. After the overthrow of the monarchy, this room was used as the Senate Chambers by the Territory and later by the State of Hawaiʻi.
On the second floor, the Music Room – or Gold Room, was a gathering place for the royal family. There, they enjoyed composing, playing, and listening to music and song.
In 2011, the room was restored with the help of a team of expert eyes and more than 300 pages of documents. Rich, golden satin drapes now frame the nine floor-to-ceiling windows and tones of gold and brown echo in the wool carpet, recreating what researchers saw in only a few black and white photographs.
After a failed attempted by Hawaiian royalists’ to restore Queen Liliuokalani to power in 1895, the queen was arrested and forced to abdicate her throne. She then endured a public trial in which she was convicted and later sentenced to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of the Palace for nearly eight months.
The Imprisonment Room is where the Queen was held for nearly eight months following her conviction. She was denied visitors except for one lady companion. During her imprisonment, the queen’s day consisted of her daily prayers, reading music composition, crochet-work and quilting.
Queen Kapiʻolani’s bedroom was originally furnished with mahogany furniture and red curtains and upholstery. Many of the pieces in both her room and King Kalākaua’s were sold in a series of auctions that were held to pay off debts after the King’s death and the overthrow of the monarchy. Many of these items are still being sought after today.
King Kalākaua’s Suite is one of the private rooms located on the second floor. His bedroom was decorated with a mixture of American, Hawaiian, Asian, and European furnishings and has an adjoining library with one of Honolulu’s earliest telephones. Kalākaua was a big advocate of having the most advanced technology at the time.
King Kalākaua’s library is where he spent much of his time. The king was fluent in English and Hawaiian and the various objects in this room demonstrate his interest in modern technology. Copies of letters written to international leaders may be found along with electric lighting fixtures and a replica of the original telephone.
In order to enter the basement, you exit and reenter the Palace. There, you will be able to view artifacts on display and learn more about the monarchs and their role in the world.
Hawaiʻi has a long history of being an international center, and the historical connection it has with countries around the world can be seen in the jewelry gifted to its royalty. Many of these pieces were donated and are now on display for the broad public to enjoy.