Stunning Tour of the Magnificent Iolani Palace

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Tours are a great way to get the behind the scenes stories of a place.

And the docent makes all the difference.

Willie Moore (former Attorney General for the State in the 1950s) made our time at the Iolani Palace in Honolulu extra special.

Docent Willie Moore
Docent Willie Moore

 

The Palace is situated directly across from the headquarters of the TV show, “Hawaii Five-0,” which is really the Aliiolani Hale building, housing the state’s supreme court. When you arrive, don’t skip the short film that conveys details about Hawaii and the construction of the building. It gets you in the proper perspective for the tour. The palace was started in 1879 and took until 1882 to be completed. King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani were the first residents in this elaborate home.

Io is a high-flying Hawaiian hawk and lani refers to royal. Perfect name for such a sumptuous palace showing off intricate ceilings and hand carved wood throughout.

The King’s sister was named Queen Liliuokalani upon his passing. Her reign was short-lived due to an overthrow of the monarchy. Loyal followers tried to reinstate her and failed. The effort led to her being arrested, jailed in an upstairs bedroom for five years and eventually moved from the Palace to her private home.

The King was an innovator as well as being a man who liked to spend money. The home obtained every modern convenience as they became available: a telephone, elaborate indoor bathrooms, gas lights soon followed by electricity. Although air conditioning has since been installed, I was intrigued to learn that the palace was fully designed to take advantage of airflow, so it would have gotten cooling breezes.

Here’s a tip to answer questions: the names of the rooms match the colors of them! The Gold Room, The Blue Room, The Red Room…don’t you love simplicity? When you’re in the corner rooms, take special note to peer into the corners and when you return outside, look up—there are rooms tucked into each of those spaces. I wanted to sneak in, sit down and soak it all in.

 

News that always makes me cringe is when these opulent, historic homes get ravaged. In this case, it was the Provisional Government dismantling the treasures inside and eliminating anything not usable by them. Then the government moved in, occupying the site for many years. Willie Moore said he used to come here for meetings and admired the setting. After the government vacated in the late sixties, the Palace started to undergo renovations.

Fortunate for us.

Much of the original ornate furniture came from the A.H. Davenport Company of Boston. It’s remarkable that they have been able to locate and re-install many of the original belongings, furniture, and artwork of the home. On the website is a list of objects still missing—wouldn’t it be grand to locate them all?

Getting to the Iolani Palace:

Reservations can be booked online and check-in is a simple process. Tickets are $21.75 for an adult and well worth the price with tours lasting 90 minutes. We were extra lucky that Willie stretched it a bit longer than that.

Parking is tricky so make sure you read the signs wherever you choose to leave the car. Try opting for the private parking garage at Alii Place. At $3/first two hours, it’s pretty reasonable and will give you time to tour and walk the vast grounds a bit.

There is a virtual tour on the website, which will give you an overview of the palace, but sadly does not provide any details about what rooms you’re seeing. Still, this alone can easily entice you to visit.

28 Responses

  1. Erica
    | Reply

    My husband used to be a docent. It is amazing how much you have to know to do the job.

    Love the rooms with the different colors. Sometimes things don’t need to be complicated to be amazing.
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      You said that so nicely, Erica–things don’t have to be complicated to amaze us! Those fabulous docents know all the little things that make a tour come alive for us.

  2. Kristina
    | Reply

    Wow, so chic!
    I love te photos a lot, thanks for sharing with everyone

  3. William Rusho
    | Reply

    Those pictures are incredible. The architecture is unbelievable. It is a time capsule for a time long past. I am glad it is being preserved.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      It was sure a treat to see it, William. The opulence was amazing–apparently the King loved fine things! Good for us so we can see how that half lived back in the day.

  4. Mina Joshi
    | Reply

    I loved reading about the Iolani palace and enjoyed looking at the photographs. It’s great that you had a tour guide as they can really make the place alive with their information. Not been to Hawaii but love reading about Hawaii and watching Hawaii 50!!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Mina, Hawaii 50 is such a riot–we laugh every time because it’s so unrealistic. BUT, that said, they do a beautiful job showing the beauty of the island. Love that.
      I hope you get to see it in person!

  5. Sushmita
    | Reply

    Historic & heritage places I love to visit. Love the grand Palace you have shared with us 🙂 it so well maintained few of them back here in India are not
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Sushmita, do you mean that the Palaces in India are not kept up? Generally speaking? That’s so sad! In the states we tear so many things down (The Mellon Mansion for example), that it is a real treat to tour a treasure.

  6. Marquita Herald
    | Reply

    Wonderful photos of the palace RoseMary! I’ve been to Iolani Palace many times, in fact, because of my involvement with local Hawaiian groups I was invited to attend the “sit in” at the palace that recognized the 100th anniversary of the “illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government.” The Palace was draped with black cloth and there were over a hundred of people sitting in small groups on the lawn and hundreds more outside the gates. Only Hawaiian groups were allowed inside so it was quite an honor to be a guest. The Islands have a powerful history and I wish more people would look beyond the beaches and hula shows. Thanks!
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      The Iolani Palace tour certainly gave me a much better perspective on Hawaii’s history. Especially with Willie and his personal history input.
      As a kid, looking at dad’s pictures of King Kamehameha, I always thought it was cool that one of our states had had a monarchy. In my lifetime (nearly!).

  7. Jeri
    | Reply

    Quite grand indeed. Tour guides really do make a ton of difference in the overall experience. More and more places are switching to self-guided audio tours. Some of those can be great, but nothing will ever replace someone who has a passion for what they do and can answer question after question rather than just go from a memorized script. I fondly remember chain-smoking Effie, the tour guide I had at the Temple of Poseidon. She had on stiletto heels, must have been at least 75, and a stiff breeze could have blown her over. Then there’s George. He was a college professor who liked to talk about himself in the third person on the Ancient Ephesus tour. Another good one if the guy who dreamed up the Night Watchman tour in Rothenberg.
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Oh Jeri, you have the best travel experiences! Let’s go see…Portugal together!

      I, too, have found the audio tours lacking for the very reason you cite. They are informative, but not alive. I had a great history professor at York College of Pennsylvania: Jim Morrison. He was a grand Virginian and with that drawl, he could spin a story about time and place that transported you.

  8. Jeannette Paladino
    | Reply

    I wasn’t aware of this palace. I don’t equate Hawaii with such an ornate structure. My vision, not having visited the state yet, is sandy beaches and water sports. The palace is a throw back in time, and well worth preserving.
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      I totally understand your point of view, Jeannette. I think had I not seen pictures my dad took in Hawaii in 1954 (he was there for the Army), I wouldn’t have thought about a palace there either. But seeing the inside and how they have restored it! Wow.

  9. Phoenicia
    | Reply

    How grand is this palace – certainly fit for a queen!

    Imagine having all this space. I could get quite used to it. The architecture of the staircase is just beautiful and the dining room looks esquisite.

    They are obviously keen to keep the palace as spotress as possible. Offering shoe covers is a great idea.
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Phoenicia, yes, I think your Queen would love this palace! Oh gosh, I can imagine living in such a gorgeous setting. The woodwork was captivating. Just loved the tour. As grand as the Cardiff Castle apartment tour!

  10. Tuhin
    | Reply

    Historic places are always on top in my travel list..it is like travelling back in time.
    From the pictures you have shared here, it seems that the palace is well maintained by the authorities. Looks clean and fresh!
    Thanks for sharing
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      It is very much like time travel, Tuhin. Wouldn’t that be great fun?

  11. Donna Janke
    | Reply

    Iolani Palace certainly looks magnificent. I’d enjoy touring this place. It’s always extra special when you have a great docent. If the rooms are named after colour schemes, I guess you don’t redecorate and change colours! Could be confusing!
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  12. Susan Cooper
    | Reply

    Wow, that is indeed a stunning place. I agree with you about docent tours makes a big difference. I haven’t been there but plan doing so when next in Hawaii.
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    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Hope you get to go to Hawaii soon, Susan. It truly has breathtaking scenery. Not to mention the Palace!

  13. Jackie
    | Reply

    Looks lovely! Thanks for taking me there in my mind!

  14. Rose Mary Griffith
    | Reply

    It was far more elaborate than I anticipated, Ken. And Willie was such a great docent–I’d go back and take the tour with him again!
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  15. Ken Dowell
    | Reply

    The palace looks beautiful. I especially like the colors. Makes it distinctly Hawaiian.
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