By Heather Cassell

Set in the heart of Hawaii’s capital district in Honolulu, historic Iolani Palace and its sprawling grounds are majestic in the cultural and political center of Hawaii.

The edifice was erected in 1882 for King David Kalākaua, a descendant of the chiefs of Kona that helped Kamehameha I united the string of Hawaiian Islands, 130 islands, into a kingdom. Eight of the islands have mostly captured travelers’ imagination.

The 19th century palace’s name was changed from Hale Ali`I, the House of the Chief, to Iolani (Io, which means hawk, and lani, which means royal or heavenly) by Kamehameha V in honor of his brother and predecessor.

Throne Room at 'Iolani Palace (Photo Courtesy of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace)
Throne Room at ‘Iolani Palace (Photo Courtesy of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace)

Styled in Hawaiian architecture, the national landmark was constructed using the best materials, including walnut and koa wood, and technology installing an elevator, telephones, and other new inventions of the period. The palace was a living symbol of the Hawaiian royals’ worldly curiosity and respect for education.

The high ceiling halls and elaborately decorated chambers in the more than 130 year old two story edifice entertained royals and diplomats from around the world until the U.S. took control of the islands.

In 1895, the King Kalākaua’s sister and successor after his death in 1891, Queen Lydia Lili’uokalani was imprisoned at the palace for a year. Hawaiian royalists were attempting to restore the queen to her throne after she was overthrown in 1893. U.S. authorities found weapons stored at Washington Place, the queen’s home and arrested her.

During her house arrest, Queen Lili’uokalani kept up with the news of the world and sewed a quilt that is known as the “Queen’s Prayer.” The quilt now lies on her bed in the palace.

The Gold Room of 'Iolani Palace (Courtesy of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace)
The Gold Room of ‘Iolani Palace (Courtesy of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace)

I learned all of these historical facts and  more during an hour long guided tour of the palace with a volunteer guide. Self-guided audio tours are also available to guests.

Exhibits and the historical site shop are located in the basement of the palace.

Iolani Palace (364 South King St., Honolulu; 808-522-0832 or 522-0823, is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are available at the ‘Iolani Barracks on the palace grounds.

To learn about Hawaiian royals, visit