Personally I enjoy the thrill of standing in high places and seeing panoramic vistas. I know this terrifies many people, but I rarely pass up the opportunity to stand on a mountain peak or travel to the top of a tall building. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to visit many man-made structures around the world that have held claim to the title of the world’s tallest. When my recent travels took my family and me to Dubai, I knew that a visit to the Burj Khalifa would definitely be on our “Must Do” list.
The Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest man-made structure, has become a symbol of Dubai’s prosperity and emergence as a global tourist destination. The size and sheer magnitude of the “Khalifa tower” are amazing. At 2,722 feet (829.8 meters) it far surpasses even its closest rivals such as Taipei 101 and The World Financial Center in Shanghai. The 160 stories tall tower is located adjacent to the Dubai Mall. In fact, the ticket counter and the entrance for tourists to the observation deck are actually in the Mall at an attraction appropriately called “At The Top.”
Our recent visit to Dubai occurred during the summer when the days are very hot and hazy. We decided that it would be better to visit the world’s tallest building at night, hoping that the night lights of the city would shine through the daytime haze. Our plan was to go over to the Dubai Mall around 5 PM, eat dinner, and then visit the tower as soon as the sun went down around 7:30 PM. Of course, our experience did not go exactly as planned. We did eat dinner first, but when we walked over to the “At The Top” ticket counter, we found that the wait to enter the tower was around 3 hours. A good strategy would have been to purchase our tickets first, and then find a restaurant in the Dubai Mall. Since there are many things to do in and around the Dubai Mall, we decided that we would wait the 3 hours and still visit the Burj Khalifa on this day. The adult admission price was 125 UAE Dirhams (around $35). If you are in a hurry, you can cut to the front of the line, but that will cost you $400 Dirhams (around $110). We opted to wait for the 10:30 PM entry time, knowing that the tower was open until midnight.
While waiting, we exited the mall and visited the adjacent 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake to see the Dubai Fountain, billed as the world’s largest choreographed fountain system. The combination of the lights, music, water, and the Burj Khalifa as a backdrop made for an entertaining performance. We found that much of the impressiveness of the show was the feeling we got of the power of the water being forced skyward. The largest fountain jet is supposed to be able to shoot water 500 feet into the air. There was a performance every fifteen minutes that included an assortment of music, fountains, and lights. We enjoyed it so much that we stayed for two showings, but eventually the outside heat drove us back into the mall.
The Dubai Mall claims to be the world’s largest mall so there is no lack of things to do there. In fact, the large malls of Dubai serve as nighttime gathering centers where residents and tourists in Dubai escape the outside heat. The malls are packed with shoppers and people looking to socialize with family and friends. It was fairly easy to pass three hours by visiting a few attractions, shopping in the variety of stores, and sampling a few of the dessert treats. Our wait time actually passed very quickly and soon it was time to make our way to the Burj Khalifa tour.
A visit to the Burg Khalifa observation deck is essentially a self-guided tour. The waiting area features displays that compare the Burj Khalifa to other man-made structures around the world. To get into the tower, visitors take a series of escalators and walkways. Eventually, these lead to a series of three elevators. Visitors are gathered into groups of around 12 for each elevator ride. As the doors of the elevator opened we simply walked in, watched the doors close, stared at the increasing floor numbers for less than a minute, waited for the doors to open, and then walked out to a full panoramic view of Dubai. The experience was very simple and calm, but the vista before us was impressive.
One feature of the observation deck I really enjoyed was an outside section that overlooked downtown Dubai. The section is well protected with large glass windows but is open on the top. The side windows also have strategically placed openings that allowed us to take photographs of the landscape. It was a clever way to help us experience a little of the outside of the tower.
Visitors can walk around the inside observation deck for a 360-degree view of Dubai. We were able to easily identify many of the landmarks, and we came to realize that the city of Dubai is actually spread out over a much larger area than we originally realized. After about 30 minutes, we came back down, satisfied that we had covered everything we had hoped to see.
After my experience, I also took some time to reflect on my visit to the Burj Khalifa. Was it worth $35? Yes, of course, if only to say that I was in the world’s tallest building. Was it also disappointing in some way? Again, I would also have to say yes. One reason may have been that the observation deck is on floor 124. The actual tower is 160 stories tall. I think it would have been more thrilling if we were actually at the top of the structure. I know that I felt a sense of disappointment seeing 36 more floors above me when I was in the outside section of the observation deck. The entire experience needed something more to make it seem more real and thrilling. I couldn’t help but compare this experience to my visit to The World Financial Tower in Shanghai. The Shanghai Tower actually features a glass walkway at the top that allowed me to look straight down below my feet. Now that was thrilling! Something like that would definitely have added to the experience.
I have visited many tall buildings over the years. What has attracted me to them has been the sense of towering over other buildings and the almost dizzying feeling of altitude. Unfortunately, many of the new towers seem to have lost that thrill. The experience is almost disturbingly calm. The elevator rides are remarkably smooth and quick. We entered a box and watched the floor numbers indicate that we had traveled up 124 stories. There was no ear popping or any sense that we had traveled well over a thousand feet straight up. When we stepped out, we could have been in any room anywhere. It sure was not like riding the clanky old elevators in the Empire State Building. The outside views were impressive, but behind the thick glass, they looked almost artificial. I sometimes felt I was looking at a high definition video screen. With no sense of movement or wind blowing in my face, I felt a small sense of let down.
Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend visiting the Burj Khalifa if you travel to Dubai. You may find the calmness of the experience reassuring and for a few fleeting minutes, you can claim to be standing “at the top” of the tallest structure in the world (even if you are only on floor 124).