Pros: The Only Royal Palace in the United States, Rich Hawaiian History, a National Treasure
Cons: Parking is hard to find but once you find it, parking is easy!
Unbeknownst to many Americans is the fact that the United States does indeed have a true royal palace. No, not the White House but Iolani Palace in O'ahu, Hawaii (Honolulu).
Iolani Palace took three years to build and was completely furnished in 1882 for King David Kalakaua (pronounced Ka-la-cow-wa) and his wife Queen Kapi'olani (pronounced Ka-Pe-O-Lani). It cost the Kingdom of Hawaii $360,000 to build. King Kalakaua visited such countries like England and France and so loved how their monarchy lived that he hired three architects to construct a Hawaiian royal palace in similar fashion to the British and French monarchies.
The palace is not large like Buckingham Palace and measures only 140 feet by 100 feet. The building has three floors. The main floor was used for formal functions for heads of state. The second floor was used for living quarters for the royal family. The basement was used for ancillary functions such as storerooms, kitchen, etc. Food was delivered by a manual elevator to each floor.
Take notice of the unique artifacts inside Iolani Palace. You would expect Hawaiian art to be the focal point of this palace. But if you look closely at the moldings and etched glass, you will note a distinctly European flavor. Some solid wood doors were made in California and shipped to Honolulu to be installed in the palace.
THE FIRST FLOOR
Before entering Iolani Palace you will view a short video on the history of the palace. You will then walk a short distance to the palace. A docent (volunteer) will provide you with a denim cover for your shoes or sandals. You will put this over your shoes/sandals. This provides two benefits. Firstly, it will help reduce the wear and tear of the wood flooring and secondly, it helps to keep the floors nicely polished.
The docent will briefly explain to you the beginnings of Iolani Palace and who resided in the palace. You will first enter the main floor of the palace. You will notice portraits of previous Hawaiian kings from Kamehameha the Great to Queen Lili'uokalani (King Kalakaua's sister and pronounced, Lee-lee-oo-o-ka-lan-kee).
Here on the first floor is where King Kalakaua entertained guests with music and food. It is said that when King Kalakaua invited you to dinner you arrived early at about 5:00 pm and very hungry because he believed in satisfying his guest's palate. King Kalakaua also loved dancing and had the royal band placed just outside the ballroom. The royal band would play music as the guests danced the night away. Sometimes these parties would last well into the following morning.
The throne room is where the King and Queen were presented with guests to the palace. The royal throne is not elaborate like the royal thrones of British but nevertheless they are very impressive. This is the room where Queen Lili'uokalani was tried and convicted for her knowledge of a possible rebellion against the provisional government.
THE GRAND STAIRCASE
Before you ascend the staircase to the second floor, you cannot miss this great work of art. The wood you are about to walk on is hand carved from native Hawaiian Koa wood. Prior to restoration, the wooden banisters were severely damaged by termites and were replaced with exacting replication. The hand rails on this staircase is the only part of your tour in which you are allowed to touch. Imagine, Hawaiian royalty once touched the very same hand rails you are touching over 100 years ago!
Be extremely careful when ascending or descending this staircase. It is slippery so hold onto the handrails and watch your steps.
The second floor was used primarily for the private quarters of the royal family. King Kalakaua's room was decorated with some of his favorite items. A small library of books was accessible from his room. Here you will find various letters he wrote to other nations and letters received from France, Great Britain and the United States. The room is decorated with photos and paintings of Queen Kapi'olani, his wife, and various artifacts received as gifts from heads of states that visited the palace. His bed was somewhat small and looked much like a child's bed.
In King Kalakaua's library is the first telephone installed in Hawaii. This telephone wasn't a true telephone. It was primarily used to call the kitchen or palace attendants for assistance.
On the other side of the building (Diamond Head or west side) is where the Queen and princesses (Lili'uokalani) resided. Sadly, this is the same room in which Queen Lili'uokalani spent eight months in house arrest when her monarchy was overthrown by the United States in 1895.
For an additional fee, you can view Hawaiian royal treasures much like those of the British royal family. King Kalakaua was impressed with badges that he gave these out on important occasions for valor, significant events or to visiting dignitaries. Jewelry, such as diamond and ruby pendants and necklaces are on display that was once worn by the royal family.
The royal coat of arms is proudly displayed including the royal crown the king and queen used. The velvet is showing its wear but overall, the crowns are in excellent shape.
Silverware and dishes are also on display. You can see the very kitchen that prepared the food the royal family and their guests enjoyed.
THE ROYAL TOMB
Past kings and royal family members were once buried on the palace grounds. In 1865, the royal remains were moved to a new location not far from Iolani Palace. The Royal Mausoleum can be seen in Nu'uanu close to the mountains.
Only King Kamehameha the Great's tomb is not known. He was buried in secrecy by native protocol of that period.
OTHER IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT IOLANI PALACE
? The palace received electric lights before the United States White House.
? Prior to being restored as a state landmark by the Friends of Iolani Palace, state government offices used the palace as it's capitol.
? Was the location where television's Hawaii-Five-0 was headquartered.
Like all injustices in the world, the monarchy was wrongfully taken from Queen Liliu'okalani in 1895. Her authority was taken from her by the United States government much like how the American Indians land was taken from them.
FRIENDS OF IOLANI PALACE IS LOOKING FOR ROYAL ARTIFACTS
When the provisional government took over the palace, the United States sold off millions of dollars worth of royal artifacts. The Friends of Iolani Palace wants to return these treasures to it rightful location in Iolani Palace.
You will notice the royal insignia on the underside of all royal artifacts. If you happen to come across these treasures, please call the Friends of Iolani Palace at (808) 522-0832. Your assistance will be appreciated.
TOUR RESERVATIONS, HOURS AND ADDRESS
Iolani Palace is located at the corner of King and Richards Streets. Parking is available on Likelike (pronounced Le-Kay-Le-Kay) Street between the new state capitol building and Iolani Palace.
Reservations are highly recommended by calling (808) 522-0832. For recorded tour information, call (808) 538-1471. Hours of operations Tuesday through Saturday 9:00 am to 3:30 pm (Hawaii Standard time). Wheelchair accessible
Friends of Iolani Palace: http://alaike.lcc.hawaii.edu/OpenStudio/Iolani/
Ticket prices are:
Note! I have seen previous reviews on the subject of the ticket prices. Yes, it is somewhat high but please remember the Friends of Iolani Palace fought to save this historical landmark and is a non-profit foundation created to preserve Hawaiian history. They are the ones who restored Iolani Palace to its former grandeur after being abused as a state capitol for many years.
Iolani Palace Only
Adult - $15
Kama'aina (Local residents with ID) - $10
Children (ages 5-12) - $5
Children under 5 are not admitted
Iolani Palace Galleries (Not included in above ticket costs)
Adult - $10
Kama'aina (Local residents with ID) - $10
Children - $5
Children under 5 admitted FREE
Combined Rate (Best Value)
Adult - $20
Kama-aina (Local residents with ID) - $15
Children (ages 5-12) - $5
A visit to Honolulu without seeing this fantastic historical residence is like going to Washington DC and not visiting the White House. This is a must see and do for anyone visiting Honolulu. There is no excuse not to see this landmark because the entire tour will only take approximately one hour.
It is such a waste to visit Hawaii just for its lovely beaches, shopping centers and Pearl Harbor when this small archipelago is so rich in history. I highly recommend visiting Iolani Palace whenever you visit Honolulu. I promise you that you will leave feeling in awe of Hawaii's rich historical past.
Everyone here knows my love for Hawaii, its culture and her beauty. Hawaiian history is not taught in our local high schools and this is truly very sad. When asked about things to do in Honolulu, this is one landmark I tell my friends not to miss!