The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building on the planet and found in the heart of Dubai. It’s marketed as one of the main attractions in Dubai, offering an unrivaled perspective of the city. But the observation deck experience is a bit on the pricey side. So many visitors want to know if it’s worth it? Here’s my take.
How tall is the Burj Khalifa?
The shining structure, opened in 2010, towers a mind-blowing 2,716.5 feet. It’s hard to wrap your head around just how tall that really is. Take a look at the image below to see how much it dwarfs some of the world’s other mega-structures, including the Empire State Building. It’s ridiculous.
(It’s worth noting that in 2020-ish, “The Tower” in Dubai will surpass the Burj Khalifa and that the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia will also claim the world’s tallest building title and will stand at least 3,280 feet tall.)
But for now, the Burj Khalifa holds a number of world records including:
- Tallest building in the world
- Tallest free-standing structure in the world
- Highest number of stories in the world
- Highest occupied floor in the world
- Highest outdoor observation deck in the world
- Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world
- Tallest service elevator in the world
And to add to all of those accolades, the structure is a work of art, designed by Adrian Smith, whose firm designed the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) and One World Trade Center. All three impressive mega-structures.
So there’s no denying how impressive this structure is, but is it worth the visit if you’re in Dubai? I’ll walk you through my experience and let you decide.
Tickets to visit the Burj Khalifa
There are a number of different types of tickets you can get to visit the Burj Khalifa. The experience in the Burj Khalifa Observation Deck is called “At The Top” and there are two different versions of it. The first is the observation deck at levels 124 and 125. And the second version, known as the “At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY” is the premier package that takes you to the highest observation deck level at level 148 (in addition to providing access to the lower levels).
The ticket prices depend on a couple of factors, such as what observation deck you plan on visiting, if you want general admission tickets or immediate access, and what time of day or night you visit. There are also some special packages offering dinners, rides in the fountain lake, etc. Like you’d expect, it costs more to go up to the top observation deck at 148 and it costs more to visit during prime hours. You can find more information for booking tickets here.
So an adult can visit for as cheap at AED 125 ($34 USD) or as expensive as AED 500 ($136). That’s a pretty wide discrepancy so you definitely want to know if it’s worth it or not. We went with the “At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY” (the premium package) that took us up to the 148th floor and since we visited right after 6pm, we got the cheaper price at AED 350.
When you pay for your ticket, you’ll select a time slot and they recommend that you arrive about 10 to 15 minutes before your scheduled entry. If you’re visiting on a weekend, it’s highly recommended that you book your ticket in advance, too. Just keep in mind that the city can get very hazy at times and your visibility might be limited, so sometimes it might be better to not book so far in advance.
Tip: If you want to catch the sunset at the Burj Khalifa then book your time slot for 90 minutes prior to the scheduled sunset time.
Getting to the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa stands just outside of the Dubai Mall. I suggest just making your way to the mall and locating the signs that read “At The Top” and you’ll eventually find your way to the entrance. You can also purchase your tickets at different areas in the mall, so if you’re not the planning type there are options for you.
You’ll have to go through a security line and keep in mind that no backpacks or large bags or tripods are allowed up there. You can get away with a purse or personal handbag or camera bag, but you’ll have to store any kind of large bag.
After you receive your ticket for At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY, you’ll be escorted to the Burj Khalifa SKY lounge where they serve dates and Arabic coffee. Note: this coffee is strong. I”m not a coffee drinker but needed a quick pick me up and this stuff had me wired the entire time I was up on the observation decks, so watch out.
The room fills up pretty good as you await to be called into the elevators.
Once you’re taken out of the lounge you go through the ticketing area where there’s a beautifully lit mini Burj Khalifa glowing in the middle of lobby.
You’ll follow along an animated hallway that pays homage to the construction of the tower (I don’t recall there being mention of the horrendous working conditions of migrants). Once at the elevators, you’ll be able to skip the line if you went with the premium package. The line at the elevators was pretty long, so I was very happy to skip that.
You’ll then enter into the elevator where you’ll ascend very quickly in a very lively way up to the 124th floor. Along the way, you’ll catch glimpses of how other landmarks around the world compare to the Burj Khalifa, which will definitely help bring some scale to your experience. To get a sense of the elevator experience check out the video below.
When you arrive up to the 124th floor, you can choose whether you want to get out and explore or opt to head directly to the observation deck on the 148th floor. We chose to head straight to the elevator and zip up to the 148th floor.
On the 148th floor, you’re welcomed to a beautiful lobby/lounge area. You’ll be served different juices (non-alcoholic, of course) and different snacks (pastries) and there are a lot of different couches to relax on, although most of them were occupied when we visited.
And then finally, you’re ready to take in the view. I didn’t get a chance to see the view during the day time so I’m not able to compare the night time view to anything, but I did think it was a pretty remarkable sight. If you look closely in the photo below you can see a line of moisture/haze in the atmosphere that you’re actually standing above. It’s pretty wild.
There’s a portion of the observation deck that’s located outside so make sure you don’t miss it. I think a lot of guests miss it because one of the staff members repeatedly asked people if they’d made their way outside when they were headed toward the elevator and it seemed like several people weren’t even aware there was such a thing.
Overall, the view from the observation deck is impressive but it’s not overwhelming due to the fact that Dubai still has a long way to go until its skyline develops into something like Manhattan. Dubai is growing so rapidly that I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before the skyline explodes into something more impressive. However, seeing the city at such a high perspective really let me see how “empty” much of the view was. Again, it’s still a spectacle, just not quite the spectacle I was preparing for.
If you want to take a break from the views, there are some interactive exhibits to check out including a large wide screen theater. Keep in mind that you’re only allowed 30 minutes at level 148, but I’m not sure how that’s enforced at all. You can stay at the lower levels for as long as you please.
After checking out the small gift shop they have at the top, we took the elevator back down to the 125th floor, where we walked around and explored more. You can find more interactive equipment on these levels including giga-panoramic advanced telescopes that work both during the day and night time. There’s also a photographer to get some cool photos of you. But there were also many more people, which made it much more difficult to take photos and to enjoy the experience (this was a Saturday night, however).
Ironically, it was on the 125th floor where I captured my favorite photo and view from the evening.
It’s not all about looking down, either. It’s also pretty interesting to look back up towards the top of the structure. At night, you can see the lights twinkling on its exterior.
There is a beautiful spiraling staircase known as the “spiral flight,” which was recently installed to connect the 124th and 125th floor. A sparkling LED chandelier overhangs the white-oak stairs and the glass walls provide you with more open views as you make your way up or down the staircase.
You’ll also find a gift shop near the exit elevators. And as you’d expect, the prices for just about everything are not cheap. (There’s a final gift shop on the ground level near the exit, too).
So is the At the Top experience worth it?
I think this all depends on the type of person traveling.
If you’re like me and really enjoy experiencing things like the highest [insert blank] in the world, then chances are you’ll be satisfied with the experience. The views really are terrific and the city of Dubai lights up brilliantly at night (although I can only imagine what it will be like in 15 years). I also enjoyed being able to skip the line and enjoy the less hectic 148th floor. The juices and snacks were so-so, and although I wasn’t crazy about the price, I got pretty much what I expected considering this was Dubai.
On the other hand, if you’re more of a penny pincher or just skeptical about the merits of the experience, then you’ll probably be just fine settling for level 124 and 125. The views aren’t much better from the 148th and although the crowd was a bit of an issue, if you visited on a week day or off-peak time early or late, it probably wouldn’t be bad at all.
And finally, if you don’t care for observation decks, then maybe just settle from the views on the ground. This is definitely not a must-do for everyone but for sky-scraper fans/photographer junkies like myself, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours and capture the city of Dubai.