TOP 15 best things to do
in Honolulu

What to do in Honolulu, a real tropical paradise of the Pacific, with its majestic nature, gorgeous beaches, amazing food scene, unique mix of cultures, and rich historical heritage? Situated on the southern shore of Oahu island, the Hawaiian city looks like a perfect vacation spot. If you're planning a trip, we've got a list of the top things to do in Honolulu to get your holiday sorted!

ʻIolani Palace

Hawaii used to be a monarchy until 1893. This opulent 19th-century palace was the residence of the royals until the regime was overthrown, and later it became a state government building. This National Historic Landmark has been restored to its former glory and opened to the public as a museum in 1978.

The restoration was a process based on meticulous research and significant efforts: some of the original items that had been sold or moved were recovered from overseas (and some are still missing). Currently, the American Florentine building looks glorious. Check out the ornately decorated private suites of the King and Queen and the reception halls, mahogany furniture and monogrammed silverware, military accessories, and gorgeous regal attire.

We've got two tours of Honolulu (walking and driving) that include the palace, among other landmarks.

History museum and landmark

Perfect for
History buffs and fans of opulence and grandeur

Hawaii State Art Museum

This elegant Spanish mission-style building in downtown Honolulu is home to the museum of contemporary art created by artists with a connection to Hawaii.

The exhibition space is not big and includes three galleries and a sculpture garden located in the area that once used to have a swimming pool (the whole place is a former hotel site). Inside, there's a permanent collection of local art and temporary exhibitions, all of which have an emphasis on Hawaiian culture and identity and showcase the diversity of artistic expression throughout the state. Paintings and drawings, ceramic sculptures and textiles — the ever-changing exhibits are unique, vibrant, and often imbued with a sense of humor.

Admission is always free, and you can visit the museum with the audio tour to learn more about local art and see all the highlights.

Art museum

Perfect for
Art lovers with interest in local art


Bishop Museum

Dating back to 1889, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is the largest museum in Hawaii, with millions of artifacts dedicated to preserving and promoting the natural history and cultural heritage of the Pacific.

It is home to the oldest planetarium in Polynesia that hosts daytime and evening shows — it opened in 1961. While exploring the three floors of the museum, you'll see the collections focused on the ancient Hawaiian legends and beliefs, regional nature and traditional culture of the Pacific, the history of the local monarchy, and a fine collection of 19th-century Hawaiian art. Check out the garden with endemic plants, and if you're with the kids, visit the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, where numerous interactive exhibits represent Hawaii's environment.

This museum is also part of our self-guided driving tour of Oahu.

Natural and cultural history museum

Perfect for
Local history buffs


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This bustling historic district is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the US. With a dramatic history of plague, fires, and disrepair, it has been revitalized over the last decades. These days, the district is a vibrant urban hub for shopping, nightlife, arts and culture, and, of course, eating out.

There's so much fun stuff to do in Chinatown. Find the iconic 1920s Hawaii Theater, locate Buddhist, Taoist, and Shinto shrines, or buy a traditional lei from one of the many shops. Check out the historic 1904 Oahu Market: the building housing the stalls with exotic fruit, meats, and seafood stands as it was originally built. At night, you've got to explore the local bars.

Also, Chinatown is the final stop of our walking tour, by the end of which you'll surely be feeling peckish — so just grab some dim sums, char siu pork, roast duck, Vietnamese pho, or Korean fried chicken… The list can go on!

Eating out, shopping, and nightlife

Perfect for
Foodies and fans of all things oriental


USS Arizona Memorial

Among all the things to see in Honolulu, this memorial is the most visited tourist spot. It marks one of the most tragic moments in the history of Hawaii and the US: the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour that killed over a thousand military personnel of the USS Arizona, as well as numerous civilians.

The hull of the sunken ship, still a tomb to over 900 sailors, lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbour. The memorial was built across the remains and can be accessed by boat only. It includes galleries with historical exhibits and personal memorabilia, survivors' stories, a shrine room with the names of the fallen crew members, one of the ship's anchors and one of its bells, and an opening in the floor with a view of the wreckage for the visitors to drop flowers.

The somber memorial can be visited as part of a driving tour of Oahu.

War memorial

Perfect for
Military history buffs

Hanauma Bay State Park

Feel like getting out of town for a while? One of the best places to visit on Oahu that you can also see as part of our self-driving tour of the island is Hanauma Bay. This former volcanic crater became designated as a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967.

It's a gorgeous spot for swimming, snorkeling, and observing marine life. You'll come across over 450 species of fish, over 70 types of coral, and other aquatic creatures while exploring the bay.
The park is immensely popular with tourists: make sure you reserve your slot in advance. Also, see that your sunscreen is reef-safe, and note that the preserve is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays to let the ecosystem rest.

Another tip from us: go on a hike before heading to the beach — the trail is relatively easy, and you'll be rewarded with mesmerizing views of the bay!

Nature preserve with a beach

Perfect for
Nature lovers

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Also known as the Punchbowl Cemetery, this burial ground sits within a volcanic crater. Established in 1949, it is the final resting place of tens of thousands of military personnel who served in the US Armed Forces, including veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The Honolulu Memorial commemorates the military who are missing in action or were lost or buried at sea in the Pacific during these conflicts.

Among the notable people interred here are recipients of the Medal of Honour, local politicians and US senators, Barack Obama's grandfather, and the iconic figure of modern tattoo art, Sailor Jerry (if you're feeling brave, get inked at his original Chinatown tattoo parlor, Old Ironside — the oldest tattoo shop in Hawaii).

Cemetery and memorial

Perfect for
Tombstone tourists and military history buffs

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Located on Ford Island — the former US naval airfield and battleship base and the central target of the Pearl Harbour attack of 1941 — this aviation museum hosts a range of historic aircraft. Part of the collection based in hangar 37 is dedicated to the fateful events at Pearl Harbour, and hangar 79 is focused on the post-WWII rise of American aviation. Both of the buildings survived 1941: the second one still has bullet holes left by the battle in its windows.

Among the aircraft on display are both Japanese and American planes, the Stearman N2S-3 used by former US President George H.W. Bush, the legendary B-17 Swamp Ghost, and the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.

This is the most kid-friendly place of all Pearl Harbour-related sites, so don't hesitate to bring the children; if you're traveling with toddlers, they go free.

Aviation museum

Perfect for
Aircraft geeks

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Waikiki Beach

Waikiki is probably the first toponym that springs to mind when you think about Hawaii or Honolulu. Located on the southern shore of Oahu, this neighborhood is best known for its beaches. Historically, the area has served as a retreat for Hawaiian royalty. Today, it is home to high-rise hotels and luxurious resorts, boutiques and restaurants, and buzzing nightlife.
Waikiki is also the historic center of surf culture: it was here that Duke Kahanamoku, the famed Hawaiian waterman and Olympic gold medalist, grew up and honed his surfing skills. Today, his bronze statue greets you with open arms.

The beach is very popular, yet let this not discourage you: it's one of the most accessible places to relax by the ocean, especially if you don't have a car, and watching the sunset here is one of the best things to do in Honolulu.


Perfect for
Surfers and hedonists

Ala Moana Center

Among all the possible things to do in Honolulu, you're not here just for the beaches and war history, we presume, so how about a truly unique shopping experience? We have a place in mind for travelers in urgent need of retail therapy.

Ala Moana is known as the largest open-air shopping center in the world, and it's a veritable shopping oasis that dates back to 1959. Its four floors are home to more than 350 shops and restaurants, including a few department stores, first-class boutiques and mass-market clothing stores, surfing gear shops, skincare vendors for any budget from Aēsop to The Body Shop, and over 160 dining options from cheap snacks and fast food joints to fine dining. There is a hula show every day at 5:00 PM, featuring both traditional and modern versions of Hawaiian dance.

Really big shopping center

Perfect for
Practically anyone

Aloha Tower

Honolulu Harbor's major landmark, this 10-floor, 184 feet former lighthouse is one of the most recognizable structures in Hawaii. Built in the Hawaiian Gothic style in 1926, it greets vessels with its impressive silhouette. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the tower was placed under the control of the US Navy, who painted the once-white building camouflage. It was only in 1947 that the paint was sandblasted off, and the building returned to civilian control.

Today, the tower gets illuminated for special occasions. The space has been transformed into the Aloha Tower Marketplace with a range of eateries, event spaces, and community areas. Visit the Observation Deck for the best views of the harbor and the cityscape: this is one of the most romantic experiences for couples! The walking tour of Honolulu starts near the tower, so you can make the most of your visit.


Perfect for
History buffs and those who are okay with heights

Honolulu Museum of Art

Dating back to 1922, this museum hosts one of the largest collections of Asian and Pan-Pacific art in the US. It also exhibits American and European painting and decorative arts, 19th- and 20th-century art, works on paper, Asian textiles, and traditional works from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The collection grows steadily, and the place also has a library, a 292-seat theater, an art center, a gift shop, and a cafe.

Among the highlights of the museum are an extensive collection of Japanese woodblock prints, works by European masters such as Gaugin, Van Gogh, and Bacon, American artists including Sargent and O'Keeffe, 3D works by David Hockney, Nick Cave, and Dale Chihuly. There is a special gallery with a focus on art featuring Hawaii and created by local artists.
The museum is also a final stop of our self-driving tour of Oahu.

Art museum

Perfect for
Art connoisseurs

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Honolulu has a lot to offer if you're looking for cultural activities. This art museum is the place to learn about the global culture of Islamic art and design, showcased via a range of exhibitions, educational initiatives, and events.

The only standalone museum of Islamic Art in the US, it occupies the 1937 residence of Doris Duke, the famous 20th-century philanthropist, tobacco heiress, and socialite who collected artworks for decades. The building was inspired by her voyages through North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. We just love the tiles in the Dining Room, the 13th-century lusterware niche (mihrab) from Iran, and the gorgeous landscaped gardens with the view of the ocean.

Bear in mind that you require a reservation to visit the Shangri La: shuttles depart from the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Art museum

Perfect for
Fans of Islamic arts and culture


Shark Diving Experience

Looking for some really fun things to do in Honolulu? We have something challenging and exciting on our minds. How about getting taken out into the sea, equipped with snorkeling gear, placed inside a cage… and thrown into the waters infested with hungry sharks?

Worry not, though: you've got an expert crew to explain all the details and ensure safety, the cage is there to protect you, and the creatures you're about to meet are mostly Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, and sandbar sharks (not the monsters from horror movies!). In fact, you don't even have to have any swimming skills. If you're lucky, you'll get to see turtles, dolphins, and other creatures, too. In winter, there's a chance to see whales and even hear them sing! And in case you're still scared, there's also an option to observe the aquatic life from the boat.

Diving experience

Perfect for
Really brave tourists


Tamashiro Market

You can't possibly visit Hawaii and not try its signature dish, poke. This staple of its culinary culture has been around for centuries and is based on raw cubed fish (usually tuna, but these days there are lots of other options) seasoned with Hawaiian salt, onion, seaweed, soy sauce, and other ingredients. Honolulu has tons of places to eat poke, so we'll suggest one.

Tamashiro Market is a place with some history: the family-owned store and eatery dates back to the 1940s. Here, you can buy the freshest seafood possible and try some of the best poke in town. The place prides itself on being among the first retailers to sell poke on a large scale and has offered over 30 versions of it since the 1970s. Various kinds of fish, including the traditional ahi tuna, live crab, lobster, octopus, and oysters, are all yours to enjoy.

Grocery market + eating out

Perfect for

  • 1
    What are the must-see attractions to visit in Honolulu?
    • ʻIolani Palace
    • USS Arizona Memorial
    • Hanauma Bay State Park
    • Chinatown
    • Honolulu Museum of Art
    • Tamashiro Market (or any other poke place)
  • 2
    What are the best things to do in Honolulu with kids?
    • Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
    • The Honolulu Zoo
    • Waikiki Aquarium
    • Children's Discovery Center
    • Ala Moana Center
    • Waikiki Beach
    • Hanauma Bay State Park
    • Honolulu Fire Department Museum and Education Center
  • 3
    What are the best outdoor activities in Honolulu?
    • Waikiki Beach
    • Diamond Head
    • Chinatown
    • Shark Diving Experience
    • Aloha Tower
    • Hanauma Bay State Park
    • USS Arizona Memorial
    • National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
  • 4
    What are the best indoor activities in Honolulu?
    • ʻIolani Palace
    • Hawaii State Art Museum
    • Bishop Museum
    • Honolulu Museum of Art
    • Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design
    • Lucoral Museum

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