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Visiting Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world … for now

About a year ago, I was in Dubai for a workshop, and decided to go see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (830 meters).

Visiting Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Getting there involved taking Dubai’s spotlessly clean and well-run metro to the Dubai Mall: the largest mall in the world.

Trekking across the mall to the entrance, I took one look at the prices and … walked away again … back across the mall to the metro station, back to my hotel. I booked my 10,000 steps that day in that one expedition.

If you want to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, you’ll have to pay at least 125 AED, which is €30 or US$34. At peak times (the couple of hours around sunset) it costs AED200 (€49 or $54).

And when I say go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, I don’t really mean the top. I mean the 124th and 125th floor. To reach the 148th floor, it’ll cost you at least AED350. That’s  €85 or $95!

Not visiting Burj Khalifa

Ever since that day I’ve regretted that I didn’t do it. The price is — pun intended — over the top. But it’s one of those things one almost has to do in Dubai.

So when I was invited to lead a workshop in Dubai again this year, I resolved to bite the bullet and pay the admission price. And if I was going to pay so much anyway, why not get the full deluxe treatment and visit the very top?

Visiting Burj Khalifa, Take 2

A fellow workshop leader and I set out in the morning to the metro and the long walk to and through the mall again, arriving at the entrance to the Burj Khalifa.

First we had to deal with a Groupon deal gone wrong. My friend had bought discounted tickets through them. Groupon had deducted the price from her credit card and then, for some reason, cancelled the order but not refunded the money. And they hadn’t let her know about any of it, so it took us by surprise at the desk. In a long phone conversation with Groupon’s customer service, she was assured that the money would eventually be returned, but that didn’t help us at that moment. I’m sure my friend wrote a very angry letter of complaint later.

In the meantime, there we were, holding vouchers that turned out to be worthless. We decided to go ahead anyway: we’d been looking forward to this! But for reasons that were not clear to me, we had to pay the peak-time price: 500AED (€121 or $136).

The beauty of a credit card is you don’t actually see the money changing hands. If we had, I’m not sure I would have been able to part with 121 euros just to ride an elevator to the top of a building, even if it is the tallest in the world.

Visiting Burj Khalifa: “At the Top SKY”

The Burj Khalifa offers two sorts of visitor experiences. “At the Top” includes a trip to the 124th and 125th floors (not actually the top). You can admire the view on all sides of the building, including from a large outdoor space.

“At the Top SKY” takes you to the 148th floor (still not actually the top, but close!). It includes some extra flourishes:

  • “Fast track access” didn’t feel particularly fast when we went, but we waited with a group of perhaps 20 people on comfortable seats. Waiters offered us Arabic coffee and an assortment of Arabic sweets and dates.
A tray of dates and Arabic sweets in the "lounge" where we waited.

A tray of dates and Arabic sweets in the “lounge” where we waited.

  • The Burj Khalifa employees also handed each of us, for some unexplained reason, a pair of men’s swimming trunks. What that has to do with the Burj Khalifa? No idea. But the fact that they seemed like good quality (Burj Khalifa brand? Really?) took a bit of the sting out of what I’d just paid for the experience.
  • After a short wait, an employee led us down a series of halls, stopping to explain a few facts about the building as he went. We then stood and watched a large screen showing a clip about the filming of Mission Impossible 4, in which Tom Cruise dangled dangerously from the Burj Khalifa in one sequence. The video below is more or less the same:

  • Next we zipped up in a dark elevator, images flickering on the walls, including readings of how many meters we’d risen. With so many people crammed in there, I couldn’t really see the images well. Fortunately, it went very quickly — ears popping — and we soon arrived at the 125th floor.
  • Another employee ushered us out of the elevator and into a cordoned space to wait for the next elevator, which arrived almost immediately. This elevator whisked us to the 148th floor (555 meters high).
  • Emerging into a large, low-ceilinged, minimally-furnished space, a waiter offered each of us a glass of juice. Another offered small sweets from a tray.
  • We were allowed up to 45 minutes on the 148th floor, where there were seats and sofas so we could sit and enjoy our juice and the view at our leisure.
  • When we had seen enough of the 148th floor, we were free to join the hoi-polloi on the 124th and 125th floors, with no time limit.

Visiting Burj Khalifa’s 148th floor

I have to admit that while I still wonder if this was a waste of money, the views were pretty mind-boggling. After all, Dubai has lots of skyscrapers, and we could look down on them from here. My friend and I circled the 148th floor (not a very big floor), snapping pictures from every vantage point, as did all of the other tourists in our group. A small outdoor viewing platform allowed us to get a relatively unencumbered view too.

As is often the case in Dubai, the sky was hazy. That meant we couldn’t see very far, despite how high we were. We could make out the ocean, and, dimly, a few of the artificial islands along Dubai’s coast.

Here you can see a lower-rise area of Dubai, mostly housing. In the dim distance is the coast, and beyond it are the artificial islands called the "World Islands". Visiting Burj Khalifa

Here you can see a lower-rise area of Dubai, mostly housing. In the dim distance is the coast, and beyond it you can glimpse the artificial islands called the “World Islands”.

Straight below us, an artificially blue artificial lake blazed in the sun. Every evening an ornate multi-colored water and light show takes place down there. Next to it, the enormous sprawl of the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world.

Looking straight down from the 148th floor of Burj Khalifa. The low building at the bottom left is a small part of the very large Dubai Mall.

Looking straight down from the 148th floor of Burj Khalifa. The low building at the bottom left is a small part of the very large Dubai Mall.

And all around in the middle distance, a scattering of skyscrapers, many completed, many still under construction. Between them on the ground: many vacant, sandy lots, but also highways lined with carefully-tended, colorfully landscaped strips of green and bright flowers.

If you look on the left side of this picture, beyond the two towers under construction, you'll see a patch of vacant land, a common sight all over Dubai. Around the highway junction, you can see the carefully-tended greenery that must take an enormous amount of water. Visiting Burj Khalifa

If you look on the left side of this picture, beyond the two towers under construction, you’ll see a patch of vacant land, a common sight all over Dubai. Around the highway junction, you can see the carefully-tended greenery that must take an enormous amount of water.

 

It all accentuated, to me, the generally artificial feel of Dubai. It is a city in a desert, yet tries its best to be something else: Las Vegas, perhaps (without the gambling), with skyscrapers like Manhattan, only more spread out.

Visiting Burj Khalifa: the 125th floor

Down in the economy section, visitors have more room and less special treatment. The view, of course, is the same: not much difference at such a height between levels 148 and 125. We had to contend with more people, though, most of whom were busy posing for selfies.

Tourists on the 125th floor of Burj Khalifa

Tourists on the 125th floor of Burj Khalifa

While the 125th floor was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, we could also go downstairs and outside to a large viewing platform below. Unfortunately this was also lined with large plate glass sheets. While this is certainly necessary to avoid anyone falling, either accidentally or on purpose, it made it hard to get good photos. Small opening in each section of glass did allow my compact camera’s lens to get a glass-free view.

The tallest building?

The Burj Khalifa won’t be the tallest building for long. Construction has already started on The Tower at Dubai Creek, expected to be completed in 2020, and topping a kilometer high.

Construction has begun at the Tower at Dubai Creek

Construction has begun at the Tower at Dubai Creek

When that happens, it has occurred to me, the entrance price for visiting Burj Khalifa is likely to drop, since it won’t be the tallest anymore. You’ll be able to see the Tower at Dubai Creek from it too. On the other hand, the design of the Burj Khalifa itself is very elegant. I would enjoy seeing it from the observation decks that the Tower at Dubai Creek will offer.

Will I be willing to pay the price for either one again? Probably not, unless the competition brings the prices down.

Please pin this!

Please pin this!


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46 Comments

  • Medha Verma

    June 15, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    I live in Dubai and have been to the top of Burj Khalifa a few times 🙂 And I usually advise people to go to the 124th floor only, there’s nothing special on the 148th, given the high amount of difference in the price. And although you might end up feeling later that it really wasn’t that big a deal, going to the 124h floor observation deck, it is definitely one of those boxes you need to tick while you’re here. After all, both these observation decks are the highest ones in the world (atleast at the moment) 🙂

    Reply
  • jill

    June 15, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    I’m not a fan of heights but I think I would have to have this experience. I find it hard to turn down extremes – tallest buildings, world’s best cheesecake. waviest wave pool. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t like that but I guess I just am. Looks like an incredible visit. Glad you had the chance to do it after your first turnaway.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 18, 2017 at 11:22 am

      I have no trouble turning down extremes when I don’t feel safe doing them. The waviest wave pool would scare me too much. I won’t do things like bungee jumping or skydiving either. Too scary, so it’s not fun.

      Reply
  • Ruth

    June 16, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Yes, I have read about the high prices in there but I guess is a one time opportunity. I almost choked when I had to pay $30 to go to the Top of the Rock, so, I am not sure how I would feel inhere. I didn’t know they are already constructing a taller building. Wow! #TPThursday.

    Reply
  • budget jan

    June 16, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Loved your looking straight down shot, not that I would look down like that myself. I also like the Tourists on the 125th floor of Burj Khalifa shot. The tallest buildings don’t get to bask in the limelight for long now!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Thanks Jan! To get the straight down shot, I had to stick my camera and my hand through the narrow gap between two of the glass plates of the wall, point it straight down and hope! In this case I was glad about my compact camera!

      Reply
  • Natalia

    June 16, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    I cant believe you went up right to the top! I would be too scared! I had no idea they were planning to build a bigger one either!

    Reply
  • The Thought Card

    June 19, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    I loved your honest account of visiting both the 125th and 148th floor. Although I certainly would have a hard time parting with so much money, I think I’d go for it because I don’t know when I would be back in Dubai. Can’t believe that Dubai is planning to outdo itself with another “tallest building in the world”.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 19, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      It’s an ongoing contest, I suppose. But this one won’t just be a few meters taller; it’ll be something like 150 meters taller! That won’t be beat for a while!

      Reply
  • thebritishberliner

    June 21, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    ‘Really nice post Rachel. I’ve never been to Dubai but I would also make it a thing to go and visit the (as of now) tallest building in the world!

    I went to Taiwan last year, and visited the The Taipei 101 Observatory and Taipei Skyscraper which I believe is one of the top 5 five in the world. I paid about $40.00 I think, but I was in Taiwan. It had to be done!

    Reply
  • Anita Sāne

    June 25, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Your review brought me back memories of my Burj Khalifa visit. I did after sunset and a price was a bit lower but not cheap anyway. There are things you do sometimes regardless of price.

    Reply
  • Miranda

    June 25, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I feel like it’s so hard to fathom a building that tall, and even harder to imagine the one being built currently—a kilometer high! Would you go back to visit that one? Also… what did you do with the men’s swim trunks? I got a good chuckle out of that!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm

      I wouldn’t go back just for that, but I’ve been in Dubai several times for work, so I think I might go up the new tower if I happened to be there again and had the time. I’ve seen all the main sights in Dubai already in the last four visits. As for the shorts, I offered them to the various boys at home (my husband, my son, and my foster son). Foster son took it!

      Reply
  • Lis Sowerbutts

    June 26, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve feeling very out of date – when I stopped off in Dubai neither the tower nor the subway existed! Might be time for a re-visit! To put the price in perspective – I paid nearly as much to go to the top of Sydney Tower – which is not even the tallest tower in Sydney!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 26, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      Really? I would never have guessed it cost so much! If you wait just a year or two, it won’t be the tallest anymore. Construction is pretty constant in Dubai.

      Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr

    June 26, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I must be really frugal (cheap) when it comes to elevators. I’ve been thinking that $14 is too much to pay to visit the highest viewing experience in Philly (for now) and that $19 was too much to ride the elevator to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. For now, I’ll continue to claim the window seat on flights where the view is included in the price of the ticket.

    Reply
  • GallopAroundTheGlobe (@KiaraGallop)

    June 26, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    That view with the artificial blue lake in it looks so surreal, so futuristic! I love superlatives, so climbing the tallest building in the world would definitely be up there on my list, but I’m really not sure I could justify spending that much money on a view; it would almost be cheaper to book a flight and fly over it 😀

    Reply
  • Jan

    June 26, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Really interesting post. I agree that if I see the 121 Euros passing from my hand to another, I might have second thoughts. It IS a lot of money. (Glad you went and shared your experience…not sure I would go). Loved that you added the Mission Impossible clip. Can’t believe he (or his stunt) would ever do those things.

    Reply
  • thehotflashpackergmailcom

    June 27, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    There’s no limit on the time spent on the 124/125th floor so buy your ticket for 1+ hours to sunset (can check your date online). This way you can see daylight (magic hour), sunset, and after dark , including the fountain show, for one ticket price.

    Reply
  • Karen Warren

    June 27, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I remember standing at the bottom of the Burj Khalifa before it opened to the public. It’s quite spectacular but I don’t think I would have been tempted to spend quite so much money going up it!

    Reply
  • jillandjeffrey

    June 27, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    I’m glad to see the “dating” scene is so promising at Burj Khalifa! Teeheehee…

    Seriously though. I don’t often desire to visit places with tons of people. People ruin everything. I want to go places that are quiet, natural, peaceful… Places to recharge and feel alive. BUT. This IS the tallest building on earth. And it’s DEFINITELY on my bucket list!

    Reply
  • Carole Terwilliger Meyers

    June 28, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Glad to hear you spent the money and went to the top the second time! Although I do think that is a ridiculous fee to pay. But I guess they charge it because they can. I agree with your comment, “The beauty of a credit card is you don’t actually see the money changing hands. If we had, I’m not sure I would have been able to part with 121 euros just to ride an elevator to the top of a building, even if it is the tallest in the world.” More on Dubai, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/search/label/Dubai

    Reply

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