Downtown Honolulu isn't just another city center. It's a testament to Hawaii's complex past, showcasing the fusion of native Hawaiian culture, colonial influences, and modern Americana. Located along South King Street, you can tour these historic sites of Honolulu during a short walk around the downtown neighborhood.
To make the most of this enriching experience, we recommend undertaking this journey from Tuesday to Saturday. Many of these historic sites observe Sunday and Monday closures.
Read below to find out how you can visit these locations and learn about the history of King Kamehameha’s conquest, the Hawaiian Monarchy, and the arrival of the New England missionaries Hawaii in just a few hours.
Completed in 1879, Iolani Palace is the only palace and official state residence of royalty in the United States. It was commissioned by King David Kalakaua after his recent visit to Europe where he was introduced to royal palaces owned by other monarchs. During the $340,000 build the Iolani Palace was fitted with koa wood staircases, ornamental plaster decor, and even electricity and telephones before the White House in Washington DC had acquired such technology. The palace was used to host officials and dignitaries from all over the world for various ceremonies and meetings. After annexation by the United States, it was used as a government office until 1969. Finally, Iolani Palace was meticulously restored and became open to the public as a museum in 1978. Adjacent to the palace is the ‘Iolani Barracks, a medieval castle-like structure that once housed the royal guards. Source: Iolani Palace Official Website
Kamehameha the Great was the first king to unite all of the Hawaiian islands under one leadership. His legacy lives on in the impressive 18ft tall bronze statue made in his appearance. The famous statue can be found across from the Iolani Palace, in front of the historic Ali’iolani Hale, which is a marvel in Italian Renaissance Revival architecture and is now home to Hawaii's Supreme Court.
Honolulu’s Kamehameha Statue is one of Hawaii’’s most photographed landmarks. Interest has resurged in recent years due to its regular appearance on the remake of television series Hawaii 5-0.
Across Punchbowl Street, from the Kamehameha Statue, you will find Honolulu’s oldest christian church, Dedicated on July 21, 1842 the Kawaiaha’o Church was commissioned by Queen Ka’ahumanu and was established as the Hawaiian Kingdom’s first Christian Church. Designed by the leader of Hawaii’s earliest christian missionaries, Hiram Bingham, the church was often frequented by chiefs, queens, and kings of the Hawaiian monarchy. For many years, the church was the spiritual epicenter of Honolulu.
Construction of the church was an impressive task that required materials quarried from coral slabs and volcanic rock found in the nearby ocean. Around the church grounds you will also see the King Kamehameha II mausoleum, a missionary cemetery, and a beautiful sacred spring once exclusive to Hawaiian Royalty. Source: Kawaiahao Church Official Website
Protestant missionaries arrived from New England to Hawaii in 1820. After meeting with Kamehameha II, land was assigned for Reverend Hiram Bingham to build a mission headquarters in Honolulu. Located across the small side street from the Kawaiaha’o Church. The Honolulu Mission Houses is the original site of three restored missionary dwellings. Two of these houses are the oldest in Hawaii.
The first house is known as the “Frame House” which was shipped over from Boston and built in 1821. It was the home of many different missionary families over the years including the Binghams, Cookes, and Judds. Next, the Chamberlain House is the largest building on the property. This structure was built in 1831 and served as a family dwelling, a storage area for all of the Hawaiian Island Missions supplies, and a business office for the Honolulu Mission Station.
The Printing Office is the smallest structure and can be found between the two other buildings. It was completed in 1841 and contains a replica of the original printing press. Here, some of the first books in Hawaii were produced in both English and the Hawaiian Language. Today the Mission Houses are used as an extraordinary museum housing over 3,000 Hawaiian, Western, and Pacific artifacts and an archive of 12,000 manuscripts and rare documents. Source: Mission Houses Official Website
Get more from your trip to Hawaii by booking guided downtown tours that enrich your understanding of this beautiful land. We offer an impressive line-up of experiences which brings to life the stories you've just read.
So there you have it, our 4 best historic sights that we believe are a great starting point for learning about Honolulu, Hawaii history. We hope that you take some time to tour these fascinating locations next time your in the downtown area.