I’olani Palace was built in the 1870s by King David Kalakaua, the last reigning King of Hawai’i. Queen Liliuokalani, his sister and successor, was the last member of the royal family to live in the palace. Once she was overthrown the Republic used the palace as an office, and then later the Governor did the same once Hawai’i became a state in 1959. Later, in 1969, the capital building was built so they moved there. From this on the Friends of Iolani Palace have been restoring the palace to when King Kalakaua ruled Hawai’i. In 1978 the palace became reopened to the public for tours. Back then it was empty. Even now there are workers working on restoring the palace to the condition it was in when King Kalakaua ruled the Kingdom of Hawai’i.
From Waikiki buses 2, 13, and 42 stop at Beretania and Punchbowl where the capital building is. Just go through there and the palace is on the other side. Also, buses 19 and 20 get close. The stop you want is Alakea and King, turn left down King street, cross one street and you’ll see the palace on your left.
From the airport buses 19 and 20 stop there, and from the highway buses 9, 40, 42, 52, and 62 all stop right across from the palace. Cross the street and you’re there. The stop you want is King and Punchbowl.
The palace is open from Monday 9-4, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 10:30-4, and Fridays and Saturdays 12-4 and is usually closed on holidays. There are Kama’aina Sundays where if you’re kama’aina it’s free.
To get inside:
Adult 13+: $21.75
Child 5-12: $6
4 and under: Free
Military: From Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labor Day (first Monday in September) is free. Every other time there is a discount.
Kama’aina: Free second Sunday of the month
Completely free to walk around the outside of the palace, getting pictures from as many angles as you can. Remember, the Queen Liliuokalani statue is behind the palace and the King Kamehameha statue is across the street. These are also free to see.
They start in the back door of the palace. There you are given booties for your shoes and a headset to have an audio tour (given in many different languages). Once inside follow the numbers of your little device and it’ll tell you about each room. Once the little recording is over you can either hit “Learn More” which gets into more specifics of items or you can hit “Continue Tour” to the next room.
This also allows you to go upstairs through the elevator and see even more rooms. This includes the one where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned for 8 months. There are volunteers inside willing to answer any questions that you have about the palace and royal family. Cameras and pictures are allowed but they will want you to turn off the flash. Getting a good picture without a flash is a bit hard since the palace is kept dark.
Interesting Facts and Odds and Ends:
The I’olani Palace was one of the first places to get electricity in the world (even before the White House in the US). While people often pride the Hawaiian royalty being so open to new technology, there is another reason why they were the first. The palace hadn’t had hundreds (or even thousands) of years of history stopping progress from happening like most other countries around the world. Once electrical lights were invented, it was easy to say “Why not?” and add it in.
The palace was also one of the first places in the world to incorporate the flush toilet, or water closet, into the building.
Even though the palace was one of the first places to gain electricity, there still aren’t light switches on the walls. The king would call the electric company on his telephone (pictured above) and tell them when he wanted certain lights on and off throughout the day and night.
The palace used inspiration and artistry from all over the world in it’s designs. Most of the items and décor you see in the inside isn’t from Hawai’i or Hawaiian at all. Many are Chinese, French, English, and from other countries all over the world.
There are two different gift shops. One in the basement of the palace and one in the guard’s barracks outside where you buy tickets. They do have different items for sale so be sure to check out both!
Soon after the fall of the queen, many royal items were auctioned off at a high price. Today there are still people searching for many items and while many have turned up right in Hawaii, some items have been as far away as Canada and Australia. This is why restoration of the palace has been ongoing for decades. If you came back to visit in 15-20 years you might even see a whole different set-up!
Iolani Palace is the only residence in the United States that once housed royalty.
The pronunciation of Iolani is ee-oh-lawn-ee for a reference.
The tour can take about a hour to get to everything, and that’s without ever hitting the “learn more” button after each room. Then there is going into the basement to see more and into the gift shop so a good time frame would be 2 hours.
Even the ceiling, hinges, and door knobs were beautiful decorated in the palace. These people really paid attention to detail!