This year we visited Dubai for a week on our around the world tour. The souks, sites and desert safaris were just meh, visiting the fancy hotels & lounges seemed overhyped and the city in general failed to evoke any emotion and left us quite underwhelmed. Something that did not disappoint however, was the unforgettable experience to the top of Burj Khalifa. At over 828 meters (2,716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories, this architectural masterpiece needs no introduction and is currently the tallest building in the world. It is twice the size of Empire state building and the amount of reinforced steel used at the tower would, if laid end to end, extend over a quarter of the way around the world! Here’s how it compares to the other tall landmarks around the globe:
We made the decision to visit the top of Burj Khalifa on a weekday to avoid the crowds which was a no-brainer. I am glad we booked tickets online instead of just showing up and buying the tickets in-person because the number of options are a bit overwhelming. Here’s the breakdown –
At the Top Burj Khalifa (Level 124) v/s At the Top Burj Khalifa Sky (Level 148 and 125)
“At the Top, Burj Khalifa level 124” gets you access to a lower level observation deck on the 124th floor. There is usually a long wait to get up to the lower deck and to get back down since there are a limited number of elevators (unless you choose the immediate entry admission, which is almost as expensive as going to the 148th level).
“At the Top, Burj Khalifa Sky (Level 148 and 125)” gets you premium access to the tallest observation deck in the world on 148th floor. In addition to this, you are escorted to the top via a dedicated elevator (which means no long wait times) and have time to enjoy the lounge on the 148th floor (which is much less crowded than the 124th floor).
Given the choices, the decision was clear – we went for the premium sky experience (Level 148). What’s the point in going to the tallest building in the world if you are not going to go to the tallest observation deck in the world?! We suggest saving money somewhere else and splurging for this premium experience.
We were still left with another decision to make which was whether to visit during prime hours or non-prime hours. The prime (best time to visit) costs a bit more and changes based on the season. For 500 AED (~136 USD), it is not exactly cheap. Here’s how we cheated a bit and got the prime experience for the non-prime price of 350 AED (~100 USD). The prime hours end at 5pm (April 2016) and the non-prime hours start at 6pm. If you arrive at the entrance an hour early (about 5pm), you are generally escorted to the top by 5.45 pm and you get to enjoy both the day light views, see the sunset, and see the beautiful skyline lit up at night – which is arguably a better experience than just getting to witness the day time views.
As soon as you head to the special desk (can be difficult to locate, 2nd sublevel of the shopping mall) to collect your “At the Top, Sky” tickets, you can already see the premium ticket paying off. As other visitors are standing in a long line to take the elevator up to the 124th floor, we were whisked away into the first lounge where they served us dates, Arabic coffee and some baklava.
Our group of 50 was then escorted through the building to the elevator skipping the long line. Riding the fastest elevator in the world was quite an experience – the elevator walls project some of the tallest landmarks in the world and give a decent illusion of flying over the monuments as you reach the 124th floor. You then switch to another elevator and arrive at the observation deck / lounge on the 148th floor.
There were plenty of couches to relax upon after walking for most of the day. After grabbing a glass of juice and a fist full of pastries, we headed straight to the outer part of the observation deck. I was a bit disappointed to see that the deck was completely enclosed in glass which took a bit of fun away from being able to directly see the gorgeous views.
It was slightly more crowded than I had expected but it wasn’t too bad. We got to spend a lot of time gazing at the views from every direction and see the golden sunset hit the skyline. Even though we were instructed that we could only stay on the 148th floor for up to 30 min, after which we can descend and spend as much time as we would like on the 124th floor, we stayed at the top for over 45 min since this rule wasn’t being enforced. The sunset view over the water was remarkable.
We then arrived at the lower 124th floor observation deck which was indeed very crowded. The only redeeming quality of the 124th floor was a section of the outer deck which did not have a full glass enclosure, making it great for taking pictures. The views at night were also fantastic and albeit better than the day light views (makes me wonder why this time is categorized as non-prime).
After taking far too many pictures, we made our way to the elevator to get back down. Again, we skipped the long line waiting to head downstairs and got into the elevators within 5 minutes. After a long day of walking and sightseeing, I cannot emphasize how important this singular benefit of the premium tickets was.
When to go
When to visit the top of Burj Khalifa: We absolutely loved the transition from day time to sunset to the night sky views during our visit and we recommend that you visit at the same time. If you cannot, another option would be to visit after sunset because the views during the day might be completely obstructed with smog or desert haze.
When to visit Dubai: Dubai can get really hot…duhh. No really, the average temperature from May to Sep soar over 100 degrees
We recommend the slightly more bearable (still hot) months of November thru March.
We recommend that you buy the tickets online for the specific time slot that you plan to visit. Plan to arrive at the special desk for ticket pickup at least an hour early. Even better, visit the Dubai mall the day before your visit to the top. The Dubai mall is huge! It is very easy to get confused and spend hours running around the mall before figuring out the ticket desk which is located on the lowest floor.
We took the Dubai metro to the “Dubai mall” stop which was just one stop away from our hotel. Alternately, you can catch a taxi or drive to the mall and you also get free parking with the premium ticket.
The views from the top are breathtaking. But you can’t look at this majestic tower while you are in it . Another recommended experience is to watch the fountain show where the beautiful dancing lights make the Burj Khalifa come of life. Instead of standing near little bridges at the lower level, make a dinner reservation at a restaurant in the Dubai mall which has an outdoor deck. Nothing like sipping a fine glass of whatever you like, having delicious food and enjoying the show from the comforts of your dinner table. We chose “Al Hallab”, a Lebanese restaurant and were able to enjoy the light and fountain show a few times.
Until the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah takes over the title of tallest building in the world in 2020, we suggest incorporating this experience as part of your visit or stopover in Dubai and you will not be disappointed.