Iolani Palace is the only official royal residence within the United States — even the White House isn’t considered a royal palace. The residence of Hawaii’s last few monarchs, the palace continues to be a cherished testament of when Hawaii was its own independent kingdom.
King Kalakaua had Lolani Palace built in 1882, and it continued to serve as the royal residence until Hawaii’s overthrow in 1883. The palace has undergone many changes since King Kalakaua and his successor (and sister) Queen Liluokalani oversaw the kingdom. In 1962, the palace was restored to its former grandeur and is now open to visitors.
Iolani Palace’s restoration has combined original and latter features, showcasing the long and storied history of the palace both when it was a royal residence and afterward. Many original furnishings have been recovered from 36 states and five countries, but the majority of original artifacts remain missing. Nevertheless, visitors can see what the residence would have originally been like and how people have decorated it throughout history. It’s always been a place of grandeur.
The interior rooms of Iolani Palace are the most captivating and interesting part of the palace to explore, and there’s no shortage of them. The Grand Hall, Throne Room, State Dining Room, Queen’s Bedroom, and King’s Bedroom give a sense of how the royals lived. The Music Room, Blue Room (for informal audiences), and King’s Library — where King Kalakaua studied Hawaiian, English, and technology — reveal what less official activities were like.
The Imprisonment Room also isn’t to be missed, although it looks nothing like a castle dungeon. This is a nicer apartment/home than most visitors currently live in, even if Queen Liluokalani tired of it during her eight-month imprisonment here.
All of these rooms and the exterior grounds can be explored via different tours of Iolani Palace, ranging from a Self-Led Audio Tour to a White Glove Tour. No matter how deep you want to go into royal Hawaiian history, there’s a tour that’s well-suited for your level of interest.
Hawaii once was a proud, affluent, and vibrant kingdom that stood on its own. Come and see how the Kapu — the royals whom commoners were forbidden from — lived.
A few of our favorite tours at Iolani Palace include:
Self-Guided Audio Tour
Explore Iolani Palace at your own pace, while also getting insights into the rooms and other attractions that you see. The audio script lasts 45 minutes, but you’re welcome to skip what you don’t find interesting or linger longer where something does catch your eye.
Learn from a volunteer docent as you explore the first-floor staterooms and second-floor private quarters. You’ll learn about the history of the rooms and some of their furnishings, and there are plenty of chances to ask questions. The basement exhibits are also included, although those are explored on your own.
The specialty Chamberlain’s Tour explores another side of the palace, one that most people don’t spend as much time walking through. The tour focuses on the basement Chamberlain who served as the chief of staff. Docents share stories of Chamberlains and staff members, providing insights into how the palace was actually run.
Hawaii’s Royal Connection to Japan Tour
The Hawaii’s Royal Connection to Japan Tour focuses specifically on King Kalakaua’s voyage to Japan, where he forged a relationship that lasts even today despite Hawaii’s statehood. The tour of Iolani Palace includes several places that are otherwise off-limits and notable precious artifacts.
The White-Glove Tour takes visitors beyond the stanchions, as the Palace Historian shows precious artifacts up close. The tour’s name stems from the white gloves that the historian wears.
-Bring a stroller if you’re visiting with children 5 or younger. The tour of Iolani Palace isn’t too long, but young children are required to e strapped in a stroller for the protection of the rooms and artifacts.
-After touring Iolani Palace, continue your walking tour beyond the grounds. Aliioni Hale (where the State Supreme Court meets), the King Kamenchama I statue, the State Capitol, Washington Place (where the current governor resides), and historic houses are all scattered throughout the area.