Iolani Palace is one of Oahu’s most revered National Historic Landmarks, and must see things to do in Oahu. This historic Honolulu Attraction is located in the civic center downtown Honolulu, and is actually the second palace that was commission ed to be the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Visiting the Hawaiian Palace is a fun easy thing to do in Oahu. Not only does it give you a piece of the Royal Hawaiian history, but also shows you the way they lived, displays some of the treasured artworks, and beautiful detailed finishes & architecture of the palace itself.
Catch the Royal Hawaiian Band that performs on the grounds during the lunch hour on most Fridays (Noon to 1 PM, non-holidays and weather permitting). This band has a long history playing for the public since 1883, when they were introduced in San Francisco.
Iolani Palace History
The First Palace
The first version of the Iolani Palace was more a traditional Hale Ali’i (translated as House of Chiefs) designed with no sleeping areas, and only spaces for official ceremonies, a dining room, and a reception area. Huts around the “palace” were the sleeping quarters of the royal family.
This first version was built in 1844 by Mataio Kekuanao’a (try saying that 5 times in a row), a Royal Governor of Hawaii, for his daughter, Princess Victoria Kamamalu, the King’s niece.
King Kamehameha III purchased it from Princess Victoria in 1845. The first palace was renamed to Iolani Palace and it became the official residence of the monarch from King Kamehameha IV, King Kamehameha V, Lunalili, and the early years of King Kalakaua’s turn on the throne.
The Second Palace
It was King Kamehameha V who actually commissioned the construction of a new building that was more in line with what a palace would be — one that was more fitting for sovereignty. He named it “Ali’iolani Hale” (House of the Heavenly King) and it was built across the street from the original Iolani Palace.
In case you’re wondering what King Kamehameha V names the new and much more grand palace, he named it after himself of course! The king’s full name is….are you ready… “King Lot Kapuaiwa Kalanikapuapaikalaninui Ali’iolani Kalanimakua Kamehameha V” (whew! I thought the Royal Governor’s name was tough, I can’t even say this one once, let alone 5 times!).
By the time King Kalakaua took over the throne, the original (first) Iolani Palace had badly deteriorated. The king ordered it to be condemned and demolished.
King Kalakaua traveled around the world and had the opportunity to witness the grand palaces in Europe and other royal families.
He then commissioned the construction of a new Iolani Palace across the street from King Kamehameha V’s Ali’iolani Hale.
The new palace was finished in 1882 and cost a whopping $340,000 (a huge amount at that time). The unique architectural style of the new Iolani Palace Honolulu is said to be called American Florentine.
Overthrow of the Monarchy – 1893
In 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown by the Committee of Safety. Iolani Palace Honolulu was taken over and the government administration moved in within a few months’ time.
The palace became the “Executive Building” for the Republic of Hawai’i. Its contents that were not suitable for government office purposes were sold at auctions.
Sadly, Queen Lili’ukalani was imprisoned in a small room in the upper floor for nine months. The quilt she made during that time still exists and is on display at the palace today.
Iolani Palace is Restored
Some interior restoration of the palace started in 1930 and the name “Iolani Palace” was revived in 1935.
The building was then occupied by the military governor.
Government occupation of the palace for more than 70 years took its toll and the building was in a state of disrepair. New restoration efforts were taken up in the 1960’s.
Fun Fact The Iolani Palace is the only palace found within US borders!
In 1962, the palace was designated a National Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register in 1966.
The government offices moved out of the Palace in 1969 complete restoration of the grand palace started. Many of the original palace contents were found and returned to the palace through the efforts of researchers and museum personnel.
Private donations and government grants were used to restore the palace back its grandeur to the time when the monarchy resided in the building.
The beautifully restored Iolani Palace was opened to the public in 1978 as a museum, housing many of the monarchy’s precious memorabilia, after its intensive restoration.
Fun Fact: Many of the scenes from Hawaii Five-O, the original series from 1968-1980 were filmed in the Iolani Palace, where police headquarters were housed at the time. The 2010 remake also filmed some scenes at the palace.
The Iolani Palace is easy to get to from Waikiki. It’s only a 15 minute drive or a 25 minute bus ride.
Consider a Iolani Palace & Bishop Museum Combo Tour that includes transportation and lunch. View more details…