Arts and Culture

Learn About Hawai‘i’s Rich Cultural History at Honolulu’s Royal Palaces

Hawai‘i has a rich and unique cultural history. We encourage visitors and residents to explore our islands’ past. A monarchy until 1893, Honolulu has a long list of historical landmarks of note. Here, we’ve detailed just two, but there are many more.  The Queen Emma Summer Palace and ‘Iolani Palace offer highly educational tours that will help you get in touch with this formerly sovereign nation’s history, in order to better appreciate Native Hawaiian culture and how it shapes our current customs, attitudes, and ways of life.

I‘olani Palace

Recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the Ali‘iolani Hale or Royal Palace was the official home of the last Hawaiian monarchs, until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. Located in downtown Honolulu, the palace is the spiritual home for Native Hawaiians and a celebration of their proud cultural identity. The building is steeped in history and makes for a perfect way to pass an afternoon, learning about Hawai‘i’s rich history.

Built in 1882 by King Kalākaua, the palace is just steps from the downtown business district, Honolulu Hale (City Hall), and from a number of historic buildings—all within walking distance of its elaborate front doors. The grounds are a wonderful place to bring a picnic or a bagged lunch and admire some of the biggest and most beautiful trees in downtown Honolulu.

The Palace offers guided tours, as well as self-led audio tours. Since prices vary for each, be sure to check out their website for details. For a taste of the beauty you’ll experience, you can check out their virtual tour before making reservations for your visit.

‘Iolani Palace
364 South King Street

Honolulu, HI 96813
Click to View Map
Palace: (808) 522-0832
Gift Shop: (808) 532-1050

Queen Emma Summer Palace

The Queen Emma Summer Palace, or Hānaiakamalama, is a wonderful place to deepen your knowledge of Hawaiian history, culture and tradition. The 19th century home served as a summer retreat for Queen Emma of Hawai‘i, and for her husband King Kamehameha IV. They chose to escape the heat of summer in this mountain home, that offers cooler temperatures due to its elevation. Their home is located in Nuuanu, at the bottom of the Pali Highway as you’re are headed to the Windward side from Honolulu. Now a historic landmark, the home is managed as a museum by the Daughters of Hawai‘i, and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

A reproduction of Hawaiian feather cloaks, known as ʻAhu ʻula in the Hawaiian language. Feather cloaks and capes were symbols of power and social standing in Hawaiian culture, and only high-ranking chiefs or warriors of great ability were entitled to wear these exceptional garments made of yellow and red feathers from tropical honeycreepers. Similar original items are on display at the Queen Emma Summer Palace.

Very knowledgeable docents are on hand to explain the cultural significance and history of the home, it’s furnishings, and the cultural artifacts displayed throughout. They are passionate about sharing the history of the home and its royal residents with guests, and in our experience, they embody the spirit of aloha. The grounds themselves are also beautiful, with gardens and enormous trees all around.

There is easy and ample parking, though if you have a group of 10 or more people, you may want to make arrangements ahead of time—while called a palace, the home itself isn’t huge by today’s standards. However, it is certainly representative of some of the historic homes you’ll find in this older neighborhood, just north of downtown Honolulu.

As of this writing, admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and Hawai‘i residents, and just $1 for kids aged 5 to 17.

Queen Emma Summer Palace
2913 Pali Highway
Honolulu, HI 96817
Click to View Map
Palace: (808) 595-3167
Gift Shop: (808) 590-2293


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