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A visit to the Dubai Frame

The Dubai Frame was not what I expected.

In the flurry of publicity when it opened recently, the media showed just what its name promised: a picture frame. That’s what I thought it was: a large picture frame, outsized, like everything in Dubai. It was two or three stories tall, I figured, perfect for taking a picture of the tall, glitzy Dubai skyline, framed within it.

The Dubai Frame. I thought it was just behind those palm trees and perhaps twice as tall as them...

The Dubai Frame. When I saw the photos, I thought it was just behind those palm trees and perhaps twice as tall as them…

(Disclosure: While I paid the full entrance fee for the Dubai Frame, this article contains affiliate links, which means making purchases through them will earn me a small commission. All opinions, however, are my own.)

I was wrong. I should have known. After all, everything in Dubai is wrapped in extremes: the biggest mall, the tallest building, artificial islands shaped like a palm tree, an indoor ski slope, a garden in the desert. That’s how they roll in Dubai.

The Dubai Frame

I decided to go to the Dubai Frame because I had most of the day free before an afternoon meeting, and I’d seen all the highlights of Dubai on previous trips: the Burj Khalifa (tallest building), the main malls, the old section of Dubai. I figured I had plenty of time to get to the Dubai Frame and snap a picture of the skyline.

For lots more things to do in Dubai, read this post: One Day in Dubai: what to do? 

Getting there

Another thing I’ve noticed about Dubai is that nothing is as near as it seems. Just try walking to the Burj Khalifa from the nearest metro station: you’re likely to reach your Fitbit step goal.

The same held true for the Dubai Frame. I suspect that most people get there by car or taxi. I took the metro to the nearest stop, Al Jafaliya station (The Dubai metro is wonderfully smooth, efficient and clean, by the way. Just be ready to walk once you disembark!).

Exiting the station, I could see the Dubai Frame in the distance. That was the point when I realized how big it was … and how far I would need to walk.

I couldn’t head toward it because of a large construction site in the way, something you see a lot of in Dubai. Instead, I continued down the main road in the direction the metro was headed, turning right when I reached Zabeel Park. Asking directions, I was instructed to walk around the perimeter of the park along the jogging track that circles it – entering the park costs only AED5 (about €1), but I have no idea if there is a way back out on the other side.

How big is the Dubai Frame?

As I neared it, its size became increasingly clear. This thing is huge! I found out later that it’s 150 meters high, which is about 45 to 50 floors.

This shot along the bottom of the frame gives you an idea of its size.

This shot along the bottom of the frame gives you an idea of its size.

Looking at it – and it really does look just like a picture frame, with a beveled inner edge – I figured it must hold small offices on the vertical sections. Wouldn’t that be a great place for small businesses like private practice lawyers or artists?

I was wrong again. This structure is only a picture frame: no offices, no real useful purpose, except to be a tourist attraction and visible landmark. It is an attractive structure, though, with its gold embossed decorative facing.

Inside the Dubai Frame

For AED50, visitors enter the Dubai Frame and experience “the past, present and future of Dubai.”

What does that mean? First, after paying the fee, I went up a one-story escalator to a very small exhibit on Dubai’s past (no photos allowed). This consisted of a mock-up of an old-style market street, much like you can also find in the Dubai Museum in the old section of the city. Projections showed a hint of how the city began to grow. It was all pretty long on atmosphere but short on information.

But never mind. The point of the exercise is going to the top of the Frame, and that was the next stop.

With a few other visitors (My husband went separately on a Saturday and it was extremely crowded. I was there on a Thursday and it was no problem at all.), I zipped up 150 meters fast enough for my ears to pop. The elevator has one glass wall, so it might be a problem if you are afraid of heights.

Emerging from the elevator took us into a large room 93 meters long, but only perhaps about 15 meters across. A strip of colorfully changing lighting along the length of the hall brightened the place, and both sides, lined with windows, allowed wide views over Dubai.

The hall inside the Dubai Frame. Notice the gray glass panels in the floor.

The hall inside the Dubai Frame. Notice the gray glass panels in the floor.

Past and present

On one side, the view is low-rise, overlooking the relatively older part of the city called Deira: the past. On the other side, I could see the shiny, chic skyscrapers people have come to associate with Dubai. Judging from the sheer number of cranes and construction sites, this view is going to grow and change rapidly.

The view toward the older side of Dubai city

The view toward the older side of Dubai city

While all the visitors busily snapped pictures, it struck me that one detail has been overlooked. We could see out the windows on both sides, but because of the angle of the glass (the room is wider at the ceiling than the floor), combined with those bright lights down the length of the hall, I could not take a single picture without visible glare. Perhaps a better photographer could manage it, but not me.

The view out toward the newer side of Dubai. The tallest building you can see in the distance is the Burj Khalifa. (photo courtesy of Albert Smith, my husband, who is indeed a better photographer than I am)

The view out toward the newer side of Dubai. The tallest building you can see in the distance is the Burj Khalifa. (photo courtesy of Albert Smith, my husband, who is indeed a better photographer than I am)

The real excitement of being in this hall, though, involved the floors. When I entered, it looked to me like the floor has a strip of large grey panels down the center. Watch out if you step on them, though. The grey immediately clears, and you can see straight down 150 meters. If you suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights (as I do), stay well away from these center panels.

It didn’t help that an employee warned that we were welcome to walk on them but not to jump. What will happen if people jump? Could they break?

I simply could not get myself to step on them without feeling that I was somehow risking my life.

This photo, taken by my husband who has no fear of heights, looks almost straight down through one of the glass panels. You can see one of the frame's vertical sides on the left, and the fountains and flowerbeds below. If you look closely, you can make out palm trees and cars.

This photo, taken by my husband who has no fear of heights, looks almost straight down through one of the glass panels. You can see one of the frame’s vertical sides on the left, and the fountains and flowerbeds below. If you look closely, you can make out palm trees and cars.

Dubai’s Future

At the other end of the hall, I entered another elevator to descend back to ground level. There, a brief “immersive” video – projected around curved walls and floor – depicts Dubai’s future (no photos allowed). It’s a bright and eco-friendly future, in this vision. People get around in fast, efficient public trains, electric vehicles and personal aircraft. The air is clean and the roads uncrowded. The walkways are lined with windmills and solar parks edge the city. Robots serve and drones deliver packages. Advanced health care can grow back severed limbs.

I greatly enjoyed this futuristic view, but it got me wondering. This is a city where most people drive from place to place and the general dust level in the air is too high to use solar panels. An indoor ski slope is maintained even in the summers when the temperature can top 50 degrees Celsius. It seems to me that a very big change in attitude would be necessary to turn this into an eco-friendly city.

The Dubai Frame or Burj Khalifa?

Last time I was in Dubai I went up to see the view from the Burj Khalifa. You can see my article about it here. Here’s a simple comparison of the two:

Height Price
The Dubai Frame 150 meters AED50 (about €11/$14)
The Burj Khalifa 828 meters (555 meters at observation deck) Starts at AED135 (about €30/$37) to the 125th floor or AED370 (about €82/$101) to the 148th floor

The Burj Khalifa provides much more of a “wow” moment at seeing the view. A side benefit is that, because there are outside observation decks, you can take a better picture of that amazing view. On the other hand, the prices are much higher. The Dubai Frame is cheaper, and has a great, if somewhat distant, view of the Dubai skyscrapers on Sheik Zayed Road.

A random woman I chatted with on the way out of the Dubai Frame told me that local families are more likely to visit it, simply because it’s cheaper. On a day out with children, especially on a weekend when Zabeel Park is busy, the two – the Dubai Frame and Zabeel Park – would make a great combination.

Visitors Information: Dubai Frame, Zabeel Park gate #4, Al Jafaliya metro stop. Admission AED50 for adults, AED20 for children. Open daily 9am-9pm, but it may close early if all tickets have been sold.

Have you visited the Dubai Frame or the Burj Khalifa? If not, which would you choose if you went to Dubai? Add a comment below! And please share this post on whatever social media you frequent!


I am a co-host of Travel Photo Thursday, along with Jan from Budget Travel TalkRuth from Tanama Tales and Nancie from Budget Travelers Sandbox. If you have a travel blog and want to join in, do the following:

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19 Comments

  • ourboomerblog

    March 12, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    This structure looks like an amazing place to visit. We had no idea that the Dubai Frame existed, but now we want to see it for ourselves. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • Carolina Colborn

    March 12, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    I was in Dubai 2 years ago, saw the Burj Kalifa but the Frame was not yet there. Or I would have paid to go to the top! It’s more affordable! Except I am afraid of heights.

    Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr

    March 12, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I always think I’m not afraid of heights til I get up somewhere really high and find myself saying, “And I thought this was a good idea because—why?” I’d probably have to be on my 3rd trip to Dubai before I’d visit the Frame if the Burj Khalifa were an option. OTOH, when I was in Singapore, I balked at the cost to take the elevator to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, so maybe I’d be too, um, frugal.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      March 14, 2018 at 9:58 am

      Haha! Yes, this is the frugal option if you want a view of the skyline! Or wait until the Burj Khalifa is no longer the tallest building (just a year or two) and then I’d expect the price to go down.

      Reply
    • Rachel

      March 14, 2018 at 9:57 am

      I did that years ago. It was a great way to get access to the inside of the Burj Al Arab. You can’t even enter the grounds if you don’t have a reservation of some sort. I read it described as “the inside of Jeannie’s bottle” in a guidebook, and that was an apt description!

      Reply
  • Doreen Pendgracs

    March 13, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    I’m so amazing that Dubai is still fully into construction mode! I was there in 2008 and was amazed at that time, how one could not take a photo of the skyline without a myriad of cranes everywhere to be seen! So, no, I’ve not yet seen the Dubai Frame. Thx for the great post! And the Burj Kalifa was just being built at the time of my last visit. So I saw the outside structure, but it was not ready to accept visitors. Would love to revisit Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, which I liked even more.

    Reply
  • Ruth

    March 20, 2018 at 4:48 am

    I have not heard about the Dubai Frame but it makes me wander how they come up with ideas for attractions. This seems very unique (at least I have not heard of something similar). I wasn’t expecting it to be an “observatory” or viewpoint. That surprised me! #TPThursday

    Reply

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