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Honolulu’s Top Cultural Attractions

  • Post category:Hawaii

Honolulu, the vibrant capital city of Hawaii, is a treasure trove of cultural attractions that captivate the hearts and minds of visitors from around the globe. From historical landmarks to world-class museums, Honolulu offers a rich tapestry of experiences that celebrate the unique heritage and traditions of the Hawaiian Islands. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or simply looking to immerse yourself in the local culture, Honolulu’s top cultural attractions are sure to leave an indelible impression.

Key Takeaways

  • The Polynesian Cultural Center offers an authentic experience of Polynesian culture through live entertainment and interactive activities.
  • Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a poignant historical site that commemorates the events of World War II.
  • Bishop Museum provides an in-depth look at Hawaiian history and Polynesian culture, making it a must-visit for history enthusiasts.
  • Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States, offers a glimpse into Hawaii’s monarchical past.
  • Honolulu Museum of Art features an extensive collection of artworks from Hawaii, Asia, and beyond, making it a haven for art lovers.

1. Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center, often referred to as the “Epcot of Hawai‘i,” offers a theme-park-esque atmosphere perfect for families looking to learn more about Polynesian culture. The center is divided into villages representing the island nations of the Pacific, such as Hawai‘i, Samoa, and Fiji. This living cultural museum features six villages, each dedicated to the unique culture of a different Polynesian island. Visitors can explore a traditional Hawaiian village, as well as villages representing Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Aotearoa (Maori), and Tonga.

Activities and Attractions

The Polynesian Cultural Center offers a variety of activities and attractions that highlight the multi-cultural influences found throughout Hawai‘i. Popular activities include canoeing through a Tonga village, fishing with authentic Tahitian gear, and watching a traditional Maori warrior dance.

Alii Luau

The top attraction at the cultural center is the Alii Luau, which offers an authentic experience for guests, complete with live entertainment. This luau provides a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in Polynesian culture through food, music, and dance.

Practical Information

The Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-see attraction to learn about the rich heritage of the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, and more.

2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a solemn and historically significant site that commemorates the tragic events of December 7, 1941. Visitors can explore the memorials dedicated to the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and USS Utah, which are part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific Monument. The memorial also includes Battleship Row and Ford Island, offering a comprehensive view of the harbor’s military history.

Visitor Center

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, operated by the National Park Service, is free and open to the public. Here, tourists can learn about the tragic 1941 attack, as well as other aspects of the harbor’s military and natural history. It’s recommended to plan for a full day visit due to the extensive exhibits and historical significance.

USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial is the most well-known landmark at Pearl Harbor. It sits over the USS Arizona, a sunken warship where 1,120 sailors and marines perished and remained entombed. Admission includes a documentary viewing followed by a boat ride to the memorial site, allowing guests to pay their respects.

Tips for Visiting

  • Reserve tickets in advance: Due to high demand, it’s advisable to reserve your free tickets well ahead of your visit.
  • Plan your visit: Allocate sufficient time to explore all the exhibits and memorials.
  • Respect the solemn nature of the site: Remember that this is a place of remembrance and reflection.

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial offers a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made during World War II and serves as a place for reflection and education on the impacts of war.

3. Bishop Museum

person taking picture of man wearing brown hat painting

The Bishop Museum is a treasure trove of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture, boasting millions of artifacts, documents, and photographs. It is widely considered to be Hawai‘i’s premier museum for history and culture. The museum was built by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty.


The museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of topics, including Polynesian migration, life during the Hawaiian monarchy, and environmental pursuits like volcanology and oceanology. Visitors can explore the largest collection of Hawaiian artifacts in the state, including royal family heirlooms.

Recommended Visit Duration

A visit to the Bishop Museum is recommended to last from half a day to a full day, allowing ample time to explore its extensive collections and exhibits.


The museum is located at 11 Arizona Memorial Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Bishop Museum is dedicated to studying and preserving the history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in the contrasting cultural heritage of the region.

4. Iolani Palace

a row of metal poles

Historical Significance

Iolani Palace, completed in 1882, was built by King Kalakaua as the royal residence for Hawaii’s monarchy. This impressive Neoclassical building served as the official residence until the monarchy was overthrown by American settlers in 1893. It then functioned as the state capitol until 1969.

Architectural Marvel

The palace is renowned for its grand Hawaiian koa wood staircase, royal thrones, and portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens. It was inspired by European castles and palaces and even had electricity before the White House.

Visitor Experience

Visitors can explore the many flamboyant rooms and associated artifacts, providing a glimpse into how important events shaped the destiny of the Hawaiian Islands. Lockers are provided to keep your belongings safe outside the palace.

The Iolani Palace is certainly one of the most memorable stops for most visitors in Hawaii. If you like to know more about the history and culture, then you ought to visit this palace.

Tours and Exhibits

Guided tours showcase the architecture, history, and mixed use of the Palace over the last century. The palace walk offers an opportunity to see the many rooms and artifacts that tell the story of Hawaii’s royal past.

5. Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art is Hawai‘i’s largest general fine-arts museum, boasting a permanent collection of more than 60,000 pieces. Nearly half of the 50,000 pieces at the museum are part of its Asian Art collection, showcasing the profound influence of Asian culture on Hawaii. The museum features an immaculate collection of artworks by renowned artists such as Hokusai, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso, and Warhol. Traditional Asian and Hawaiian art can also be found here, making it a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts.

Exhibits and Collections

The museum constantly updates its exhibits, ensuring that there is always something new to explore. Visitors can enjoy a diverse range of art, from traditional to contemporary pieces. The museum also hosts international exhibits and artists, often featuring cultural showings and displays from local artists.

Events and Activities

Every Friday, the museum offers a unique event that includes world-class café experiences, films, and concerts at the theater. Art classes and workshops are also available, taught by local teachers, providing an excellent opportunity for visitors to engage with the local art community.

Visitor Information

Located at 900 S. Beretania St., the museum is spaciously situated in a beautiful building. A recommended visit lasts about half a day, allowing ample time to explore the extensive collections and participate in various activities. The museum is well-curated and executed, ensuring a memorable experience for all visitors.

6. Shangri La

The Shangri La museum, located at 4055 Papu Circle, is a testament to the philanthropist and American tobacco heiress Doris Duke’s love for Islamic art, culture, and design. Built in 1937, this opulent oceanfront home near Diamond Head State Monument now houses the complete collection of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Art lovers should definitely make plans to stop by Shangri La, but even those just a teensy bit curious about the enigmatic heiress will find the visit worthwhile. The property itself is often compared to grand estates like Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, making it a can’t-miss attraction.

7. Hawaii State Art Museum

The Hawaii State Art Museum (HISAM) is a cornerstone of Honolulu’s vibrant art scene, showcasing a diverse array of artworks that reflect the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii. Located in the heart of downtown Honolulu, HISAM offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the artistic expressions of both historical and contemporary Hawaiian artists. The museum’s collection includes pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as traditional Hawaiian art forms, providing a comprehensive overview of the island’s artistic evolution.

8. Queen Emma Summer Palace

swimming pool with stainless steel ladder

The Queen Emma Summer Palace, also known as Hānaiakamalama, is a historic retreat located just five minutes by car from downtown Honolulu. This charming palace served as the summer home for King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma in the mid-19th century. Today, it stands as a museum operated by the Daughters of Hawaii, showcasing a collection of Queen Emma’s personal belongings and furnishings. Visitors can explore the house and its beautiful surroundings, gaining insight into the life and times of Hawaiian royalty.

Historical Significance

The palace offers a glimpse into a bygone era, providing context on Queen Emma’s role in the Hawaiian monarchy and her contributions to the community. The house has been a museum since 1913, preserving the rich history and culture of Hawaii for future generations.

Location and Accessibility

Located at 2913 Pali Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96817, the Queen Emma Summer Palace is easily accessible and a must-visit for anyone interested in Hawaiian history. Its proximity to downtown Honolulu makes it a convenient stop for tourists exploring the city.

Visitor Experience

The museum offers a unique experience, allowing visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in the royal lifestyle. The ultimate guide to family fun on Oahu offers dolphin and whale watching tours, surfing lessons, cultural experiences, traditional luau shows, and beach activities for families on the vibrant island of Oahu. The palace is surrounded by lush gardens, providing a serene and picturesque setting for a leisurely visit.

9. Mission Houses Museum

The Mission Houses Museum, located at 553 South King Street, Honolulu, Hawaii, preserves three historical properties from the early 19th century. These restored homes, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, document the lives and living conditions of early missionaries. They are the oldest western-style buildings still standing in Hawaii. The museum offers a unique glimpse into the arrival and impact of the missionaries, including the establishment of a written language, western medicine, and choral music.

10. Hawaii Theatre Center

people swimming near shore with waves during daytime

The Hawaii Theatre Center, often referred to as the "Pride of the Pacific," is a historic gem in Honolulu. This theater is renowned for its architectural refinements and historical significance, making it one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. With a cantilevered balcony, the theater can comfortably seat around 1,400 people, providing an intimate yet grand setting for various events.

Live Performances

The Hawaii Theatre Center is a versatile venue that hosts a wide range of live stage performances. From local productions to international acts, the theater offers a rich cultural experience for all attendees.


In addition to theatrical performances, the theater is also a popular venue for concerts. Its excellent acoustics and seating arrangement make it a favorite spot for both performers and audiences.

Film Screenings

The theater occasionally hosts select film screenings, adding another layer to its diverse range of events. These screenings often feature independent films and classics, providing a unique cinematic experience.

For a list of events and ticket pricing, visit the official website at Hawaii Theatre.

Architectural Significance

The architectural design of the Hawaii Theatre Center is a highlight in itself. The building features intricate details and a cantilevered balcony, which are rare in modern theaters. This makes it a must-visit for architecture enthusiasts.

Celebrity Visits

Over the years, the theater has hosted numerous celebrities, adding to its allure and reputation. The presence of these stars has made it a notable landmark in Honolulu’s cultural landscape.

The Hawaii Theatre Center is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the vibrant culture and history of Honolulu. This beautifully restored historic theater offers a variety of performances, from Broadway shows to local productions, making it a cultural hub in the heart of the city. Don’t miss out on experiencing this iconic venue during your visit to Hawaii. For more information on planning your trip, check out our website.


Honolulu’s cultural attractions offer a rich tapestry of experiences that cater to a wide array of interests. From the historical significance of Pearl Harbor to the vibrant displays at the Polynesian Cultural Center, visitors can immerse themselves in the unique heritage of Hawaii. The city’s museums, traditional luaus, and historical landmarks provide educational and entertaining insights into the island’s past and present. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a history buff, or someone looking to relax and soak in the local culture, Honolulu has something special to offer. As you explore these top cultural attractions, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse and dynamic spirit of this beautiful city.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top cultural attractions in Honolulu?

Some of the top cultural attractions in Honolulu include the Polynesian Cultural Center, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace, Honolulu Museum of Art, Shangri La, Hawaii State Art Museum, Queen Emma Summer Palace, Mission Houses Museum, and Hawaii Theatre Center.

What is the best time to visit Honolulu for cultural experiences?

The best time to visit Honolulu for cultural experiences is during the winter months (September to January) when the weather is cooler and there are various cultural events and festivals taking place.

How can I get to the Polynesian Cultural Center?

The Polynesian Cultural Center is located at 55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, Hawaii. You can get there by car, shuttle services, or guided tours that include transportation.

Is there an entrance fee for the Bishop Museum?

Yes, there is an entrance fee for the Bishop Museum. It is recommended to check their official website for the most up-to-date pricing and any available discounts or special offers.

Can I take a guided tour of Iolani Palace?

Yes, guided tours of Iolani Palace are available. It is advisable to book your tour in advance through their official website to ensure availability.

Are there any cultural events at the Hawaii Theatre Center?

Yes, the Hawaii Theatre Center hosts various cultural events, including performances, concerts, and theatrical productions. Check their official website for the latest schedule of events.