Iolani Palace is a beautiful attraction in Honolulu, and visiting can change your entire outlook on Hawaiian history and culture. But it can be tempting to skip it since there are so many things to see and do on Oahu. After all, you may wonder if it’s worth stepping off the beach and exploring some of the island’s museums.
We say absolutely! In fact, learning about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture is essential for appreciating your time in the islands. And a great place to start is Iolani Palace.
Here are the top 10 reasons to visit Iolani Palace, along with a few tips to make your time there truly worthwhile.
#1 – Iolani Palace is the Only Official Royal Residence in the United States
America may be known for resisting monarchies, but there is one place that was once ruled by royalty: Hawaii. In 1810, Kamehameha I united all of Hawaii under his rule, creating a monarchy that lasted for 80 years.
Construction of Iolani Palace was completed in 1882, and it then became the home of King Kalakaua and later his sister, Queen Liliuokalani. Just over 10 years later, in 1893, the monarchy was overthrown. After that, Iolani Palace served as the government capitol building until 1969.
Now, the palace has been restored to its original grandeur to showcase the opulence and innovation of the Hawaiian kingdom.
#2 – You can Better Understand Hawaiian Identity
Many people visit Hawaii without knowing what it means to be Hawaiian. Iolani Palace serves as a place to honor and celebrate Hawaiian identity. Visitors can better understand Hawaiian as a race, identity, and culture.
Artifacts include photos, furniture, documents, military items, and artwork. Walking through it and seeing everything in person allowed me to really immerse myself in this monumental era in Hawaiian history.
#3 – Hear the Royal Hawaiian Band (On Fridays!)
This will be music to your ears! The Royal Hawaiian Band plays at Iolani Palace every Friday.
King Kamehameha III created the Royal Hawaiian Band in 1836. They played at official royal occasions, funerals, and parades. They also were known for traveling throughout the islands, bringing their music to areas throughout the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Today, the Royal Hawaiian Band continues to provide polished, creative performances in Hawaii and beyond.
They perform outside the palace on the lawn, so you don’t need a ticket to the palace to enjoy their music. However, you definitely should still see the full museum to appreciate the band’s significance.
#4 – They Offer Great Docent-Led Tours
Iolani Palace offers two primary options: self-guided audio tours, and docent-guided tours. If you’re able to visit on Wednesday, Thursday, or Saturday, then a docent-led tour is certainly worth the few extra bucks. You’ll be able to hear amazing stories and ask questions as your knowledgeable guide takes you through the palace.
#5 – Specialty Tours Allow for Incredible Insight into History
Beyond the regular docent-led and self-guided audio tours, Iolani Palace also offers a range of specialty tours. These programs provide a deep dive into specific aspects of royal Hawaiian history. Past and present specialty tours include Hawaii-Japan relations, royal fashion, and a behind-the-scenes white-glove tour.
#6 – Kamaaina Are Free Once a Month
Are you a Hawaii resident with a state ID? If so, you can tour Iolani Palace for free during their Kamaaina Sunday. The monthly event features entertainment and food vendors, creating a great experience the entire family can enjoy.
Self-guided audio tours allow kamaaina to walk through history as they see close-up artifacts of Hawaii’s monarchy.
#7 – See Where Queen Liliuokalani was Imprisoned
One of the biggest turning points in Hawaiian history was when the new provisional Hawaiian government imprisoned Queen Liliuokalani. Her 1895 trial took place in Iolani’s throne room, and she served an eight-month sentence inside the palace.
Today, you can walk through these pivotal moments as you tour Iolani Palace, seeing the sight of her trial and the room where she served her time. Inside Iolani Palace’s imprisonment room is a quilt the overthrown queen worked on while under house arrest.
Though Queen Liliuokalani’s arrest was the most notable during the overthrow and counter-revolution, many of her supporters were sentenced to death for treason.
#8 – Iolani Palace is One of the Most Haunted Places on Oahu
Many Honolulu ghost tours will take you by Iolani Palace. The site was once a royal burial ground, and visitors with royal bloodline have reported hearing chanting or music inside the palace.
One ghost tour guide even reported seeing a woman’s silhouette in the window of Queen Liliuokalani’s imprisonment room. The sighting occurred late at night, when no living souls would be inside the palace.
Even the trees outside are said to be haunted – many believe that banyan trees, like the two in front of Iolani Palace – hold lost spirits.
A docent may be able to provide even more accounts of paranormal activity at the palace.
#9 – It’s Located Right in Honolulu
Iolani Palace is worth driving across the island to visit. After all, you’ll be able to take a break from the sun and surf while learning about this incredible time in Hawaiian history. But for anyone staying in Honolulu or Waikiki, it’s incredibly convenient to visit Iolani Palace.
This historical landmark is located in downtown Honolulu. There is limited paid parking onsite, along with street and garage parking nearby.
#10 – There are Other Great Landmarks Nearby
Iolani Palace is just part of a great day exploring Honolulu’s many landmarks and attractions. One of the best ways to follow up your tour of the palace is by visiting Washington Palace, where Queen Liliuokalani lived most of her life, including the time before and after residing at Iolani Palace.
Right across the street from Iolani Palace, you’ll find historic Aliʻiolani Hale, home of Hawaii’s Supreme Court for over 150 years. It also has a striking King Kamehameha Statue and is a popular spot when touring places where Hawaii Five-0 was filmed, since it provided exterior shots of the fictional headquarters.
You’ll also be near the Eternal Flame Memorial, which honors the heroes of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Tips for Visiting Iolani Palace
Ready to explore Iolani Palace yourself? Here are our top tips for making the most of your visit!
Opt for a Docent-led Tour if Possible
We mentioned their great docent tours above, but it’s worth mentioning again. You really get an incredible experience for a small price difference, as the docents can provide unbeatable insight and answer questions during the tour.
Be Mindful of Your Children
Palace staff do welcome children, but they are strict about making sure they’re not running around. You must keep children under five in your arms, in a carrier, in a palace-provided stroller, or holding your hand. And staff will ask you to leave if your child is disruptive or disorderly.
So definitely bring along the keiki (kids) if you can manage them. But if you worry they’ll still be on beach-day mode, consider skipping this attraction until they’re a little older.
Reserve Your Iolani Palace Tour Online
Whether you opt for a self-guided or docent-led tour, be sure to reserve your time online in advance. The palace doesn’t accept any walk-up visits.
Go Beyond the Tour
Audio and docent-led tours of Iolani Palace take you through the main two levels, where you’ll find luxurious rooms and offices. But you’ll also be able to explore even more of the palace: the basement and the grounds.
Outside, you’ll find the queen’s coronation pavilion, royal barracks, and the former site of the Royal Mausoleum. Inside, head to the basement, where you’ll find photographs and other exhibits.
Of course, obey all signage, as some areas are restricted.
And don’t forget to check out the gift shop – it’s a great place to buy souvenirs, books, and local crafts.
Iolani Palace and Other Historical Treasures
We always encourage Hawaii visitors to explore the islands’ many historical and cultural sites. Your vacation will be more enjoyable and enriching as you understand the area you’re visiting.
Need help planning a well-rounded Hawaii vacation? Let our team of locally-based Hawaii travel agents help! Whether you’re visiting Oahu (complete with a trip to Iolani Palace) or one of the other islands, we can assist with airfare, hotels, itineraries, and advice!