King David Kalakaua was the last king of the Hawaiian Kingdom. His sister, Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown by American sugar planters and American military interests. King Kalakaua built the palace as a symbol to the people of Hawai’i and a message to all the nations of the world that Hawai’i is an educated, civilized, and advanced society ready to take the place as one of the biright lights of advanced human civilizations.
King Kalakaua had met Thomas Edison and arranged to have electric lighting installed into ‘Iolani Palace as early as 1887. After meeting Alexander Graham Bell, he had a telephone installed in the palace. Indoor plumbing (with flush toilets) was original in the palace when it was completed in 1882. ‘Iolani Palace had a telephone, indoor plumbing, and electric lighting before the White House had any of the three.
To tour the interior of the palace you must first visit Hale Koa aka the ‘Iolani Barracks – this is on the palace grounds and should not be confused with the Hale Koa Hotel (House of Warriors) in Waikiki which is for U.S. servicemen and women. ‘Iolani Barracks was moved from the Diamond Head side of the palace grounds to where it currently sits. It was built in 1870 for the household royal guards of King Kamehameha V. Today it is where the gift shop, the ticket office, and a small video theatre are located. It was designed by Theodor Hacek, a German architect who also designed Queen’s Hospital.
On the ocean side from ‘Iolani Barracks is the Coronation Pavilion built in 1883 for the coronation of King Kalalkaua and his wife Queen Kapi’olani. On the grounds are large banyan trees originally planted as saplings by Queen Kapi’olani and a large kukui nut tree (candle nut) planted by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
‘Iolani means royal hawk in Hawaiian language. The palace itself is built a a unique architectural style called American Florentine. The tour is a poignant reminder of all the Hawaiian people lost. Their kingdom, their monarchs, their self rule, and for many years – their heritage. There are docent tours in the morning but later in the day you can take the self guided audio tours provided. Tour and admission is $27 for adults and $6 for children (5-12). Babies and toddlers under five years old get free admission and there are discounts for kama’aina and military. You can also download the Iolani Palace app here. This is a surprisingly kid friendly tour and our seven-year-old had fun seeing where the real King and Queen of Hawaii lived. She was also livid when she found out that the conspirators charged Queen Liliuokalani with treason and imprisoned her in her bedroom after the kingdom was overthrown. Plan on spending 2-3 hours and if you bring a picnic, you can eat your lunch on the palace lawns after (or before) your tour.