In the middle of downtown Honolulu sits Iolani Palace, the only royal building in the United States. The Palace is an ever-present reminder of the royal heritage of the Hawaiian Islands.
Built-in 1882 by King David Kalakaua and his wife Queen Kapiolani, the palace had electricity and telephones even before the White House. King Kalakaua found inspiration for the design of the palace during his European travels. Indeed, with its high ramparts and commanding presence, one can see in Iolani Palace the influence of European castles. Yet, certain features attest to the fact that the palace was built in a place where the climate invites one outdoors. Walkways encircle the exterior on both the first and second floors, and lanais offer splendid views of the palace grounds.
In January of 1895, Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, was imprisoned in the palace during the overthrow of her government. Some say you can still hear the Queen pacing back-and-forth in the room where she was held captive. The palace then served as the capital of the territory when Hawai’i was annexed to the United States, in 1959. In 1969, restoration began, and today the palace is a museum to the era.
Iolani Palace offers 2 tours: a docent-guided tour, and a self-guided audio tour (in addition to the tours a basement gallery only admission is available). Both tours visit the first and second floors of the Palace followed by self-guided exploration of the basement gallery exhibits. Allow approximately 90 minutes for either tour. Tour options vary based on the day of the week and time, so make sure to check out their current hours and admission.
Tip: Free tours for Kamaiana are generally available on the first Sunday of every month.
For the docent-guided tour, reservations are recommended (contact the ticket office to book a tour time). Tours are available every 15 minutes. Japanese language tours are given at 11:30 am Monday-Saturday. Guided tours in Mandarin Chinese or American Sign Language can be pre-arranged.
In addition to the tours, a free introductory video “A King’s Noble Vision” is shown every half-hour in the Iolani Barracks.
The Palace is open from Monday through Saturday, with hours varying depending upon the type of tour you take. The Palace is closed on Sunday except for noted Kama’aina Sundays. It is also closed on the following holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1st), Independence Day (July 4th), Thanksgiving Day (November 25th), and Christmas Day (December 25th).