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Dubai (Part 4 of 7): See It Or Skip It: The World’s Tallest Building, Burj Kalifa’s “At The Top” Experience

This post is part of a series of posts based on our recent visit to Dubai.  While we saw many of the highlights, this series includes:

Part 1 of 7: Initial Impressions of Dubai & Why I Think There Is No Culture There

Part 2 of 7: Afternoon Tea At Dubai’s Burj Al Arab Skyview Bar

Part 3 of 7: Should You Do A Day Trip From Dubai To Abu Dhabi?

Part 4 of 7: See It Or Skip It: The World’s Tallest Building, Burj Kalifa’s “At The Top” Experience

Part 5 of 7: Dubai Mall: A Peek Inside The World’s Largest Mall

Part 6 of 7: How To See Ski Dubai If You Don’t Want To Ski

Part 7 of 7: Dining “Undersea” At Al Mahara

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Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest building, stands awkwardly over the Dubai skyline like a lanky, freakishly tall person in a crowd.

(That freakishly tall building in the middle of the city is the Burj Khalifa.)

(I’m sure you can pick out which one is the Burj Khalifa in this photo.)

And like anything that is abnormally tall, its proportions merit a second glance.  Or a third.

(Am I the only one who thinks it looks like a missile?)

(Am I the only one who thinks it looks like a missile?)

During our visit to Dubai, I got the impression that the Burj Khalifa, named after the current Sheikh of the UAE, is the pride of the Dubai. It’s visible from almost everywhere in the city. A visit to its observation tower incorporates plenty mention of its symbolism: “a tribute to the science of modern engineering and design” and “a shining symbol of what Dubai strives for and what we can accomplish”. In other words, it’s not just a building. Or is it?  Err…maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of this colossal monstrosity, it is 2,716 feet tall which is more than half a mile up. It’s more than twice the size of the Empire State Building. It has over 200 floors which is the most of any building in the world. If you stood at the tip of the spire (not like you could though) you’d have visibility of 59 miles!  The empty building alone weighs 500,000 tons. All the steel bars used in its construction would stretch from New York to Melbourne. Speaking of construction, it took 12,000 workers only six years to build which is remarkably fast considering the Freedom Tower in New York took eight years and it’s a puny 1,000 feet less than the Burj Khalifa (essentially it took us 33% longer to build a building that’s, like, 37% smaller). Incidentally, the Freedom Tower cost more to build, too, although the total cost of building out the whole shopping and hotel complex at the base of the Burj Khalifa was a whopping $20 billion dollars.

Visitors who wish to see what it’s like to stand at the world’s tallest observation tower can buy a ticket for the Burj Khalifa’s “At The Top” Experience. If you buy it in advance, it’s 125AED (approx. $34USD). If you buy it when you’re there, it’s 400AED (approx. $109USD). Needless to say, this is one time it pays to plan ahead!

We wanted to see the view during sunset, which unsurprisingly, is the most popular time to visit. I booked our tickets a month in advance to ensure we’d get the time slot we wanted. I’m not going to kid – paying $78 for two non-refundable tickets hurts. I had high expectations of the view – literally and figuratively!

The sun was supposed to set around 5:30pm the day we went so I reserved tickets for 4pm since they say the average visit takes 90 minutes. We picked up our tickets inside the Dubai Mall (so apropos that the base of world’s tallest building would be inside the world’s biggest mall) at 3:45pm. Then we stood in a long security line to gain entry. They are not messing with the security either.  The lady in front of me had an umbrella and the security officer asked her to leave her umbrella at coat check even though she had been standing in line for 15 minutes!

Once we went through security, we  stood on a moving escalator through a dark tunnel with images of the construction of the building.

Then, some more hallways, historical photos, boastful quotes, and another long line later, we finally made it to the elevator. While the elevator zipped us straight to the top in a minute, 30-45 minutes had already passed since we picked up our tickets.

The top is actually fairly small, but before I get to that, “at the top” is a misnomer because the observation tower is on the 124th floor. The building is actually occupied to the 160th floor, the highest floor the ordinances allow before tenants have to deal with swaying walls and furniture, so technically, there are 36 more floors above the observation tower.

Anyway, the observation floor is actually small. Visitors have 360 degree views of the city via the floor to ceiling windows and one souvenir shop.

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There is no cafe or restaurant.  There’s a small bathroom.

There are also telescopes scattered around that allow you to zoom into the view and get a pre-recorded view of what it the scene looks like at night time.

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The coolest part of the observation floor was the outside balcony which is accessible through two revolving doors.

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Unfortunately, being outside and 124 floors up, it was cold and windy so we didn’t hang out there long.

We made our rounds circling the tower and took some photos of the view. Honestly, because the tower is small, you could make your rounds and be done in 15 minutes. When they said that the average visit time is 90 minutes, they must have been including the wait time to get up to the tower.

In any case, here are the views from the top of the tower:

The most impressive view was the view straight to the bottom, which is of the pool below where the fountains dance every 30 minutes. Incidentally, the fountains don’t start dancing until 6pm so until then, it’s just a view of a pool.

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You can also get a view of downtown. Beyond downtown is the old part of Dubai.

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Those are basically the two main views you get from the outside observation tower. Back inside, the views face the Persian Gulf.

I was hoping we would be high enough to make out The World Islands, but even at 124 floors up The World Islands are still somewhat faint near the horizon.

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You can also make out the Burj Al Arab in the distance right in front of The Palm Islands.

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Finally, the last view is unremarkable as there aren’t any famous buildings – just a big, hazy-looking cityscape.

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We were done circling the tower a lot sooner than I anticipated so we basically waited half an hour for the sunset.  When it came, though, it didn’t disappoint.  It was big, bright, and cast a beautiful luminous warm glow over the city.

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Since we waited 30 min for the sunset, we had front “window” views so I was able to get a prime photo.  That said, a crowd definitely gathered behind us for the view!

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With that sunset, we wrapped up our visit.

In all, was this attraction worth the high ticket price?

Unless you’re a big fan of observation towers or you really want to say that you’ve been to the world’s tallest building, I don’t think the ticket price justified the “experience”.  I wish that the observation tower were a lot higher (c’mon there’s a whole 36 floors above it!) and I imagine that some point, another building will be built that may be not be the world’s tallest, but could still have a higher observation tower.  I also wish there was more to do up there like a cafe that allows you to soak up the views… or maybe another gift shop.  Additionally, it sucks that you have to buy tickets early to get the lower ticket price.  If the weather were hazy, cloudy, or rainy, it could be a pain to try to reschedule and I’m not even sure if they’d let you reschedule!  In summary, now that you’ve seen what the view looks like from the top, I’d say skip it!

Instead of going up to the observation deck, there’s a restaurant/cafe/bar on the 122nd floor called At.Mosphere. You have to make reservations to visit, but for slightly more than the price of the “At The Top” admission, you’d have a view of the city and be able to linger over drinks and snacks. Mr. T and I almost did tea time here instead of going to the observation deck but changed our minds at the last minute when I heard that At.Mosphere doesn’t have 360 degree views (there are still fab views – just not 360 degree ones)… but now that you know what the views look like from the observation deck, I don’t think you’d be missing much!

If you read all that but you still want to go to the top, here are some tips:

  • You can reserve tickets exactly up to a month in advance of the date you want to go.  Reserve tickets directly on their website.
  • If you look for tickets at the last minute (within the next 24 hours), be prepared to pay the higher price point for immediate entry.
  • You can pick up your tickets 15 minutes before your reserved time slot.  Be prepared to spend some time in line before you get up to the top.
  • During sunset hours, there could be an even longer line to get to the top.
  • The observation deck is open from 8:30am to 1am, with the last entry permitted 45 minutes prior to closing.
  • I recommend visiting at sunset so you catch what the city looks like during the day, at sunset, and at evening.
  • You can stay up there as long as you want.

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Starlet - February 12, 2015 - 3:07 am

Do you know where to go to get a photo looking down on The Palm? Or do you actually have to get into The Palm resort itself? If so, are there visitor tickets?

JustWanderlust - February 19, 2015 - 10:09 am

If you want a photo that shows you the Palm Islands, you’d probably have to take a helicopter tour for that view. There aren’t any tall buildings near it that will give you a good view.

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