A towering forest of glass and steel skyscrapers rising between a seemingly-limitless sand sea and the Arabian Gulf, Dubai has one of the world’s most photographed skylines. The emirate is not only home to the top four tallest hotels and highest building in the world, but it also has iconic landmarks and must-see skyscrapers aplenty from the World islands and Palm Jumeirah to the Burj al Arab and Cayan Tower twisting a full 90-degrees over Dubai Marina.
This seaside city of architectural wonders boasts some of the best panoramas on the planet and will soon have the world’s highest observation wheel – Ain Dubai – from which to ogle it all. Whether you prefer your views simple, served with food and cocktails, or laced with adrenalin, here are the top 10 ways to experience Dubai from above.
1. On top of the world
The needle-like mega structure of the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world, piercing through the clouds on a foggy day and standing at a whopping 830 metres above sea level. For a panoramic view of Dubai’s jaw-dropping skyline, visitors can ascend 124 levels to the highest outdoor observation deck on earth, dubbed At the Top, or to the record-breaking observation lounge, At the Top SKY, on the 148th floor.
2. High tea
Tuck into the world’s highest afternoon tea at At.mosphere on the 122nd storey of Burj Khalifa. Perched 421 metres up, it’s the globe’s tallest restaurant and has stellar views over the emirate’s rooftops. It has also received praise for the high quality of its afternoon teas – ideal to combine with a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa.
3. Up and away
Take a hot air balloon ride and float 1,200 metres above Dubai’s glittering sand sea at dawn. See the shifting purple, red and golden hues of the desert as the sun climbs into the sky, watch wandering camels and gazelles, gaze down on green oases, and glimpse the hefty Hajar mountains in the distance. Amigos Balloons and Balloon Adventures Emirates offer pre-dawn take-offs above Dubai Desert Reserve followed by a lavish breakfast.
4. Reach for the sky
The most direct and all encompassing way to experience Dubai’s extraordinary proportions is of course from the sky. In fact the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab is of such a size and distinctive shape on the emirates coastline that it can be clearly seen from the aeroplane as you fly over. Take it all in on an Alpha Tours helicopter ride departing every half-hour from a helipad next to Atlantis the Palm. The 20-minute aerial circuit travels from Palm Jumeirah to Downtown Dubai and back again, covering all the city’s major landmarks.
5. Birds-eye view
Not for the faint-hearted, Skydive Dubai is obviously the most thrilling of the emirate’s aerial attractions. Even complete novices can freefall from 13,000 feet to see stunning views of the Palm Jumeirah while strapped to an expert skydiver who will pull the chute and glide you in to a precision landing. In skydiving terms, Dubai is one of the top drop zones in the world with consistently good conditions.
6. Top table
For heady sunset and sapphire sea backdrops with cocktails on tap, Pure Sky Lounge on the 35th floor of Hilton Dubai the Walk is difficult to beat. In the Jumeirah Beach Residence area, views from the chic, stylish but simple rooftop bar extend along Dubai’s Arabian Gulf coastline to the outer reaches of the Palm and Jumeirah Beach. Two huge glass-walled outdoor terraces offer uninterrupted panoramas and you can tuck into light bites too as you watch the sun blaze across the sky.
7. The bigger picture
Step from between the iconic buildings of Downtown and Dubai Marina to experience the bigger picture. The Turkish Village Restaurant on Jumeirah Beach Road has airy canopied terraces with a spectacular distant perspective on New Dubai’s skyscrapers to soak up while you feast on Middle Eastern meze.
8. Another level
Sitting just above the cityscape with views directly down Sheikh Zayed Road’s awe-inspiring corridor of skyscrapers, Level 43 Lounge is a great sightseeing and photo op stop, and the perfect place to enjoy Dubai’s glittering skyline at night. One of the city’s most beautiful bars, it has an open-air rooftop with 360-degree views that include the iconic structures of Downtown Dubai. Part of the Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road hotel, it serves up everything from high tea and sundowners to cocktails and tapas depending on the time of day.
9. New angle
Similar to the London Eye, Ain Dubai (also known as the Dubai Eye) is currently under construction on the artificial Bluewaters Island that skims the coast close to Jumeirah Beach Residence. Once completed, it will be the largest observation wheel on the planet offering unrivalled views of Dubai’s glittering shores and eye-popping mega structures.
10. Rooms with a view
The impossibly-tall twin towers that form the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel make it the highest hotel on earth, standing 355 metres above the city. If you are not staying at the hotel but still want to enjoy the scenery, head to its cosy bolthole of a bar with stunning views. The Vault bar is a kind of gentleman’s club in the sky offering cigars, music and delicious old fashioned whiskey cocktails with a fabulous window on the futuristic skyline outside.
From stylish sky-high restaurants and cool rooftop lounges to hot air balloon rides and thrilling free-falls, Dubai offers an array of sky-high attractions that make a feature of its vertical proportions. No trip to the metropolis would be complete without appreciating at least one of these amazing vantage points.